Free Essay Sample «Japan and South Korea: The Road to Democracy»

«Japan and South Korea: The Road to Democracy»


Democracy became the standard principle of the modern society. Nowadays, it is a kind of the contemporary spirit. It is difficult to find the modern constitution without elections, multi-party system, independence of the power branches, civil liberties, and other democratic attributes. Democracy is based on two principles: it is always the rule of the majority and the right of the minority to create the opposition freely. Democracy in politics is intended for the most economical permission of the natural conflicts which throw people and social groups together. The race for power will not disappear because it is in the human nature. At the same time, the political competition rules on the basis of the principles of democratic public agreement are intended for fine-tuning of the normal public relations. Democracy promotes the economic growth and the increase of a standard of living of the population. The current term paper will discuss and compare the democratic way of Japan and South Korea, as well as consider the role of the foreign involvement in each country’s progress along the road to democracy.

For the better understanding of the democratic process occurring in Japan and South Korea, it is necessary to precisely define what democracy is. Democracy is a set of various political systems united often only by the name and the most general principles. The differentiation demands at least those two opposite and complementary approaches which form the problem field of democracy. The first one means the implementation of the whole completeness of power by the people in general. It includes the implementation of management of each person and each group. Another one is connected with the measure of the participation of any person and group making the people in the management of the political system in general. The first case presupposes public democracy, while the second one presupposes the authoritativeness and controllability of the people forming this system and groups - self-government.

Comparison of Democracies in Japan and South Korea

The main distinctions in the understanding of democracy between the Western and traditional worlds lie in the interaction of personality and society. The corporate society hardly perceives the Asian society and reproduces the liberal norms with even bigger complexity. The traditional outlook genetically does not correspond to the individualistic ideas of the personal freedom and public interests. Another problem is caused by the distinction in the approaches to the category of democracy: the traditional patrimonial society of the Eastern state and backwardness of the political culture of society complicate the formation of the representative democracy model and the parliamentary form of government.

The formation of the Japanese totalitarianism took place in the 1930s (Imada, 2010, p. 21). The world economic crisis of 1929-1933 painfully affected the Japanese economy, which was explained by the narrowness of the domestic market and a low concentration of the capital. The industrial and agricultural production was sharply reduced by 30-40% (Takayoshi, 2007, p. 628). In search for the recovery from the crisis Japan occupied Manchuria in September 1931, having created the puppet state of Mangzhouguo which became the base for the aggression against China and the USSR. In these conditions, the ultranationalist movement of “young officers” was activated.

The post-war transformations marked the completion of bourgeois-democratic reforms. The Japanese capitalism lost feudal remnants and gained the lines of the modern developed capitalism, and the Japanese political system, in its turn, endured the transition from the totalitarian tradition to democracy. Totalitarianism had an international character; one totalitarian country could not exist without the other. Therefore, the crash of the Nazis was followed by the immediate crash of the totalitarian Japan (Takayoshi, 2007, p. 630).

The studying of the process of the democratic reformation of South Korea allows understanding the specifics of the application of the Western developmental model in the definite historical conditions of the traditional society, preserving the peculiarities of the Confucian society (Jonsson, 2014). The democratic development in the south of the Korean peninsula in the second half of the 20th century is the classical confirmation of a difficult and contradictory way of the political modernization and formation of democracy in the traditional society (Chaibong, 2008, p. 128). The distinctive feature of the political modernization of South Korea is its inclusion into the group of the third echelon countries, characterized by the later introduction of the way of the political transformations and the essential impact on the development of the process of the traditional specifics which historically developed in them. The cultural environment of the Confucian world interprets many intrinsic characteristics of the democratic model of development in its own way, and seeks to adapt them to the traditional bases.

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In the Japanese policy, at the national level, the procedures and mechanisms of the coordination of interests and decision-making are rather strong. It promotes the strengthening of the positions of those forces which are capable of working, bypassing the electoral bodies and representatives, using the informal secret discussions and coordination that, in its turn, gives the certain parameters of the corporate democracy to the Japanese democracy (Imada, 2010, p. 28). Moreover, there is the Japan Inc. in the system of close connections between corporations and the state bureaucracy. The modern political system of Japan is created in the Western democratic traditions (Takayoshi, 2007, p. 632). Considering the recent totalitarian past of the political system of Japan, there are a number of precautionary norms, not inherent in the countries of the Western democracy, in particular the discharge of military, even retired, from the political management.

Like in Japan, the success of South Korea, sequence and irreversibility of the democratization process of the traditional Korean society depended on the combination of a number of the factors, which fall into the following categories:

  • External (formation of the democratic institutes of power during the American occupation and due to the efforts of the U.S. military authorities; the gradual transformation of South Korea into one of the leading strategic partners of the USA; a continuous aggression threat from the side of North Korea);
  • Internal (consistently changing social, economic and political conditions within the country; gradual formation of the prerequisites and driving forces of political modernization; the insufficient level of development of the political culture remaining up to now; reproduction of the authoritative tendencies by the traditional society, etc.).

The important and constantly operating factors of the economic and political transformation of South Korea include the foreign help (credits and investments of the developed countries into its economy) and foreign policy pressure (the world context of the social, economic and political development as well as world public opinion). Its close connection with the USA and Japan as the main political and strategic allies had an indisputable impact on the democratic evolution of the South Korean state. The American participation provided the process of formation of the democratic model at the creation of the South Korea (Adesnik & Kim, 2008, p. 18). The impact of Washington constrained the authoritative tendencies at the subsequent stages of its development, and compelled the country leaders to pass to the democratic evolution in the middle of the 1980s (Chaibong, 2008, p. 128). Also, the example of Japan played its role, as many lines of the modern political system of the South Korea, like the existence of the dominant party, regionalism, the achievement of a corporate consent, electoral policy, and the parliamentary mechanism show obvious similarity to the Japanese model of the state construction.

