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A Declining Technocratic Regime: Bureaucracy, Political Parties and Interest Groups in Japan, 1950-2000



In this paper, Toshihiro Nakamura provides a case study of the technocratic style of policy making in Japan. In the 1950s and 1960s, a period of rapid economic growth, this style of policy making predominated. In the more recent era of rapid globalization, however, the Japanese political regime is finding itself at a turning point, and the technocratic approach to making policy is changing.

The author also provides a broader picture of contemporary Japanese politics. While much scholarly attention has been paid to the relative power relations between the bureaucracy and politicians—and this body of work is reviewed in the paper—Nakamura also looks at the role of civil society organizations, which have been increasing their importance and influence in policy-making processes.

The author contends that Japan currently finds itself at a turning point from the style of technocratic rule that supported rapid economic growth in the 1950s and 1960s, toward pluralism at the beginning of the new millennium. Section 2 provides an overview of how the bureaucracy, political parties and interest groups have developed. Section 3 deals with the interaction and power relations between these three actors, and argues that a technocratic regime predominated from the 1950s to the early 1970s. Section 4 covers the changes that these actors have been undergoing since the late 1970s, and section 5 discusses the emergence of a new pluralistic regime in the early 2000s.

In spite of changing circumstances, however, Nakamura emphasizes that the Japanese bureaucracy is not in complete decline. Any change is gradual, and a political regime founded so long ago does not change in just 30 years. Yet he does assert that an irreversible force is empowering political parties and interest groups, and it is clear that the Japanese political system and policy-making processes are shifting from a technocratic regime toward the emergence of a more pluralized regime.

At the time of writing this paper, Toshihiro Nakamura was the Research Assistant for the UNRISD project on Technocratic Policy Making and Democratization. He is now Programme Officer in the Governance Unit of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in East Timor.
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  • Pub. Date: 1 Dec 2002
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1020-8186
    From: UNRISD