Elections in Japan

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The Japanese political system has three types of elections: general elections to the House of Representatives held every four years (unless the lower house is dissolved earlier), elections to the House of Councillors held every three years to choose one-half of its members, and local elections held every four years for offices in prefectures, cities, and villages. Elections are supervised by election committees at each administrative level under the general direction of the Central Election Administration Committee, an attached organization to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC). The minimum voting age in Japan's non-compulsory electoral system was reduced from twenty to eighteen years in June 2016.[1] Voters must satisfy a three-month residency requirement before being allowed to cast a ballot.

For those seeking office, there are two sets of age requirements: twenty-five years of age for admission to the House of Representatives and most local offices, and thirty years of age for admission to the House of Councillors and the prefectural governorship. Each deposit for candidacy is 3 million yen (30 thousand dollars) for single-seat constituency and 6 million yen (60 thousand dollars) for proportional representation.

National elections

The National Diet (Kokkai) has two chambers. The House of Representatives (Shūgi-in) has 475 members, elected for a four-year term, 295 members in single-seat constituencies and 180 members by proportional representation in 11 block districts. In this system, each voter votes twice, once for a candidate in the local constituency, and once for a party, each of which has a list of candidates for each block district. The local constituencies are decided by plurality, and the block seats are then handed out to party lists proportionally (by the D'Hondt method) to their share of the vote. Often the parties assign the block list spots to single-seat candidates, so that unsuccessful single-seat candidates have a chance to be elected in the proportional block. Parties may also place dual district and block candidates on the same list rank; in that case, the Sekihairitsu system determines the order of candidates. General elections of members of the House of Representatives (Shūgiin giin sō-senkyo) are usually held before the end of a four-year term as the chamber may be dissolved by the cabinet (via the Emperor). Most prime ministers use that option. The only exception in post-war history was the "Lockheed election" of 1976 in which the Liberal Democratic Party lost its seat majority for the first time.

The House of Councillors (Sangi-in) has 242 members, elected for a six-year term, 146 members in 47 single- and multi-seat constituencies (prefectures) by single non-transferable vote and 96 by proportional representation (by D'Hondt method) on the national level. The proportional election to the House of Councillors allows the voters to cast a preference vote for a single candidate on a party list. The preference votes exclusively determine the ranking of candidates on party lists. Half of the House of Councillors comes up for election every three years in regular/ordinary elections of members of the House of Councillors (Sangiin giin tsūjō-senkyo).

The electoral cycles of the two chambers of the Diet are usually not synchronized. Even when the current constitution took effect in 1947, the first House of Councillors election was held several days apart from the 23rd House of Representatives election. Only in 1980 and 1986, general and regular election coincided on the same day because the House of Representatives was dissolved in time for the election to be scheduled together with the House of Councillors election in early summer.

Vacant district seats in both Houses are generally filled in by-elections (hoketsu senkyo). Nowadays, these are usually scheduled in April and October as necessary. Vacant proportional seats in both Houses and district seats in the House of Councillors that fall vacant within three months of a regular election are filled by kuriage-tōsen (roughly "being elected as runner-up"): the highest ranking candidate on a proportional list or in the electoral district who was not elected and is not disqualified takes the seat. Disqualifications may, for example, happen if a candidate for the House of Councillors runs for the House of Representatives or vice versa, or after a violation of campaign laws.

For many years, Japan was a one party dominant state until 1993 with the Liberal Democratic Party as the ruling party. It won a majority of the popular vote in House of Representatives general elections until the 1960s. It lost the majority of seats in 1976 and 1979, but continued to rule without coalition partners with the support of independent Representatives. After the 1983 election when it again lost the majority, it entered a coalition for the first time – with the New Liberal Club. In 1986, the coalition ended as the LDP won a large majority of seats and even came close to a majority of votes. The party suffered its first clear electoral defeat in the 1989 House of Councillors regular election when it lost the upper house majority and had to face for the first time a divided Diet (Nejire Kokkai, lit. "twisted Diet") where passing legislation depends on cooperation with the opposition. The LDP was out of government for the first time in 1993 after Ichirō Ozawa and his faction had left the party and the opposition parties united in an anti-LDP coalition, but then soon returned to the majority in 1994 by entering a coalition with its traditional main opponent, the Socialist Party. The 2009 House of Representatives elections handed the first non-LDP victory to the Democratic Party of Japan.

