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Special: Know-how of Succeeding in the Japanese Market
2. Why are Bureaucrats So Arrogant?

3, 01. 2006

   There is a young member of the House of Representatives from the Democratic Party named Motohisa Furukawa. He changed his course from career bureaucrat at the Ministry of Finance to the world of politics. The reason for it is quite interesting.

   After five years since he joined the ministry, he went to study to Colombia University in New York. When he was a graduate student at the university, he was often asked from colleagues and professors, "What were you doing in Japan?" He used to boastfully say, "I was a bureaucrat at the Ministry of Finance." In Japan, he always got a glance of respect as people say, "Oh, you are a Financial Ministry official!" But in the Unites States, he got only passive reactions like, "Were you?"
   "In the United States, bureaucrats are not respected occupation. Government officials are people who just fulfill the policy obediently that politicians decide. They do not manage the country," said Furukawa.
   After returning home, he resigned the ministry and entered the world of politics at the age of thirty.

Geniuses from All Over the Country Flock to the Central Government Offices

   As Representative Furukawa was surprised outright, "Greatness" of bureaucrats differs in the United States (or in Anglo-Saxon countries) from that in Japan. In Japan bureaucrats are great. Although "politicians" like the Diet members who are chosen by electorates have upper hands officially, high-ranking bureaucrats traditionally have self-confidence as they say, "It is we who are managing the country." Public at large have looked at them with profound respect.
   There are three reasons why bureaucrats act arrogantly.

1. They have the pride that they are winners in academic attainments competition.
2. They have the self-confidence that they are handling politicians and managing the country.
3. As in Japan the nation building had been made in controlled manner like those in developing countries, bureaucrats had gained dominant power.

"The best and the brightest" gather around central bureaucracy.(Picture: Ministry of Finance)

   That is to say that bureaucrats are the ruler with wide variety of authorities including the permission and regulation of the private entities' projects as well as the distribution of the national budget. That is why they are able to act arrogantly.
   Examination competitions for prestigious schools have been eased somewhat recently. But they are relatively still hot. Minded parents force their children go to cram schools when they are even elementary school students. Brilliant students go to special cram schools and compete their scores. The atmosphere that people who have good scores are superior is generated while they are at school age.
   Excellent students enroll at prestigious junior high schools and high schools. Final battlefield is the entrance examination to prominent universities. Scholastic attainments at the age of eighteen decide their generous course in the society. The most difficult hurdle for liberal arts student is the literary course 1 of Tokyo University. This is the entrance examination for entering the law department of Tokyo University that was created for binging up the bureaucrat. Ambitious students with good scores intend to become senior government officials. If they pass the examination for that career, they are able to work at their favorite ministries. Best and brightest come to the national government offices in Kasumigasek where national government offices are situated. They are the group of people who pride themselves and eager to ascend the government ladder.

The relation between politicians and bureaucrats is like that of owners and managers

   Meanwhile, Japanese public treat people in the politics as a politicians not a statesman. It has been understood that decent people do not enter the world of politics. In the countryside, not in urban areas, dignitaries in the region mostly engage in the politics in a hereditary system. If someone wants to jump in the politics in the countryside, it will cost him a lot of money. He has to spend his fortune or depend on others who can support him. If he is fortunate enough to be elected, he will usually compensate for it by introducing and fixing the economic rights for them. Entering the world of politics is often thought to be "dirty."
   Although Japan has adopted the democratic political system, management of the country was conducted by bureaucrats who have passed the difficult school examinations. It has not been conducted by politicians who are chosen by the election.
   The relation between politicians and bureaucrats is just like that of owners and managers. Politicians are engaged in the battle for political power and busy with introducing economic rights to industries and constituencies that support them. They scarcely have time to study and ponder policies. All the planning and execution of policies are done by bureaucrats. Bureaucrats handle politicians and force them pass the bill. Bureaucrats execute policies while teaching and educating politicians.
   The reason why this system, which is against the principle of the Constitution has been openly conducted might the legacy of the "Emperor's servants" since the Meiji Era. They enjoy and execute the superb authority in the society on behalf of the Emperor. They are different from the bureaucrat of civil servants in Anglo- Saxon countries. In a way, it is similar to bureaucratic image in China. In olden days there was an examination system called "Kakyo" in China. Brilliant male students study hard to pass the examination for becoming senior government officials.
   Japan did not import "Kakyo" system but since Meiji Era when a unified country was born, national government officials have not been hindered by bias of the blood or the origin of ancestors. They are posted at higher positions by their academic scores. The same is true in the case of regional government officials. Regional government offices are respected occupation. As it is well esteemed by the society and stable, it is the top-ranked job in the countryside along with banks.

