Is populism finally coming to Japan?

DAISUKE MINAMI | The Japan Times

WASHINGTON – While populism is rising across the world, Japan has so far been immune to it. There is no Japanese equivalent to French politician Marine Le Pen, U.S. President Donald Trump or Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. This, however, seems to be changing after the Upper House election on July 21, in which a new left-wing, anti-establishment party made big strides. What is happening to Japan’s “firewall against populism”?

Reiwa Shinsengumi founder Taro Yamamoto is called “Japan’s Bernie Sanders” for his anti-establishment stance. | KYODO

Scholars attribute the firewall to the lack of ethnic or economic cleavages that populist leaders can exploit to build an anti-immigration or class-based platform. Despite measures to increase foreign workers, Japan remains a homogeneous nation, with resident foreigners only accounting for 1.76 percent of its population. Japanese society is also egalitarian, without high income inequality as in the United States and elsewhere. And the country has seen a steady economic recovery since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in 2012, with an unemployment rate at historic low 2.3 percent.

Against this backdrop, the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partners won almost a supermajority in the Upper House by touting the success of Abe’s economic policies known as Abenomics.

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