Polls have closed in Japan's nationwide election for its lower house of parliament.  Media exit polling is predicting a big defeat for the party that has ruled Japan for more than half a century. 

Just minutes after voting concluded Sunday in Japan, major media outlets were  predicting a major shift in the country's national politics.

Cheers of delight went up at the headquarters of candidates for the Democratic Party of Japan, as broadcasters predicted a landslide victory over the Liberal Democratic Party.

Exit polls indicated the DPJ would gain about 300 of the 480 lower house seats in play.

That result is consistent with months of expectations that LDP Prime Minister Taro Aso and his party would be replaced by DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama.

The DPJ has campaigned almost exclusively on bread-and-butter economic issues, appealing to voters who blame the LDP for Japan's worst period of recession since World War Two.

The LDP has controlled Japan's legislature almost without interruption for the past 55 years.  Many prominent LDP candidates are losing their races to relative newcomers from the DPJ.

On foreign policy, the DPJ has signaled closer regional integration with East Asian nations, particularly neighboring China.  Hatoyama, presumed to be Japan's next Prime Minister, has vowed to "re-examine" Tokyo's relationship with the United States, but says the U.S.-Japan alliance will still be a cornerstone of the country's security.