【Report】The 53rd AJI Research Frontier Seminar took place! Dr. Kazutaka SOGO made his presentation on the historical process of party politics in prewar Japan.

 On April 18, 2023, the 53rd AJI Research Frontier Seminar took place online. This time, Dr. SOGO Kazutaka, a Senior Researcher at Asia-Japan Research Organization, Ritsumeikan University gave a presentation entitled “Prewar Japan’s Party Politics from the Perspective of Power Consolidation: Dynamics of the Interplay between ‘Human Factor’ and ‘Institution’.”

 In this presentation, he discussed power consolidation in Japanese domestic politics from the perspective of the dynamism of the "human factor” and “institutions,” in the context of prewar Japan. Dr. Sogo explained under Japan’s constitution, the emperor held symbolic authority but did not have central control over the government. Additionally, the prime minister had no authority to control cabinet ministers. Lacking consolidation, the weak general administration failed to control the political rise of the military in the 1930s, and Japan entered a wartime regime without a clear unifying entity and faced defeat in the war.

 Despite the negative effects of the contradictory constitution, the 1910s to 1920s saw the realization of democratic party politics dominated by powerful individuals who lent their power to political parties. These strong individuals eventually passed away leading to serious factional splits, but the era of party politics was firmly established. However, the maintenance of the important fiction that the emperor was making decisions on bureaucratic institutional appointments was in conflict with party politics which relied on the human bonds to integrate institutional reform. As a result, Japan continued to pursue the strengthening of the prime minister’s authority through institutional rather than human factors. However, institutional reforms that failed to take advantage of the human factor ultimately all failed, and they had to resort to war and ideological national unity. From the above analysis, it can be said that the collapse of the balance between human factors and institutions was the background to the sudden exposure of the contradictions that the articles of the Meiji Constitution held.

 Dr. Sogo’s fascinating analysis of the Japan’s prewar politics led to an interesting Q&A session, where the audience discussed the influence of other factors such as Japan’s rapid industrial expansion and powerful industrial lobbies, growing urbanization, and the lessons that can be applied to the politics of today’s Japan. Dr. Sogo explained that the socio-historical background to a political scenario is important to understand, but it was not possible to cover all these questions as time was limited.

Dr. Sogo delivering his presentation
Dr. Sogo delivering his presentation