It is almost folk wisdom that informal contacts between Japanese decision makers are extremely important. During formal meetings, it is difficult to mention all important points explicitly, for instance in order to avoid “loss of face” situations. For that reason, considerable effort is made to prepare meetings in an informal manner, ensuring a “binding of roots” (nemawashi), or to reach the “true” decisions in an informal environment, such as during visits to restaurants or bars. While this may involve only those persons who are formally involved in the decision making, such procedures can also reach well beyond the circle of those who are formally involved, sometimes leading to collusion, nepotism or even corruption.
On the level of “organized informal mechanisms,” one of the most important channels of coordination for policy-making has been the informal meetings and debates between the ministries and the policy research departments of the major parties, particularly of the LDP. It has sometimes been suggested that the directors of the LDP policy research departments, which closely mirror the ministry structure of the government, may have been as or even more powerful than the serving ministers. With the advent of the new DPJ-led government, this system has come to a halt. The DPJ has pledged to abolish its policy research branch and to rely only on official mechanisms.
The Mainichi Daily News: Discord surfaces within gov’t over continued Japanese participation in ISS, 16 April 2010, http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20100416p2a00m0na007000c.html
Kakizaki, Meiji: Prospects for a Two-Headed Administration, Japan Echo, February 2010, pp. 11-18.