On November 1st from 8:00pm-9:30pm (EST)/ November 2nd 9:00am-10:30am (JST) an exciting panel of experts of both Japanese politics and foreign relations came together in an event aimed at navigating the “Age of Disruption” of Japan’s current political environment. The guiding question asked panelists to interpret recent election results of the Cabinet and Lower House and how they would impact the nation both domestically and internationally. This event was co-sponsored by the Center for Japanese Research at the University of British Columbia and moderated by Professor Yves Tiberghien.

Opening remarks were delivered by Joseph Caron, the former ambassador of Canada to Japan, and touched on notions of historical Japanese leadership and Canadian-Japanese relations in the Kishida-Trudeau era. Reflecting on his experiences as ambassador, Caron stated that “For decades, the structural framework of national elections have been successfully designed to keep the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in power,” suggesting that this notion was likely not going to differ anytime soon. In closing, the need for stronger geo-political ties between Canada and Japan was stressed, with Caron explaining that recent elections in both nations present a pivotal opportunity for relations between both countries to improve.

The first panelist was Professor Phillip Lipscy, who kicked off the panel discussion with the main takeaways from the Japanese election. Lipscy further examined the intra-party politics of the LDP, commenting on the leadership composition and structure that contributed to the party’s recent electoral success. Though the main opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), experienced losses during the election, Lipscy explained that the party is a growing, credible threat to the LDP, with this development “ultimately affecting how the LDP will govern Japan going forward.” Lipscy finished his presentation with points highlighting the overall weaknesses of the CDP, noting that the party still has ways to go if it aims to become the governing party.

The next panelist was Professor Mari Miura from Sophia University. Miura analyzed the election from the lens of gender, focusing on female candidates and gender equality in politics. Miura discussed a cultural shift in Japan towards increasing the number of women in influential positions, and how this progress was not translated into the election outcome, which produced only 9.7% female members of the Diet. Miura explained this discrepancy by pointing to the LDP victory and how the party “Is not active in promoting women candidates,” thus decreasing the likelihood of greater gender parity. The variable of age was also noted as explaining this outcome, with the majority of elected officials being 50+ and belonging to an age group where gender equality was historically not prioritized. Miura closed by citing statistics of open-minded younger cohorts, and how Japan could see a shift towards greater gender parity in politics in the future.

The third panelist was Professor Harukata Takenaka from the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. Takenaka started by examining key domestic policies that the Kishida administration can tackle as a result of the election outcome that gave his party majority status. COVID-19 remains a large issue in Japan, with Takenaka suggesting that consistent LDP rule can get important legislative objectives solved without much delay, including increasing hospital bed capacity and revising Japan’s legal framework for pandemic governance. Kishida’s promise to create a “New Japanese Capitalism” was also analyzed, with Takenaka stating that “The protection of the Japanese middle class is key in encouraging the public to support the LDP’s economic statecraft.” Takenaka ended by suggesting future policy reforms that are of great importance to the country.

The last panelist was Sheila Smith, a member of the Council of Foreign Relations located in Washington, D.C. From a foreign policy perspective, Smith analyzed the significance of issues regarding Japan’s defense and military capability and how differing opinions impacted leadership decisions and election outcomes within the LDP. Smith described a ‘balancing act’ for the LDP, with the party attempting to politically consolidate the “cosmopolitan point of view, like Kishida’s, with folks who are more invested in Japanese hard power resources and defense mechanisms.” Jurisdictionally, Smith noted research that found that 60% of candidates in the 2021 election supported stronger domestic defense policy for the country. Smith concluded her analysis by pointing to broader foreign policy issues, such as a diplomatic visit from Xi Jinping, which could serve as an early test for the Kishida government.

Following the panel discussion, there was a lively question and answer period with viewers from around the globe. Questions the panelists answered involved ideas surrounding the political relationships inside the Kishida cabinet, strategies for promoting female participation in politics, and the origins of the “New Japanese Capitalism.”

We would like to thank the panel for sharing their insights, as well as the virtual audience that was in attendance for an engaged Q&A session.