While there is no law or mention within the National Government Organization Act that defines it, there is an understanding of “importance” within and among the various Ministries that make up the Japanese government. It is rumored that within the 12 Ministries and Single Cabinet, there are a certain number of organizations that stand out in budget, authority, and tradition. These special few are called “The Big 5.”
Traditionally, The Big 5 organizations are said to be: The Ministry of Finance (MoF), The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), and The National Police Agency (NPA). Many of those within The Big 5 are said to feel as if they are privileged with, at times, carrying the weight of the nation upon their ‘esteemed’ shoulders. Below, we would like to on a quick tour through this ever-the-more-interesting bureaucracy’s history, culture, and – perhaps most important – powers.
- The Ministry of Finance:
The Ministry of Finance is often called the center of the Japanese bureaucracy. Tasked with both budgeting policy and tax collection, MoF is often considered to have the most important powers in government. Having its fiscal and financial affairs divisions split in 1998 (into what is now the Financial Services Agency, formerly the Financial Supervisory Agency), 2001 would see even further change with its re-designation from The Ministry of the Treasury to the Ministry of Finance. The fiscal and financial split is, however, one only in name alone. Talent, negotiations, and other personnel resources continue to flow throughout both Agencies even today. Furthermore, the MoF’s organizational power and skill in gathering information is almost frightening in its scope. The MoF’s information network mainly stems from the Ministerial Secretaries it has stationed with the Prime Minister, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, Ministers, Vice Ministers, and Parliamentary Secretaries.
MoF employees are also highly active in reaching out to Representatives and Councilors with particular connections to finance, and are at times so persistent in explaining their issues that their ‘explanations’ have been frequently called “lectures” by those on the receiving end.
- The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry:
Known as The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) up until the Central Government Reforms of 2001, METI is the Ministry most responsible for driving Japan’s once fantastic economic growth, most notably mentioned by Mr. Chalmers Johnson in his work MITI and the Japanese Miracle. This period also saw foreign fears rear their head towards the Ministry in dubbing it “Notorious MITI,” or the “Mighty MITI.”
Nuclear energy strategy also used to be under METI’s jurisdiction as the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, but saw it quickly removed to the Ministry of Environment’s Nuclear Regulation Authority after the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Meltdown of 2011.
Currently, METI is enjoying a close relationship with the Abe Administration, to which the Abe Administration continues to play up. For example, the current ‘center’ of METI policy and strategy efforts is a Mr. Takaya Imai, Chief Policy Secretary for the Prime Minister, who also happens to be the former Vice Chairman of the powerful Agency for Natural Resources and Energy. From being the main supporting infrastructure upon which ‘Abenomics’ hopes to encourage economic revitalization, METI is once again becoming an important consideration.
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
The only Ministry not to face a name change since the establishment of the Cabinet in
1885, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is considered a stalwart even today. While there was an effort to change the Ministry’s designation to the “Ministry of Foreign Strategy” in the 2001 reorganizations, staunch opposition from the Ministry ended the effort before it had a chance to catch on.
From their status as “Diplomats” to special assignments and training at diplomatic establishments abroad, it has been said that employees of MoFA have quite a peculiar and high opinion of their own knowledge. Furthermore, there is almost an “Earth and Sky” difference between career and non-career diplomats. In order to correct this incredible imbalance, and put it in the same “atmosphere” as the other Ministries, MoFA’s examination was, in 2001, integrated into the same examination as all other Ministerial employees.
While there was a longstanding tradition of Administrative Vice-Ministers being stationed in the U.S.A., due to a series of unfortunate events in 2001, this practice was temporarily halted. This was re-instituted, however, in 2012 after an 11-year hiatus with Mr. Kenichiro Sasae (former Administrative Vice-Minister) becoming the newest Ambassador to the United States for Japan.
The Abe Administration has, at best, maintained a good relationship with the Ministry. Mr. Shotarou Yachi, former Administrative Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, was, with the support of the Abe Administration, appointed the first Bureau Chief of the Japan Security Council (NSC). His appointment was quickly followed by the appointment of former International Law Bureau Chief Nobukatsu Kanehara as the NSC’s Assistant Manager after a stint as Deputy Director General of the Cabinet Office. The current Administrative Vice-Minister, Akitaka Saiki, is an expert on abduction issues, and has built a strong relationship with the Abe Administration in order to help rectify the problem.
- Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (Self-Governing Bodies Council):
The current Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications was established in 2001 with the mergers of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Management and Coordination Agency, and the Ministry of Posts and Communications. In discussing the BIG 5, it should be noted that the second in line to ‘most powers held’ outside of the Ministry of the Treasury was the Ministry of Home Affairs, especially concentrated within the Bureau of Autonomous Government Strategy, Bureau of Autonomous Government Finance, and the Bureau of Autonomous Government Taxation. (Within Kasumigaseki, while these are combined organizations under the law, the previous Ministry culture still pervades throughout, from the beginning of one’s employment to course of promotions and their speed.)
MIC’s “Autonomous Government(s)” Divisions manage Regional Governments and their strategy, with a budget of around ¥16trillion garnered via tax revenue of around ¥35trillion, they are easily one of the most well funded organizations in government.
The current Administrative Vice-Minister, Shun Sakurai, also happens to be the father of Sho Sakurai, nominal ‘leader’ of the immensely popular Idol Group Arashi. Coincidentally, Sho Sakurai is also a newscaster on the popular MIC-managed TV program, NEWS ZERO on the Japan Television Network (Nihon TV).
- National Police Agency:
Much like MIC, the National Police Agency stems from the former Ministry of Home Affairs. Unlike other ministries, however, the head of the NPA is not an elected official, but the Director General of the Police Force. While the NPA is the official supervising body of the Domestic Security Commission, they hold little to no power in its running in actuality. Also different from the National Ministries, while the regional police forces are nominally under the direction of each prefecture’s governor, all commanding officers and managerial staff are sent directly from the NPA. One issue with the leadership of the NPA is, however, the Secretary General’s inability to give information directly to the Prime Minister. In his or her stead, such critical information is relayed to the Prime Minister from the Cabinet’s Information Research Office, a noted part of Japan’s Intelligence (i.e. spy) framework.
While there were a number of politicians who came from the NPA in the past, such as Masaharu Gotoda and Shizuka Kamei, the NPA has not produced many politicians worth of note in recent years. Instead, with its already strong ties to the Pachinko (Gambling) Industry, the NPA has instead recently began tying itself ever closer to the issue of legalizing casinos in Japan.
While the above are mere examples, we hope to have shown you a number of the traditions and understandings that exist in the unofficial background of the halls of Kasumigaseki. Even though these rules are not set in stone, they may be held in even higher regard than the law. Should these rules be broken, one can usually expect a slowdown or stoppage in any progress being made. We hope that this article has proven useful in helping to understand Kasumigaseki just a little bit more