In 1900 Britain was in many respects the world's leading nation, enjoying a large share of world trade, a dominant position in the international money market, and possessing a far flung empire supported by the world's most powerful navy. Japan was a complete contrast, sharing with Britain only the fact that it too was a nation of Islands lying off the shore of a major continent. Until the 1860s it had possessed a social and economic structure more akin to that of feudal, rather than twentieth century, Europe. By the 1990s, the positions were almost reversed. This paper sets out to examine the contrasting democratic political systems of the two nations and to explore the social and democratic consequences of the changes that have occurred.
The establishment of the Japanese archipelago assumed its present shape around 10,000 years ago. Soon after the era known as the Jomon period began and continued for about 8,000 years.
Gradually they formed small communities and began to organize their lives communally. Japan can be said to have taken its first steps to nationhood in the Yamato period, which began at the end of the third century AD. During this period, the ancestors of the present Emperor began to bring a number of small estates under unified rule from their bases around what are now Nara and Osaka Prefectures. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Tokugawa Ieyasu set up a government in Edo (now Tokyo) and the Edo period began. The Tokugawa regime adopted an isolationist policy that lasted for more than 200 years, cutting off exchange with all countries except China and the Netherlands. The age of the Samurai came to and end with the Meiji Restoration of 1868, and a new system of government centered on the Emperor was set up.