Why do they rule Japan - The Nature of Japanese Elites

Seminar Paper, 2003

21 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Elite Theory
2.1 Definition
2.2 Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo Pareto
2.3 C. Wright Mills
2.4. G. Lowell Field and John Higley

3. Social Stratification in Japan
3.2 The Corporate Elite
3.1 The Ministry Elite
3.3 The Political Elite

4. Social networks of Japanese Power Elite
4.1. Tokyo law faculty and it’s elite outcome
4.2. Social Clubs/Business Organizations
4.3. Family connections

5. Theory

6. Exploring the Japanese democracy

7. Conclusion

8. References

1. Introduction

In the following pages I will try to examine the nature of Japanese elite´s. It interests me how they are composed, how they work and persist but also why they do the same. For that I will try to look into elite theory from Gaetano Mosca, Vilfredo Pareto, G. Lowell Field and John Higley, C. Wright Mills and Harold D. Lasswell.

My aim is to take bricks of their theories out and apply it to the Japanese national elite system. Therefore I will recognize the Iran Triangle of the Political, Corporate and Ministry elite as Harold Kerbo and John A. McKinstry use it (Kerbo/McKinstry 1995). First of all I will define the terms that will be used in this work and then look into the theories of scientists I talked about above. In the next chapter I go right to Japan to get a small insight of the elite-structure there. After examining the Corporate, Ministry and Political Elite separately I look do the factors that hold them together more closely. The education system, social clubs and business organizations as also the very important family connections. With some questions Lasswell asked for his work, I bring in further thoughts as the theory and fact go together.

So my questions are what is the elite in Japan? Of what elements does it consists and how does it persist? What’s wrong with this democratic system organization, if there is something wrong with it. Is it going to change in the next years or is it likely to persist for a very long time, over generations? Is there a better system for Japan? And what would that be?

I can see that this is not going to be a very sorrow study since the work is taking place in the frame of a student seminar but I take it as an opportunity to get at least some insight in the works of those scientists. The part of applying those theories to Japan, a country I studied only for a short time and never have been to, can only be done with the consciousness of labeling it as a students try. Still I hope that some valid thoughts will come out of the following pages and I hopefully will have time to further this study in the future, as it really sounds interesting to me.

It took me some time to find the right theme for this seminar work, as I wanted to write on Japanese society but didn’t want to cover the exact same things as Prof. Harold Kerbo did in his books „Modern Japanese Society“ (Kerbo/McKinstry 1997) and „Who rules Japan“ (Kerbo/McKinstry 1995). I also hope that I didn’t only meet my own interests but also the expectations of the seminar[1], this work is done for.

In the following pages I will like to show some ways for the elite´s in Japan to hold there positions for themselves and their children but also show how an ordinary person (mostly out of the middle class or lower elite) is able to rise into elite status.

This is just theory out of secondary literature and lacks any empirical study. Based on empirical research of social mobility or status attainment in Japan it hopefully could be verified.

2. Elite Theory

2.1 Definition

Before even starting is has to be cleared what terms I am going to use. Many different combinations would be possible to describe the elite I want to talk about. Political Elite, Political Class, Ruling Elite, Ruling Class, National Elite or Power Elite are all terms used by scientists describing the top “ruling” minority of countries[2]. Even though T. B. Bottomore is coming to the conclusion to use the concept of political class I am not following him (Bottomore 1974:15). To use the term ruling or political class it would imply through the definition of class that we speak about the class who hold the most important means of production. With this term we would speak of a cohesion group united through the same economic interests and because they are in conflict with other classes. Threw that the solidarity of this ruling class is growing steadily. By using the term “ruling elite” it doesn’t say right away how the power of the minority is consisting (Bottomore 1974:38f). Dividing the Japanese society in classes is not my aim but analyzing it as a whole to pick out the structures that hold the powerful people at the top.

