A legislature, which is the most essential political institution in modern democracies, is denoted by different terms in different countries. One such term, Diet, is the name of the national legislature of Japan. The Imperial Diet, established in 1890 by virtue of the Meiji Constitution, was the first legislature in Japan. Under the Meiji Constitution, the emperor’s prerogative was extensive, whereas the Imperial Diet functioned simply as an advisory organ to the emperor in his conduct of state affairs. The Imperial Diet consisted of two houses, the House of Peers and the House of Representatives. The former was composed of members of the imperial family, individuals who paid high taxes, and others appointed by the emperor. Members of the House of Representatives were elected by a limited franchise.
After World War II, the Imperial Diet was replaced by the National Diet under a new constitution. The Diet is now the highest organ of state power and the sole law-making entity of the state. Under the new constitution, Japan has a parliamentary system, in which the prime minister is chosen from among the Diet members by a resolution of the Diet. The Cabinet is collectively responsible to the Diet in the exercise of executive power.
The National Diet is bicameral, composed of the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. Similar to the U.S. Congress, but different from many European legislatures, members of both houses are elected by universal adult suffrage. The electoral system in the House of Representatives is a combination of single-member districts (300 in total) and proportional representation systems (180 in total). This system was adopted in 1994, replacing the multiple-member district system. Ninety-six members of the House of Councillors are elected on the basis of a proportional representation system, while the remaining 146 are elected by a multiple-member prefectural district system.
The constitution proclaims the superiority of the House of Representatives with respect to budget legislation, approval of treaties, nominations for prime minister, and other matters. If a bill is passed by the House of Representatives but rejected by the House of Councillors, the bill can still become law if two-thirds or more of members support the bill in the second deliberation in the House of Representatives.
One feature of the legislative process in the Diet is the committee system, which is similar to that of the U.S. Congress. When a bill is introduced in the House of Representatives, the speaker refers it to the committee under whose jurisdiction it falls. The deliberation in the committee is more detailed and likely to take more time than that in the plenary session.
Secondly, the method of interparty negotiation regarding the management of Diet affairs is peculiar to Japan. Each party represented in the Diet has its own Diet Affairs Committee or similarly named party apparatus, and the committee chairpersons of ruling and opposition parties hold a conference to find a negotiated solution to an interparty confrontation. These conferences, which are typically held behind closed doors, significantly influence the business of the Diet, although the Diet Affairs Committees are not formal organs of the Diet. This system for managing Diet affairs is considered to be one factor that makes deliberations in the Diet difficult to understand.
SEE ALSO Bicameralism; Congress, U.S.; Democracy; Government; Knesset, The; Parliament, United Kingdom
House of Councillors of Japan. http://www.sangiin.go.jp/eng/index.htm.
House of Representatives of Japan. http://www.shugiin.go.jp/index.nsf/html/index_e.htm.
Mochizuki, Mike Masato. 1982. Managing and Influencing the Japanese Legislative Process: The Roles of Parties and the National Diet. PhD diss., Harvard University.