Japan

   

Executive Capacity

#19
Key Findings
Despite a shift of power toward the core executive, Japan receives middling scores overall (rank 19) in the area of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.3 points since 2014.

The LDP government has deepened strategic-planning capacity in the core executive. Key policy planning is carried out by the prime minister’s Cabinet Office. The large Cabinet Secretariat has significant sectoral expertise. Many sensitive issues are negotiated informally, with cabinet meetings largely a formality.

RIAs are widely performed, but oversight and quality control are weak points. Trust in government has recovered somewhat since the 3/11 disasters, but remains low. The LDP government has been successful in implementing many of its policies, but key goals, including the achievement of a balanced budget, have been undermined by shifting policy priorities.

Facing a divided population, the government has hesitated to begin constitutional reforms that would enable a broader security and defense policy. The LDP’s victory in a snap 2017 election may push this process forward. The Abe government has maintained good relations with U.S. President Trump, but has had to adjust to disadvantageous U.S. policies. Local government deficits have eased in recent years.

Strategic Capacity

#18

How much influence do strategic planning units and bodies have on government decision-making?

10
 9

Strategic planning units and bodies take a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions, and they exercise strong influence on government decision-making.
 8
 7
 6


Strategic planning units and bodies take a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions. Their influence on government decision-making is systematic but limited in issue scope or depth of impact.
 5
 4
 3


Strategic planning units and bodies take a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions. Occasionally, they exert some influence on government decision-making.
 2
 1

In practice, there are no units and bodies taking a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions.
Strategic Planning
6
Under the central-government reform implemented by the Koizumi government in 2001, the role of lead institutions was considerably strengthened. The unit officially in charge of “policy planning and comprehensive policy coordination on crucial and specific issues in the cabinet” is the Cabinet Office (Naikaku-fu), which assists the prime minister and his cabinet. It is supported by a well-staffed Cabinet Secretariat (Naikaku-kanbō). The Cabinet Office also coordinates a number of policy councils including the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy. While there is a certain amount of overlap between councils concerning strategic issues, and thus the danger of fuzzy demarcations of responsibility, the councils have at least contributed to informing the governmental and public discourses in a constructive manner. While individual line ministries have strategic-planning units staffed with mid-ranking officials, their actual influence on long-term planning seems to be limited compared to the clout of bureau chiefs and more senior officials such as administrative vice-ministers. Policy-planning units tend to have very few staff members.

Citations:
Kotaro Tsuru, Where Has the Growth Strategy Gone? Working style reform is the way to go, Article translated by RIETI from Nihon Keizai Shimbun of November 10, 2015, 10 February 2016, http://www.rieti.go.jp/en/papers/contribution/tsuru/30.html

N. N., Abe seeks to undermine tripartite system in labor policymaking process, Japan Press Weekly, 8 August 2016, http://www.japan-press.co.jp/modules/news/index.php?id=9838

How influential are non-governmental academic experts for government decisionmaking?

10
 9

In almost all cases, the government transparently consults with a panel of non-governmental academic experts at an early stage of government decision-making.
 8
 7
 6


For major political projects, the government transparently consults with a panel of non-governmental academic experts at an early stage of government decision-making.
 5
 4
 3


In some cases, the government transparently consults with a panel of non-governmental academic experts at an early stage of government decision-making.
 2
 1

The government does not consult with non-governmental academic experts, or existing consultations lack transparency entirely and/or are exclusively pro forma.
Scholarly Advice
6
The Japanese government is assisted by a large number of advisory councils. These are traditionally associated with particular ministries and agencies, with some cross-cutting councils chaired by the prime minister. Such councils are usually composed of private sector representatives, academics, journalists, former civil servants and trade unionists. The question is whether advisory boards truly impact policymaking or whether the executive simply uses them to legitimize preconceived policy plans. The answer may well vary from case to case. In some instances, LDP-led governments have used outside expertise to overcome opposition to policy changes and reform. Think tanks, most of which operate on a for-profit basis, play only a limited role in terms of influencing national policymaking.

Citations:
Pascal Abb and Patrick Koellner, Foreign Policy Think Tanks in China and Japan:
Characteristics, Current Profile, and the Case of Collective Self-Defense, International Journal 70 (2015), 4: 593-612

Sebastian Maslow, Knowledge Regimes in Post-Developmental States: Assessing the Role of Think Tanks in Japan’s Policymaking Process, forthcoming in Pacific Affairs 91 (2018), 1.

Interministerial Coordination

#16

Does the government office / prime minister’s office (GO / PMO) have the expertise to evaluate ministerial draft bills substantively?

