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Policymaking in Japan

Behind the Curtain of Policymaking in Japan

Langley Esquire Vice President Yutaka Matsuzaki reflects on more than 20 years' experience as a secretary in the Diet

Matsuzaki served as a secretary to members of parliament for 20 years, and worked for lawmakers that include former Minister of Justice Yasuoka Okiharu and former Representative Koike Yuriko, currently the Tokyo Metropolitan Governor.

There are generally 3 types of secretaries working for Diet members:

1. Policy secretary: Diet members are limited to only one policy secretary, who
must pass a national certification exam.

2. Public secretary: Diet members can have up to two public secretaries, who do not need to take an exam.

3. Private secretary: There are no restrictions on hiring private secretaries. No exam or certification is required to become a private secretary.

Matsuzaki served as a policy secretary for the entirety of his career.

A secretary’s role

Most people are probably not familiar with what a Diet secretary does. Diet members’ secretaries have various tasks, and they change depending on the political environment.

On a typical day, Matsuzaki attended meetings with other lawmakers on behalf of Diet members to discuss upcoming bills and legislation. He would join in meetings with the representative’s political supporters, or attend policy seminars on behalf of his boss. He often drafted policy documents, and sometimes  prepared parties and lectures so that his boss could report their work in parliament to their constituents in their district. He also acted like his boss’ driver when needed.

Secretaries’ duties change as a Diet member’s specialities and position change over time. Usually a Diet member has two or three areas of focus. When their position changes, it is possible that their number of specialties will increase as well. When that happens, the secretary’s personal network will grow as they interact with new companies and organizations in new fields.

If a Diet member is promoted to a position with greater responsibilities, secretaries will become busier as a result. There is, however, one exception: if a Diet member becomes a minister, ministry bureaucrats will help with duties related to the member’s new position, as the legislator is now a member of the government. In that case, secretaries do not necessarily get busier.

During his time as a Diet secretary, working through Japan’s 2001 financial crisis left one of the strongest impressions on him. He worked with Takenaka Heizo, the Minister of State for Financial Services under the Koizumi administration, to help bail out banks with public funds. It was an extremely trying time, but he devoted himself fully to sparing Japan from the worst impact of the financial crisis.

Shaping policy and regulation

Matsuzaki became a secretary to help in the policymaking process. He took part in drafting Rep. Koike’s “no-pole policy,” which was a policy to remove telegraph poles. He also worked on bills to reform the judicial system and revise the constitution under Rep. Yasuoka. However, about 90% of the bills submitted to the Diet stem from the bureaucracy. The other 10% come from Diet members. When Diet members draft bills, they usually listen to affected companies, industry associations, their own political supporters and other members of parliament. Secretaries help draft the bill and gather information, including from the National Diet Library. The Cabinet Legislation Bureau assists in checking the compatibility with existing legislation and regulations, as well as the constitutionality of the proposal.

Interacting with the private sector

Sometimes Diet members receive requests from companies, associations and other stakeholders to modify legislation. Details can be tweaked and revised, but a law’s core concept will not be changed because of input from companies or associations. It is possible to amend laws, even after they have been approved by parliament, with supplemental resolutions. Alternatively, a bill can include a condition that it be reviewed every three years, giving Diet members a regular opportunity to reconsider the legislation.

If a law needs to be revised, Diet members conduct continuous dialogue with related stakeholders. Secretaries research the impact of the law’s implementation and support their Diet members by meeting with stakeholders, including bureaucrats, business associations, private companies, specialists and academics.

Whether a Diet member delivers on requests for amendments depends on the influence of the related companies or associations, as well as the content of the request. If the request is simple, Diet members will agree to oversee the revisions. If the companies or associations in question wield sufficient power, they can easily influence Diet members’ decisions. But policymakers listen to the views of overseas companies as well.

If a private-sector organization wants to speak with Diet members, it can go to meet them in their office building just next to the Diet. But it can also express its opinions at political party meetings, if it receives an invitation from a Diet member.

Companies must have a full understanding of Japan’s unique regulatory dynamics and policy-making process to conduct effective advocacy. With over 30 years of experience in the field, Langley Esquire can serve as your partner in public policy in Japan, and make sure that your concerns reach the right stakeholders in government.

If you face challenges in implementing effective government affairs, contact us to learn more about how we can support you.

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