According to a survey by Yomiuri Shimbun in April 2010, almost half of Japanese voters do not support any political parties due to political inefficiency.[2]

Election of the Prime Minister

Between 1885 and 1947 in the Empire of Japan, the prime minister was not elected, but responsible to, chosen and appointed by the Emperor. In practice, the Genrō usually nominated a candidate for appointment. The Imperial Diet and its elected lower house, the House of Representatives, which were set up in 1890 according to the Imperial Constitution, had no constitutionally guaranteed role in the formation of cabinets.[3]

Since 1947, the Prime Minister of Japan has been chosen in the "designation election of the prime minister" (Naikaku sōridaijin shimei senkyo, 内閣総理大臣指名選挙) in the National Diet. It is held after a cabinet has submitted its resignation – the outgoing cabinet remains as caretaker cabinet until the Imperial inauguration ceremony of a new prime minister –; a cabinet must resign en masse under the constitution (Articles 69 and 70) 1. always on convocation of the first Diet after a general election of the House of Representatives, 2. if the post of prime minister has fallen vacant – that includes cases when the prime minister is permanently incapacitated, e.g. by illness, kidnapping or defection –, or 3. if a no-confidence vote in the House of Representatives is not answered by the dissolution of the chamber. Though both Houses of the Diet vote in two-round elections to select a prime minister, the House of Representatives has the decisive vote: If the two Houses vote for different candidates (as they did in 1948, 1989, 1998, 2007 and 2008), a procedure in the joint committee of both houses (ryōin kyōkaigi) may reach a consensus; but eventually the candidate of the House of Representatives becomes that of the whole Diet and thereby prime minister-designate. The designated prime minister must still be ceremonially appointed by the Emperor in the Imperial Investiture (shinninshiki) to enter office; but unlike some heads of state, the Emperor has no reserve power to appoint anyone other than the person elected by the Diet.

In 2001, LDP president and Prime Minister Junichirō Koizumi instituted an advisory council to investigate the possibility of introducing direct popular election of the prime minister in a constitutional revision.[4]

Latest results

2017 General House of Representatives election

Summary of the 22 October 2017 House of Representatives election results
Parties Constituency PR Block Total seats
Votes % ±pp Seats Votes % ±pp Seats Seats ± % ±pp
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) 26,719,03248.210.11218 18,555,71733.280.1766 284661.080.02
Komeitō (NKP) 832,4531.500.058 6,977,71212.511.2021 2956.240.92
Governing coalition 27,551,48549.710.17226 25,533,42945.791.0387 3131167.310.90
Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) 4,852,0978.75New18 11,084,89019.88New37 554011.836.66
Japanese Communist Party (JCP) 4,998,9329.024.281 4,404,0817.903.4711 1292.581.84
Social Democratic Party (SDP) 634,7191.150.361 941,3241.690.771 200.430.01
Pacifist coalition 10,485,74818.9220 16,430,29529.4749 693114.846.84
Kibō no Tō (Party of Hope) 11,437,60120.64New18 9,677,52417.36New32 50710.751.25
Nippon Ishin no Kai (JIP) 1,765,0533.184.983 3,387,0976.079.658 1132.370.58
Koike coalition 13,202,65423.8221 13,064,62123.4340 611013.121.83
Happiness Realization Party (HRP) 159,1710.290 292,0840.520.030 000.000.00
New Party Daichi 226,5520.410 000.000.00
No Party to Support 125,0190.220.020 000.000.00
Party for Japanese Kokoro (PJK) 85,5520.152.500 000.000.00
Others 52,0800.030 000.000.00
Independents 3,970,9467.164.3122 22174.733.48
Total 55,422,087100.00289 55,757,552100.00176 465 10100.00