10
 9

The GO / PMO has comprehensive sectoral policy expertise and provides regular, independent evaluations of draft bills for the cabinet / prime minister. These assessments are guided exclusively by the government’s strategic and budgetary priorities.
 8
 7
 6


The GO / PMO has sectoral policy expertise and evaluates important draft bills.
 5
 4
 3


The GO / PMO can rely on some sectoral policy expertise, but does not evaluate draft bills.
 2
 1

The GO / PMO does not have any sectoral policy expertise. Its role is limited to collecting, registering and circulating documents submitted for cabinet meetings.
GO Expertise
7
The Cabinet Secretariat has more than 800 employees with expertise in all major policy fields. These employees are usually temporarily seconded by their ministries. While these staffers possess considerable expertise in their respective fields, it is doubtful whether they can function in an unbiased manner on issues where the institutional interests of their home organizations are concerned. Moreover, the system lacks adequate infrastructure for broader coordination (including public relations or contemporary methods of policy evaluation).

Citations:
Izuru Makihara, The Role of the Kantei in Making Policy, nippon.com, 27.06.2013, http://www.nippon.com/en/features/c00408/

Markus Winter, Abe and the Bureaucracy: Tightening the Reins, The Diplomat, 16 June 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/06/abe-and-the-bureacracy-tightening-the-reins/

Can the government office / prime minister’s office return items envisaged for the cabinet meeting on the basis of policy considerations?

10
 9

The GO/PMO can return all/most items on policy grounds.
 8
 7
 6


The GO/PMO can return some items on policy grounds.
 5
 4
 3


The GO/PMO can return items on technical, formal grounds only.
 2
 1

The GO/PMO has no authority to return items.
GO Gatekeeping
7
Present guidelines for policy coordination make the Cabinet Office the highest and final organ for policy coordination below the cabinet itself. This has de jure enabled prime ministers to return items envisaged for cabinet meetings on policy grounds. In practice, however, this rarely happens, as items reaching the cabinet stage are typically those on which consensus has been established. However, contentious policy issues can produce intercoalition conflicts even at the cabinet level.

Formal input into lawmaking processes is provided by the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. This body’s official mandate is to make sure that bills conform to existing legislation and the constitution, rather than to provide material evaluation. Ministry representatives are seconded to the Bureau to provide sectoral competences, creating influences difficult to counter in the absence of independent expertise at the central level. The lack of minutes for some key 2015 meetings raised the question of whether the Cabinet Legislation Bureau had become politicized and thus less independent under Prime Minister Abe.

Citations:
N. N., Cabinet Legislation Bureau chief defends self over process of reinterpreting Article 9, The Mainichi, 17 March 2016

Richard Samuels, Politics, Security Policy, and Japan’s Cabinet Legislation Bureau: Who Elected These Guys, Anyway?, JPRI Working Paper No. 99 (March 2004), http://www.jpri.org/publications/workingpapers/wp99.html

To what extent do line ministries involve the government office/prime minister’s office in the preparation of policy proposals?

10
 9

There are inter-related capacities for coordination in the GO/PMO and line ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The GO/PMO is regularly briefed on new developments affecting the preparation of policy proposals.
 5
 4
 3


Consultation is rather formal and focuses on technical and drafting issues.
 2
 1

Consultation occurs only after proposals are fully drafted as laws.
Line Ministries
8
In Japan, the role of line ministries vis-à-vis the government office is complicated by the influence of a third set of actors: entities within the governing parties. During the decades of the LDP’s postwar rule, the party’s own policymaking organ, the Policy (Affairs) Research Council (PARC) developed considerable influence, ultimately gaining the power to vet and approve policy proposals in all areas of government policy.

Under the LDP-led government in power since December 2012, Prime Minister Abe has tried successfully to make certain that he and his close confidants determine the direction of major policy proposals. The reform program does indeed show the influence of the Cabinet Office, with the ministries either following this course or trying to drag their feet. Abe’s main instrument is the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs, which grants control over more than 600 appointments, or as many as half a dozen political appointees per ministry.

Still, ministries can try to regain former clout over their areas. For example, the METI industry ministry has become somewhat more assertive again in trying to influence industry, through still guided by the priorities of Abenomics.

Citations:
Leo Lewis and Kana Inagaki, Japan Inc.: Heavy meddling, The Financial Times, 15 March 2016, https://www.ft.com/content/0118e3a6-ea99-11e5-bb79-2303682345c8

How effectively do ministerial or cabinet committees coordinate cabinet proposals?

10
 9

The large majority of cabinet proposals are reviewed and coordinated first by committees.
 8
 7
 6


Most cabinet proposals are reviewed and coordinated by committees, in particular proposals of political or strategic importance.
 5
 4
 3


There is little review or coordination of cabinet proposals by committees.
 2
 1

There is no review or coordination of cabinet proposals by committees. Or: There is no ministerial or cabinet committee.
Cabinet Committees
6
Government committees exist in a number of important fields in which coordination among ministries with de facto overlapping jurisdictions plays an important role. The most important is the Council for Economic and Fiscal Policy (CEFP), headed by the prime minister. However, this has never been a “ministerial committee” in a strict sense. First, it has only an advisory function. Second, individuals from the private sector – two academics and two business representatives in the current configuration – are included. This can increase the impact of such councils, but it also means they are somewhat detached from political processes.

