Japan

   

Executive Accountability

#29
Key Findings
With a mixed record on accountability issues, Japan falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 29) with regard to executive accountability. Its score has improved by 0.3 points relative to its 2014 level.

Citizen policy knowledge is reasonably robust. However, the 3/11 disasters undermined public trust both in government information and in leading media organizations, with recovery still ongoing. While occasionally critical of government policy, the major traditional media organizations do little to expose major scandals. New online sources of news are gaining influence, but exacerbating political polarization.

The parliament has broad oversight powers, and members have substantial policy-assessment resources at their disposal. The Board of Audit successfully plays a watchdog role, though is sometimes ignored by core government institutions. A data-protection entity has been recently established, but its operations remain in flux.

The governing LDP party is increasingly centralized. The biggest opposition party recently split, leaving the country with only a single large, stable party. Economic organizations are well-funded and sophisticated. Civil-society groups have played an increasing role in expressing public concern and organizing mass rallies, if sometimes with little visible effect on policy.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#22

To what extent are citizens informed of public policies?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual public policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of public policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of public policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of public policies.
Political Knowledge
7
A substantial amount of information about policies is available in Japan. For instance, ministries regularly use so-called white papers to explain the current parameters and content of policies in many areas, often in great detail.

However, this does not necessarily mean that citizens feel satisfied with the information available or consider it trustworthy. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in government reached a low point after the 3/11 disasters. While it has recovered somewhat since, only 37% of the overall population in 2018 said they trusted the government.

Citations:
Ross Rowbury, Japan: Low Trust Challenges Forward Momentum, Edelman, 20 March 2018, https://www.edelman.com/post/japan-know-trust-challenges-forward-momentum

Does the government publish data and information in a way that strengthens citizens’ capacity to hold the government accountable?

10
 9

The government publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 8
 7
 6


The government most of the time publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 5
 4
 3


The government publishes data in a limited and not timely or user-friendly way.
 2
 1

The government publishes (almost) no relevant data.
Open Government
8
E-government issues, particularly services aimed at making public information available to citizens in a secure and timely manner, have been on the government agenda since the 2000s. Current efforts are based on the Basic Plan for the Advancement of Utilizing Public and Private Sector Data and the Policy for Open Data, both released in May 2017. The various branches of government make an overwhelming amount of statistics, data and reports available, with coordinated access through sites like e-Gov, Data.go.jp and e-Stat. However, ensuring transparency, usability and security remains an ongoing challenge.

Citations:
Government of Japan, Digital Government in Japan, January 2018, https://de.slideshare.net/hiramoto/170119-digital-government-in-japan

English-language access points to major sites: http://www.e-gov.go.jp/en/, http://www.data.go.jp/?lang=english, https://www.e-stat.go.jp/en/

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#16

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
7
Parliamentarians have substantial resources at their disposal to independently assess policy proposals. Every member of parliament can employ one policy secretary and two public secretaries paid through an annual fund totaling JPY 20 million (about €155,000). However, in many cases these secretaries are primarily used for the purposes of representation at home and in Tokyo. Both houses of parliament have access to a 560-staff-member Research Bureau tasked with supporting committee work and helping in drafting bills. A separate Legislative Bureau for both houses, with around 160 staff members, assists in drafting members’ bills and amendments. The National Diet Library is the country’s premier library, with parliamentary support among its primary objectives. It has a Research and Legislative Reference Bureau with over 190 staff members whose tasks include research and reference services based on requests by policymakers and on topics of more general interest such as decentralization. For such research projects, the library research staff collaborates with Japanese and foreign scholars.

Notably, the substantial available resources are not used in an optimal way for purposes of policymaking and monitoring. The Japanese Diet tends toward being an arena parliament, with little legislative work taking place at the committee level. Bills are traditionally prepared inside the parties with support from the national bureaucracy. Ruling parties can rely on bureaucrats to provide input and information, while opposition parties can at least obtain policy-relevant information from the national bureaucracy.

