Blog Reading Japanese Politics

Kanji for political parties in Japan – politics series #1

Political parties are at the centre of political life in Japan. This article introduces the general vocabulary and kanji related to Japanese political parties, as well as the parties currently represented in the National Diet.

This article is part of my Reading Japanese Politics series. In each segment, context and vocabulary are introduced, followed by an overview of the main kanji involved. At the end is a quiz combining kanji and vocabulary knowledge. Important: this series targets only N1 and N2 kanji.

1. Key kanji and vocabulary

is the key kanji for political parties (N2, kanji details).
It means “to bring many people together”, reading: トウ, and is studied in Japan in the 6th grade of elementary school.

Using 党, a lot of words can be formed in context of political parties. The very basic ones are the following (together with kanji of levels lower than N2):

政党 【せいとう】 political party;
与党 【よとう】 ruling party;
野党 【やとう】 opposition party;
党員 【とういん】 party member;

2. Parties in the Diet

There are 6 major parties represented in the National Diet (the name of the parliament in Japan). Note that half of the parties have 民主 in their name, which means “democratic”.

1. Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)
自由民主党【じゆうみんしゅとう】 (Shortened name: 自民党)
The right-wing LDP has been the mainstay of politics in Japan, dominating since 1955.

2. Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP)
立憲民主党【りっけんみんしゅとう】(Shortened name: 民主党)
The main opposition party (centre-left), formed through a merger in 2020.

3. Komeito
公明党 【こうめいとう】 (Shortened name: 公明)
Founded by lay members of the new religious movement Soka Gakkai (Japanese Buddhist religious movement). This centre-right party is partner of the current coalition government since 2012.

4. Japanese Communist Party (JCP)
日本共産党【にほんきょうさんとう】 (Shortened name: 共産党)
One of the largest non-governing communist parties in the world.

5. Japan Innovation Party (Nippon Ishin)
日本維新の会【にっぽんいしんのかい】(Shortened name: 維新)
Right-wing populist party originating from Osaka.

6. Social Democratic Party (SDP)
社会民主党【しゃかいみんしゅとう】 (Shortened name: 社民党)
Social-democratic party positioned at centre-left, previously known as the Japan Socialist Party. Has been in steady decline.

At the time of writing, there are two other small parties in the National Diet (with 2 seats each): Reiwa Shinsengumi (れいわ新選組) and the Party to Protect Citizens from NHK (NHKから自国民を守る党).

民主 【みんしゅ】 democracy;
自由 【じゆう】 freedom; liberty;
立憲 【りっけん】 constitutionalism;
公明 【こうめい】 fairness;
共産 【きょうさん】 communism;
維新 【いしん】 reformation;
社会 【しゃかい】 society; community;

Kanji (N2 and N1) in the vocabulary above:

憲 means “constitution” (N1, kanji details), reading: ケン.
Supported by a heart (心) radical, made up of 4 components vertically stacked. Those kanji are rare in the jōyō kanji (other: and ).

維 means “fiber” (N1, kanji details), reading: イ.
Made up of the radicals thread (⽷) and small bird (⾫).

3. Party position titles

Nothing is more important in Japan than the position title. Hence, together with the last name of the representative, their position will be mentioned rather than the common term of party leader (党首).

The position title of the party leader is different depending on the party. In most parties it is “representative” (代表), but for the largest party, the LDP, it is “president” (総裁). For the communist party it is “committee chairman” (委員長).

Within the LDP are a number of other powerful positions that one ought to know. Given the prominence of the LDP in Japanese politics, these positions also wield quite some power on the national scene. The LDP “secretary-general” (幹事長) is de facto the most powerful person within the LDP after the president.

党首 【とうしゅ】 party leader;
代表 【だいひょう】 representative;
総裁 【そうさい】 president (of org);
委員長 【いいんちょう】 (committee) chair;
幹事長 【かんじちょう】 secretary-general;

Kanji (N2 and N1) in the vocabulary above:

総 means “whole” (N2, kanji details), reading ソウ. This kanji is very common as a prefix indicating the total of something.

裁 means “judge” (N1, kanji details), reading サイ、た-つ、さば-く. Any type of judicial terminology is bound to use this kanji.

委 means “committee” (N2, kanji details), reading イ、ゆだ-ねる. A grain (⽲) radical on top of a woman (女) radical.

幹 means “tree-trunk” (N1, kanji details), reading カン、みき. I always remember this one as the kanji from shinkansen (新幹線).

4. Terminology for Japan

There are a number of terms that pop up here and there that are specific to Japanese politics.

1955 system: refers to the party system in Japan from 1955 to 1993 in which the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) successively held majority government (also known as the ‘one-and-a-half party system’)

Factions: the LDP is characterized by factionalism, where factions are sub-groups within a larger organisation; Japanese factionalism is distinguished by its stability and institutionalization.

Support groups (for politicians): political base for a politician/candidate that play an important role in securing funding for election campaign.

55年体制 【55ねんたいせい】 1955 system;
派閥 【はばつ】 clique; faction;
後援会 【こうえんかい】 support group;

Kanji (N2 and N1) in the vocabulary above:

派 means “sect” (N1, kanji details), reading: ハ. I remember this kanji as a dancing pi (π) sweating a bit on the left with the water (⺡) radical.

閥 means “clique” (N1, kanji details), reading: バツ. Gate (⾨) radical with something complicated inside, not many options except for fight ().

援 means “aid” (N1, kanji details), reading: エン. Hand (⺘) radical in order to “give a hand” together with the right hand side for warmth ()

5. Additional vocabulary

Additional vocabulary to really cover all common words you might encounter in relation to political parties.

結党 【けっとう】 formation of a party;
離党 【りとう】 secession from political party;
解党 【かいとう】 dissolution of political party;
入党 【にゅうとう】 joining a political party;
新党 【しんとう】 new party; (as in 合流新党)
一党優位政党制 【いっとうゆういせいとうせい】 dominant-party system;

6. Review

In summary, the 10 kanji (N1/N2) for political parties to remember are: (with most common reading and meaning)

  トウ  party
  ケン  constitution
  イ   fiber
  ソウ  whole
  サイ  judge
  イ   committee
  カン  tree-trunk
  ハ   sect
  バツ  clique
  エン  aid

7. Quiz


Political Parties Kanji Quiz

Test your knowledge on the kanji and vocabulary for political parties in Japan. 10 simple questions on reading, meaning and the political system.

1 / 10

What is the title for the LDP party leader?

2 / 10

How do you say secession from a political party?

3 / 10

What is the pronunciation of kanji for 立憲民主党? (in hiragana)

4 / 10

What is the meaning of 総裁?

5 / 10

What is the meaning of 野党?

6 / 10

What is the meaning of 後援会?

7 / 10

What is the pronunciation of kanji for 与党? (in hiragana)

8 / 10

Which party or parties has (or have) a religious origin?

9 / 10

What is the pronunciation of kanji for 政党? (in hiragana)

10 / 10

What is the pronunciation of kanji for 自由民主党? (in hiragana)

Your score is

The average score is 70%


Vocabulary and meaning has been shortened for brevity.