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Public Works Bureaucrats Under Siege

In November 1987 bilateral negotiations concerning bidding and participation in the Kansai projects stalled when Japan refused to comply with the U.S. demand for modifications of the government procurement system public works. An article in the Nikkei Shinbun asserted that "each country has unique aspects to its system for bidding and contracting for projects, and the matter of deciding participation is not one that should be handled in Japan-U.S. negotiations" (6 Nov. 1987). Japanese negotiators maintaied that a multilateral forum was the apropriate medium in which to address the problem. Pointing to the existence of substantial domestic obstacles, an upper-level official at the Ministry of Construction (MOC) stated that any change in the system would render it "necessary to reach a consensus among the various government agencies—beginning with the Construction Ministry—that administer public works in Japan" (ibid.). The bilateral talks reach a stormy impasse and then collapsed as barbed statements from concerned parties on both sides—fortified by strongly worded editorials in the mass media—elevated the issue into a "problem of liberalization of the construction market." Journalists termed the dispute "construction friction" (kensetsu masatsu ).

Why did the Japanese government allow an issue such as access to construction contracts to become a major source of friction with its largest trading partner? One analyst concluded that the ministries involved in the dispute, primarily the construction and transport ministries, were basically interested in "protecting their client industries


and preserving the public works bidding system so crucial to their relations with industry and politicians" (Krauss 1989, 12).

Although partially correct, this observation overlooks the narrower, more person motives that shape the behavior of government bureaucrats. For while bureaucrats serve the public interest and the interests of their clients, they also serve their own interests—which include the attainment of status and prestige, job satisfaction, power , financial compensation, promotion, and postretirement security.[1] And when formal organizational objectives or procedures hinder the maximation of personal security objectives, bureaucrats will often resort to informal means of conducting business. To protect their personal interest, bureaucrats may, for example, endeavor to forge ties to elected politicians and special interest groups. Or bureaucrats may focus on expanding their agency's jurisdictional turf and budget.

In this chapter, I examine how and why the behavioral patterns of Japanese public works bureaucrats came to assume their distinctive form. Pervasive interministerial sectionalism, one of the defining characteristics of Japanese public bureaucracy, is an important facet of this behavior. The system of reemploying retired government officials in the private sector, public corporations, and in national elective politics also affects the motives and behavior of Japan's public works bureaucrats. Before expolring these matters, however, we need to look at the bureaucrats themselves. In the case of MOC officials, the protagonist of this chapter, it is essential to undrstand the contrasting purposes and perspectives of two distinct " species" of publics works bureaucrats, the generalist and the technical specialist. Although U.S. pressure to pry open Japan's construction market endagered the interest of both species of public works bureaucrats, it was more threatening to the security of the technical specialist' livelihood—particularly to the future of the engineers who provide design services.

The Publics Works Bureaucrats

The central headquarters of the Ministry of Construction ( Kensetsusho or MOC), located in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki District, stands at the


apex of a bureaucratic network whose nationwide embrace links the coutry's center and periphery. With its control over 8 to 14 percent of Japan's general accounts budget and a quarters of total allocations of the Fiscal Investment and Loan Plan (the " second budget"), MOC is among Japan's most powerful disbursers of public funds. Even officials of the Ministry of Finance, the vaunted "bureaucrats of the bureaucrats," concede that the relative power of MOC and the other spending minitries has increased in recent times (pers. interview). Public works expenditures, the " treasure mountain" under the bailiwicks of MOC and other spending ministries, account for nearly one-third of the Japanese government's general accounts budget.

Despite being nicknamed " Kasumegaseki's money-power gang," MOC's bureaucratic officers suffer from a lingering sense of inferiority. In the popular perception MOC is considered a " third-rate ministry"—or, optimistically, an " ultra-second-rate-ministry"—in contrast to the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). Reputed to be among the most politicized of Japan's central governmental ministries, MOC is alledgely a "politically driven pork barrel" for the Liberal Democratic Party. Some political commentators even go so far as to claim that the ministry became the exclusive preserve of the LDP faction commanded successively by Tanaka Kakuei, Takeshita Noboru, and Kanemaru Shin.[2] In the wake of the reforms of 1993, some believe Ozawa Ichiro, who seceded from the LDP and founded the shinsei Party, became the political master of MOC. The zenekon scandal dealt a severe blow to MOC's prestige, prompting one publication to claim that, for the moment, the ministry had "the worst reputation among government agencies" (Omiya and Group B 1993, 136). Moreover, MOC is relegated to the secondary category of a "project ministry"—or "contracting ministry"—compared with the more prestigious "policy ministries." Efforts to convert MOC from a "tinkering agency" into a "thinking agency" have done little to alter its reputation. Nonetheless, the ministry plays the part of "godfather" to Japan's gargantuan construction industry, wielding powers that are said to be relatively greater than those possessed by MITI over its private-sector clients (S. Matsumoto 1974, 134–35).


MOC's Structure and Mission

Created in the postwar era, MOC is an offspring of the Home Ministry (Naimusho), the most powerful and prestigious agency of the prewar state, which was dismantled as part of efforts by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers to remove "militaristic" vestiges from the governing order. Established on 10 July 1948, MOC inherited the organizational structure and functions of the Civil Engineering Bureau (Doboku Kyoku) of the Naimusho. Under the post-Naimusho system, MOC was to administer the tasks of reconstructing and maintaining public-sector facilities, supervising infrastructure development, and overseeing public works projects.

