Andreas Eder-Ramsauer

The possibilities and realities of left-wing populism in Japan: A discourse-theoretical approach to the potentials and constraints of Yamamoto Tarō’s Reiwa Shinsengumi

Long facing declining wages and rising inequality, LDP governments have walked an electorally successful, but often unpopular, tight balance between neoliberal deregulation and seemingly pro-labor and pro-welfare state policies all throughout the “lost decades”. Since 2019, under the leadership of the charismatic former actor and prominent anti-nuclear energy activist Yamamoto Tarō, a new left-wing project, the Reiwa Shinsengumi, aims to break the conservative hegemony dominant in Japan. It has emphasized a lack of state intervention and spending, highlighting the LDP’s and the establishment’s responsibility for a variety of social ills befalling “the suppressed people” ever since the asset bubble burst of 1989. Utilizing a discourse-theoretical approach to populism based on the works of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, I aim to elucidate the novelty of this project and by comparing it to previous iterations of left-wing politics, explain potentials and constraints. Additionally, the specific nature of Japan’s political party landscape, as well as social movements and electoral systems in Japan make the Japanese context a previously untested field for a left-wing populist strategy, as put forward by some of its foundational thinkers.