Elections in Japan

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Participation in national parliamentary elections in the post-war period

The national elections in Japan are :

  • to the Shūgiin , the lower house, regularly every four years, mostly at shorter intervals and
  • to the Sangiin , the House of Lords, every three years. In each of these elections, only half of the MPs are newly elected; the term of office of members of the upper house is six years.

The confirmation of the Supreme Court justices often takes place at the same time as the general election. In addition, by-elections for deceased and resigned MPs are held in constituencies as required. (In the case of MPs elected by proportional representation or in the Sangiin with vacancies within three months of regular elections, the vacancies are instead filled by substitutes .)

At the sub-national level, the governors of the prefectures , the mayors of the municipalities and the prefectural and local parliaments are elected every four years . Many of these elections are summarized in the "uniform regional elections" ( Japanese 統一 地方 選 挙 , tōitsu chihō bekyo ) in years before leap years. In the last unified regional elections in April 2019 , 11 governors, 41 prefectural parliaments, over 200 mayors and over 600 local parliaments were elected.

All of these elections are regulated in the 1950 “Law on Election to Public Offices” ( 公職 選 挙 法 , kōshoku-licho-hō ), which replaced previously existing individual laws .


A special feature of elections in Japan is that, unlike in most other democracies, voting is not done by ticking, crossing out or similar markings, but by spelling out the name of the candidate (or the party in the proportional representation). This is one of the main reasons why the election campaign in Japan consists mainly of repeating the candidate's name over and over again through loudspeaker trucks, posters and in face-to-face meetings. Some politicians also write their names in kana instead of kanji to make it easier for their voters to vote.

"Proportional fraction votes"

From this form of voting and the Japanese writing system, the “proportional fractional votes ” ( 按 分 票 , ambunhyō ), which are legally regulated in Article 68 of the “Law on Election to Public Offices”, arise as a further specialty . If a vote cannot be clearly assigned to a candidate or party due to the same name or the same spelling of different names, it is not considered an invalid vote, but is - weighted with the percentage of votes among the fully valid votes of the candidates or parties concerned - all possibly intended Candidates or parties slammed. It is rounded after the third decimal place.

For example, suppose the candidates Ichirō Tanaka, Jirō Tanaka and Konata Izumi are running in a constituency and have received 2000, 1500 and 500 unambiguous votes. In addition, there is only Tanaka on 100 ballots. Then Ichirō Tanaka of these 100 × 2000 ÷ 3500 = 57.143 votes and Jirō Tanaka 100 × 1500 ÷ 3500 = 42.857 are added. The official final result is therefore: Ichirō Tanaka 2,057,143 votes, Jirō Tanaka 1,542,857 votes and Konata Izumi 500,000 votes. The total number of votes cast (in this case 4,100) is retained except for cumulative rounding errors.


The right to vote , all Japanese citizens who are at least 18 years since the 2016th

Passive voting rights for the Shūgiin, for mayors, for prefecture and local parliaments are granted to all men and women over the age of 25, candidates for the Sangiin and for the governorship in the prefectures must have reached the age of 30.

Right to vote for foreigners

Mass rally in April 2010 against the right to vote for foreigners with the participation of leading conservative politicians such as Tadamori Ōshima , Takeo Hiranuma , Yoshimi Watanabe and Shizuka Kamei .

The Supreme Court believes that it would be against the Constitution to allow foreigners to vote in elections at the national level. On the other hand, it is not unconstitutional to allow this in elections at a lower level (e.g. city councils). The legislature is free to decide on this.

A first bill on local voting rights for foreigners was introduced in 1998 by the Kōmeitō together with the Democratic Party (DPJ), but was not passed. The DPJ launched another unsuccessful advance in 2000. Since 1999, the Kōmeitō has been working with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in government; the coalition agreement actually provided for the implementation of the right to vote for foreigners. Within the LDP, however, there are various voices that strictly reject the right to vote for foreigners or want to restrict it to certain groups (citizens of the former colonies of Korea and Taiwan ). After the local suffrage for foreigners was introduced in neighboring South Korea in 2005 and the DPJ won a majority in Sangiin in 2007, the issue was discussed again. A Kōmeitō draft from 2005 did not come through parliament again. The law would have given registered foreigners over 20 from countries in which foreigners have comparable rights the opportunity to vote in elections at the prefectural and municipal level.