Although the Naimusho was disbanded and its powers distributed to other ministries (e.g., Labor, Home Affairs, Health), only a small fraction of ex-officials of the defunct ministry (most of whom were attached to the police apparatus) were purged. The Occupation officials who disbanded the Naimusho, it seems, "had no inkling of the breadth and depth of its institutional memory and the force it would retain long after its demise" (van Wolferen 1989, 361). Thus MOC was run and staffed by members of the old Civil Engineering Bureau, who soon earned the sobriquet "domestic bureaucrats" (naimu kanryo )—a term denoting their supposedly myopic attitude vis-à-vis international affairs—a nickname that continues to stigmatize MOC officials today. Indeed, MOC was so insulated from the buffeting of foreign pressure that it was not until the Spring of 1987, in the midst of the Kansai Airport crisis, that the ministry established an Office for International Planning.

The Law for the Establishment of a Ministry of Construction (Kensetsusho Setchi Ho ) spells out the formal functions and organizational structure of MOC. Those functions include (1) national land and regional planning; (2) city planning; (3) administration of projects concerning rivers, coastline, erosion, canal, and flood prevention; (4) management of roads and tramways; (5) supervision of the Japan Highway Corporation; (6) construction of housing and preparation of residential land; (7) supervision of the Housing Finance Corporation and the Japan Housing Corporation; (8) supervision of the construction industry; (9) building and repair of public


edifices; (10) the survey of land and adjustment of maps; and (11) the conduct of research on matters related to civil engineering and architecture.

At the time of its establishment, MOC was composed of seven headquarters bureaus—a Minister's Secretariat, General Affairs, River, Road, City, Building, and Special Construction—and six regional construction bureaus (Tohoku, Kanto, Chobu, Kinki, Chugoku-Shikoku, and Kyushu). Forty years later, the number of headquarters bureaus was reduced to six (the Special Construction Bureau having been absorbed into the Minister's Secretariat), and two regional construction bureaus were added (one for Hokuriku, and the creation of separate organs for Chugoku and Shikoku). MOC also oversees the Geographical Survey Institute, the Public Works Research Institute, the Construction College, and other auxiliary organs. Thus MOC's formal administrative structure extends into virtually every locality of the country except Hokkaido and Okinawa, which are administered by separate agencies under the auspices of the Office of the Prime Minister.

In 1992 MOC's nationwide organizational network included 8 regional construction bureau offices, 232 work offices, and 654 branch work offices. A typical regional construction bureau is divided into six departments (General Affairs, Land Acquisition, River, Road, Public Buildings, and Planning), which are, in turn subdivided into two to six sections.Each of the twenty or so sections has a central work office and five or six branch work offices scattered throughout its region.

MOC's "Two Species"

At the time of its creation, MOC's internal sections, affiliated organs, and local branches employed slightly less than 6,000 individuals. The ministry's workforce rose precipitously up through the mid-1960s, to more than 35,000 names, but it has declined steadily ever since, standing at 24,490 officials 1992. Like officials in all central state ministries in Japan, MOCs officials fall into two distinct categories, depending on whether they entered the ministry after passing the Class A or the much less demanding class B segment of the Higher-Level Public Officials Examination. The former are referred to as "ca-


reer" officials, while the vastly more numerous latter group is known as the "non-careers" (non kyaria ). What most differentiates the two groups of bureaucrats is the nature of their respective promotional tracks: career officials are eligible for promotion to the top administrative posts within the ministry, whereas the noncareer counterparts are not.

The elite status of MOC officials is indisputable. Like their counterparts in Japan's other central state ministries, the vast majority of MOC's career bureaucrats are graduates of the country's most prestigious educational institutions. It is said that aspiring officials with both intellect and connections gravitate to the Finance Ministry, while those having only the former become construction bureaucrats (van Wolferen 1989, 119). Though MOC usually falls behind the Finance Ministry, MITI, and the Economic Planning Agency in its attempt to woo the elite university graduates, it thus quite well compared to the other spending ministries. In 1987, for example, 44 percent of MOC's 263 upper-level officials hailed from the University of Tokyo (Tokyo Daigaku, or Todai), and 21 percent from the University of Kyoto (Kyoto Daigaku, or Kyodai), both universally acknowledged as the country's premier institutions of higher learning (Kensetsusho meikan 1988).

With respect to their elite status, Japanese government bureaucrats have much in common with the grand corps of the French civil service and little in common with the patronage-ridden Italian state bureaucracy. Like their French counterparts, Japanese officials are recruited from the country's most prestigious educational institutions by way of a rigorous examination system. n addition, the Japanese bureaucracy, like the French executive branch, plays an important role in initiating and drafting public policies. In Italy, in contrast, there is an increasing trend toward the "southernization" of the bureaucracy: though the South accounts for only about one-third of the total population, it produces about 70 percent of all civil servants and over 80 percent of the highest-ranking civil servants. Furthermore, it is estimated that between 1973 and 1990 nearly 60 percent of those who aquired permanent posts in the Italian government bureaucracy were recruited without entrance examinations, and that many civil service postings were secured to through selective appointments by Christian


Democratic politicians (see Cassese 1993). While there are sporadic reports of LDP meddling in bureaucratic personnel matters, Japanese officials continue to be a meritocratic elite whose policymaking roles and functions warrant attention.

There is an old Japanese saying: "He who is not a graduate of Todai's Law Faculty does not become a bureaucrat." Although somewhat less applicable today than in previous times, the traditional "doctrine of law faculty omnipotence" continues to characterize the general state of affairs for career-level personnel in the central state bureaucracy. But unlike other ministries, MOC allows both administrative generalists and technical specialists the opportunity to assume the top administrative post—thus the ministry's nickname "technical heaven" (Jin et al. 1981, 201).

