As in the United States, Japan’s government is divided into three separate branches: judicial, executive, and legislative. However, in Japan, the National Diet, or Japan’s legislature, is considered “the highest organ of state power” and “the sole law-making organ of the State” based on the Constitution. The Diet is made up of two houses, the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors, that are primarily responsible for making laws, approving the annual national budget, initiating amendments to the Constitution, conducting investigations on the government, impeaching judges convicted of criminal or unethical conduct, and formally selecting the Prime Minister of Japan.
The House of Councillors is the upper house of the Diet of Japan, composed of 242 members who each serve six year terms. The House of Representatives is the lower house with 480 members. As opposed to the upper house, lower house members are elected for four-year terms. All citizens of Japan gain universal suffrage at age 20 and may take part in the election process. To run for office, you must be 25 years old in the House of Representatives and 30 years old in the house of Councillors. Both houses are elected under a parallel voting system, which basically means that the results of the election of the upper house has little or no impact on the results of the lower house. Additionally, voters partake in these elections using different voting systems.
Though both houses play a seemingly equal important role within the legislative branch of the government, the lower house, or the House of Representatives is considered more powerful. For instance, if a bill is passed by the House of Representatives, but then later struck down by the House of Councillors, the lower house has the authority to override this decision by a two-thirds vote. Furthermore, the House of Councillors cannot block legislation when certain issues arise such as treaty amendments and budget concerns. The lower house may also dissolve the government if it passes a motion of no-confidence introduced by 50 of its members. Despite the added power, the lower house is still subject to dissolution by the Prime Minister, who is currently Junichiro Koizumi, through a passage of no-confidence, as was recently seen in Canada late last year.
The Diet is required under the Constitution to meet at least once a year. During these sessions, the Emperor, who is recognized as the symbol of the Japanese nation and the unity of its people, outlines the government’s plans for the coming year. The National Diet Building is located in Japan’s capital, Tokyo.