Japan is governed according to the provisions of a constitution that came into force in 1947. Under the terms of this document, which was formulated under the guidance of the Allied occupation authorities after World The constitution also renounced the use of war to resolve international disputes, leaving Japan essentially dependent on the U.S. for protection against threats to its security. In December 2004, however, in view of possible emerging threats in the region, Japan adopted the “National Defense Program Outline,” a new policy that called for a more active role for its armed forces. Nonetheless the policy reiterated Japan’s traditional views opposing war and the use of aggressive military force.

Between 1889, when the first modern Japanese constitution was promulgated, and the end of World War II in 1945, the supreme executive power in Japan was officially designated as resident in the sacred and inviolable person of the emperor, called the Dai Nippon Teikoku Tenno (“Emperor of the Empire of Great Japan”). The throne is hereditary and descends only in the male line of the imperial family; if no heir is produced, an emperor may be chosen only from four princely families equal in rank to the imperial house. Emperor Akihito, who succeeded to the throne in 1989, is said to be the 125th of his line. Under the 1947 constitution, the emperor has only ceremonial functions.

Executive power is vested in a cabinet, headed by a premier. The premier, who represents a majority of the national legislature (diet), chooses the cabinet from among members of the diet, subject to the diet’s approval. The premier and the cabinet are both responsible to the diet.

Before the Japanese defeat in World War II, legislative power resided in a House of Peers (composed of hereditary peers, distinguished commoners nominated by the emperor, and a limited number of elective seats) and a House of Representatives elected by male citizens over 25 years of age. Cabinet ministers were responsible to and appointed by the emperor.

Since 1947 the Japanese diet, the supreme organ of government power, has been a bicameral body, elected by universal suffrage (at age 20) and consisting of the House of Representatives (lower house) and the House of Councillors (upper house). Lower-house members, totaling 500, are elected for a term not to exceed four years; 300 legislators are elected from single-member districts, and the remaining 200 seats are chosen on a proportional basis. Upper-house members, totaling 252, are elected for 6-year terms; elections for one-half the membership are held every three years. One hundred councillors are elected at large and the remainder from the prefectural districts. Decisions by the House of Councillors may be vetoed by the lower house, which also retains control over legislation dealing with treaties and fiscal matters.

The Japanese judicial system is entirely separate from and independent of the executive authority. Except for reasons of health, judges may be removed only by public impeachment. The highest court in the nation is the supreme court, established by the constitution and consisting of a chief justice appointed by the emperor upon the recommendation of the cabinet and 14 associate justices appointed by the cabinet. Four types of lower courts are prescribed by the constitution: high courts, district courts, family courts, and summary courts. The supreme court is the tribunal of final appeal in all civil and criminal cases and has authority to decide on the constitutionality of any act of the legislature or executive. High courts hear appeals in civil and criminal cases from lower courts. District courts have both appellate and original jurisdiction. Family and summary courts are exclusively courts of first instance.

Local Government.
Including Okinawa, which was returned to Japan by the U.S. in 1972, the country is divided into 47 prefectures or their equivalent; each is administered by an elected governor and assembly. Each municipality in the prefectures has a legislature composed of popularly elected representatives. The municipalities have fairly broad powers; they control public education and may levy taxes.

Political Parties.
According to legislative representation, the major political parties in Japan in the late 1990s included the Liberal-Democratic party, the New Frontier Party, the Democratic party, the Communist Party of Japan, and the Social Democratic Party of Japan (formerly the Japan Socialist party). The Liberal-Democratic party, which held power from the mid-1950s to the early 1990s, advocates free enterprise, expansion of foreign trade, government aid to small business, and close relations with the U.S. The Social Democratic party has traditionally favored nationalization of major industries and expanded social welfare; it supports the principles of mutual security and collective nonaggression. Corruption scandals in recent years have fostered the growth of new parties with reform agendas.

Health and Welfare.
In the early 1990s about 18% of the annual national budget was allocated for social security purposes. A medical insurance system has been in effect in Japan since 1927. Self-employed people and employees in the private and public sectors are included under the medical plan.

Social welfare services have greatly expanded since World War II; legislation enacted or amended in the postwar years includes the Livelihood Security Law for Needy Persons, the Law for the Welfare of Disabled Persons, the National Health Insurance Law, the Welfare Pension Insurance Law, Old Age Welfare Law, and the Maternal and Child Welfare Law. The entire population is covered by various insurance systems. Most working people retire at the age of 55 and receive retirement pensions amounting to about 40% of their salary. Health conditions are generally excellent. In the early 1990s life expectancy at birth was 76 years for men and 82 years for women; the infant mortality rate was a very low 4.4 per 1000 live births. Japan had about 210,200 physicians, 365,300 nurses, 73,000 dentists, 24,100 midwives, and 1,686,000 hospital beds.

The National Police Reserve, created under the direction of the occupation authorities in 1950, formed the nucleus of the defense forces subsequently organized when the Japanese regained national sovereignty. In the early 1990s the Japanese Self-Defense Forces consisted of about 237,700 persons. These comprised an army (149,900members), a navy (43,100), and an air force (44,700). The country also has a coast guard. All police forces in Japan are under the control of the central government.

International Organizations.
Japan is a member of the UNITED Nations (UN), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the ORGANIZATION for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the WORLD Trade Organization.