By Ewa Nowogorski
It is probably unfair to compare the political system of any two countries. Each country has its own circumstances and its own ways of dealing with those circumstances. But it is interesting to look at the systems of different countries side by side and see how things occur.
The word “politics” in America evokes thoughts of the two major political parties in that country, and how those two parties are always at each other’s throats, threatening to take the entire country down with them in their internal fights. In Japan, politics has more subtle evocations, but for some people politics still incites stress and annoyance.
Yes, “annoyance” is probably a feeling many Japanese and Americans alike have about their respective countries’ politics. Americans are generally cynical of their own government, and over the decades have lost more and more trust in them. Currently, just 19% say they can trust the government always or most of the time, among the lowest levels in the past half-century. Only 20% would describe government programs as being well-run. And elected officials are held in such low regard that 55% of the public says “ordinary Americans” would do a better job of solving national problems.
In Japan, people have similar frustrations and views of their government. Politics here is usually based on pragmatics and human relations rather than ideologies or principles. The quintessential Japanese leader is a network builder rather than the embodiment of charisma or ideals; more like the crafty and resourceful founder of the Tokugawa bakufu, Tokugawa Ieyasu, than the ruthless but heroic Oda Nobunaga. It reflects quite visibly in regular Japanese society, where social and financial success is largely dependent on who you know rather than what you can do. As a result, politics does not really get fueled by the opinions and wishes of the people, but rather by the people who know the right people.
That is not to say that either system is either purely bad or purely good. Democracy exists in both places, and the voices of the people can be heard if they yell loud enough. That voice may not always be listened to, but if it is heard enough times, then maybe it will.