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The Social Democratic Party (社会民主党 Shakai Minshu-tō, often abbreviated to 社民党 Shamin-tō; also known as the Social Democratic Party of Japan (abbreviated to SDPJ or SDP in English) is a leftist Japanese political party. It defines itself as a social democratic party. The party was founded in 1996 by the leftist legislators of defunct Japan Socialist Party (JSP), which was Japan's largest opposition party in the 55-year system. JSP enjoyed a short period of government participation from 1993 to 1994 and later formed a coalition government with LDP under JSP Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama from 1994 to 1996. After the electoral defeat in 1996, it lost moderate members to the Democratic Party of Japan in 1998. As of 2005, it has 12 representatives in both chambers.


Socialist and Social-Democratic parties have been active in Japan, under various names, since the early 20th Century - often suffering harsh government repression as well as ideological dissensions and splits.

The SDP was originally known as the Japan Socialist Party (日本社会党 Nihon Shakai-tō), or JSP, and was formed in 1945, following the fall of the militarist regime which led Japan into the Second World War. The party became the largest political party in the general election of 1947, and a government was formed by Tetsu Katayama, forming a coalition with the Democratic Party of Japan and the Citizens' Cooperation Party. However, due to the rebellion of Marxist tendencies in the party, the Katayama government collapsed. As a result, the party was split into the Rightist Socialist Party, consisting of socialists who leaned more to the center, while the Leftist Socialist Party was formed by hardline left-wingers and Marxist-Socialists.

SDPJ Head Office
The two socialist parties were merged in 1955, reunifying and recreating the Japan Socialist Party. The new opposition party had its own factions, although organized according to left-right ideological beliefs rather than what it called the "feudal personalism" of the conservative parties. In the House of Representatives election of 1958, the Japan Socialist Party gained 32.9 percent of the popular vote and 166 out of 467 seats. However, the party was again split in 1960 because of internal conflicts, and the breakaway group (a part of the old Right Socialist Party of Japan, their most moderate faction) created the Democratic Socialist Party, though the Japan Socialist Party was preserved. After that, the JSPs percentage of the popular vote and number of seats gradually declined.

In the double election of July 1986 for both Diet houses, the party suffered a rout by the LDP under Yasuhiro Nakasone: its seats in the lower house fell from 112 to an all-time low of eighty-five and its share of the vote from 19.5 percent to 17.2 percent. But its popular chairwoman, Takako Doi, led it to an impressive showing in the February 1990 general election: 136 seats and 24.4 percent of the vote. Some electoral districts had more than one successful socialist candidate. Doi's decision to put up more than one candidate for each of the 130 districts represented a controversial break with the past because, unlike their LDP counterparts, many Japan Socialist Party candidates did not want to run against each other. But the great majority of the 149 socialist candidates who ran were successful, including seven of eight women.

Doi, a university professor of constitutional law before entering politics, had a tough, straight-talking manner that appealed to voters tired of the evasiveness of other politicians. Many women found her a refreshing alternative to submissive female stereotypes, and in the late 1980s the public at large, in opinion polls, voted her their favorite politician (the runner-up in these surveys was equally tough-talking conservative LDP member Shintarō Ishihara). Doi's popularity, however, was of limited aid to the party. The powerful Shakaishugi Kyokai (Japan Socialist Association), which was supported by a hard-core contingent of the party's 76,000-strong membership, remained committed to doctrinaire Marxism, impeding Doi's efforts to promote what she called perestroika and a more moderate program with greater voter appeal.

In 1983 Doi's predecessor as chairman, Masashi Ishibashi, began the delicate process of moving the party away from its strong opposition to the Self-Defense Forces. While maintaining that these forces were unconstitutional in light of Article 9, he claimed that, because they had been established through legal procedures, they had a "legitimate" status (this phrasing was changed a year later to say that the Self-Defense Forces "exist legally"). Ishibashi also broke past precedent by visiting Washington to talk with United Statesmarker political leaders.