MOC's "administrative officials" (jimukan , or jimuya ) are generalists, most of whom are graduates of law or economics faculties. The "technical officials" (gikan , or gijutsuya ), who constitute about 60 percent of all MOC officials, possess specialized skills acquired from training in engineering, architecture, and other technical fields of study. Compared to their counterparts in commissioning agencies in the United States, MOC's technical specialists perform a larger share of the design services involved in public works projects. A typical entering class of new staff includes some fifteen generalists and between sixty-five and eighty specialists, about half of whom have been schooled in civil engineering. While technical specialists outnumber administrators in the regional construction bureaus, local branches, and auxiliary organs, the administrative generalists predominate in the upper-level bureaucracy at MOC's Kasumigaseki headquarters.

Some observers liken MOC to a niche inhabited by "two species" or to "two government offices inside a single government agency." Indeed, relations between the species are not always cordial, and there is an ever-present undercurrent of "factional conflict" (Honda 1974, 193). On occasion, members of the opposing camps have refused to acknowledge one another in the corridors of the ministry's headquarters (Y. Ito 1978, 67). However, when schisms appear within a camp—such as rifts between civil engineers and city planners —they serve to forge alliances between the technical and administrative officials at the bureau or section level (pers. interview).


Two Ladders to the Top

The story of how the technical specialists came to alternate with generalists in occupying MOC's foremost leadership position is enlightening. Before World War II technical officials in the Civil Engineering Bureau were not promoted above the rank of section chief in the ministry's headquarters or head of the civil engineering department in its prefectural branches. The clique of Todai Law Faculty graduates, particularly those in the powerful River Section, repeatedly fended off the efforts of specialists to achieve loftier posts. After the war, during the U.S. Occupation, the economic stabilization measures mandated in the Dodge Line placed a high priority on the construction of a modern network of roads. In fact, General Douglas MacArthur's first directive upon landing in Japan was to order the repair of roads linking Atsugi, Yokohama, and Tokyo (Nishioka 1988, 1). Civil engineers in the Road Section, such as Iwasawa Tadayasu, who secured an appointment to the post of Road Bureau chief, seized upon the opportunities that such a shift in priorities presented.

With the disbanding of the Naimusho, technical specialists united in the drive to have one of their own installed as administrative vice-minister (jimujikan ), the highest career civil service position in a government ministry. These efforts might well have been fruitless had it not been for the Occupation officials' preference for "scientific administration" (for which, presumably, officials with a technical bent would be valuable assets). Moreover, the new ministry was created during the brief reign of the Socialist-dominated cabinet of Katayama Tetsu (1947–1948). Cabinet member Nishio Suehiro vociferously opposed the appointment of Ohashi Takeo, a former police official and heir apparent, to the vice-minister's post because, Nishio claimed, Ohashi had victimized him when Ohashi served as chief of the Okayama police. And so, on 10 July 1948, Iwasawa became the first technical specialist to succeed to the vice-ministership, a triumph that inspired other technicians—notably the "Kyoto University Gang of Four"—to seek employment with the fledgling ministry.[3]

Though it may have been bloodless, the coup by MOC's technical officials was not uncontested. An experience recounted by Kobayashi Yosaji, an MOC official during Iwasawa's tenure and later the presi-


dent of Nippon Television Company, illustrates the mood at the time: One evening, Kobayashi, then chief of the documents section of the Minister's Secretariat, paid an unnanounced visit to Iwasawa's private residence, where he was greeted at the door by the vice-minister's wife. At the sight of an unfamiliar face, and without an instant's hesitation, she asked, "Are you a specialist or a generalist?" Kobayashi was left with the distinct impression that had he confessed to being a generalist, he would have been ordered to go around to the servant's entrance (Kanryo kiko kenkyukai 1978, 28).

Upon Iwasawa's retirement in March 1950, Nakata Masami, a generalist, was appointed to the post of vice-minister, initiating what has become an unwritten, but inviolable, law at MOC, that the top post alternates between technical and administrative officials—usually changing hands every two to three years (see Appendix B). Yet an element of bitterness persists among generalists concerning this system. From their vantage, some of the technicians who assume the vice-ministership are "technical fools," officials with specialized training and shallow administrative experience (pers. interview).

On their way up the ladder in MOC, generalists and specialists pursue separate paths. A new generalist typically serves a one- or two-year apprenticeship in the Kasumigaseki headquarters, where he or she will be promoted to chief clerk and deputy section chief. (These are the highest posts to which noncareer officials may aspire.) After serving several years in these posts, the generalist is dispatched outside the capital as section chief in one of the regional construction bureaus or "loaned" to a prefectural or municipal government. After two to four years in the hinterland, the now-seasoned generalist is summoned back to Kasumigaseki to serve as deputy section chief. He or she then proceeds through a succession of regular promotional steps—specialist official, planning specialist, and subsection chief—leading to the post of section chief. At this juncture, the official has amassed about two decades of experience at MOC, and a fair number of colleagues from the entering class will have already left government service. From this point on, the competition for promotion to the top positions in the ministry intensifies. The most fortunate generalists advance to the post of chief in one of four key sections (Personnel, Documents, Finance, and Policy) in the Minister's Secretariat,


and then to deputy-director and director of the Minister's Secretariat, Economic Affairs, or Housing Bureau. When the worthiest generalist secures the position of vice-ministership, the others remaining from his or her entering class resign shortly thereafter in order to give the new vice-minister unquestioned seniority.

