Bureaucracy in Japan Ever since its establishment in 1955, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has maintained its one-party rule, and it continues to hold the highest executive power, being the prime minister ship, and the cabinet. The LDP’s one party rule has shaped the Japanese political economy by creating very close ties between the political, bureaucratic, and industrial / business structure. This has been done through the auspices of institutions such as Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) and the Keirietsu/Ziabatsu (or other such interest groups).
The LDP’s diversion of government funds to dissatisfied groups (i.
e. “pork barrel” politics) and the creation of very close personal and financial linkages between government and industry served as the driving force in creating a unique Japanese political economy where business and politics became essentially indistinguishable. Politicians and the bureaucracy were considered to be the most politically influential forces in Japan. However, there was more emphasis on the politicians, especially among the LDP members. In the private sector, the LDP provided special benefits in return for consistent political support. For example, there was extensive reemployment of senior bureaucrats in big business and politics after their retirement.
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These people are called the amakudari (“decent from heaven”).
They deepened the communication between the government and the private sector, giving the private sector a way to manipulate the government or vice versa. Some amakudari in the LDP became members of the zoku (tribes), one of the party factions. The zoku were party officials who developed enough knowledge to force the bureaucracy to serve both national and party interests.
The LDP highly depended on the farmers for electoral support, which explains their loud concerns to agricultura policies. But there was also extensive involvement in the agricultural sector by MITI and MAFF. MITI represented the interests of commerce and industry, and MAFF had closer ties with the farmers. Although the two ministries had much to do with the agricultural industry, it was really the LDP’s agriculture zoku which influenced them, effecting personnel matters.
The agriculture zoku established followers from within these bureaucracies causing them to absorb opinions given by the LDP and convert them into instructions. Due to this “connection” between the LDP, the farmers and the bureaucracies, the following occurs: in order for the farmers to initiate new policies and get the attention of MITI, they go directly through the LDP. Pressure is put on the LDP, who later instructs MAFF bureaucrats. Then the MITI is influenced by MAFF and thus the development of the new policies. In such a policy-making process, there is an obvious social connection and certain interdependence between the farmers, the LDP and the bureaucracies. The greater part of the LDP’s affairs are conducted by factions such as the zoku.
These factions play a crucial role in resolution of party personnel matters: the election of the president, the appointment of cabinet ministers, and naming of important party officials. Each time the LDP selects a new president, billions are spent to accumulate sufficient votes to win the office. Since these political activities cost a great deal of money, the factions have established a close relationship with corporate Japan, and “money politics” has become a major characteristic of the parties. The business world and the banking community especially have supported the LDP than any other party, simply due to the fact that the conservatives constitute the party that has helped provide the most favorable environment for rapid economic expansion. Japanese economic development has been marked by heavy investments in plants, facilities, and equipment on the part of the various levels of government and especially by the private sector. To invest in modern equipment and factories, corporations had to borrow money from banks and other financial institutions.
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By means of such heavy borrowing, Japanese companies have entered a pattern in which many Japanese firms have been put into perennial debt – the debts owed to the various banks. As long as the company is a leading one, the government would be likely to rescue it, if for any reason it is in danger of bankruptcy, particularly if the government fears serious repercussions for other sectors of the economy. It is obvious, then, that the banking institutions are failure-proof, thanks to the government policy of promoting the economy by means of capital investment. And it is therefore not surprising that the leading banks are one of the major contributors to the LDP’s treasury. Usually the Japanese public seemed willing to tolerate the scale access by their politicians, so long as there was no evidence of corruption in their meritocratic bureaucracy.
Although the LDP had large support from the big business and bureaucratic institutions, these were also the same kind of institutions where the LDP fell victim to many scandalous affairs. There were two major affairs that affected their status and reputation. One was the Lockheed Scandal, which occurred in 1976, and the second was the Recruit Scandal in 1988. In both cases, the companies Lockheed Aircraft Asia and Recruit Cosmos Co. were seeking governmental backing. In order to gain that, they used techniques such as bribery and favoritism, which were immediately exposed by the media, and frowned upon by the public.
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However, even these scandals are, yet on a more larger and public scale, proof of the bureaucracy and the business industries working vis a vis with the LDP. Since the LDP has been in power for such a long time, major policy decisions have inevitably revolved around the conservative party and its internal political process. In this decision making system, the bureaucrats as well as the business industries and other interest groups, large and small play important parts. The LDP has ruled Japan since 1955, and with the bureaucracy at its side, its influence appears to be increasing.
Seeing this, a close and personal relationship can be built by a conservative politician with the bureaucrats, and the other interest groups. The LDP acts in coordination and cooperation with the bureaucrats and the business industries in shaping Japan’s public policies. The one-party LDP rule shaped the particular nature of the Japanese political economy by maintaining extremely close relationships with bureaucratic institutions over long periods of time. Backing them up financially, helps give them the ability to spend large quantities and obtain high positions in office. It is for reasons such as this as to why the LDP has been seen as the leading and ruling power in Japan since its existence.