Citations:
Jun Makita, A Policy Analysis of the Japanese Diet from the Perspective of ‘Legislative Supporting Agencies,’ in Yukio Adachi, Sukehiro Hosono and Iio Jun (eds), Policy Analysis in Japan, Bristol: Policy Press 2015, pp. 123-138

Junko Hirose, Enhancing our Role as the “Brains of the Legislature”: Comprehensive and Interdisciplinary Research at the National Diet Library, Japan, paper for the IFLA Library and Research Services for Parliaments Section Preconference 2014, http://www.ifla.org/files/assets/services-for-parliaments/preconference/2014/hirose_japan_paper.pdf

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not request government documents.
Obtaining Documents
9
Government documents can be obtained at the discretion of legislative committees. There are typically no problems in obtaining such papers in a timely manner.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
9
Committees may request the attendance of the prime minister, ministers and lower-ranking top ministry personnel, such as senior vice-ministers, among others.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
7
Under Article 62 of the constitution, the Diet and its committees can summon witnesses, including experts. Summoned witnesses have the duty to appear before parliament. The opposition can also ask for witnesses to be called, and under normal circumstances such requests are granted by the government. However, the use of expert testimony in parliamentary committees is not widespread; experts, academic and otherwise, are relied upon more frequently within the context of government advisory committees, in particular at the ministry level.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
9
The Diet’s standing committees (17 in both chambers) closely correspond to the sectoral responsibility of the government’s major ministries. The portfolios of the ministers of state cover special task areas and are in some cases mirrored by special committees (e.g., consumer affairs). Special committees can and have been set up to deal with current (or recurring) issues. In the Lower House, there are currently nine such committees, for example on the issue of regional revitalization.

Citations:
The House of Representatives, Japan, Types of Committees, n.d. http://www.shugiin.go.jp/internet/itdb_english.nsf/html/statics/guide/committees.html

Media

#11

To what extent do media in your country analyze the rationale and impact of public policies?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing public policies. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
6
The Japanese media system is dominated by five major TV networks, including public broadcaster NHK, plus a handful of major national newspapers. These publications are widely read, though their circulation is declining, and provide information in a sober style. However, because of their close personal links to political figures, which finds its institutionalized expression in the journalist club system, these newspapers rarely expose major scandals. Nonetheless, their editorials can be quite critical of government policy. Investigative journalism is typically undertaken by weekly or monthly publications. While some of these are of high quality, others are more sensationalist in character. Another source for exposing scandals is the international press.

Personnel changes at NHK after the Abe-led government took power produced a leadership that openly declared its intention to steer a pro-government course. The government’s assertive approach has also been evident in other media areas. In terms of public trust in the media, Japan holds a middling rank in international comparison according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s Digital News Report 2018. However, in the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer it received the
third-lowest rank among 28 reviewed countries.

In part as a reflection of these trends, new social media such as YouTube, Line, Twitter and Facebook, along with the news channels based on them, have gained a considerable following. This also holds true for new online publications such as BuzzFeed Japan and Huffington Post. However, while their impact on the overall quality of information is unclear, they do seem to be contributing to the emergence of so-called partisan media in Japan.

Citations:
Tomohiro Osaki, Academics, TV journalists slam minister’s threat against ‘biased’ programming, fear media self-censorship, The Japan Times, 2 March 2016, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/03/02/national/tv-journalists-slam-ministers-threat-biased-programs-fear-media-self-censorship/

Philip Brasor, Sticky bonds of the media and government, The Japan Times, 24 June 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/06/24/national/media-national/sticky-bonds-media-government/

Kaori Hayashi, Japan’s Media: Facing Public Indifference More than Distrust, Nippon Communications Foundation, 24 April 2018, https://www.nippon.com/en/currents/d00398/

Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Digital News Report 2018

Edelman, 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer - Japan, 16 February 2018, https://de.slideshare.net/EdelmanJapan/2018-edelman-trust-barometer-japan

Parties and Interest Associations

#35

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Decision-Making
3
Generally speaking, parties in Japan are fairly insider-oriented, with policy and personnel decisions driven by leading politicians and their networks.