For MOC technical specialists, in contrast, the first assignment, after a brief stint at ministry headquarters, is to a regional construction bureau. After eight or nine years of gradually moving up the administrative hierarchy, the technician is transferred to Kasumigaseki, where he or she feels very much like a "freshman in the headquarters office." A series of promotions at headquarters is followed by another assignment to a regional construction bureau, this time as an upper official. With luck, the technician is recalled to Kasumigaseki to become chief of the Planning Section of either the River or the Road Bureau. The technical bureaucrat deemed the "flower" of the entering class is eventually promoted to the post of vice-minister for engineering affairs (kensetsu gikan ). And, under the alternating scheme, this technician may advance to the vice-ministership.

Thus the career tracks of generalists and technical specialists are entirely discrete except for the alternation in the vice-ministership. No crossover occurs, for example, at the second highest posts in the respective career ladders, deputy vice-ministership for administration and vice-ministership for engineering affairs. Generalists invariably stand at the head of the Minister's Secretariat, Economic Affairs (dubbed the "Construction Industry Bureau"), and City Bureaus, while specialists lead at the River and Road Bureaus. The lone exception to this rule is the directorship of the Housing Bureau, where generalists and technicians constitute almost equal shares of the bureau's rank-and-file. However, inasmuch as an architect has never ascended to the top post at MOC, specialists regard the post of Director of the Housing Bureau as a promotional cul-de-sac. (Upon appointment to this post, Mihashi Shin'ichi is said to have behaved as if he had been fired rather than promoted to a directorship within the ministry.

While a balance of power prevails in the uppermost posts in MOC's head office in Kasumigaseki, the relative presence of generalists is most apparent in the middle echelons of ministerial leadership. Meanwhile, technical specialists—who wield greater influence in


budgetary matters—dominate the upper administrative posts in the ministry's regional construction bureaus, auxiliary organs, and local branch offices.

Politics and Personnel: The Kono Tempest

Atop the formal hierarchy of MOC are two politically appointed officials, the minister and parliamentary vice-minister of construction. These individuals, however, generally maintain their distance and do not attempt to meddle with MOC's unwritten personnel laws. The one exception to this tradition was Kono Ichiro, minister of construction during the second and third Ikeda cabinets (1962–1964), whose brazen meddling in the personnel system temporarily upset the balance of power at MOC.

Upon assuming office, Kono is rumored to have told the assembled hierarchy of the ministry: "Forget about the past. Those who cooperate with me, stay. Those who won't cooperate, oppose [my orders], or are incompetent, leave" (Kanryo Kiko Kenkyukai 1978, 30). He then proceed to do as he wished, ignoring the supposedly inviolable precepts of the delicately balanced personnel system. In one action, he demoted Maeda Koki, then director of the City Bureau, to the relatively insignificant post of director of the Government Buildings Bureau (since downgraded to a department under Minister's Secretariat), instead of promoting Maeda to the top post in Housing Bureau for which he had groomed. The alleged reason for this demotion was Maeda's failure to greet Koono properly when the two crossed paths in a ministry washroom. As it turned out, the extremely nearsighted Maeda happened not to have been wearing his eyeglasses at the time of the happenstance encounter. When Kono realized his error, he had Maeda promoted to director of the Housing Bureau, a waystation on the fast track to the vice-ministership, a post Maeda ultimately secured (ibid. 31–33).

Kono also shattered MOC's unwritten covenant by insisting on the appointment of generalists to the directorships of the Kanto and Chubu Regional Construction Bureaus. But his most controversial act was the rare interministerial transfer of three of his generalist disciples from the Police Agency into high-level posts at MOC. In one


stroke, Kono not only breached the etiquette of noninterference and the wall between generalists and specialists but also reignited the enduring grudge between the civil engineering and police wings of the old Home Ministry, the Naimusho. MOC officials, many of whom had begun their careers in the Home Ministry, were nonplused, to say the least, at finding themselves once again in the midst of police officials, and several offered their resignations in protest (ibid, 30–31). Among those who retired were the vice-minister for engineering affairs and the director of the Road Bureau. After Kono's own departure, the delicate informal balance between generalists and technicians was quickly restored.

Several observers have depicted Japan's government bureaucrats as minions cowering in the shadow of their legislative overlords (e.g., Ramseyer and Rosenbluth 1993, 110–12; McCubbins and Noble 1993, 15–16). But the Kono tempest raises doubts about such analyses. While cabinet ministers do, in fact, wield formal authority over promotions, evidence from MOC and other ministries suggests that the exercise of such authority is the rare exception and not the rule. As a temporary "visitor" in the ministry, a cabinet minister finds it difficult enough to attain even moderate competency in policy matters, let alone delve into personnel. Another deterrent to personnel matters is that those bureaucrats who are promoted as a result of political meddling often find that their career advancement suddenly slows down when the parliamentary patron leaves the minister's chair (pers. interview). At any rate, instances of politicians meddling in bureaucratic personnel decisions are rare enough to become front-page news when they occur. Aside from the Kono tempest and several legendary episodes at MITI, there have been few documented cases of significant partisan intervention in bureaucratic promotions.[4]

Public works bureaucrats, on the other hand, have candidly admitted in interviews to showing favoritism in promoting the careers of politicians who cooperate in securing passage of policy and budgetary proposals. Often this favoritism takes the form of giving advance notice of a policy decision to a politician, enabling the preferred legislator to be the first to claim credit. Other times preferential treatment is given in bidder-designation decisions for public works projects. Bureaucrats can also delay or divert projects supported by meddle-


some politicians; they can withhold or distort information; and they can take significant liberties in the implementation of policy. As politicians the world around have discovered, bargaining with bureaucrats is often more effective than attempting to maximize control over their activities.