After the Democratic Party took over government in 2009, General Secretary Ichirō Ozawa announced that he would try to introduce a bill into parliament in 2010 that would grant foreigners living in Japan the right to prefecture and local elections. However, the Democrats' coalition partner, the New People's Party , is against such a law.

In referendums in some communities whose rules may decide the municipalities themselves, foreign citizens are entitled to vote. In addition, even before the general lowering of the voting age in 2016, minors aged 18 and over were allowed to take part in referendums in some municipalities.

Electoral system and constituencies

Constituency of Japan for the House of Commons since 1996
The eleven constituencies (“blocks”) for the 180 seats in the 1996 proportional representation to the lower house

The electoral system most commonly used in post-war Japan was that of non-transferable individual voting, which was initially used from 1947 for both chambers of the national parliament as well as for prefecture and local parliaments. It had already been used in the German Empire since 1928 for the election of the national lower house. However, in many elections in Japan, not only multiple, but also single-mandate constituencies are used, in which the non-transferable individual votes are identical to a simple majority vote . When the national lower house was still elected after non-transferable individual votes, there was only one single-mandate constituency from the return of the Amami Islands until 1990; In the national upper house, on the other hand, the single-mandate constituencies often play a decisive role, as the large parties usually share the mandates in the multi-mandate constituencies, including many two-mandate constituencies in the past, as well as in the proportional representation, while it is possible to win a large part of the single-mandate constituencies by slight shifting of votes.

Overview of the most important voting systems used today in Japan
institution Electoral system and constituencies Election period
(all independent / not synchronized)
At the national level, parliamentary system of government: the executive chief (prime minister) is elected indirectly by parliament
465 members of the House of Representatives (Shūgiin giin) (Lower House of the National Parliament
289 members relative majority vote in 289 single-seat constituencies 4 years
(maximum, usually shorter)
176 members D'Hondt proportional representation in 11 multi-mandate constituencies
248 members of the Council House (Sangiin giin) (Upper House of the National Parliament
2 × 74 members Non-transferable individual voting (SNTV) in 45 single and multi-mandate constituencies
(SNTV in a single-mandate constituency = relative majority vote)
6 years
(alternating partial elections: 124 members every 3 years)
2 × 50 members D'Hondt proportional representation with preferential vote in 1 nationwide multi-mandate constituency
In prefectures and parishes the presidential system: the executive chief and parliament are elected directly by the people independently of one another
Governor (to- / dō- / fu- / ken-chiji)
(head of administration of a prefecture)
relative majority vote in 1 prefectural constituency 4 years
Members of a prefectural parliament (to- / dō- / fu- / ken-gikai giin) Non-transferable individual votes in single and multi-mandate constituencies 4 years
Mayor (shi- / ku- / chō- / son-chō)
(head of administration of a municipality)
relative majority vote in 1 community-wide constituency 4 years
Members of a community parliament (shi- / ku- / chō- / son-gikai giin) Non-transferable individual votes in mostly only one community-wide multi-mandate constituency 4 years


The electoral system for today's 465 (1996–2000: 500, 2000–2014: 480, 2014–2017: 475) MPs in the lower house of the national parliament was fundamentally reformed in 1994: Now, in a trench voting system with two votes, 289 MPs in single-mandate constituencies according to simple Majority suffrage elected, 176 additional seats are elected in 11 regional proportional representation constituencies ("blocks") according to party lists , the proportional representation seats are allocated according to the D'Hondt procedure . The single-mandate constituencies favor the emergence of a clear two-party system; but the proportional representation blocks also allow smaller parties to win seats. The reform of the electoral law had been one of the main goals of the anti- LDP coalition (Cabinets Hosokawa and Hata) in 1993/94, and its draft law provided for nationwide proportional representation; but with the grand coalition and the return of the LDP to the government (Murayama cabinet), the division into regional "blocks" was made, making it difficult for smaller parties to win seats - in the smallest block, Shikoku , only six seats in total are awarded. For a list of proportional representation blocs and single-mandate constituencies, see List of constituencies for Shūgiin ; the constituency boundaries mostly follow the (partly former) municipal boundaries or in large cities ( seirei shitei toshi ) the boundaries of urban districts. The electoral period for the lower house is four years, but in post-war history, with the exception of 1976 , new elections were always held before the end of the legislative period.