Japan’s strongest party is the LDP (holding 61% of Lower House seats after the 2017 election). No stable second major party currently exists. While the Democratic Party (DP) once seemed a possible contender, it suffered another major blow before the 2017 election, when many of its Lower House members formed the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP, 12%), an entity primarily devoted to opposing changes to the existing constitution, while others entered the newly formed conservative Party of Hope (11%). This latter party and the DP regrouped as the Democratic Party for the People in May 2018, but not all DP or Party of Hope parliamentarians have joined the new party.

The LDP has traditionally revolved around individual politicians, their personal local-level support organizations and the intraparty factions built by key party leaders. Local party chapters may play decisive roles in choosing a parliamentary candidate if there is no “natural” successor to the former incumbent. Ordinary party-member involvement is usually limited to membership in a local-level support organization for a politician and is mainly (but not solely) based on mutual material interests: While members want tangible support for their communities, politicians want secure “vote banks” for (re-)election.

The LDP has become more centralized in recent years, with the influence of factions declining. Party congresses offer little real opportunity for policy input by delegates. However, delegates from regional party branches have participated in party leader elections since the early 2000s, with some branches basing their eventual choice on the outcome of local primaries. While the LDP has also paid some lip service to increased intra-party democracy, it has shied away from major internal reforms.

Party politics before and after the 2017 Lower House election showed that major strategic decisions in some of the newer opposition parties are made more or less autonomously by individual party leaders.

Citations:
N. N., The cabals Japan’s prime minister has tried to curb may curb him, The Economist, 19 April 2018, https://www.economist.com/asia/2018/04/19/the-cabals-japans-prime-minister-has-tried-to-curb-may-curb-him

Aurelia George Mulgan, Where is Japan’s party system headed?, East Asia Forum, 10 October 2017, http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/10/10/where-is-japans-party-system-headed/

Tetsuya Kageyama, Democratic Party for the People launched with little sense of excitement, 8 May 2018, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20180508/p2a/00m/0na/014000c

To what extent are economic interest associations (e.g., employers, industry, labor) capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Employers & Unions)
7
Japan’s leading business and labor organizations regularly prepare topical policy proposals aimed at stirring public debate and influencing government policymaking. The three umbrella business federations – Keidanren, the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Doyukai), and the Japanese Chamber of Industry and Commerce (Nissho) – as well as Rengo, the leading trade-union federation, try to impact policy by publishing policy papers and participating in government advisory committees. As the business sector’s financial support of political parties has declined and major companies have globalized their operations, politicians may have become less willing to accommodate the views of these interest groups.

While there is an obvious scramble for influence between Rengo and the business organizations, there is also a notable degree of competition among the business organizations themselves. For instance, Keidanren is dominated by large enterprise groups, and has been somewhat slow in demanding a further opening of the economy. The Doyukai is more characterized by strong independent companies, and has been outspoken in demanding a more open business environment.

Keidanren’s resumption of its commitment to support donations to the LDP beginning in 2014 has prompted concerns that it may be too close to the government. In 2018, Keidanren proposed scrapping the guidelines governing the recruitment of new university graduates, with several ministers ultimately expressing support.

Citations:
N.N., On 70th anniversary, top business lobby looks at what distance to keep from politics, The Mainichi, 31 May 2017, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170531/p2a/00m/0na/021000c

Kyodo/Jiji, Cabinet ministers express support for Keidanren proposal to scrap reruitment rules for college graduates, The Japan Times, 4 September 2018, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/09/04/business/cabinet-members-express-support-keidanren-proposal-scrap-recruitment-rules-college-graduates/

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
4
Civil society organizations with a public-policy focus are rare in Japan. The Non-Profit Organization Law of 1998 made the incorporation of such associations easier but many bureaucratic and financial challenges remain. With few exceptions, such organizations in Japan have limited depth and breadth. Japan has only a few well-resourced public-policy-oriented think tanks. Some non-profit organizations are used by the government bureaucracy as auxiliary mechanisms in areas where it cannot or does not want to become directly involved.

Following the 3/11 disasters, and more recently in the context of the controversy over the government’s security-law extension, civil society groups have taken an increased role in expressing public concerns and organizing mass rallies. High levels of engagement on the part of activists notwithstanding, it is difficult for such actors to create professionally operating, sustainable organizations. As a case in point, the Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs) group gained considerable attention during the 2014/15 protests against a reinterpretation of the constitution’s so-called peace clause, but has since disbanded.