Personnel "Loans"

MOC's hub-and-spoke administrative network spreads outward from Tokyo to nearly every district in the country. In addition, MOC exerts considerable informal influence over the construction bureaucrats at the prefectural and municipal levels. The principal medium for the exercise of this influence is the institutionalized practice of temporarily "loaning out" (shukko ) midcareer MOC officials to local bureaucracies and public corporations. Among high-level headquarters officials in 1987, more than two-thirds of the generalists and 41 percent of the specialists had been loaned-out at some point in their career (Kensetsusho meikan 1987). These officials typically spend from two to four years as departmental or section chiefs attached to prefectural or municipal bureaucracies. The generalists serve in a diverse range of administrative areas, while specialists tend to be clustered in civil engineering posts.

MOC also "loans" midcareer officials to public corporations, particularly those under the ministry's jurisdiction. In October 1987, for instance, 43 MOC officials were on loan to public corporations. (By way of comparison, the Ministry of Labor had loaned out 45 employees; Agriculture, 25; and MITI, 23; Amakudari hakusho 1988, 306.) Of the 16 on-loan officials attached to the Hanshin Superhighway Corporation in 1987, half were midcareer MOC bureaucrats, the rest hailing from prefectural and municipal governments in the Kansai area.

The Roots of Sectionalist Rivalry

Given MOC's size, multiple missions, and hub-and-spoke structure, and given the natural propensity of any bureaucratic organization to devolve into turf battles over budget and resource allocations, one is


not surprised to learn of rampant jurisdictional conflicts involving the ministry. Such sectionalism, indeed is one of the most important structural characteristics of Japanese bureaucracy and government, and the sectionalism at MOC is so deep-seated and pronounced that the agency has been described as a grab-bag of "bureaus with no ministry" constructed upon a handful of "sections with no bureau" (Jin et al. 1981, 202–3). There is, for example, an ongoing rivalry between the Street Section and the Parks and Greenery Section of the City Bureau, and the City Bureau and the Housing Bureau regularly tangle over questions of jurisdictional authority and budgetary primacy vis-à-vis the construction of residential housing in urban areas (pers. interview). Naturally, tensions increase during periods of fiscal restraint, as in the late 1970s.

The classic case of MOC sectionalism is the ageless battle between those who administer the country's rivers and riparian works and those in charge of roads. In prewar times, the overseers of river administration were so ascendant that the Home Ministry's River Section was called the "star" of the ministry. Throughout the first decade of the postwar era, the River Section maintained its preeminence, and budgetary allocations for riparian works and flood control exceeded expenditures on roads. These priorities were understandable in that the war coupled with several destructive typhoons had left the country's river works in a pathetic state demanding immediate repair. Moreover, a disproportionately large share of MOC's administrative vice-ministers, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, were individuals who rose through the ranks of the officialdom of the River Bureau. Since the mid-1950s, however, the balance of power has tilted in favor of the Road Bureau. This shift may reflect a logical redefinition of priorities after the taming of flood hazards, but prescient political entrepreneurs like Tanaka Kakuei also recognized the vast political benefits of sponsoring legislation that bolstered the road administration. Today, the battle between the two bureaus continues to seethe, although in recent years the stature of the Housing Bureau has increased relative to both.

In addition, MOC, like all central state government ministries and agencies, frequently finds itself entangled in interministerial warfare. For instance, a long-simmering sectionalist feud over issues of zoning


and road construction in rural areas has created enduring enmity between MOC and the Agriculture Ministry. Any proposal to build a dam is virtually guaranteed to spark interministerial conflict involving, inter alia, the Finance Ministry, as the guardian of the public purse; the Health and Welfare Ministry, as the sentinel for drinking water; the Agriculture Ministry as the champion of water for agricultural irrigation; MITI, as the spokesman for industry; and MOC, as the authority on building things. Another noteworthy example of a protracted interministerial sectionalist feud arose over efforts to solve the problems of heavy traffic and air pollution in metropolitan areas. At various times during this dispute, lasting from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, the belligerents included the Transport Ministry, MITI, MOC, the Public Safety Commission, and the Police Agency.

Sectionalist rivalry in the circumstances surrounding the so-called Three Road Laws (doro sanpo ) has come to define the contours of postwar road administration and budgetary politics in this important arena.[5] Since prewar public works priorities had relegated roads to a low status relative to railroads and water works, the postwar era began with a road system comprised of "washboard roads" (dekoboko michi ), "muddy paths" (nukarumi michi or doronko michi ), and "rattletrap byways" (onboro doro ). In 1948 the U.S. Occupation officials, intent on expunging militaristic undertones from the Road Law of 1919, oversaw preparations to create a new framework for road administration. Naturally these efforts captured the interests of the officials of MOC's Road Bureau, whose motto was then, as now, encapsulated in the lyrics to the ministry's "Utopia Song": "asphalt blanketing the mountains and the valleys . . . a splendid utopia."

Introduced in the first session of the Diet following the end of the Occupation, the Road Law (Doro Ho ) of 1952 was presented as a parliamentarians' bill rather than as cabinet-sponsored legislation. The core components of the law provided for the creation of a nationwide network of two types of trunk roads, an expanded framework of subsidy assistance, and a base from which MOC could petition the Finance Ministry for relevant budgetary allocations. Tanaka Kakuei, then a young parliamentarian, correctly perceived the political benefits of an ambitious program of road-building and championed the new law. Almost immediately, a jurisdictional battle erupted between


the Ministry of Agriculture and the newly established Ministry of Construction. Meanwhile, within MOC, the River Bureau sought to cling to its "star" status by staving off the rising momentum of the Road Bureau.

