Donald Trump, with his contempt for “political correctness” and determination to limit if not ban Muslim immigrants to the United States, reject the TPP and pull out of the Paris Accord; the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” from the European Union; Marine Le Pen’s vigorous presidential campaign against immigration in France; Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Fidesz in Hungary and Duterte in the Philippines—populist parties and leaders have emerged around the world, and many have captured national governments. These movements typically reject existing structures, elites, procedures and norms, look askance at international cooperation, valorize strong leadership, and in some cases even violate laws and resort to violence.
Japan, in contrast, appears to be an island of serene—or stolid—stability amidst all this turmoil, even though Japan faces many domestic and international challenges, including a declining population and stagnant economy, the rise of China, and the threat of nuclear missiles from North Korea. This presentation reviews the rise of populism elsewhere, gives a brief definition of its component elements and hypothesized causes, and explores reasons why populism has failed to gain much traction in Japan, focusing particularly on high levels of social and economic integration and stability, and the sluggish pace of social change, including the tiny intake of refugees and limited openness to migration. Japan has not experienced a populist backlash against social change, economic vulnerability, or influxes of foreigners because there has not been much to react against.