Prime Minister Abe again strengthened the role of the CEFP and set up the Headquarters for Japan’s Economic Revitalization as a “quasi-sub-committee” of the CEFP that encompasses all state ministers. While the cabinet has to approve considerations developed in the CEFP or in the Headquarters, there is indeed a shift toward first discussing policy redirections in the committees, including discussions of basic budget guidelines.

There are currently four councils operating directly under the Cabinet Office, including CEFP and the Council for Science, Technology and Innovation.

The creation of the National Security Council in 2013 was a similar case in which interministerial coordination was intensified in the interest of asserting the prime minister’s policy priorities.

The structure is becoming ever more complex and could lead to confusion. For instance, under the Headquarters mentioned above, the Japan Revitalization Strategy 2016 foresees creation of a “Public-Private Council for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Citations:
Cabinet Office, Japan 2016 Revitalization Strategy, Provisional Translation, www.kantei.go.jp/jp/singi/keizaisaisei/pdf/2016_hombun1_e.pdf

How effectively do ministry officials/civil servants coordinate policy proposals?

10
 9

Most policy proposals are effectively coordinated by ministry officials/civil servants.
 8
 7
 6


Many policy proposals are effectively coordinated by ministry officials/civil servants.
 5
 4
 3


There is some coordination of policy proposals by ministry officials/civil servants.
 2
 1

There is no or hardly any coordination of policy proposals by ministry officials/civil servants.
Ministerial Bureaucracy
7
The LDP-led government has worked more effectively with the bureaucracy than did the previous governments led by the Democratic Party of Japan (2009-2012). In 2014, the government introduced a Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs, which is supposed to help the prime minister make appointment decisions regarding the 600 elite bureaucrats staffing the ministries and other major agencies. This significantly expanded the Cabinet Office’s involvement in the process and its influence over the ministerial bureaucracy, including the personal influence of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who has been in office since 2012. There are more political appointees in the ministries than before, and as Abe has been prime minister since 2012, the average stay of such appointees has become longer, giving them more expertise and clout within their ministries.

How effectively do informal coordination mechanisms complement formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination?

10
 9

Informal coordination mechanisms generally support formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
 8
 7
 6


In most cases, informal coordination mechanisms support formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
 5
 4
 3


In some cases, informal coordination mechanisms support formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
 2
 1

Informal coordination mechanisms tend to undermine rather than complement formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
Informal Coordination
9
Informal relations and related agreements are very common in Japan. Such interactions can facilitate coordination, but can also lead to collusion. In terms of institutionalized informal coordination mechanisms in the realm of policymaking, informal meetings and debates between the ministries and the ruling party’s policy-research departments have traditionally been very important.

Informal, closed-door agreements on policy are again of considerable importance. The leadership has to navigate skillfully between the coalition partners, line ministries and their bureaucrats, and a more inquisitive public. The Chief Cabinet Secretary is a key actor in this regard. There is some evidence that cabinet meetings are essentially formalities, with sensitive issues informally discussed and decided beforehand. Ministries collect and make public few, if any, records of meetings between politicians and bureaucrats as they are supposed to do under the 2008 Basic Act of Reform of the National Civil Servant System.

The general trend toward greater transparency may have even strengthened the role of informality in order to avoid awkward situations. In a recent scandal involving Kake Gakuen, a schools operator, it emerged that the demarcation between official and informal documents was not clear-cut, allowing the government to sidestep formal procedures.

Citations:
Jiji News, Cabinet minutes show formality, no substance, The Japan Times, 5 October 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/10/05/national/politics-diplomacy/cabinet-minutes-show-formality-no-substance/

N. N., None of Japan’s 11 ministries kept records of contact between bureaucrats, politicians, The Mainichi, 24 February 2016, http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160224/p2a/00m/0na/007000c

N. N. Cabinet staff kept records of contact between legislators, bureaucrats ‘voluntarily,’ The Mainichi, 25 February 2016, http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160225/p2a/00m/0na/014000c

Enhancing government accountability (Ediorial), The Japan Times, 13 August 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2017/08/13/editorials/enhancing-government-accountability/

Evidence-based Instruments

#17

To what extent does the government assess the potential impacts of existing and prepared legal acts (regulatory impact assessments, RIA)?

10
 9

RIA are applied to all new regulations and to existing regulations which are characterized by complex impact paths. RIA methodology is guided by common minimum standards.
 8
 7
 6


RIA are applied systematically to most new regulations. RIA methodology is guided by common minimum standards.
 5
 4
 3


RIA are applied in some cases. There is no common RIA methodology guaranteeing common minimum standards.
 2
 1

RIA are not applied or do not exist.
RIA Application
8
The basic framework for policy evaluation in Japan is the Government Policy Evaluations Act of 2001.