Political parties that meet the necessary requirements (see Political Parties in Japan # Legal Regulations ) are allowed to nominate candidates in a constituency and on a proportional representation list at the same time. In this case, they can (but do not have to) place some or all of these dual candidates on the same list on their proportional representation list. After electoral district winners have been struck from the list - they cannot be re-elected via proportional representation - the sekihairitsu (literally the “rate of narrow defeat”) decides on the order of the list candidates. It is calculated from the constituency votes of the candidate divided by the number of votes of the constituency winner. The candidates placed on the list are then sorted in descending order according to sekihairitsu . The order also applies to possible successors . This system enables constituency losers to still be elected (“resurrection”) depending on their constituency success: those who suffered only a “narrow defeat” are elected first. The trench voting system is unaffected by this: the constituency votes only decide on the order of list candidates, but not on the number of proportional representation candidates ; and unlike proportional representation for the national upper house, voters have no direct influence over who is elected through proportional representation.


The current 242 members of the upper house of the national parliament are elected in partial elections: every three years half of the chamber is elected for six-year terms. A trench voting system with two votes is also used in upper house elections: 74 of the 124 MPs to be elected are elected by non-transferable individual voting in multiple and single-seat constituencies, with the prefectures usually serving as constituencies (see list of constituencies for Sangiin ); since 2016 there are two combined constituencies, each made up of two prefectures. The remaining 50 members are elected through a nationwide proportional representation via party lists using the D'Hondt procedure. The proportional representation for the House of Lords was introduced in 1983, before that, in their place in a nationwide constituency, people and not lists were also elected by non-transferable individual votes. Simultaneous candidacies in a prefectural constituency and via national proportional representation are not permitted.

Since the 2001 election there has been a preferential vote for proportional representation candidates in proportional representation, the number of votes alone decided the order of candidates on proportional representation lists , including the order of possible successors (most open list) . Starting with the 2019 election , however, parties can exclude protected candidates from the preferential election in a so-called tokutei-waku ( 特定 枠 , for example “special framework ”).


The Sangiin replaced the Kizokuin under the post-war constitution in 1947 , the previous upper house of the Reichstag, which consisted of hereditary and Tenno-appointed members. Some of the appointed members were chosen by elections. These elections - among the top taxpayers, the three lower nobility ranks and from 1925 the Academy of Sciences - took place every seven years from 1890 onwards. In electing the representatives of the top taxpayers, the prefectures acted as constituencies.

Prefectures and parishes

Governors and mayors are elected for four-year terms by simple majority vote.

Prefectural and local parliaments are elected by non-transferable individual votes in multiple and single-mandate constituencies. The constituencies for prefectural parliaments are mostly urban districts of large cities (seirei shitei toshi) , otherwise municipalities - sometimes several in one constituency - and the former districts . Most municipalities form a single constituency for local parliaments, while the city districts serve as constituencies in the 20 major cities. The electoral term is four years.

Prefectural parliaments have existed since 1878, local parliaments since 1880 and thus longer than the national parliament. The elections initially took place under a strict census and, in some cases, also under three-class or two-class suffrage. Mayors were elected indirectly, wherever at all, and governors were appointed.

denaoshi perpendicular

If a governor or mayor resigns of his own accord (not enforced by a vote of no confidence in parliament or a recall) and runs again in the new election, this new election takes place according to special rules and is called denaoshi perpendicular ( 出 直 し 選 挙, for example, "new beginning or return election ") . If the resigning office holder is re-elected in such an election, his new term of office does not run for a full four years, but only for the remaining term of the previous term from which he resigned. The next new elections will then take place again in the old election cycle. But if another candidate wins, he is elected for a full four years. The legal basis is Article 259/2 of the Electoral Act. Such a choice came in a prominent, more recent example in 2011 in the city of Nagoya , when Mayor Takashi Kawamura resigned in a political conflict with the city parliament over tax cuts. He won the denaoshi mayoral election; the next regular mayoral election took place in 2013, when his original term of office from 2009 expired.

Equality of choice

The constituencies have different numbers of voters. This means that in less densely populated constituencies one vote has more influence on the composition of the parliament than in constituencies with a greater population density. The problem is summarized in Japan with the expression ippyō no kakusa ( 一 票 の 格 差 ), literally "the difference of a voice".

The related questions have led to a large number of decisions by the Supreme Court for the national parliamentary elections, which in some cases have found the constituencies to be unconstitutional. However, no election has yet been declared invalid for this reason; rather, the legislature has a reasonable period of time to remedy the inequality.