2016 Regular House of Councillors election

 Summary of the 10 July 2016 Japanese House of Councillors election results[5][6][7]
Party Pre-election SNTV/FPTP majoritarian D'Hondt proportional Seats wonNew totalChange from
TotalNot upUp Votes[8]%Seats Votes[8]%Seats Before20132010
Ruling parties 1357659 69145+10+10+42
Liberal Democratic PartyLDP 1156550 22,590,79339.94 %36 20,114,78835.91 %19 55120+5+5+36
KomeitoK 20119 4,263,4227.54 %7 7,572,96013.52 %7 1425+5+5+6
Revisionist opposition parties 1082 715+5(new +15)
+6 from JRP
(new +15)
Initiatives from Osaka 752 3,303,4195.84 %3 5,153,5849.20 %4 712+5(new +12)(new +12)
Party for Japanese Kokoro 330 535,5170.95 %0 734,0241.31 %0 030(new +3)(new +3)
0 from SPJ
Anti-revisionist opposition parties
(joint nominations in single-member districts)
792752 4067-12n/an/a
Democratic PartyDP 621745 14,215,95625.14 %21 11,751,01520.98 %11 3249-13(new +49)
-10 from DPJ
(new +49)
-57 from DPJ
Japanese Communist PartyJCP 1183 4,103,5147.26 %1 6,016,19510.74 %5 614+3+3+8
People's Life PartyPLP 312 not contested independently 1,067,3011.91 %1 12-1-1(new +2)
Social Democratic PartySDP 312 289,8990.51 %0 1,536,2392.74 %1 12-1-1-2
New Renaissance PartyNRP 202 60,4310.11 %0 580,6531.04 %0 00-2-1-1
Happiness Realization PartyHRP 000 963,5851.70 %0 366,8150.65 %0 0000-1
Seitō shiji nashi ("no party supported") 000 127,3670.23 %0 647,0711.16 %0 000(new 0)(new 0)
Angry voice of the people 000 82,3570.15 %0 466,7060.83 %0 000(new 0)(new 0)
Others 000 279,6810.49 %0 not contested 00n/an/an/a
Assembly to Energize JapanAEJ 321 not contested 02-1(new +2)
-16 from YP
(new +2)
-9 from YP
Okinawa Social Mass PartyOSMP 110 not contested 01000
(incl. some joint opposition-endorsed "independents"
& 1 successful LDP-endorsed "independent")
1174 5,739,45210.15 %5 n/a 512+1+9+10
Total (valid votes) 241121120 56,555,393100.00 %73 56,007,353100.00 %48 121242+1 (vacant)00
Turnout out of 106,202,873 eligible voters 58,094,00554.70 % 58,085,67854.69 %

Under several regulations regarding political parties, elections and campaign finance, the 2013 regular House of Councillors election that elected 121 of the current 717 Diet members also counts as a recent national election in legal terms until 2019.


In the 1980s, apportionment of electoral districts still reflected the distribution of the population in the years following World War II, when only one-third of the people lived in urban areas and two thirds lived in rural areas. In the next forty-five years, the population became more than three-quarters urban, as people deserted rural communities to seek economic opportunities in Tokyo and other large cities. The lack of reapportionment led to a serious underrepresentation of urban voters. Urban districts in the House of Representatives were increased by five in 1964, bringing nineteen new representatives to the lower house; in 1975 six more urban districts were established, with a total of twenty new representatives allocated to them and to other urban districts. Yet great inequities remained between urban and rural voters.

In the early 1980s, as many as five times the votes were needed to elect a representative from an urban district compared with those needed for a rural district. Similar disparities existed in the prefectural constituencies of the House of Councillors. The Supreme Court had ruled on several occasions that the imbalance violated the constitutional principle of one person-one vote. The Supreme Court mandated the addition of eight representatives to urban districts and the removal of seven from rural districts in 1986. Several lower house districts' boundaries were redrawn. Yet the disparity was still as much as three urban votes to one rural vote.

