Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mary Alice Haddad's "Building Democracy in Japan"

Mary Alice Haddad is an Associate Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and the author of Politics and Volunteering in Japan: A Global Perspective.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Building Democracy in Japan, and reported the following:
How is democracy made real? How does an undemocratic country create new institutions and transform its polity such that democratic values and practices become integral parts of its political culture? Building Democracy in Japan tells the bottom-up story of Japan’s democratization process.

Page 99 falls in the concluding section of a chapter that explains the ways that Japan’s political institutions have experienced dramatic pro-democratic changes in the last two decades.
The reforms that they are enacting should not be seen as a mere mimicking of liberal reforms found in Western countries, however. In many ways these Japanese are reshaping the democracy that was given to them by the Allied Occupation to make it more authentically Japanese, even as they are enhancing many of its pro-democratic elements.

Contemporary Japanese politics is freer now than it was before. Political parties and politicians are more assertive, taking the initiative and challenging the bureaucracy more often and on a wider range of issues. Local governments have more autonomy to develop policies that fit their needs and tailor central government initiatives to suit the local conditions. …. Citizens and civil society organizations have been empowered. They are taking more responsibility for local as well as global problems and are demanding, and being granted, a greater say in politics. Groups are more active and more numerous than they were even a decade ago. They are claiming their rights and holding the government and its employees more accountable, both individually and collectively.

These democratic transformations have been made very carefully. They have been accomplished in ways that have preserved and even enhanced certain political values of the older generation. Although many of the reforms have championed liberal democratic ideals and practices, most of the time they have followed a political process compatible with older ways of politicking in Japan. In nearly all of the examples… reforms were initiated by elite leaders. … political efficacy came when politicians in positions of power took the issue on their own and promoted it. … In these ways, political leaders do not just reflect the ‘will of the people’ as idealized by liberal democrats; they also act as the moral guides expected by older Japanese.
The fundamental argument of Building Democracy in Japan is that democratization is a long process that involves the mutual adjustment of imported liberal democratic values, institutions, and practices with the political values, institutions, and practices that are present in the country prior to the onset of the democratization process.

Page 99 reflects that central argument well. What page 99 does not convey is the rich narratives contained in the book. The most fun and exciting aspects of the book can be found in the nuanced and often hilarious stories of communities, organizations, and individual Japanese as they struggle with transforming their political culture.

The book contains stories of how a neighborhood association chief stands up to his city government, shifting the power dynamics in his town from one where the city identifies the problem and tells the neighborhood association what to do to one where the neighborhood association identifies the problem and then tells the city government what to do. It tells the story of how the Association of New Elder Citizens’ finds ways not only to improve the health and welfare of its senior citizen members but also to reach out to children and help them learn to become good democratic citizens that contribute to a more peaceful world. It recounts the story of a young mother who decides to marry a foreigner and then quit her job rather than face the stress of combining motherhood with career, demonstrating both her increased individual power to make decisions about her own life but perhaps a reduced collective power to influence politics.

It is through these stories that we can understand how citizens make (and remake) democracy around the globe. Readers will finish the book with a much richer and more personal understanding of how Japan has democratized. The author hopes that learning more about Japan’s democratization process will also cause readers to reflect on the politics in their own countries and how they may be contributing to democracy at home.
Learn more about Building Democracy in Japan at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue