Japan is a constitutional monarch in which the emperor has little to no influence in government affairs. However, according to Smithsonian writer Bridget Katz, whose work has appeared in many publications, Emperor Akihito managed to become highly respected by his people for his role in healing post-war wounds inflicted by his father, and former emperor, Hirohito. Akihito managed to create a relevant monarch in Japan by becoming extremely interactive with his people and expanding his role to chief emissary in the rectification in Asia. Although Emperor Akihito has been loved by his nation for over thirty years, he decided to abdicate himself on April 30, 2019. His son, now Emperor Naruhito, has assumed the symbolic role of the monarch, and has been warmly welcomed into the position by the Japanese people. This excitement for Emperor Naruhito’s rule, and Japanese preferences, can easily be explained by political culture.
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Japan has a hierarchical political regime type that works well with the system and people that run it. There is an emperor, presently Emperor Naruhito, but he never has an unbalanced amount of power, and under him there are three branches of government, much like many other states in the world. Horizontal political regime type is usually seen as idyllic in the western world; however, all societies are unique, and some political cultures call for something different. Both horizontal and hierarchical regimes can be flawed and unstable, so neither can be objectively named the better, or more productive, of the two.
Japan’s constitutional monarch works well because of its objective social structure. The Japanese people are proud of their culture and the traditions that surround it; the government is also very traditional and holds the same values. The general public of Japan accepts the rules of the society; therefore, it also accepts the rules of the political regime because they reflect their society. I asked my dad, “Why do you think political culture explains the position of the Japanese emperor remaining an important role in their government?” and he answered it well with, “Japan’s society is very embedded in tradition and intellect, so they continue to allow their structure of government to keep room for an emperor because they have an abundance of respect for him, and they believe that the position is still useful.” The reason why Japan continues on the role of emperor to this day is because it aligns with their political culture. Emperor Akihito was only able to pass his role of emperor on to Emperor Naruhito because the society has a strong objective social structure.
The Japanese people think that Emperor Naruhito has a right to rule and to govern, and they think that the hierarchy between the emperor and themselves is rightfully that way. Because the government system coincides with Japanese beliefs and values, or they have stable objective social structure, they also believe that the government has a right to rule over them, or strong subjective legitimacy. Emperor Naruhito has already established that he will advocate for harmony and peace in an aim to simultaneously establish his rule and to continue on his father’s legacy. Strong subjective legitimacy makes for a stable political system and is vital in order for a regime to stay constant. Japan exemplifies these themes; it’s had the same system for an extremely long time and continues to grow and prosper as a country.
There have been cruel and power-hungry emperors in Japan’s past, which some people may argue is a good reason for the society to rid the government of the position. What they’re misunderstanding is that Japan limits the emperor’s power and has a constitution now. If the emperor’s power is limited, the position can coincide with the Japanese people’s traditional value of peace and not have to be completely overthrown. It is also argued that a powerless emperor is a useless emperor, but according to my sister, “a powerless emperor still holds a great amount of value in a country like Japan that values authority and respect.”
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I asked my younger, 12 year old brother if he would rather have a president or an emperor in America, and he said he would rather have a president because “if we have an emperor, they could do whatever they think is necessary, but with a president we, [the citizens of the United States], can vote on what we think is necessary for our country instead of just one person. In Japan, they wouldn’t see it this way. Their emperor portrays their values, and they care to respect his authority. Each state has its own, unique political culture that calls for a certain political system. If a country’s regime is satisfactory to its people, like in Japan, the strength of the country as a whole grows, and the society continues to prosper. I asked my stepmom if she knew that they emperor had abducted in Japan, and she said she had no idea that an emperor even could or would want to do that, which is a valid response. Emperors seem like they would want to stay emperors, but Akihito was humble and kind and had no thirst for power. He passed this down to Emperor Naruhito, who, according to The Guardian, has the Japanese people’s deepest respect and holds a position of great value to them. This system will most likely remain stable because of the deep-rooted political culture in Japan (“Japan’s Naruhito”).
- “Japan’s Naruhito makes first public appearance as emperor.” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/04/japanese-emperor-naruhito-makes-first-public-appearance. Accessed 18 September 2019.
- Katz, Brigit. “For the First Time in 200 Years, Japan’s Emperor Has Abdicated the Throne.” Smithsonian.com, 30 April 2019, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/first-time-200-years-japans-emperor-has-abdicated-180972069/. Accessed 18 September 2019.
- Kingston, Jeff. “When Japan’s Emperor Akihito steps down, will his pacifist legacy persist despite resurgent nationalism?” South China Morning Post, 3 April 2019, https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/3004304/when-japans-emperor-akihito-steps-down-will-his-pacifist. Accessed 18 September 2019.
- “What Type of Government Does Japan Have?” WorldAtlas, https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-type-of-government-does-japan-have.html. Accessed 18 September 2019.
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