How the Japanese political elite has been changed after WW2?

I've read that the aristocracy was effectively removed from power, while middle ranking officials and bureaucracy have preserved their positions. Such a removal sounds a little bit too bold to be true, e.g. in post-war Germany quite a number of members of the elite were former Nazis.

What role do descendants of aristocratic families play in modern Japan?

  • I don't know about Japan, but I was surprised to hear that 'quite a number of the elite in post-war Germany were former Nazis'. Generally Hitler did not get on well with aristocrats and members of the upper bourgeoisie in Germany - hardly surprising since many would have seen him as uncultivated, and little more than a 'jumped-up corporal'. He always had his suspicions of the officer class, which were greatly exacerbated following the Von Stauffenberg plot. – WS2 Sep 14 '15 at 12:02
  • Just to add to that point, one of the effects of the Nazi period in Germany was to severely curtail the link between the ruling class and the military. If you look at Britain today you will see that the Queen sits very comfortably at the head of the armed services and the gentry class is well represented in the senior commissioned ranks. It guarantees the high status that the military enjoys in society. That is far from being the case in modern Germany. – WS2 Sep 14 '15 at 12:15
  • I'm deeply suspicious of the terms "elite" and "aristocracy" as used in this question. Perhaps someone can provide an answer clarifying the membership in critical political institutions before the war and after the war, with reference to war crimes status, social class and professionalism. I seem to recall that this is a subject of significant attention in Japanese society. – Mark C. Wallace Sep 14 '15 at 13:24
  • 1
    Whatever you read seemed confused. What happened was that the Japanese nobility was abolished. Rather than removing aristocrats specifically however, many bureaucrats were also expelled from government. Powerful members and families were not substantially shaken, however. Once Japan regained sovereignty, the Allied proscriptions were quickly lifted. Current Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is the grandson of Viscount Ōshima Yoshimasa, for example. – Semaphore Sep 14 '15 at 15:04
  • @Semaphore's comment is one of the reasons that I downvote questions that include "I read ... " without sources. Good catch semaphore. – Mark C. Wallace Sep 14 '15 at 17:27

To add to Tyler's answer: you'll find that the majority of bureaucrats and public servants are graduates of Todai (University of Tokyo), and gaining admittance to that university is considered the prerequisite to high bureaucratic office in Japan. This actually did not change before and after the War at all.

With any upheaval like the surrender, there will be changes, but the changes are not as extreme as you think.

To give a few more easy examples.

Kishi Nobusuke was the Economic Manager of Manchuko and later Deputy Minister of Munitions in the Tojo cabinet (Tojo was also the Minister, so Kishi effectively was Minister) - he became Prime Minister in the 50's.

Sato Eisaku is Kishi Nobusuke's brother (Kishi was originally surnamed Sato), he became Prime Minister in the 60's.

Hosokawa Morihiro was the grandson of Konoe Fumimaro, who was three-times Prime Minister before the war. Hosokawa himself became Prime Minister in the 90's. The Hosokawa clan was a Daimyo during Medieval Japan, and Konoe was one of the five Fujiwara clans eligible to become regent before the modern Era.

Aso Taro is Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru's Grandson. Prime Minister Yoshida was a diplomat before the War. He became Prime Minister in the 2000's

Abe Shinzo is Kishi Nobusuke's Grandson, He is the current Prime Minister.

Notorious War criminal (though never tried because they never caught him) Colonel Tsuji Masanobu was elected to the House of Councilors after the war (he showed up in Japan one day after they called off the search).

General Staff Chief of Operations Colonel Hattori Takushiro, Tsuji Masanobu's "partner" during the war, was not only tasked to write the Japanese military history of the war, but was briefly considered to be the organizer of the precursor to the JSDF (recommended by Charles Willoughby no less - but Yoshida Shigeru blocked it.)

Koizumi Matajiro was a Diet member and Minister during the Taisho Period - his son, grandson, and great-grandson all "inherited" his Diet seat. His Grandson is the Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro.


Before World War II, power in Japan was concentrated in the hands of a small group of men, answerable only to the emperor, who ruled the country essentially as an oligarchy. After the war several changes were made that ended this situation. One is that about 200,000 men who had wielded power previously were specifically banned from public office. Another is that Japan was converted into a representative government in which the people, including women voted for members of the diet (parliament). Finally, many large land holdings were broken up and their ownership distributed to many different people, instead of allowing them to be concentrated in the hands of a key, privileged individual.

Japan still has an internal status system in which members of prominent clans and families are given preference both in government and the private sector, but political power is much more diversified than in the pre-War period.

  • It would be a little more nuanced if you add e.g. practically all recent PMs (Koizumi, Abe, Aso, Fukuda etc) are direct descents of oligarchs, high bureaucrats and PMs of pre-war period. So diversification may true in local governments and lower level, but the leading families hardly changed in the last 50-100 years. – Greg Sep 15 '15 at 4:13

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.