The analysis of the consecutive development of the democratic process in South Korea has its historical periodization. The first stage (August 1945 - May 1961) was the beginning of the political modernization of South Korean society (Chaibong, 2008, p. 129). During this period as a result of the influence of an external factor, namely the efforts of the U.S. authorities, the institutional bases of the democratic model of a state system were formed, the population of the country got acquainted with the basic principles of democracy (Jonsson, 2014). Moreover, there was the process of the political delimitation between the supporters of authoritarianism and democracy.

The absence of the internal prerequisites of the political and economic modernization, preservation of a low level of political culture of social systems and formation of the civil dictatorship of Li Synman became the regeneration of the democratic system (Adesnik & Kim, 2008, p. 21). The democratic counteraction led to the overthrow of the dictator and temporary establishment of the mode of parliamentary democracy. General maintenance of the first stage can be defined as the formation of the main institutes and constitutional basic principles of democracy and struggle against the authoritative tendencies within the political system (Jonsson, 2014).

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The second stage (May 1961 - December 1987) included the period when the country was not ready to apprehend the norms of parliamentary democracy (Chaibong, 2008, p. 130). Moreover, the situation was aggravated by the sharp deterioration of the economy as the economic problems were practically not solved at the first stage. The stage of democratic consolidation includes further improvement of the democratic political system and consolidation of the democratic forces in the society. The termination of the stage is interfaced to the elimination of the authoritative heritage, rising of the political culture of the society, its active participation in the selective and other institutional processes, and the creation of real competitive opportunities for opposition. The events that took place at the end of the 1990s allowed assuming that the process of democratic consolidation comes to an end, and that there is a transfer to the following stage of democratization in the South Korean society. The new stage in the development of the democratic process includes the formation of civil society and bases of the representative democracy (Adesnik & Kim, 2008, p. 29).

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Drawing the general conclusion, the following main signs of the Japanese model of the transition from totalitarianism to democracy include:

  • The refusal of the militarization of economy and militaristic ideology;
  • Orientation at the best practices of the Western countries in political and economic areas;
  • The combination of the best foreign practices to the traditional Japanese moral and cultural values.

Such an approach helped Japan to avoid the atmosphere of the general crash and despair which was inherent in the other post-totalitarian countries, like Germany or Italy after the end of the World War II and the signs of which were fully observed in the new independent states of the former USSR (Imada, 2010, p. 34). Thus, the experience of the transition of Japan from totalitarianism to democracy was difficult but gave good results for the promotion of Japan in the world arena.

The conditions of the transition of South Korea were defined by the international situation, the change of a social and economic situation and a political situation in the country on the way of democratic construction. The national and cultural specifics of the South Korean society and the feature of the authoritarian regime existing in the middle of the 1980s were reflected in the form and rates of the transition of Korea to democracy, carried out in the accelerated evolutionary way (Chaibong, 2008, p. 141). Both, the representatives of the state management and the political opposition in the view of the democratic society acted as the driving forces of the democratic process.


To conclude, the democratic tendencies considered in this paper are understood as the set of measures and normative legal acts, which promote the establishment of such a mode in the country, in which the civil society institute is formed and successfully functions. Therefore, there is a possibility of the expression of the will of people, their active participation in the political life at the observance of the rights and freedoms of each citizen.

 When comparing the ways to democracy in Japan and South Korea, it is possible to say that both countries are in the process of democratic changes, but each of them has its own way, characterized by the specifics of the political transformations in the country. Japan passed a long and difficult way from totalitarianism to democracy. This way was successful due to the effective political environment which developed after the World War II. The idea of imitation of the more advanced model of the economic and political development was considered by the Japanese political and business community as the most effective way for the revival of Japan. It chose the USA - the strongest world power in an economic and political sphere after the World War II. The USA considers Japan as its ally in the Far East in the sphere of the latest equipment and technology, promoting thereby the fastest strengthening of the Japanese economy. It is important to emphasize that Japan imported not only licenses and technology, but also the American concepts of management, marketing, and eventually, the fundamental principles of the democracy of the United States. They were not only borrowed, but also adapted to the specifics of the Japanese traditional culture and nature of the relationship in the society. In many respects, it provided the success of the democratic transformations in Japan.

The South Korean experience of the development of democratic process shows that the declaration of democratic ideas and slogans is insufficient. The authoritarianism based on the traditional Confucian society is many-sided and strongly took roots in the political, cultural and public consciousness. The refusal of the old forms and emergence of a new model of board proceeds asynchronously and is tightened for a long term. In practice, it is expressed in the difficult formation of the bases of representative democracy. The prospect of the final overcoming of authoritarianism directly depends on the formation of the democratic political culture. The mass consciousness should not only accept but also realize the need to defend the basic institutes of political democracy and constitutional state. The elimination of the lag in the sociocultural sphere still remains the most complex challenge of political modernization of the country. It is about the formation of the new sociocultural environment based on the humanization of the state and liberalization of the political relations in the context of the global anti-totalitarian and anti-authoritative shifts which characterize the democratic development of South Korea.

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The further political system in South Korea will be founded on the combination of traditional values and reference points of the European liberalism. The country successfully masters the technical and democratic achievements of the Western world, but, at the same time, preserves and reproduces many lines of the traditional culture as the bases of the national identity. Therefore, having an influential authority on the international scene and continuing the processes of democratic transformation, South Korea keeps the semi-democratic methods of social regulation.



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