The process is administered by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC, Administrative Evaluation Bureau), while the ministries are charged with doing their own analyses, which has led some to question the impartiality of the procedure. However, a number of evaluations in strategically important fields have been undertaken by the Ministry of the Interior itself. In 2010, the ministry took over responsibility for policy evaluations of special measures concerning taxation as well as impact analyses of regulations dealing with competition issues.

The Ministry of Finance also performs a Budget Execution Review of selected issues, and the Board of Audit engages in financial audits of government accounts.

Between 2008 and 2016, Japan engaged in six government-expenditure reviews. This is above the OECD average for such processes, though the scope of these reviews was unclear.

The fragmented nature of such assessments seems to indicate potentially low levels of reliability and effectiveness. Indeed, it is difficult to point to a major policy arena in which these endeavors have led to major improvements.

Citations:
Miki Matsuura, Joanna Watkins, William Dorotinsky: Overview of Public Sector Performance Assessment Processes in Japan, GET Note: Japanese Public Sector Assessment Processes, August 2010, World Bank

OECD, Government at a Glance 2017 Country Fact Sheet Japan

Does the RIA process ensure participation, transparency and quality evaluation?

10
 9

RIA analyses consistently involve stakeholders by means of consultation or collaboration, results are transparently communicated to the public and assessments are effectively evaluated by an independent body on a regular basis.
 8
 7
 6


The RIA process displays deficiencies with regard to one of the three objectives.
 5
 4
 3


The RIA process displays deficiencies with regard to two of the three objectives.
 2
 1

RIA analyses do not exist or the RIA process fails to achieve any of the three objectives of process quality.
Quality of RIA Process
7
According to the Basic Guidelines for Implementing Policy Evaluation, revised in March 2007, the necessity, efficiency and effectiveness of measures are to be the central considerations in evaluations. However, issues of equity and priority are also to be included. The structure and content of assessments are further clarified in the Policy Evaluation Implementation Guidelines of 2005 and the Implementation Guidelines for Ex Ante Evaluation of Regulations of 2007; all of these specifications contain quite demanding tasks that must be performed as a part of the evaluations.

Critics have argued that many officials regard RIA as a bothersome disturbance, and lack strong incentives to take it seriously. Having RIA run by a line ministry, the MIC, instead of a powerful independent agency, does not seem to be very effective.

According to recent data, Japan scores considerably below the OECD average with regard to RIA implementation, particularly in the areas of oversight and quality control.

Citations:
Andrei Greenawalt, The Regulatory Process in Japan in Comparison with the United States, RIETI Column 318, 2015, http://www.rieti.go.jp/en/columns/a01_0431.html

Naohiro Yashiro, Regulatory Coherence: The Case of Japan, ERIA Discussion Paper 2016-16, March 2016, http://www.eria.org/publications/discussion_papers/DP2016-16.html

Nikolai Malyshev, Regulatory Impact Assessment: State of Play in OECD Countries, Paper for the KDI-OECD Seminar on Improving Regulatory Governance: trends, practices and the way forward, 6 September 2017

Does the government conduct effective sustainability checks within the framework of RIA?

10
 9

Sustainability checks are an integral part of every RIA; they draw on an exhaustive set of indicators (including social, economic, and environmental aspects of sustainability) and track impacts from the short- to long-term.
 8
 7
 6


Sustainability checks lack one of the three criteria.
 5
 4
 3


Sustainability checks lack two of the three criteria.
 2
 1

Sustainability checks do not exist or lack all three criteria.
Sustainability Check
3
According to the 2001 Government Policy Evaluation Act, policy effects have to be evaluated in terms of the three criteria of necessity, efficiency and effectiveness. These terms are somewhat flexible and do not necessarily encompass sustainability concerns. Indeed, actual evaluations apply the three guiding principles only in a somewhat loose way, with few rigorous quantitative assessments. Reviews cover both pre-project as well as post-project evaluations.

Citations:
MIC (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, Japan), Website on evaluation results, http://www.soumu.go.jp/menu_seisakuhyouka/kekka.html (accessed in October 2015)

Societal Consultation

#18

To what extent does the government consult with societal actors to support its policy?

10
 9

The government successfully motivates societal actors to support its policy.
 8
 7
 6


The government facilitates the acceptance of its policy among societal actors.
 5
 4
 3


The government consults with societal actors.
 2
 1

The government rarely consults with any societal actors.
Negotiating Public Support
6
LDP-led governments have traditionally engaged in societal consultation through the so-called iron triangle, that is, the dense links between parliamentarians, the ministerial bureaucracy and large companies. However, these mechanisms tended to exclude other societal actors, including trade unions and small and medium-sized enterprises. With the onset of economic problems in the 1990s, tensions within this triangle increased, and relations over time became strained enough to indicate the effective demise of the iron triangle system, at least at the national level.

