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The government of Shinzo Abe represents an important turning point in Japanese politics and political economy. Abe became the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history, and his government enacted important reforms under the banner of “Abenomics.” In this introductory chapter, we provide a broad review of the Abe government and its policies and point out several apparent puzzles to motivate the volume. We argue that the Abe government is the clearest manifestation of a new Japanese political system that represents a full transition away from the 1955 system. The new system is characterized by a strong prime minister with centralized authority, careful management of the prime minister’s popularity, and a focus on policies with broad, popular appeal. Abe utilized and strengthened Japan’s new political institutions to implement significant policy changes across a wide range of issue areas, including monetary and fiscal policy, the labor market, corporate governance, agricultural reforms, and national security.
The March 11, 2011, Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami led to a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, leading many observers to predict a major transformation of Japanese energy policy. However, since the 2012 election of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan has restarted its nuclear reactors, weakened subsidies for renewable energy, and submitted emissions reduction goals under the Paris Agreement widely criticized as insufficient and reliant on accounting gimmicks. Under what we call Abenergynomics, Abe used energy policy as a tool to support the economic growth objectives of Abenomics, even when the associated policies were publicly unpopular, opposed by utility companies, or harmful to the environment. We show how Abenergynomics shaped Japanese policy toward nuclear power, electricity deregulation, renewable energy, and global climate change negotiations.