Bureaucrats Played the Role of the Communist Parties in Socialist Countries

   Japan has attained the nation building in a peculiar style called "capitalist controlled economy." In the pre World War 2 time, Japan sought the strengthening the country by developmental dictatorship centered on the Emperor. After the war, it realized the fast economic growth owing to the group leadership led by economic bureaucrats centered on the Ministry of the Finance. It may be said the Japanese style socialist system. You might be easy to understand if we say that Japanese bureaucrats played the role of the communist party in the socialist country. It depended its principal course of the country on the United States and the sole Japanese government's task was economic building. Bureaucrats plan the fundamental policies of the industry like long-term plan including five-year planning. In every industry, they enact related laws. In the law, permission rights by bureaucrats are granted. Private sectors are glad if their related laws are enacted. Because they take it that they perceived as a well-established industry. A president or a chairman of the top corporation in the industry takes the post of the related organization's chairmanship. He will manage the industry according to the guidance of the ministry.
   In the related industry organization, "Amakudari" or senior retired official from government offices take the posts like managing director or secretary general. They are intermediaries between government offices and private enterprises. Administrative measures are taken according to the law, but government offices, not courts actually decide how to interpret the law for implementation. Bureaucrats' feeling like "Sairyo" (discretion) or "Gyosei-shido" (administrative guidance) often set the rule of business. People who are not accustomed to this kind of system led by bureaucrats, especially foreigners would be bewildered. There are two ways to cope with this. First off, ask government offices openly. Regarding the non-transparent measures like administrative guidance or permission rights let your lawyers ask for the view of government offices in writings. You should explain that you would like to do it as business and ask them whether it was lawful or not for avoiding the accusation later. If they do not permit, ask them the reasons for it in writings.

Japanese Government Offices are Susceptible If They Are Asked for "Logic"

   As Japanese government offices lead the private sector with "Aunno-kokyu" (perceived feeling), they are susceptible when they are asked for logic. Act aggressively with the backing of the law. Recently this has become very effective. When foreign companies are not abundant in Japan, they do not react seriously even if you ask for the view directly. But they are not allowed the poor treatment now, as "transparency of administrative measures" is required. This kind of measure is the right one even though the relationship with the government office might become difficult. They would see you as "lousy" and would not treat you well.
   Another way is "When you are in Rome, do as the Romans do."
   You would see them with low posture and respect. Try to go often to government offices and approach government officials. Try to find time to dine and play golf together with them. Build the cordial relationship that will allow you to consult with them. If possible, become a member of the related organization and contribute to the activities of the organization. Try to become friend with "Amakudari" officials in the organization, and get the information of government offices like internal situation or frank opinions. It might be possible to have an introduction to government officials. With the introduction from the inner circle, they react differently. It might be a good way to become senior official in the related organization and skill up the negotiation tactics. It might be possible to form an industry with only foreign companies. In that case, you could find a way to receive a politician who has an influence to government offices as an adviser. But in that case, you might be forced to buy tickets when the politician held fund raising parties.
   Attack from the front or take appeasement policy, judgment is manager's task.

BY ATSUSHI YAMADA

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