With respect to the current LDP-Komeito coalition, the Buddhist lay association Soka Gakkai provides the bulk of support for Komeito, and has consequently gained some influence over policy matters that relate to the organization’s interests. This has been particularly evident during the ongoing debate over constitutional reform. The LDP is in favor of this reform, while Soka Gakkai and Komeito have a pacifist background, and have sought to slow down any major initiative. Abe enjoys the support of the conservative Nippon Kaigi lobby group, but its influence is difficult to substantiate and is possibly overrated in sensationalist media reports.

It is frequently argued that business has considerable influence on government decision-making in Japan. Substantiating such claims is difficult as there is a lack of transparent rules governing lobbying. There seems to be little scope for business-state alignment, as major firms have become global players that are decreasingly interested in or bound to the home market. One traditional mechanism of bureaucracy-business alignment, the “amakudari” system of providing retiring bureaucrats with lucrative jobs, has been suppressed since the 2008 reform to the National Civil Service Law. A 2017 scandal involving the Education Ministry (MEXT), which had still run a camouflaged amakudari system, and in whose wake 43 ministry officials including the vice-minister were dismissed, shows that this mechanism has indeed outlived its time.

Citations:
Grant Newsham, Japan’s conservative Nippon Kaigi lobby: Worth worrying about?, Asia Times, 19 July 2016, http://www.atimes.com/article/japans-conservative-nippon-kaigi-lobby-worth-worrying-about/

William Pesek, Why Isn’t Japan Inc. Helping Japan?, Bloomberg View, 13 January 2015, http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-01-13/japan-inc-isnt-very-japanese-any-longer

Yumiko Yokota, Ending “Amakudari” Descent from Heaven at Last?, http://www.nippon.com/en/currents/d00317/

Policy Communication

#19

To what extent does the government achieve coherent communication?

10
 9

The government effectively coordinates the communication of ministries; ministries closely align their communication with government strategy. Messages are factually coherent with the government’s plans.
 8
 7
 6


The government coordinates the communication of ministries. Contradictory statements are rare, but do occur. Messages are factually coherent with the government’s plans.
 5
 4
 3


The ministries are responsible for informing the public within their own particular areas of competence; their statements occasionally contradict each other. Messages are sometimes not factually coherent with the government’s plans.
 2
 1

Strategic communication planning does not exist; individual ministry statements regularly contradict each other. Messages are often not factually coherent with the government’s plans.
Coherent Communication
6
Policy communication has always been a priority for Japanese governments. Ministries and other governmental agencies have long published regular reports, often called white papers, as well as other materials on their work.

Recent discussion of Japanese government communication has been dominated by the triple disaster of March 2011, in particular by the lack of transparency and failure to deliver timely public information about the radiation risks of the nuclear accident. This experience may have seriously undermined citizen trust in the government. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, trust levels in Japan with respect to the government have recovered somewhat, but according to Edelman 2017, the share of people reporting distrust is (still) high in Japan compared to other countries, and has indeed even risen by two percentage points since 2016.

Even within the ruling LDP, there is sometimes dissatisfaction with the government. LDP leaders occasionally make policy statements that are not fully in line with party positions, with one recent example involving discussion of what a change to the so-called peace clause of the constitution might involve.

The LDP-led coalition has pushed through its policy priorities more assertively than earlier governments, while giving less consideration to dissenting opinions. However, the confirmation of its two-thirds majority in the Lower House snap elections of October 2017 reflected the electorate’s dissatisfaction with the opposition rather than approval of the LDP’s policies, particularly on the issue of constitutional change.

Citations:
Edelman, 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer – Japan, Slide presentation, 21 March 2017, https://de.slideshare.net/EdelmanAPAC/2017-edelman-trust-barometer-japan-73399853

Werner Pascha, Overcoming Economic Weakness in Japan and the EU: The Role of Political Entrepreneurship and the Political Economy of Reforms, in: Jan van der Harst and Tjalling Halbertsma (eds.) China, East Asia and the European Union. Strong Economics, Weak Politics?, Leiden: Brill 2016, pp. 15-33

Abe’s remarks on constitutional revisions inconsistent with LDP’s intraparty talks, The Mainichi, 9 May 2017, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170509/p2a/00m/0na/021000c

Implementation

#27

To what extent can the government achieve its own policy objectives?

