Democracy is what the United States prides itself on and the very base of every political decision, using it as justification for foreign affairs like Afghanistan, solidifying same-sex marriage as a Constitutional right within the U.S., and more. With this pride comes a need to ensure that democracy is spreading, and it is done so no matter what. We have seen this with Afghanistan, with the occupation of the country to help build a “better” and more democratic country. Another example, Japan is a unique case in which democracy was seen as successful in the way it was implemented. However, the imposition of democracy in Japan is by no means secure and it does not work for the country overall. In their post Tomoka Suzuki’s explains that “Japanese Democracy is complete, but not mature,”. Suzuki also explains that the current situation in Japan and the backsliding that is already present is in about the acceptance of the government by the people, both older and younger generations. I agree with this, however there is more to the backsliding and fickle nature of democracy in Japan. The backsliding that is being witnessed in the international community as well as in the country itself is due to incompatibility with the imposed democracy.
Following World War II, Japan was economically and politically in shambles. The autocratic government had fallen apart, and Japan needed aid to rebuild a broken system and a demolished country. The government was the weakest it had been in decades and the economy was on the last leg before total collapse. Japan had found itself in need of protection and allyship and the US-Japan Security Treaty was created with leaders from both countries. With the country already working towards democracy since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, it was an easy path for the US to implement democracy. The problem remains, is this set path, created when Japan was in desperate need of international support, sustainable for the country and culture? The simple answer is no. In the current state of the imposed democracy, western democracy is not sustainable for the country and the culture.
Many people assume that modernization sets a clear path forward for democracy to develop in a country. Modernization theory in the most basic form essentially states that modernization, which leads to the development and adoption of modern practices will lead to democracy forming, as citizens will demand rights (Berman 2009). However, this does not account for the push into modernization as a means for survival of the democratic ideals that may follow. Historically, Japan was already in the process of becoming a democracy, the Meiji Restoration and the subsequent constitution that was created show this clearly. Even prior to the United States intervention, from 1912-1926 there was reform that started to build a system of democratic authority. These systems although imperfect considered the decades of tradition and the way the country was able to adapt and form around these ideals.
Following the United States occupation, Japan saw a high turnout in electoral participation, with the participation being around 75 percent in the 1950’s. This turnout has since declined, lowering to 53 percent in 2017 alone. This is a sign of the democratic erosion that is starting to take place in the country. Drivers of democratic breakdown suggest that when there is a lack of support for democracy and an institutional weakness, the democratic processes in place will crumble. Citizens in Japan, that are wanting a more democratic government to have a fundamental issue with the sacrifices they have made to get to this point and the lack of balance in the system that is supposed to benefit them directly. When the institution of the Japanese government itself has no trust from the participants of democracy, it will fail, and the citizens will not fight for it to remain. In Japan, the lake of voter participation is a fundamental sign of this breakdown. Many citizens have critiqued the weak opposition and have voiced concerns over the lack of awareness the government holds in its own political parties. On a higher level, the country is a “free” country yet heavily relies on U.S. support for military aspects, this is an institutional issue that shows in how the democratic processes are held. Japan, not only in its military, has been seen by citizens as a very weak democracy as the institutions that were put in place do not account for the country that they were “created” for. This is seen through the way modernization was pushed for the country. Japan was desperate for a foothold and none of the institutional problems that existed were acknowledged by the government, such as power dynamics between the government, birthrate, and environmental and physical damage brought from the war.
A consequence of this lack of analyzing these institutional problems is most often seen in the human rights aspect of the country. Japan has consistently failed to meet its nonrefoulement obligations and has recently faced extreme backlash for migrant deaths in the detention centers. This did not result in mass engagement from citizens in the form of any type of protest, instead with international and some domestic criticism. In addition to this the government has been criticized for the strict treatment of children and the control over appearance schools maintain, dictating clothing along with hair color, nails, etc.. The consequences we are seeing of a backsliding country show how detrimental the lack of consistency and sustainability a coerced modernization and a planted democracy can have on any given country. Japan is a perfect case study as to what the ideal outcome of a pushed modernization and subsequent democracy is. Yet, it is also an example of how democracy that was born out through pushing for modernization is fleeting in nature and weaker than desired.
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