During the period 1868-1945, Japan was ruled under the "constitution of the empire of Japan" better known as the "Meiji constitution". Under this constitution, the Imperial Diet was the legislature and primarily dictated domestic policy matters." The diet consisted of two chambers, the House of Peers consisting of the Emperor's family, nobles, and people nominated by the Emperor, and the House of Representatives, elected by the people. My question is:

How was the lower chamber elected? Who voted? Under which system?

I haven't found the answer in the wikipedia article, nor in the constitution itself (the text of which is easily found on the internet), as it just states that the modality of election of the lower chamber will be fixed by a law, and as I haven not been able to find this law.

I am also interested in knowing the results of the elections during that period. Any reference would be welcome.


1 Answer 1


Male citizens over the age of 25 were eligible to vote, except for members of the Imperial Army or Navy and the Imperial family. Originally, suffrage was limited to only those who had paid 15 yen in taxes. This initially meant that rural landowners dominated the franchise. However, the tax restriction was reduced to 10 yen and then 3 yen, and eventually abolished altogether by the General Election Law of 1925.

For the first six elections, from 1890 to 1898, single member districts were used and candidates were elected by majority vote. Strictly speaking each district actually had two members, but only one faced re-election each time. There were frequent elections for this reason during the 1890s. This setup briefly returned for the 14th and 15th elections, in 1920 and 1924, respectively.

From the seventh election in 1902 onward and until the 13th in 1920, large, multi member districts were adopted. Each prefecture constituted one electoral district, but incorporated cities with over 30,000 citizens formed their own districts. Multiple representatives were elected on single non-transferable votes. Secret ballot was also introduced in this election, and the tax requirement was reduced to 10 yen - doubling the suffrage.

As mentioned earlier, single member districts made a return for two elections starting in 1920. The tax requirement was slashed to three yen in this year too, which increased the number of eligible voters from three to fourteen million.

Starting with the 16th election in 1928, medium sized multi member electoral districts, each returning three to five members, were instituted. The voting system remained single non-transferable vote. This setup essentially remained in effect in Japan until the last decade of the 20th century.


  1. Haddad, Mary Alice. Building democracy in Japan. Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  2. Schafferer, Christian, ed. Election Campaigning in East and Southeast Asia: Globalization of Political Marketing. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2006.
  3. Hall, John Whitney. The Cambridge History of Japan. Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • 1
    And thanks for the answer. Very interesting.
    – Joël
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 16:39
  • @Joël BTW I don't know if the election results are available in English anywhere, but you can probably use google translate on the Japanese wiki articles for that.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 16:43
  • It is interesting, and rather distressing, to note that the progress of democracy (e.g. the general election law of 1925) did not prevent the rise of militarism in Japan.
    – Joël
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 17:01
  • 1
    @Joël It was also an extremely turbulent era with rapid changes. Democracy didn't really have time to stabilise and take root before the Great Depression threw a spanner at it. It did mean that liberalism did not yield in Japan despite a decade of assassinations and military coups, though.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 17:33

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