10
 9

The government can largely implement its own policy objectives.
 8
 7
 6


The government is partly successful in implementing its policy objectives or can implement some of its policy objectives.
 5
 4
 3


The government partly fails to implement its objectives or fails to implement several policy objectives.
 2
 1

The government largely fails to implement its policy objectives.
Government Efficiency
6
In mid-2017, Abe announced that the government would use a portion of the proceeds of the planned 2019 consumption-tax increase for the purposes of free education and improved child care, rather than for public-debt reductions as initially planned. This will make it impossible to reach the original target of a balanced primary budget in 2020. With regard to restarting nuclear-power plants, a key element of the current energy policy, the government is nowhere as close as it wanted to be.

Abe may want to use the momentum gained through his coalition’s retention of two-thirds majorities in both legislative houses in the October 2017 snap election to move the process of constitutional reform ahead. However, as the population is very divided on the issue, and the LDP’s coalition partner Komeito is not in full agreement, the concrete agenda on this issue was unclear as of the time of writing.

In terms of international relations, regional tensions have relaxed somewhat since 2016, as evidenced by an increasing number of high-level meetings. The Abe government has skillfully developed good relations with U.S. President Trump, but has also had to adjust to some disadvantageous U.S. policy moves such as the United States’ departure from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

Citations:
Mitsuru Obe, Japan Parliament Approves Overseas Military Expansion, The Wall Street Journal, 18 September 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/japan-parliament-approves-abe-security-bills-1442596867

To what extent does the organization of government provide incentives to ensure that ministers implement the government’s program?

10
 9

The organization of government successfully provides strong incentives for ministers to implement the government’s program.
 8
 7
 6


The organization of government provides some incentives for ministers to implement the government’s program.
 5
 4
 3


The organization of government provides weak incentives for ministers to implement the government’s program.
 2
 1

The organization of government does not provide any incentives for ministers to implement the government’s program.
Ministerial Compliance
7
Japan’s political framework formally provides the prime minister with powerful tools to control ministers. Prime ministers can appoint and fire ministers at will. Moreover, prime ministers can effectively veto specific sectoral policies. In practice, however, prime ministerial options have been more limited, as most have lacked full control over their own parties or over the powerful and entrenched bureaucracy.

Recent governments, including the current Abe government, have sought to centralize policymaking within the core executive. Some measures have been institutional, such as giving new weight to the Cabinet Secretariat attached to the Cabinet Office and to the Council for Economic and Fiscal Policy, a cabinet committee in which the prime minister has a stronger voice. Other measures include a stronger role in top-level personnel decisions, aided by the formal introduction of the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs in 2014. Such institutional measures have proved quite successful.

How effectively does the government office/prime minister’s office monitor line ministry activities with regard to implementation?

10
 9

The GO / PMO effectively monitors the implementation activities of all line ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The GO / PMO monitors the implementation activities of most line ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The GO / PMO monitors the implementation activities of some line ministries.
 2
 1

The GO / PMO does not monitor the implementation activities of line ministries.
Monitoring Ministries
6
Generally speaking, the Cabinet Secretariat, upgraded over a decade ago, offers a means of monitoring ministry activities. In recent years, its personnel has expanded, improving its monitoring capacity. However, effective use of the secretariat has been hindered in the past by the fact that the ministries send specialists from their own staff to serve as secretariat employees. It de facto lacks the ability to survey all activities at all times, but the current, long-serving chief cabinet secretary is considered a decisive power in the enforcement of government-office positions.

How effectively do federal and subnational ministries monitor the activities of bureaucracies and executive agencies with regard to implementation?

10
 9

The ministries effectively monitor the implementation activities of all bureaucracies/executive agencies.
 8
 7
 6


The ministries monitor the implementation activities of most bureaucracies/executive agencies.
 5
 4
 3


The ministries monitor the implementation activities of some bureaucracies/executive agencies.
 2
 1

The ministries do not monitor the implementation activities of bureaucracies/executive agencies.
Monitoring Agencies, Bureaucracies
7
Japanese ministries are traditionally run by civil servants who work in a single ministry throughout their career. Government agencies that belong to a specific ministry’s sectoral area are thus also directed by civil servants delegated from that ministry, who may return to it after a number of years. From that perspective, control of executive agencies below the ministerial level can be quite effective. This mechanism is supported by budget allocations and peer networks.

In 2001, so-called independent administrative agencies were established, following new-public-management recommendations for improving the execution of well-defined policy goals by making them the responsibility of professionally managed quasi-governmental organizations. Such independent agencies are overseen by evaluation mechanisms similar to those discussed in the section on regulatory impact assessment (RIA), based on modified legislation. In recent years, voices skeptical of this arrangement have gained ground, because the effectiveness of this independent-agency mechanism has been hindered to some extent by the network effects created by close agency-ministry staffing links. In addition, the administrators in charge have typically originated from the civil service, and thus have not always possessed a managerial mindset.

To what extent does the central government ensure that tasks delegated to subnational self-governments are adequately funded?