Citations:
Susanne Brucksch, Japan’s Civil Society and its Fight against Nuclear Energy, Sustainable Governance Indicators Website, 09.04.2014, http://news.sgi-network.org/news/details/1212/theme-democracy-sustainability/japans-civil society-and-its-fight-against-nuclear-energy/

N. N., After creating new waves in Japan’s civil movement, SEALDs dissolved, The Mainichi, 15 August 2016, http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160815/p2a/00m/0na/025000c

Independent Supervisory Bodies

#35

Does there exist an independent and effective audit office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent audit office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent audit office, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent audit office, but its role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an independent and effective audit office.
Audit Office
6
The Board of Audit of Japan is considered to be independent of the executive, legislative and judiciary. Its yearly reports to the cabinet are forwarded to the Diet along with the cabinet’s own financial statements. The board is free to direct its own activities but parliament can request audits on special topics. The Board is also able to present opinions, reports and recommendations in between its annual audit reports. In these reports, the board frequently criticizes improper expenditures or inefficiencies, fulfilling its independent watchdog function.

In the case of the Moritomo Gakuen scandal, a deal involving the transfer of state-owned land in which the prime minister himself and his wife have been implicated, the board submitted an interim report to the Diet in June 2018. This contained very serious allegations of misconduct in the Ministry of Finance.

Citations:
Colin Jones, Japan’s Board of Audit: unlikely guardians of the Constitution?, The Japan Times, 4 December 2016, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2016/12/04/issues/japans-board-audit-unlikely-guardians-constitution/

A school of hard knocks. A persistent scandal ensnares Japan’s prime minister, The Economist, 15 March 2018, https://www.economist.com/asia/2018/03/15/a-persistent-scandal-ensnares-japans-prime-minister-again

Atsushi Takahashi and Kosuke Tauchi, Board of Audit blasts ministry over ‘illegal’ falsified files, The Asahi Shimbun, 20 June 2018, http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201806200043.html

Does there exist an independent and effective ombuds office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an effective and independent ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
5
While there is no national-level (parliamentary) ombuds office as such, both houses of parliament handle petitions received through their committees on audit and administrative oversight. Citizens and organized groups also frequently submit petitions to individual parliamentarians.

An important petition mechanism is located in the Administrative Evaluation Bureau of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. The bureau runs an administrative counseling service with around 50 local field offices that can handle public complaints, with some 220 civil servants engaged in administrative counseling. In 2017, about 156,000 cases were addressed through this administrative counselling function. About 5,000 volunteer administrative counselors serve as go-betweens. A related mechanism is the Administrative Grievance Resolution Promotion Council, which includes non-governmental experts.

Citations:
Administrative Evaluation Bureau, News from Japan, accessed in November 2018 from Asian Ombudsman Association website http://asianombudsman.com/

Is there an independent authority in place that effectively holds government offices accountable for handling issues of data protection and privacy?

10
 9

An independent and effective data protection authority exists.
 8
 7
 6


An independent and effective data protection authority exists, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


A data protection authority exists, but both its independence and effectiveness are strongly limited.
 2
 1

There is no effective and independent data protection office.
Data Protection Authority
6
Pursuant to the terms of the recently amended and now fully effective Act on the Protection of Personal Information, a Personal Information Protection Commission (PPC) was established in January 2016. The commission is a cross-sectoral, independent government body oversees the implementation of the act. Its chairperson and commissioners are appointed by the prime minister with the consent of both chambers of parliament. It is too early to judge whether this commission will in fact be able to maintain independence from the government, and whether it will be effective. The current public discussion is still dominated by the difficulties of how to implement the act under complex real-world conditions.

Citations:
Akemi Suzuki and Tomohiro Sekiguchi, Data Protection & Privacy Japan, Getting the Deal Through lawyer and law firm network, September 2018, https://gettingthedealthrough.com/area/52/jurisdiction/36/data-protection-privacy-japan/

N.N., A step toward the restoration of privacy (Editorial), The Japan Times, 30 May 2018, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2018/05/30/editorials/step-toward-restoration-privacy/
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