Japan Zentrum

Links und Funktionen



Dissertation Project König (Abstract)

Japanese Local Democracy and Population Aging

(Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Gabriele Vogt, LMU)


Using the case of Japan, this PhD thesis aims to explore how a liberal democracy is affected by demographic change. Japan is one of the fastest aging societies due to low fertility, high life expectancy and restrictive immigration laws. Additionally, domestic mobility flows have led to the depopulation and accelerated aging of rural areas while metropolitan centers like Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya grow continuously. Moreover, in Japan, the older generation is more politically active, whereas the younger generation is labeled politically apathetic. Taken together, these demographic trends have a considerable impact on the democratic system itself and on citizens’ political participation alike.

Some effects have been evident in local elections for several years now. According to the NPO Meisuikyō, a total of 1,816 out of 15,033 assembly members elected in the 2019 unified local election (tōitsu chihō senkyo) were elected in uncontested elections without voting. The number increased by 154 compared to the previous election in 2015. Almost all levels of local governing bodies are experiencing an increase in walkover wins or at least a decrease in the competition for elected positions. These developments caused by a shortage of candidates are likely to grow in the coming elections especially in towns and villages. Still, the Meisuikyō survey reveals that most voters in towns and villages see walkover wins as the pragmatic choice in case of an uncontested election. Only 26 percent express concern about this electoral mechanism.

From a political science perspective, local politics is the backbone of democracy. It provides basic services to residents such as welfare, education, and waste management. It can also serve and often has served as an entry gate for newcomers into politics. In Japan, however, activists have long criticized the local political system for its non-transparent practices, networks of particularism, and lack of diversity. The 2019 elections have made clear that Japan’s local democracy can no longer be sustained amidst today’s societal developments. Picking up on a growing variety of local initiatives, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication has set up a research group tasked with assessing the ideal state of local assemblies. Considering the current debates on the quality of democracy, this research project strives to answer what happens with democracy in an aging society by focusing on institutionalized requirements and the agency of political actors in Japanese local-level politics.