10
 9

The central government enables subnational self-governments to fulfill all their delegated tasks by funding these tasks sufficiently and/or by providing adequate revenue-raising powers.
 8
 7
 6


The central government enables subnational governments to fulfill most of their delegated tasks by funding these tasks sufficiently and/or by providing adequate revenue-raising powers.
 5
 4
 3


The central government sometimes and deliberately shifts unfunded mandates to subnational governments.
 2
 1

The central government often and deliberately shifts unfunded mandates to subnational self-governments.
Task Funding
6
Local governments – prefectures and municipalities – strongly depend on the central government. Local taxes account for less than half of local revenues and the system of vertical fiscal transfers is fairly complicated. Pressures to reduce expenditures have increased, as local budgets are increasingly tight given the aging of the population and social-policy expenses related to growing income disparities and poverty rates.

Japanese authorities are well aware of these issues. Past countermeasures have included a merger of municipalities designed to create economies of scale, and a redefinition of burdensome local-agency functions. In addition, the LDP and others have contemplated a reorganization of Japan’s prefectural system into larger regional entities (doshu). This reform proposal is highly controversial, however. Since 2014 – 2015, special economic zones (tokku) where national regulations are eased and regional vitalization special zones serve as field experiments for improved policymaking. Many observers doubt whether the approach being taken is bold enough.

Citations:
Takuji Okubo, The truth about Japan’s tokku special zones, JBpress Website, 02.07.2014, http://jbpress.ismedia.jp/articles/-/41109

Promoting local autonomy, The Japan Times, 9 January 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2017/01/09/editorials/promoting-local-autonomy/

To what extent does central government ensure that subnational self-governments may use their constitutional scope of discretion with regard to implementation?

10
 9

The central government enables subnational self-governments to make full use of their constitutional scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
 8
 7
 6


Central government policies inadvertently limit the subnational self-governments’ scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
 5
 4
 3


The central government formally respects the constitutional autonomy of subnational self-governments, but de facto narrows their scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
 2
 1

The central government deliberately precludes subnational self-governments from making use of their constitutionally provided implementation autonomy.
Constitutional Discretion
4
The Japanese constitution guarantees local-government autonomy. However, articles 92 to 95 of Chapter VIII, which discuss local self-government, are very short and lack specifics. The central state makes its power felt through three mechanisms in particular: control over vertical fiscal transfers, the delegation of functions that local entities are required to execute, and personnel relations between local entities and the central ministry in charge of local autonomy. Moreover, co-financing schemes for public works provide incentives to follow central-government policies.

Over the course of the last decade, there have been a growing number of initiatives aimed at strengthening local autonomy. One major reform proposal envisions the establishment of regional blocks above the prefectural level and giving these bodies far-reaching autonomy on internal matters (doshu system). There are no indications that the current government will seek to turn this controversial idea into practice.

To what extent does central government ensure that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services?

10
 9

Central government effectively ensures that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services.
 8
 7
 6


Central government largely ensures that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services.
 5
 4
 3


Central government ensures that subnational self-governments realize national minimum standards of public services.
 2
 1

Central government does not ensure that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services.
National Standards
8
Japanese government authorities put great emphasis on the existence of reasonable unitary standards for the provision of public services. The move toward decentralization makes it particularly important to raise standards for the local provision of public services. Within the central government, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications is in charge of this task, which involves direct supervision, personnel transfer between central and local entities, and training activities. While a 2000 reform abolished local entities’ agency functions in a strict sense (that is, direct administrative supervision has lost some importance compared to legal and judicial supervision), other channels have remained important. At the local and particularly the prefectural level, there is an elaborate training system that is linked in various ways to national-level standards. The government seeks to promote evidence-based policymaking through new data platforms, which are also meant to support local governments in the implementation of plan-do-check-adjust (PDCA) cycles.

A unified digital “My Number Card” system (based on the new social-security and tax number system) was introduced for citizens in 2015 to help authorities with providing and enforcing uniform services. It has faced some opposition and foot-dragging by citizens, however, and experienced some technical problems in 2017.

Citations:
Kyodo News, My Number law takes effect amid privacy fears, The Japan Times, 5 October 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/10/05/national/number-law-now-effect-notifications-set-sent/

A year into the new system, Japan’s My Number ID cards are not catching on, 4 January 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/01/04/national/year-new-system-japans-number-id-cards-not-catching/

Cabinet Office, Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform 2017 – Increasing productivity through investment in human resources, Overview, 9 June 2017

Adaptability

#18

To what extent does the government respond to international and supranational developments by adapting domestic government structures?

10
 9

The government has appropriately and effectively adapted domestic government structures to international and supranational developments.
 8
 7
 6


In many cases, the government has adapted domestic government structures to international and supranational developments.
 5
 4
 3


In some cases, the government has adapted domestic government structures to international and supranational.
 2
 1

The government has not adapted domestic government structures no matter how useful adaptation might be.
Domestic Adaptability
6
Japan’s reform processes are usually driven by domestic developments and interests, but international models or perceived best practices do play a role at times. Actors interested in reform have frequently appealed to international standards and trends to support their position. However, it is often doubtful whether substantial reform is truly enacted or whether Japan follows international standards in only a formal sense, with underlying informal institutional mechanisms changing much more slowly.

