The Japanese political system is dominated by men. From local to national level, from the legislature through to the bureaucracy, men outnumber women significantly. Dominant discourses of gender that shape Japanese womanhood as being connected to the home and family have gently steered women away from choosing a career in politics. Gender-role socialisation and gender stereotypes form the cultural barriers to women’s participation in mainstream representative politics. In addition to cultural barriers, institutional barriers, such as the political and electoral systems, have made access to politics difficult for women.

In this thesis, I examine the Liberal Democratic Party’s role in contributing to the obstacles that hinder women from entering politics at the national level in Japan. Having been in power from 1955 until 2009, apart from a nine-month hiatus from July 1993 until April 1994, the LDP has had a strong influence on the content of post-war policies and legislation as well as on the workings of the political system. In this thesis, I consider the ways in which social welfare, employment and gender equity policies have shaped dominant discourses of gender. These discourses, in turn, discourage women from entering politics. I argue that for LDP governments, gender equality has been of marginal concern. Gender equity policies created under LDP governments have been inadequate, primarily because the LDP does not regard gender equality as an important issue.

I also examine whether or not the LDP, as a political party, has maintained the institutional barriers that women face. I argue that the very structures that assisted successive LDP victories also made politics difficult to access for women. I explore the masculinised party culture of the LDP to shed light on the ways that women are made to feel unwelcome. My examination of party culture draws on interviews with LDP women and explores the ways in which LDP women experience the culture and how they negotiate it. In exploring LDP women’s discussions about motivations and their thoughts on the under-representation of women in politics, I also draw attention to the fact that LDP women themselves perpetuate the same discourses of gender that construct women as political outsiders.