The same Diet session deliberated on the Special Measures Law for Road Facilities (Doro Seibi Tokubetsu Sochi Ho ) and approved it on 31 May 1952. In essence, the Special Measures Law created a pool of financing to be generated from a system of toll roads. While tolls for some bridges and ferries had been levied in prewar times, a faction within the Road Bureau clung to the belief that roads ought to be free; they were overruled, and the Road Bureau recommended toll status for the Kan'mon Tunnel, which links the islands of Honshu and Kyushu. This proposal generated a clash between MOC and the Finance Ministry, which was loath to see a whittling away of its jurisdiction over budget allocations. A feud also arose between MOC, the Ministry of Transport, and the trucking industry, which, for obvious reasons, objected to toll roads. The Special Measures Law, however, was enacted and the Mie Highway became the country's first toll road. Four years later, the creation of the Japan Highway Corporation (Nihon Doro Kodan) ushered in the era of high-speed toll expressways.

The Temporary Measures Law Concerning Financial Resources for Road Facilities Expenses (Doro Seibi Hi no Zaigento ni Kansuru Rinji Sochi Ho )—the third legislative pillar of postwar road administration—was passed in the summer of 1953, after stormy and protracted deliberations; once again, Tanaka was among the chief proponents. The Temporary Measures Law proposed to increase assistance to local government bodies, establish a system of five-year plans for road construction, and impose a gasoline tax that would be earmarked for the building and maintenance of roads. The mention of an earmarked gasoline tax provoked a reprise of the battle between MOC and the Finance Ministry, with the latter vigorously denouncing the creation of a pool of financial resources outside its control. Meanwhile, the Transport Ministry found itself in a quandary: it was eager to partake of the benefits of an improved and better-maintained network of roads, vet it opposed a tax that would displease the trucking


industry. In the end, the law passed and the first five-year plan for road facilities was announced in June 1954.

Yet the sectionalist feuds spawned by the Three Road Laws did not subside with their legislative enactment. Over time, MOC has feuded with MITI over an automobile weight tax; a series of "gasoline tax wars" pitted MOC against MITI and various other ministries; and MOC has jousted with the Transport Ministry over the railroads. Deliberations on tax reforms touched off a major contretemps between MITI and MOC in spring 1988. Angered that petroleum products alone were subject to a new consumption tax, the oil refinery and retail industries—backed by their ministerial overlord, MITI—petitioned for a reduction in the gasoline tax. MOC's Road Bureau countered that any cuts in gas tax revenues would seriously impair road improvement and maintenance. MOC officials also asserted that the pricing policy of MITI and the petroleum industry—not the tax system—was to blame for the high price of gasoline at the pump. (Tokyo motorists pay three times as much for gasoline as New Yorkers and twice what motorists in Frankfurt pay.) As this sectionalist warfare reached a crescendo, combatants included members of the LDPs Tax System Committee, as well as powerbrokers on the Commerce Committee and Construction Division of the LDP's Policy Affairs Research Council. For its part, the road camp targeted some forty-two parliamentarians for persuasion and nemawashi (briefing or, literally, "root binding"), and mobilized ten top officials of the Road Bureau along with 550 heads of local authorities in the effort. Although MOC and its forces won this particular battle, no one believes the war is over.

In sum, sectionalism permeates the government bureaucracy in Japan. And at times, enterprising parliamentarians, particularly members of the conservative parties, join the fray. If they are on the winning side, they may receive a bonus of sorts from the victorious ministry. For example, MOC repaid a number of parliamentarians who generated support for its cause with enduring and mutually rewarding ties to the ministry. In addition, some of these politicians went on to become members of the LDPs construction tribe, as we shall see in chapter 4.


Descent from Heaven

Career civil servants in Japan usually retire between the ages of 50 and 55, and this "descent from heaven" (amakudari ) takes one of several forms.[6] The most common course is to launch a "second career" at a private firm, generally a firm within the bailiwick of the ex-official's home agency. Another form of amakudari , known as "side-slip," involves lateral migration into an upper administrative position in a public corporation. A third form of a amakudari , sometimes termed "position exploitation," involves the pursuit of a second career in elective politics through the exploitation of ties to organized interest groups. Less popular paths include descent into positions in trade associations, think tanks, nonprofit organizations, and, recently, advisory positions with foreign firms.[7]

Amakudari is primarily a postwar phenomenon. In the prewar era, bureaucrats tended to retire later, and many were appointed to the House of Peers. Moreover, most considered it beneath the dignity of a servant of the emperor to descend into the private sector (Johnson 1974, 958). By and large, the Japanese system of amakudari has less in common with America's "revolving door" phenomenon than with the French government bureaucrats' pantouflage —migrating from the civil service to positions in private-sector firms, public corporations, and elective politics.[8]

The practice of early retirement emerged as a result of three factors: the guarantee of lifetime employment for career officials, the need to differentiate among university cliques (particularly the large number of Tokyo University alumni), and, most importantly, the seniority system of personnel promotion (Johnson 1974, 960). Since, in most cases, only one member of an entering class eventually attains the post of vice-minister, each naming of a new vice-minister prompts a series of resignations; at MOC, for example, unsuccessful aspirants in the vice-ministerial race are expected to resign within two years after the ascent of a classmate. Moreover, along the way, officials with nebulous prospects for the top spot often receive a "tap on the shoulder" and a request to "clear a pathway" for those junior officials who are on the fast track.

