In This Review

Political Corruption and Scandals in Japan
Political Corruption and Scandals in Japan
By Matthew M. Carlson and Steven Reed
Cornell University Press, 2018, 204 pp

Japan has had some spectacular cases of corruption, such as the 1976 Lockheed scandal, in which politicians took bribes to buy airplanes, and the 1988 Recruit scandal, in which a Japanese company sold shares to politicians at articially low prices. It has also seen a steady stream of garden-variety bureaucratic corruption, campaign law violations, and sex scandals. But this book avoids gossip in favor of analysis. The authors identify three types of corruption—bad-apple corruption, standard-operating-procedure corruption, and systemic corruption—and assess what kinds of reforms have been effective in reducing each. The biggest improvement came after reforms to the electoral system in 1994, which shifted the electoral system for the lower house from one of multimember districts to one of single-member districts (plus additional seats allocated proportionally) and thus reduced the prevalence of patronage politics. Rules mandating transparency have also helped. Carlson and Reed conclude that reform has made Japanese democracy healthier but that nothing can completely eliminate misbehavior by politicians.