After the 1986 change, the average number of persons per lower house representative was 236,424. However, the figure varied from 427,761 persons per representative in the fourth district of Kanagawa Prefecture, which contains the large city of Yokohama, to 142,932 persons in the third district of largely rural and mountainous Nagano Prefecture.

The 1993 reform government under Hosokawa Morihiro introduce a new electoral system whereby 200 members (reduced to 180 beginning with the 2000 election) are elected by proportional representation in multi-member districts or "blocs" while 300 are elected from single-candidate districts.[9]

Still, according to the October 6, 2006 issue of the Japanese newspaper Daily Yomiuri, "the Supreme Court followed legal precedent in ruling Wednesday that the House of Councillors election in 2004 was held in a constitutionally sound way despite a 5.13-fold disparity in the weight of votes between the nation's most densely and most sparsely populated electoral districts".

The 2009 general House of Representatives election was the first unconstitutional lower house election under the current electoral system introduced in 1994 (parallel voting and "small" FPTP single-member electoral districts/"Kakumander"). In March 2011, the Grand Bench (daihōtei) of the Supreme Court ruled that the maximum discrepancy of 2.30 in voting weight between the Kōchi 3 and Chiba 4 constituencies in the 2009 election was in violation of the constitutionally guaranteed equality of all voters. As in previous such rulings on unconstitutional elections (1972, 1980, 1983 and 1990 Representatives elections, 1992 Councillors election), the election is not invalidated, but the imbalance has to be corrected by the Diet through redistricting and/or reapportionment of seats between prefectures.[10]

In 2016, a panel of experts proposed to introduce the [John Quincy] Adams apportionment method (method of smallest divisors) for apportioning House of Representatives seats to prefectures. The reform is planned to be implemented after the 2020 census figures are available and not expected to take effect before 2022.[11] In the meantime, another redistricting and apportionment passed in 2017 is designed to keep the maximum malapportionment ratio in the House of Representatives below 2. In the FPTP tier, it changes 97 districts and cuts six without adding any; in the proportional tier, four "blocks" lose a seat each; the total number of seats in the lower house is cut to 465, 289 majoritarian seats and 176 proportional seats.[12]

The malapportionment in the 2010[13] and 2013[14] regular House of Councillors elections was ruled unconstitutional (or "in an unconstitutional state") by the Supreme Court, and has been reduced by a 2015 reapportionment below 3 (at least in government statistics from census data which is regular and standardized but lags behind resident registration statistics and the actual number of eligible voters; using the latter, the maximum malapportionment in the 2016 election remained slightly above 3[15][16]).

The following table lists the 10 electoral districts with the highest and lowest number of registered voters per member elected for each chamber of the National Diet according to the voter statistics as of September 2016 released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications – it takes into account the lowering of the voting age and the district reforms to both houses of the Diet in effect since the 2014 and 2016 elections, but not the 2017 redistricting/reapportionment effective from the next House of Representatives election.

Electoral districts with the highest and lowest voting weight for the National Diet as of 2016[17]
House of Representatives House of Councillors
Lowest vote weight Highest vote weight Lowest vote weight Highest vote weight
# DistrictRegistered voters DistrictRegistered voters DistrictRegistered voters
per member elected
DistrictRegistered voters
per member elected
1 Tokyo 1514,974 Fukushima 4233,491 Saitama1,015,543 Fukui328,772 1
2 Hokkaidō 1505,510 Miyagi 5234,373 Niigata978,686 Saga346,727 2
3 Tokyo 3504,929 Kagoshima 5240,056 Miyagi975,466 Yamanashi353,402 3
4 Tokyo 5498,903 Tottori 1240,874 Kanagawa951,735 Kagawa417,082 4
5 Hyōgo 6492,173 Nagasaki 3242,165 Tokyo937,470 Wakayama419,011 5
6 Tokyo 6490,674 Tottori 2242,194 Osaka915,000 Akita448,236 6
7 Tokyo 19488,494 Nagasaki 4242,303 Nagano885,638 Toyama452,822 7
8 Tokyo 22486,965 Aomori 3244,007 Chiba871,110 Miyazaki466,829 8
9 Saitama 3483,014 Mie 4244,825 Gifu850,190 Yamagata475,419 9
10 Tokyo 23481,206 Iwate 3246,272 Tochigi827,368 Ishikawa481,027 10

