Under the 1947 Constitution, sovereignty rests with the people rather than with the Emperor. The Emperor serves as the ‘symbol of state’: technically speaking, Japan has no ‘head of state’, a legacy of postwar attempts to strip the throne of all power. The Diet contains two houses: the Upper House (House of Councillors), and Lower House (House of Representatives), both housed in the Diet Building (see Illustration 5.1). However, the lower house is much the more important of the two. Both houses are filled by elected members. In many respects, the formal structures of the Japanese parliamentary system reflect the British model, with executive power concentrated in the hands of the cabinet and the prime minister. At least 50 per cent of ministers must be members of the Diet. There is an independent judiciary, and local governments at the prefectural and municipal level enjoy autonomy. Civil and social rights, including freedom of speech and assembly, are incorporated into the constitution. Citizens are equal before the law; public officials are accountable to the people, who have the right to choose and dismiss them. Despite some criticism of the 1947 Constitution as a ‘foreign’ import imposed on Japan by the Occupation forces, no formal motion to amend it has yet been put before the Diet.
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