Japan profile - leaders

  • 17 February 2015
  • From the section Asia

Head of State: Emperor Akihito

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko

Akihito succeeded his father, Hirohito, in 1989.

Under the 1947 constitution, Japan's emperors have a purely ceremonial role.

Prime minister: Shinzo Abe

Shinzo Abe swept into office with a landslide win of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 2012, having campaigned on a programme of tough action to pull Japan out of its long economic stagnation.

He won a second term in a similarly emphatic fashion after in snap elections called in 2014, roughly half-way through his first four-year term.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses a news conference after his 2014 election victory.
Mr Abe's nationalistic leanings have irritated Japan's neighbours

His signature economic strategy - known as "Abenomics" - is a three-pronged approach of monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and growth-oriented reform.

Implementation of the first two elements in Mr Abe's first term brought about a brief spurt of growth, but Japan slipped briefly back into recession in mid-2014, prompting Mr Abe to trigger new polls.

Mr Abe said his government needed a fresh mandate in order to press on with economic reform, in particular with the deeper changes likely to meet with resistance from within the LDP and from powerful interest groups.

Some observers argued that the LDP's repeat win - only four seats short of its 2012 result, albeit on a low turnout of 52% - was as much a result of popular disillusionment with mainstream politics and doubts about the effectiveness of the fragmented opposition as it was an endorsement of the government's economic course.

Known as a right-wing hawk, Mr Abe has pushed for Japan to pursue a more assertive foreign policy. Under his government, parliament has passed a bill removing the pacifist constitution's restrictions on deploying military force abroad.

He also called for a greater sense of national pride and backed a law requiring the teaching of patriotism in schools.

His nationalist-leaning views have caused tension with China and South Korea, in particular his 2013 visit to the Yasukuni shrine - seen by Japan's neighbours as a symbol of the country's militarism before and during World War II.

Mr Abe previously served a brief term as premier in 2006-7, when he was Japan's youngest leader since World War II, but stepped down early, citing ill health, after a series of scandals and gaffes sent support for his administration plummeting.

Mr Abe comes from a high-profile political family. His father was a former foreign minister, while his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, was arrested as a suspected war criminal after World War II but never charged.

His second stint as prime minister comes after four-year period after in which the Democratic Party (DPJ) interrupted the LDP's longstanding dominance of Japanese politics on promises of curbing the influence of Japan's powerful bureaucracy and interest groups

The often disunited DPJ government lost popularity as a result of unpopular efforts to deal with Japan's mounting public debt, criticism of its handling of the March 2011 tsunami and a series of scandals.

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