Japan is a democracy and for that an elite is existing and looked over by the masses. As for the first elite-theorists this wasn’t that clear. Democracy wasn’t such a positive concept as it is viewed on mostly today. By reading through Vilfredo Paretos “System der Allgemeinen Soziologie” you can feel the negative emphasis on the new democratic theories, often viewed only as one step of the mass-movement of the time, namely the marxist-socialist tendencies that have to be fought anyway (Eisermann 1962). That seems pretty understandable as the two concepts contradict itself in two ways. First sees the elite-theory the different individual talent and the democratic idea is more fixed on the fundamental equality of human beings. Second contradicts at least at first sight the concept of an elite minority ruling the democratic concept of a majority rule. Karl Mannheim sees, after a time viewing the elite-theories very skeptically, a possibility that they are not mutually exclusive. He says: ” Die wirkliche Gestaltung der Politik liegt in den Händen von Eliten; das bedeutet jedoch nicht, dass die Gesellschaft nicht demokratisch wäre. Denn damit man von Demokratie sprechen kann, genügt es, dass die einzelnen Bürger, auch wenn sie sich nicht ständig an der Regierung beteiligen können, wenigstens die Möglichkeit haben, ihre Wünsche in gewissen Zeitabständen zum Ausdruck zu bringen.” (The real political work lies in the hands of elite’s, which doesn’t mean that society is not democratic. To speak of a democratic society, it is enough to say that every person of that state has the possibility to speak out their wishes and concerns in certain time periods.) (Bottomore 1974:17). The option to participate must be a given, if only theoretically for everybody. Also Gaetano Mosca discusses this point. I will come back to this in the chapter on democracy.

More than that does the ruling class define itself over economic superiority and I will try not to take this as a prerequisite for the Japanese Elite even though as Röhrich already writes in his Preface was the economic-dimension to often left out on the scientific researches on power structure (Röhrich 1976:VIII).

As for all those reasons I decided to use the terms ruling elite and elite for the powerful elite that is not in direct ruling position which would include powerful positions in the economy, sciences, religion, civil society or popular culture. Here I am following Bottomore´s differentiation between political class and political elite but not using the same terms again (Bottomore 1974:15). I also want to use a “semi-elite” concept Mosca uses in his theories but didn’t define exactly. The semi-elite’s should be made of the people right under the elite, the upper-middle class which is ready to move up (Bottomore 1974:11f).

Gaetano Mosca writes the elite (he uses political class) is always renewing itself through social forces from the lower elite (Mosca 1950). This renewing certainly takes place and has to take place and we have to look into those processes of moving individuals, groups or whole elite classes. As Pareto is concentrating mostly on the first, Mosca is looking also (mostly) into circulation theories (see Bottomore 1974:59f). We have to separate if the elite is either defined through the people or the positions they hold. Mosca did this certainly through the people, as we see for the reason he is using the term political class and values the social forces only for the renewing effect for this existing and persisting political class. Other Pareto who has more emphasis on the elite circulation but sees the replacement and total renewal of today’s elite through the elite of tomorrow. Nowadays I would define the elite through the positions the people in it are able to hold. Once you belong there its easier to stay for you and your children – this would be the French saying of positions déja prises. Exams and competitions might be theoretically the same for all but in reality the majority doesn’t have the money for all the preparations (Mosca 1950:61f) but this doesn’t mean that you can’t fall or not get there.

In the following pages I to want to repeat some of the theories of known elite-theorists to use them afterwards and discuss them in the context of the Japanese Elite.

2.2 Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo Pareto

Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo Pareto have a lot in common, as they agree that in every society there have to be two classes, and one rules over the other. They both where living in times of the uprising socialist-marxist tendencies, the so called workers revolution and they tried to fight Marx and his followers. They couldn’t believe in a classless society nor a steady ruling class, since forever there had to be a power elite/class ruling over the others which exchanged itself all through times.

Mosca stated it exactly this way as he said in every society there have to be to classes, where one is the minority, for that it is better organized and rules over the majority or the masses. And this is because the minority will always be better organized out of the simple fact that they are less (Mosca 1950:55). For him the final superiority is not coming through the ruling of the majority but on the elimination of the privilege of birth (Röhrich 1976:44). As he sees it the rich will always have a shorter and easier way to success (Röhrich 1976:59). As we will see later this can be easily proofed through the “equal” education system of Japan where families with money still manage to enable advantages for their children. So the challenge to remove this privilege is hopeless and Mosca himself writes in his book “The Ruling Class”: ”To diminish all privileges of birth you would have to get rid of the family structures and bring humans back to promiscuity” (Mosca 1956:339).