After the 2012 Shūgiin election , several higher courts declared the election not only unconstitutional but also invalid in some constituencies for the first time, but the Supreme Court later found the election valid. The Sangiin-election in 2016 was five unconstitutional elections in a row, the first national election, which was held by the Supreme Court to be constitutional. Previously unconstitutional imbalances according to the judgment of the Supreme Court existed in the Shūgiin elections in 1972 (4.99), 1980 (3.94), 1983 (4.40), 1990 (3.18) and after the introduction of the single-mandate constituencies in 2009 (2 , 30), 2012 (2.43) and 2014 (2.13) as well as for the Sangiin in the elections 1992 (6.59), 2010 (5.00) and 2013 (4.77).

In September 2017 the maximum mood imbalances existed:

  • for the House of Representatives between the constituencies Tokyo 13 with 474,118 eligible voters and Tottori 1 with 239,097, a ratio of 1.98, and
  • for the council house between the prefecture electoral districts Saitama with 1,018,511 eligible voters per member and Fukui with 327,300 eligible voters per member, a voting weight ratio of 3.11.

Organization and supervision

Elections are overseen by the Election Oversight Commissions ( Senkyo kanri iinkai , 選 挙 管理 委員会 ). At the national level, there is the Central Election Supervision Commission (chūōzunyo kanrikai) for organizing the referendum on the judges of the Supreme Court and part (proportional representation) of the elections to both chambers of the national parliament. Its five members are appointed for a three-year term by the Prime Minister, they must have the right to stand as Sangiin and cannot be MPs. All other elections and votes are overseen by the local election inspection commissions in prefectures, parishes and the boroughs of large cities (seirei shitei toshi) . They each have four members, who are elected by the respective prefectural or local parliaments for a term of four years. Prefectural and municipal election supervision can be made the subject of a recall by the citizens .

For each individual election, the Election Supervision Commission appoints an election committee (senkyokai) and an election officer (senkyochō) . These collect and check the results that the "counting overseers " (kaihyō kanrisha) transmit from the polling stations. The voting itself is organized by "voting overseers " (tōhyō kanrisha) . Finally, there are three types of “witnesses” or “observers” (tachainin) for control purposes , tōhyō tachiainin in the voting, kaihyō tachiaiinin in the local counting and senkyo tachiainin in the determination of the election winner and the overall result.

Web links

Commons : Elections in Japan  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  • Steven R. Reed: Japan: Haltingly Towards a Two-Party System. in: Michael Gallgher and Paul Mitchell (Eds.): The Politics of Electoral Systems. Oxford University Press 2005.

Individual evidence

  1. Sōmushō : Voter Turnout in National Elections (Japanese), accessed November 21, 2019.
  2. 按分(あんぶん)票とは何ですか. . Izumi- shienkenyo kanrii iinkai jimukyoku (Secretariat of the Izumi City Election Oversight Commission), accessed April 9, 2018 (Japanese).
  3. Diet enacts law lowering voting age to 18 from 20 . In: The Japan Times Online . June 17, 2015, ISSN  0447-5763 ( japantimes.co.jp [accessed January 10, 2017]).
  4. ^ Decision of February 28, 1995
  5. Ozawa positive about granting local voting rights to non-Japanese. In: The Japan Times . September 22, 2009, accessed September 22, 2009 .
  6. Margaret McKean, Ethan Scheiner: Japan's new electoral system: la plus ça change ... , Electoral Studies 19 (2000), pp. 447-477.
  7. な る ほ ド リ 「出 直 し 選 挙」 で 任期 は ど う な る の? . In: Mainichi Shimbun Shiga. January 30, 2019, accessed April 2, 2019 (Japanese).
  8. kōshoku-konsyo-hō in the Sōmushō's e-Gov law database , accessed April 2, 2019.
  9. See Takahashi et al. a. Kempō Hanrei Hyakusen II (One Hundred Selected Decisions on Constitutional Law II) , 2007, p. 336 ff.
  10. Sōmushō : voter statistics as of September 1, 2017 , IV. 選 挙 区 ご と の 選 挙 人 名簿 及 び 在外 選 挙 挙 人 名簿 登録 者 数 等 (MS Excel)
  11. Sōmushō : な る ほ ど! 選 挙> 選 挙 管理 機関