Prefectural and local elections

Prefectural assemblies and governors, as well as mayors and assemblies in municipalities, are elected for four-year terms. In April 1947, all local elections in the 46 prefectures (excluding Okinawa, then under US military rule) and all their municipalities were held at the same time in "unified local elections" (tōitsu chihō senkyo). Since then, some gubernatorial and mayoral elections, and most assembly elections, have stayed on this original four-year cycle. Most governors and mayors are now elected on different schedules as the four-year cycle "resets" upon the resignation, death or removal of a sitting governor or mayor. Some assembly election cycles have also shifted due to assembly dissolutions or mergers of municipalities. In the last unified local elections in April 2015, 10 of 47 governors, 41 of 47 prefectural assemblies, 222 mayors and 689 municipal assemblies were scheduled to be elected.

Unified elections

As of 2015, the major contests in the unified local elections are as follows:

Prefecture Governor Assembly Designated city races
Hokkaido Sapporo mayor
Sapporo assembly
Saitama Saitama assembly
Chiba Chiba assembly
Kanagawa Yokohama assembly
Kawasaki assembly
Sagamihara mayor
Sagamihara assembly
Niigata Niigata assembly
Shizuoka Shizuoka mayor
Hamamatsu mayor
Hamamatsu assembly
Aichi Nagoya assembly
Kyoto Kyoto assembly
Osaka Osaka assembly
Sakai assembly
Hyogo Kobe assembly
Okayama Okayama assembly
Hiroshima Hiroshima mayor
Hiroshima assembly
Fukuoka Fukuoka assembly
Kumamoto Kumamoto assembly

Although Tokyo's metropolitan governor and assembly elections are currently held on separate schedules, 21 of the 23 special wards of Tokyo follow the unified election schedule for their assembly elections, the only exceptions being Katsushika and Adachi. The majority of Tokyo's special wards follow separate cycles for their mayoral elections. Tokyo elected its governor as part of the unified elections until 2011, but was forced to hold a 2012 election and 2014 election due to the resignations of Shintaro Ishihara and Naoki Inose.

Iwate Prefecture, Miyagi Prefecture and Fukushima Prefecture are no longer on the unified election cycle due to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which delayed their elections.

Other major local election cycles

  • Since 1971, Ibaraki Prefecture has held its prefectural assembly elections in the December preceding the unified election, making this election a regular leading indicator of the nationwide elections in the following April. The 2014 Ibaraki election was held on the same day as the Japanese general election, 2014.
  • Approximately 193 new municipalities were created in a wave of "Heisei mergers" effective in April 2005. Their first municipal elections were held around this time, and coincided with the Chiba and Akita gubernatorial elections and the Nagoya mayoral election, creating a second major local election cycle sometimes referred to as the "mini unified local elections."
  • Okinawa Prefecture and most of its local governments continue to follow a four-year cycle that began following repatriation to Japan in June 1972, with several exceptions (including the city of Naha). Okinawa elections generally occur in the year following the unified elections; the next is scheduled for June 2016.