Mosca also uses the “political formula”: which is the lawful and moral basis, the principle where the power of the political class is based. He states that the political formula has to be adjusted to the believes and strongest feelings of a peoples or at least of their ruling elite´s and that it is really helpful if there is a sort of national cult where this can be based on (Mosca 1950:68-75).

Pareto is a former economist who tries really hard to give the social sciences the accuracy of the natural sciences and with this the success. He works with residue and derivations whereas there are 6 classes[3] from the first and four[4] from the second. I will try to explain those concepts. He is describing them in his whole book which makes it difficult to explain them exactly. The residue are manifestations of instincts and derivations are there logical or unlogical consequences.

When he later on describes the circulation of elite’s he just uses the residue class I “instinct of combination” and class II “persistence of aggregate”. He says when the elite consists of overwhelmingly enough people with class I residue because they don’t let other believes to join them they will fall in the consequence and vice versa.

The second way he is trying to explain the elite circulation is through speculators and “rentiers” (or gentlemen of private means). When one type of men is represented with a large majority forces will be activated threw the other type that eventually throws the elite over (Eisermann 1962:204f).

Pareto´s theory is complicated and hard to look threw and I am not claiming that I did sum up his whole work correctly. Nevertheless it might be useful later on.

Pareto and Mosca see a upturn after an elite-exchange which slows down to stagnation after a time; so the circle would be closed. (Eisermann 1962:239)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Pareto is convinced of the difference of the elite and the masses. He sees much more as Pareto the gap between the two whereas Mosca even has a theory on the intermingling with the semi-elite of the political class or the new middle class (Bottomore 1974:13f).

2.3 C. Wright Mills

C. Wright Mills did his elite-theory basically on the example of the United States. In the end he comes to the overall same conclusion as the elite-theorists we spoke about before, but with the big difference that he doesn’t see the outcome positive.

Only in the ruling class Mills sees the possibility of organizing themselves sorely because only the ruling class has a class consciousness (Hess 1995:129). Also does he give a lot of importance to the institutions. As there were families, schools, universities or churches in former times which had the big influence now there are basically only three. The economy, the political organization and the military (Hess 1995:130).

As he speaks of democracy he is very pessimistic too. The powerful have a desire to rule secretly without any restrictions from the public. Formally the power is to the people, but it lies only in the hands of view. He sees a long-term strategy of the democracy in that to manipulate people to let them believe they have the power or at least a majority of them has it (Hess 1995:140). As he goes on Mills states that in former times the power elite did usually go hand in hand with the cultural elite. This isn’t the case anymore. Mills says that men or women with an intellectual average is typical for a member of the elite (Hess 1995:141). So C. Wright Mils sees the elite as a cohesion group with similar social background and narrow ties in personal and family matters as well as active interchange (Bottomore 19974:35).

2.4. G. Lowell Field and John Higley

The two elite-theorists wrote a theory that should link variations in the stability and instability of national political institutions to the states of national elite’s in modern societies (Moore 1985:2). They distinguished between four elite states; each associated with a distinctive pattern of political stability or instability. The four basic states of national elite’s are:


[1] The seminar „Social Stratification“ was held by Prof. Harold Kerbo during the Summer Semester 2003 at the University of Vienna, where he was a guest professor in the department of Political Sciences.

[2] I am speaking of nations with a state system that has been studied by the various theorists of western origins. Other forms of ruling peoples, like not centralized communities etc. are not included.

[3] Residue

Class 1 = instinct of combinations

Class 2 = persistence of aggregate

Class 3 = the need to express emotions

Class 4 = residue of sociability

Class 5 = integrity of individuals and his equipment

[4] Derivations

Class 1= claim

Class 2 = authority

Class 3 = to coincide with emotions or principles

Class 4 = evidence of words

Excerpt out of 21 pages


Why do they rule Japan - The Nature of Japanese Elites
University of Vienna  (Institut for Political Sciences)
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ISBN (eBook)
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Japan, Nature, Japanese, Elites
Quote paper
Sabine Putzgruber (Author), 2003, Why do they rule Japan - The Nature of Japanese Elites, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/35765


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