To what extent is the government able to collaborate effectively in international efforts to foster global public goods?

10
 9

The government can take a leading role in shaping and implementing collective efforts to provide global public goods. It is able to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress.
 8
 7
 6


The government is largely able to shape and implement collective efforts to provide global public goods. Existing processes enabling the government to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress are, for the most part, effective.
 5
 4
 3


The government is partially able to shape and implement collective efforts to provide global public goods. Processes designed to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress show deficiencies.
 2
 1

The government does not have sufficient institutional capacities to shape and implement collective efforts to provide global public goods. It does not have effective processes to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress.
International Coordination
7
Japan is actively involved in G-7 and G-20 mechanisms. However, the country has a lower profile in international and global settings than might be expected in view of its global economic standing. Since Abe’s election in 2012, there has been greater continuity and international visibility, though not in terms of spearheading multilateral initiatives.

The Japanese constitution makes it difficult for Japan to engage in international missions that include the use of force, although it can legally contribute funds. As a result of Japan’s five-year participation in a UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (which ended in 2017), the government has flexibly expanded various procedures stopping just short of active military engagement, such as providing ammunition to endangered military units from partner countries.

In 2015, despite considerable public opposition, new security laws were passed that allow military intervention overseas in defense of (somewhat vaguely defined) allies. The same year, Japan and the United States overhauled their Mutual Defense Guidelines to allow for deeper cooperation, emphasizing the global nature of the bilateral alliance.

Japan has actively supported and contributed to regional initiatives. In recent years, China has emerged as an increasingly influential actor shaping regional initiatives such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). While Japan has not yet joined this organization, signs emerged in 2017 that this decision could be reversed in the near future. In 2015 – 2016, responding to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Japan started a Partnership for Quality Infrastructure, which is slated to spend $200 billion globally by the end of 2020.

Japan has not played a leading role in global environmental-policy efforts, particularly in the post-Kyoto Protocol negotiations.

Citations:
Mitsuru Obe, Japan Parliament Approves Overseas Military Expansion, The Wall Street Journal, 18 September 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/japan-parliament-approves-abe-security-bills-1442596867

Tridivesh Singh Maini, Japan’s Effort to Counter China’s Silk Road, The Globalist, 6 April 2016, http://www.theglobalist.com/japan-effort-to-counter-china-silk-road-india/

Michael Bosack, What did Japan Learn in South Sudan?, The Diplomat, 10 June 2017, https://thediplomat.com/2017/06/what-did-japan-learn-in-south-sudan/

Organizational Reform

#10

To what extent do actors within the government monitor whether institutional arrangements of governing are appropriate?

10
 9

The institutional arrangements of governing are monitored regularly and effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The institutional arrangements of governing are monitored regularly.
 5
 4
 3


The institutional arrangements of governing are selectively and sporadically monitored.
 2
 1

There is no monitoring.
Self-monitoring
7
Institutional reform of the executive has been a major topic in Japan for more than a decade. For its part, the post-2012 LDP-led government under Prime Minister Abe has sought to readjust institutional arrangements by establishing and/or reinvigorating a number of councils and committees. To some extent, the Abe government has sought to bring back the strong leadership framework that characterized the government under Prime Minister Koizumi (2001-2006), for instance through a strong Cabinet Office.

To what extent does the government improve its strategic capacity by changing the institutional arrangements of governing?

10
 9

The government improves its strategic capacity considerably by changing its institutional arrangements.
 8
 7
 6


The government improves its strategic capacity by changing its institutional arrangements.
 5
 4
 3


The government does not improve its strategic capacity by changing its institutional arrangements.
 2
 1

The government loses strategic capacity by changing its institutional arrangements.
Institutional Reform
7
The failure of the reform initiatives led by the pre-Abe DPJ governments demonstrated the difficulties of trying to transplant elements from a different political system (in this case, Westminster-style cabinet-centered policymaking) into a political environment with a tradition of parallel party-centered policy deliberation. In comparison, the post-2012 Abe-led government has been quite successful in pushing at least portions of its policy agenda through parliament. It is open to debate whether the centralization of power at the cabinet level has been the most important factor or whether the strong majority in both houses of parliament, paired with opposing political parties’ weakness, has been at least as important. The passage of the security laws in 2015 – a major success from the government’s perspective – may seem to provide evidence of more robust institutional arrangements than in earlier years. However, problems in moving the government’s economic-reform agenda decisively forward, particularly in fields such as labor-market reform, suggest that the Abe-led government too has struggled to overcome resistance to change in a number of policy areas.
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