Ballots, voting machines and early voting

Votes in national and most local elections are cast by writing the candidate's or party's name on a blank ballot paper. In elections for the House of Representatives voters fill in two ballots, one with the name of their preferred district candidate and one with their preferred party in the proportional representation block. For the House of Councillors, the district vote is similar (in SNTV multi-member districts, several candidates can be elected, but every voter has only one vote). But in the proportional vote for the House of Councillors votes are cast for a party list (to determine how many proportional seats a party receives) or a candidate (which additionally influences which candidates are elected from a party's list).[18]

Ballots that cannot unambiguously be assigned to a candidate are not considered invalid, but are assigned to all potentially intended candidates proportionally to the unambiguous votes each candidate has received. These so-called "proportional fractional votes" (按分票, ambunhyō) are rounded to the third decimal.[19] For example, if "Yamada A" and "Yamada B" both stood in an election and there were 1500 unambiguous votes: 1000 for "Yamada A" and 500 for "Yamada B"; five ambiguous votes for "Yamada" would then count for Yamada A as 5×1000/1500=3.333 votes, and for Yamada B as 5×500/1500=1.667 votes.

In 2002, passage of an electronic voting law[20] allowed for the introduction of electronic voting machines in local elections.[21] The first machine vote took place in Niimi, Okayama in June 2002.[22] In 2003, a system for early voting (期日前投票制度, kijitsu-mae tōhyō seido) was introduced.[23] In the Japanese general election, 2009, a record number of more than 10 million Japanese voted early.[24]

See also


  1. "Diet enacts law lowering voting age to 18 from 20". The Japan Times.
  2. Nishikawa, Yoko (2010-04-04). "Nearly half of Japan's voters don't support any party". Reuters. Retrieved 2010-04-05.
  3. The Ally From The Far East - Japan in World War 1. Retrieved 22 October 2017.
  4. Kantei: Advisory Council to Consider the Direct Election of the Prime Minister
  5. Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications: Results of the 24th regular election of members of the House of Councillors (in Japanese)
  6. Yomiuri Shimbun: 2016 election results
  7. Asahi Shimbun: 2016 election results
  8. 1 2 Decimals from proportionate fractional votes (按分票 anbunhyō) rounded to full numbers
  9. Batto, NF., Huang, C., Tan, AC. and Cox, G. (Ed.) (2016) Batto, NF., Huang, C., Tan, AC. and Cox, G. (Ed.) (2016) Mixed-Member Electoral Systems in Constitutional Context: Taiwan, Japan and Beyond. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  10. Jiji Tsūshin, March 23, 2011: 09年衆院選は違憲状態=1人別枠方式「平等に反する」-廃止要請・最高裁大法廷
  11. nikkei.com, March 15, 2017: 衆院定数10減決まる 選挙制度改革まとめ
  12. Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications: 衆議院小選挙区の区割りの改定等について ("On the changes to House of Representatives single-member districts" [but covers the changes to proportional districts, too]) (in Japanese)
  13. Asahi Shimbun, Asia & Japan Watch, October 18, 2012: Japan's 2 Diet chambers both ruled all but 'unconstitutional' Archived 2012-10-22 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. The Japan Times, November 26, 2014: Supreme Court assails vote disparity in 2013 election but doesn’t nullify results
  15. Mainichi Shimbun, July 12, 2016: 2016参院選:「1票の格差」一斉提訴 最大3.08倍、無効訴え 14高裁・支部
  16. Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, December 27 2019: Voter statistics as of September 2, 2016 [covers districts of both houses of the National Diet], p.16 (in Japanese)
  17. Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, December 27 2016: Voter statistics as of September 2, 2016, p. 8 (in Japanese)
  18. Kamiya, Setsuko, "Some election campaign rules outdated, quirky", Japan Times, 11 December 2012, p. 3
  19. "FAQ>按分(あんぶん)票とは何ですか。" (in Japanese). [[Izumi, Osaka|]] city electoral commission. Retrieved June 5, 2013.
  20. 地方公共団体の議会の議員及び長の選挙に係る電磁的記録式投票機を用いて行う投票方法等の特例に関する法律
  21. MIC: 電磁的記録式投票制度について
  22. Kōbe Shimbun, June 28, 2002: 全国初の電子投票ルポ 岡山・新見市
  23. MIC: 期日前投票制度
  24. The Japan Times, August 30, 2009: Record-high 10.9 million voters cast early ballots
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