From Imperial Diet to National Diet

The Japanese parliament came into existence in 1890 by virtue of the Meiji Constitution. It was called the Imperial Diet and consisted of two houses - the House of Peers and the House of Representatives. The former drew its members from the Imperial Family, the Peers, people who paid high taxes, and others appointed by the Emperor; the members of the latter were elected by a limited franchise. It was only after 1927 that the members of the House of Representatives were chosen under the universal adult male suffrage that was established by the 1925 Electoral Law.

The basic principle of the Meiji Constitution was monarchism. The power of the Imperial Diet was narrower and more limited than that wielded by the legislatures of many other constitutional states; in the sphere of legislation the Emperor's prerogative was extensive. Through the efforts made by many distinguished pioneers in parliamentary politics, democratic practices were gradually established under the Meiji Constitution, and in the decade from 1910 to 1920 the first party Cabinet came into existence, replacing the bureaucratic Cabinets of the past. However, throughout the period of the Imperial Diet, it was the practice for the prime minister to be appointed by the Emperor on the recommendation of senior statesmen. Thus, the Cabinet was responsible to the Emperor, but not to the Diet.

After World War II, the new Constitution was promulgated on November 3, 1946, and carried into effect on May 3, 1947. The Constitution proclaims that sovereign power resides with the people and that the Emperor is the symbol of the state, deriving his position from the will of the people. The Emperor's role is specified under the Constitution as that of performing only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in the Constitution and of having no powers relating to government. The Imperial Diet, which used to function under the Imperial Constitution merely as an advisory organ to the Emperor in his conduct of state affairs, has been replaced by the National Diet, which functions as the highest organ of state power and as the sole law-making entity of the state.

The National Diet is composed of two houses - the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. Under the parliamentary Cabinet system adopted by the Constitution, the prime minister is chosen from among the Diet members by a resolution of the Diet, and a majority of the ministers of state are required to be chosen from among the Diet members. Furthermore, the Cabinet is held collectively responsible to the Diet in the exercise of executive power, and if the House of Representatives passes a vote of nonconfidence, the Cabinet is required to resign en bloc or the House of Representatives is dissolved in order that an appeal may be made directly to the country through an election.

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