In addition to providing top bureaucrats with postretirement


security, the reemployment system spreads bureaucratic expertise throughout the private and public sectors and facilitates government-business interaction. As we will see, amakudari is not simply a mechanism for enhancing bureaucratic dominance of private-sector firms, nor simply a device used by firms to capture or co-opt the government bureaucracy. Both of these views have an element of truth, but amakudari is more complex. The flow of "descended angels" from the government bureaucracy into private business, public corporations, and elective politics serves as an adhesive element in the formation of enduring policy networks. As a glimpse at the "transfer routes" of retired MOC bureaucrats shows, amakudari promotes the ties that bind bureaucratic, legislative, and private-sector elites into a concrete triumvirate commanding Japan's public works domain. Additionally, retired upper officials continue to play a key role in policy and personnel decisions in their former ministries.[9]

Amakudari to Construction Firms

MOC tends to rank second to the Finance Ministry among the country's central state agencies in the number of its former officials who find reemployment in private-sector firms. The construction and real-estate industries provide the majority of landing spots for MOC's ex-officials, many of whom alight into positions as "advisors" to such firms. In most cases, the final posting within the bureaucracy determines an ex-bureaucrat's level of reemployment at a construction firm. For example, an official retiring at the level of bureau chief in MOC's central headquarters could expect to descend into an executive director post (with a good chance of eventually becoming company vice-president), while a former regional bureau chief would likely secure a managing director slot with a construction company. This custom only increases the bureaucrats' incentive to maximize promotional possibilities during their truncated careers in government service.

From the vantage of a public works contractor, the benefits of employing former bureaucrats are by no means trivial. The "descended angels" attended elite schools and have considerable expertise and information, but many close observers doubt that these qualifications


are as important to the new employers as the connections and personal networks these former officials command. For MOC is in the position to give what is called "candy" to favored contractors who employ its retired bureaucrats, treats like preferential decisions on bidder designations or leaks concerning the government's ceiling price for public works projects. As a former president of a general contracting company explains, "There is a thing called a souvenir project (omiyage koji ). It involves the Construction Ministry's gift of a project [to a particular contractor] in order to secure an amakudari spot for a retired official. There is talk that such projects have been worth as much as one billion yen" (Asahi shinbun , 16 Nov. 1993). So it makes good sense for public works contractors to employ someone with friends who work in the "candy store." In the words of one observer: "with regard to public works, in the final analysis connections to the contracting agency are important. For that reason [firms] energetically scout out retired upper officials" (Minami 1981, 25).

Over the years an informal head-hunting system has emerged to satisfy this demand. The process begins when a firm that hopes to hire an "old boy" sends what has come to be known as a "requisition for spare parts" to the Personnel Section of MOC's Minister's Secretariat. These so-called spare parts—or, more correctly, "spare employees"—are bureaucrats nearing the age of retirement. The request for spare parts implores MOC to "pass along an honorable official to this humble company" (Asahi shinbun , 16 Nov. 1993). In this regard, MOC's Personnel Section functions as an outplacement agency for its retiring officials. Indeed, until the increased scrutiny aroused by the zenekon scandal, the Personnel Section prepared and sent out documents requesting specific conditions of employment for descending bureaucrats. Companies wishing to employ former MOC officials had to promise that their salary would be commensurate to that of their final ministerial posting, and provisions were also made for elite bureaucrats to receive such fringe benefits as a company car, personal secretary, and a private office.

The personnel rosters of upper management in Japan's major construction firms reflects the pervasiveness of amakudari . In 1993, for example, former MOC officials held the posts of president of Kajima Corporation, chair of Sumitomo Construction, and vice-president of


Tobishima Corporation. According to a survey taken by Tokyo Commercial Research, 363 of the 2,021 officials (or 18 percent) of the 61 large general contracting firms listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 1992 were former officials of government agencies or quasi-public corporations. Of these, 55 were ex-officials of MOC, while 44 were descendees from the Japan Highway Corporation, and 36 had retired from the Japan Housing Corporation (Asahi shinbun , 16 Nov. 1993).

A report issued in the early 1980s revealed that "imported personnel" with backgrounds in the public service filled the top nine positions at Kajima Corporation ("Kensetsu gyokai" 1982, 179). By way of contrast, Takenaka Corporation, another of the Big Six, had a longstanding policy of not importing "old boys" from MOC, a rule that allegedly contributed to the company's relatively paltry harvest of public works contracts (Minami 1981, 29). Not surprisingly, firms employing large numbers of former public works bureaucrats tend to derive a relatively large share of their revenues from government contracts. In 1981, for instance, the top officials of the five largest civil engineering contractors included 52 ex-officials, more than two-thirds of whom had descended from careers in MOC (Amakudari hakusho 1982, 90–94). The system is replicated at the prefectural and local levels as well (Yoshida 1984, 220).

MOC's retired upper officials, particularly the technicians, are in such demand that a popular saving holds that there are "seven suitors for each daughter," and a successful contractor will boast of having "won the shogun's daughter" (Honda 1974, 197–98). And the dowry these brides bring their grooms is access to information on confidential government projects. As an official of a major construction firm admitted, "The estimated cost for a public works project is always contracted at the maximal budgetary level. Since a bureaucrat will lose his job if he does not use the full budget, he will leak information to contractors. In many cases the bid will come in at 98 to 99 percent of the estimated cost" (Shukan gendai , 1 May 1982, 57). By tacit agreement, each firm that takes in one of MOC's "old boys" is guaranteed at least one large-scale public works project (Asano et al. 1977, 29–30). Since the revenues from a single major project, such as the construction of a dam or a highway, may be sufficient to ensure the sol-


vency of a firm for up to a decade, the benefits of this "welfare pension in-hand project" system far outweigh the salaries a company pays the ex-officials.

