FIRST, TWO DISCLAIMERS. DIPLOMATS ARE NOT ACADEMICS. THIS WILL be a personal account, based on some firsthand experience of contemporary Japanese politics (pursued always in terms of the UK interest) supported by some — though not enough — background reading. It will not, however, be an academic text.
The second disclaimer is more complicated. Japan had five different prime ministers during my relatively brief stay in Tokyo. It experienced four coalitions of varying complexions. Fluidity was the name of the game. It challenges ingenuity, to define ‘opposition’ in this context. And it must be right to pay some regard to the culture. To say that times and fashions change is to undersell a more tricky and rewarding set of questions about Japan's political characteristics. This is not just another G7 system. The strength of Japan's culture hits the newcomer to Tokyo like a wave. Moreover, within continuities, Japan has undergone repeated convulsions. Today's political structures draw on domestic as well as foreign traditions, in a subtle mixture.