By the end of the decade, the party had accepted the Self-Defense Forces and the 1960 Japan-United States Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. It advocated strict limitations on military spending (no more than 1 percent of GNP annually), a suspension of joint military exercises with United States forces, and a reaffirmation of the "three nonnuclear principles" (no production, possession, or introduction of nuclear weapons into Japanese territory). Doi expressed support for "balanced ties" with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Koreamarker) and the Republic of Korea (South Koreamarker). In the past, the Japan Socialist Party had favored the Kim Il-sung regime in Pyongyangmarker, and in the early 1990s it still refused to recognize the 1965 normalization of relations between Tokyo and Seoul. In domestic policy, the party demanded the continued protection of agriculture and small business in the face of foreign pressure, abolition of the consumption tax, and an end to the construction and use of nuclear power reactors. As a symbolic gesture to reflect its new moderation, at its April 1990 convention the party dropped its commitment to "socialist revolution" and described its goal as "social democracy": the creation of a society in which "all people fairly enjoy the fruits of technological advancement and modern civilization and receive the benefits of social welfare." Delegates also voted Doi a third term as party chairwoman.

Because of the party's self-definition as a class-based party and its symbiotic relationship with Sohyo, the public-sector union confederation, few efforts were made to attract nonunion constituencies. Although some Sohyo unions supported the Japan Communist Party, the Japan Socialist Party remained the representative of Sohyo's political interests until the merger with private-sector unions and the Rengo in 1989. Because of declining union financial support during the 1980s, some Japan Socialist Party Diet members turned to dubious fund-raising methods. One was involved in the Recruit affair. The Japan Socialist Party, like others, sold large blocks of fund-raising party tickets, and the LDP even gave individual Japan Socialist Party Diet members funds from time to time to persuade them to cooperate in passing difficult legislation.

The SDPJ acquired seventy seats in the July 1993 House of Representatives election, while the LDP lost its majority for the first time in 38 years. The coalition government of Morihiro Hosokawa was formed by anti-LDP liberals (the Japan Renewal Party and the Japan New Party, the Japanese Communist Party the Komeito, the Democratic Socialist Party, the New Frontier Party, the New Party Sakigake, and the JSP). In 1994, however, the JSP and the New Sakigake Party decided to leave the non-LDP coalition to form a coalition with LDP under the premiership of Tomiichi Murayama, the JSP leader at that time. It could be argued that the JSP in coalition abandoned many of its policies, and as a result lost much support.

In 1996, the party changed its name from Japan Socialist Party to Social Democratic Party (SDP) as an interim party for forming a new party. However, a movement for transforming SDP into a new "social democratic and liberal" party was unsuccessful. Since 1996, when the social democratic and liberal Democratic Party of Japan was created by the majority of SDP members and liberals, it has grown smaller and smaller.

The Social Democratic Party won only six seats in the general elections of November 9, 2003, as compared with 18 seats in the previous elections of 2000. It is widely accepted that this heavy defeat is due to its strong and continuous support to North Koreamarker. SDP denied the North Korean abductions of Japanese.

Takako Doi had been leader of SDP since 1996, but she resigned in 2003, feeling that the reason her party lost in the elections was because of her, as chairwoman. Mizuho Fukushima was elected as the new leader of the party on November 15, 2003. In the Upper House Elections of 2004, SDP won only two seats, thus having five seats in the Japanese Upper House and six seats in the Lower House. In 2006 the party unexpectedly gained the governorship of Shigamarker. Although the DPJ has been getting ever more popular, the SDP maintained its base of 7 seats in the 2009 elections, and became a junior partner in a new left government coalition.

Current policies

  • Complete disarmament of Japan in accordance with pacifist principles. The Japanese Self-Defence Force will be replaced with a force dedicated to disaster relief and foreign aid.

  • Introduction of an environment tax.

  • Significant increase in the scope of wildlife protection legislation, increasing the number of protected species and setting up of protection zones

  • A switch from a mass-production / mass-consumption society to a sustainable society in coexistence with nature.

  • Clampdown on harmful chemicals, e.g., restriction on use of agricultural chemicals, ban on asbestos, tackling dioxin and soil pollutants.

  • Increased investment in public transport, encouraging a switch from road to rail, and from petrol powered buses to hybrids, electric vehicles and Light rail transit.

  • The SDP is the only major political party which is in clear opposition to nuclear power, and proposes a gradual switch to wind energy as the nation's base energy source.


See also


  1. SCENARIOS: Japan set for change in August 30 election, Reuters, Aug 20, 2009
  2. Socialist parties in postwar Japan, by Allan B. Cole, George O. Totten [and] Cecil H. Uyehara, New Haven : Yale University Press, 1966.


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