Politics and Lobbying in Japan

Politics & Lobbying in Japan

One of the coolest experiences I ever had was when I worked inside the Japanese National Parliament. If that wasn’t interesting enough, I’ve got this last name that causes Japanese bureaucrats’ hair to ignite spontaneously (reminds suspicious people of the CIA in Langley, Virginia.)

Sen. Taro Nakayama and Tim Langley in the House of Councillors

After completing law school in Japan, by some quirk of fate, I found myself inside Japanese politics, and this experience truly changed my life. In fact, it was such huge news that it was reported in newspapers all over Japan. “Foreigner in the Diet” was on TV and the radio. Even outside of Japan, this remarkable story was reported on the famous CBS news program 60 Minutes.

I worked on Japanese elections for Prime Minister, I wrote briefings, I welcomed foreign dignitaries, and I traveled throughout the entire nation. As a result, I have come to know this country better than even most Japanese. This has given me insight into how the political machinery works and how society actually gets things done, and it has helped me achieve things that not only a foreign lawyer would have difficulty approaching, but which are outside the bounds even considered by Japanese bengoshi. Funny in an ironic way.

This all started when I could not sit for the Japanese Bar because of my nationality. Looking for a law-related halfway house, I became the Secretary to a member of the Upper House, essentially becoming the first foreigner inside the Japanese Parliament. Through this experience, I gained invaluable knowledge of the political system here. As a component of this work, I traveled with political figures here, and internationally, and polished my bilingual skills. Later in my career, this background allowed me to manage the trips of George H.W. Bush, John Sculley, and other political and businesses luminaries on their respective trips to Japan.

While in the parliament, a critical feature of my position was working on election campaigns. I worked on two for Prime Minister, and a really critical one for a specific district in Osaka. The objective in Osaka was to win one of five seats in a very tough district that controlled the construction of an island being built to host the international airport out in the middle of the bay. After six weeks of campaigning, my candidate won by a magnificent landslide. So big was this win, and so crucial, that my candidate become Foreign Minister as a result! That was truly a great experience; not one many can say they have had.

Many foreigners living in Japan might think the political system here is esoteric, distant, removed, and has no effect on a non-Japanese. But as a matter of fact, if you own a company, or if you work for one in Japan, this is indeed affected by the political system. And it has a voice within it. Depending on the size of your company and the products or services that you sell, through lobbying, you might be able to affect or impact Japanese legislation or regulations to work in your favor. That is what Japanese companies do ALL the time.

Lobbying is done in Japan and Japanese companies do it day in/day out (it is commonly known as “chinjo”). However, the world of Japanese politics is a rarefied atmosphere. People use an elevated form of speech to conduct business; they hold themselves differently and even dress in a certain manner. There’s a set way of approaching lobbying, and foreigners naturally really don’t know how to do it, as it is somewhat of a closed world to them. As a result, about 20 years ago I created and instituted a lobbying effort on behalf of American companies doing business in Japan. Under the auspices at the American Chamber of Commerce, this initiative has been successfully conducted every year since.

Japan is a very sophisticated country. Large Japanese corporations have, in most instances, an elder statesman facilitating their lobbying movement. He or she can open doors and gain access to important meetings and quietly influence change. For many years, I wore two hats at Apple Computer and at General Motors. On one hand, I handled their legal affairs as General Counsel; on the other I was in charge of efforts in government affairs & public policy.

In the capacity of running government affairs, part of my job was to ensure that when the chairman came to Tokyo, and if he wanted to meet with the Prime Minister, I set that up: I acted as translator, cleaned up afterwards, and made sure that the issues were later led to a successful conclusion.

There are only a handful of foreigners who can lobby successfully in Japan and most of them are already bonded into certain companies as you would expect—very expensive players.

If you have any questions on how to get a stronger hold on a certain market here in Japan, or how to build a better coalition to get your products distributed, give us a call, visit our webpage, or come in for a consultation. We’ll help you through it. We have successfully achieved great results through lobbying in Japan and I’m sure we can help you, too.

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