A Day at the Diet

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Last week, my politics/economics class went on an outing to the National Diet Building, the home of the two houses of the Japanese legislature.  (We also went to the Imperial Palace, but that’s a story for another day.) As a building, it is fairly impressive. Completed in 1936, it is built almost entirely of Japanese materials, with the exception of the stained glass, door locks, and a pneumatic tube system (the last of which is prominently labeled as a product of the good ol’ USA). We were treated to a guided tour of the House of Councillors (often referred to as the “Upper House” in English). They don’t allow pictures inside most of the main rooms, for security reasons, but this is a scan of the main chamber from their official brochure (pardon the image quality):

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As we learned in class, the the two halves of the Diet building (occupied by the House of Councillors and the House of Representatives respectively) are almost entirely identical, except for one thing—the House of Councillors has a special place reserved for the Emperor. You can see the Emperor’s chair in the scanned image above, in the center of the curtains. He rarely uses it, but it’s kept ready for him. The roof of the chamber features a gigantic stained glass window, which interestingly was not damaged at all in last year’s earthquake. The Diet was actually in session during the quake, as they repeatedly televised at the time—you can watch a video of the ministers’ reactions here (among other places). It seems that the building as a whole had very little damage, which I find pretty impressive.

Anyway, in addition to the “normal” tour, we were also allowed to see a few things off the beaten track. My favorite was probably the budget committee room, which you often see featured on the news. Here we are, cheekily sitting in the ministers’ seats:

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Can’t you see us defending our budget decisions, just like the real folks?

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Picture courtesy of the Kantei website

We also visited the Judge Impeachment Court, which (you guessed it!) impeaches judges. In many countries, the upper chamber conducts impeachment courts, but Japan decided to establish a special standing court consisting of 14 participants (7 representatives from the House of Councillors and seven from the House of Representatives). Since 1947, the Judge Impeachment Court has convened impeachment trials for a total of eight judges, of whom six were dismissed (and three of these six later had their qualifications reinstated through qualification restoration trials). Here we are again, pretending to be Diet members serving on the court (trying our teacher, funnily enough):

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I have to say, those chairs were *really* comfortable. And so big! I think they were about 4.5 feet tall.

I also picked up the most awesome souvenirs ever, featuring various artists’ renditions of all of the Japanese Prime Ministers. *Amazing.* I picked up a couple of plastic folders and a mug. Aren’t they great?

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I *love* this stuff.

It was a fun morning. Afterwards, we ate dinner in the Diet cafeteria—we didn’t see any politicians, but the food was pretty tasty. Anyway, this tour is probably not for the casual foreign tourist, but if you have an interest in politics, it’s fun to see where all of the action (or inaction) happens. My tour was arranged through my language school and was conducted entirely in Japanese, but a few cursory Internet searches seem to indicate that English tours can be arranged.

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