Over the years, a host of cases have come to light involving dubious links between retired bureaucrats and the awarding of public works contracts. Instances have been reported in such diverse locales as Hokkaido), Kagawa, Ishikawa, Miyagi, Nagano, Niigata, Oita, and Toyama prefectures (Y. Ito 1978, 67; Minami 1981, 108; Yamamoto 1975, 138–39). In Hiroshima Prefecture, for example, on 15 December 1974, Kumagai Gumi emerged as the lowest bidder in the competition for a project to widen a road in Fukuyama City. The ¥162.7-million tender submitted by the firm was exactly the same as MOC's confidential estimated cost of the project. Only a few months earlier, a former director of MOC's Fukuyama Project Office had "descended from heaven" into a position with the company, a coincidence that prompted a local contractor to assert that it is "clearly impossible to imagine that information did not pass into the hands of Kumagai Gumi" (Jin et al. 1981, 196).

One study of large construction firms that employ considerable numbers of former government officials reported the following correlations (Jin et al. 1981, 179):



% of Top Officials Coming from Government

% of Revenues Derived from Public Works Projects

Tobishima Corporation



Mori Gumi



Tokura Construction



Fukuda Corporation



The most striking case concerned Totetsu Kogyo, a firm with strong ties to the since privatized Japan National Railways Corporation: former government officials counted for fully 80 percent of the firm's 24 top management posts, and public works contracts represented 80 percent of its total revenues (ibid. 140).

Amakudari is not the exclusive reserve of former central state


bureaucrats and major construction contractors. In fact, retired bureaucrats at the prefectural and municipal levels also descend into positions with local construction contractors. For instance, some 124 employees of the 60 firms belonging to the "Hama Yukai" (Yokohama Friendship Association) were retired officials from the Yokohama City government. These ex-officials allegedly acted as a pipeline for "informal information" pertaining to municipal public works projects (Asahi shinbun , 19 Sept. 1993). Table 2 summarizes the reemployment situations of ex-officials of the Tokyo Metropolitan government.

Amakudari to private-sector firms is controversial and demands for reform have been voiced over the years. In August 1993, as the zenekon scandal was widening, MOC announced that its officials above the rank of section chief (or department head among regional construc-


TABLE 2. Amakudari Patterns of Ex-Officials of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government

Final Government Posting


Amakudari Destination


Director, Construction Bureau


Tobishima Corporation

Executive director

Inspector, Road Bureau


Mitsui Construction


Deputy Director, Road Bureau


Hazama Corporation


Secretary, Road Bureau


Kyoritsu Construction


Secretary, Housing Bureau


Muramoto Construction


Head, Minami New Town Development Headquarters


Asakawa Gumi

Business director

Inspector, Port Bureau


Kajima Corporation

Chief engineer

Head, Tokyo Bay Office, Port Bureau


Shimizu Corporation


Manager, Port Bureau


Otaki Komuten

Business manager

Construction Director, Port Bureau


Obayashi Corporation

Business manager

SOURCE : Minami (1981, 25–27).


tion bureau officials) would exercise "self-restraint" (jishuku ) with regard to reemployment with general construction contractors until the resolution of the scandal. A number of prefectural governments quickly followed suit and announced reform measures aimed at stemming the flow of confidential information to construction firms (Asahi shinbun , 11 Oct. 1993). In addition, the public outcry aroused by the zenekon scandal forced MOC to announce that its Personnel Section would no longer specify the conditions of employment, such as the use of company cars and private offices, for officials seeking reemployment in construction firms. I will discuss the consequences of these modest and impermanent institutional modifications in the concluding chapter.

"Side-Slipping" into Public Corporations

For retired MOC officials who are reemployed in the public sector, the preferred course of action—especially for the generalists—is termed "side-slip descent from heaven" (yokosuberi gata amakudari ), reemployment in upper administrative positions in quasi-governmental corporations, foundations, financial banks, and similar organs. It is said that more than one-third of the top positions in these public entities are "hereditary" in that their occupants tend to come almost exclusively from the ranks of retired government officials, particularly those from the agency which oversees the corporation ("Tokken kanryo" 1982, 81). Between 1971 and 1987, the government ministries from which the largest number of retired officials side-slipped into public corporation posts were MITI (885), Agriculture (668), Finance (591), and MOC (525; Amakudari hakusho , various years).

It is not much of an exaggeration to refer to the positions assumed by these former high-level bureaucrats as sinecures. The posts—president, vice-president, member of the board of directors, and auditor—usually entail few duties other than ceremonial functions and bring an annual salary well in excess of $100,000, a healthy sinecure indeed. And all the more so with a generous retirement allowance.

MOC is in the enviable position of controlling some forty-one "progenitor posts" in a dozen public corporations.[10] Once secured, these posts are jealously guarded. If a suitable candidate cannot be found


among a ministry's annual crop of "descending angels"—a situation referred to as "human resource insufficiency" or a shortage of "bullets"—the inevitable result is interministerial personnel warfare. For example, a sectionalist battle ensued after the resignation of Nanbe Tetsuya, a former director of MOC's Kanto Regional Construction Bureau, from the post of president of the Japan Housing Corporation. Due to a shortage of ammunition, MOC was forced to relinquish control over the post to an "old boy" from the Finance Ministry (Zakai tenbo shuzai gurupu 1978, 61–63).

Another aspect of this type of amakudari is called "spinning wash-tub personnel," which captures the fate of the many ex-bureaucrats for whom reemployment is not a once-in-a-lifetime proposition; in extreme cases, descent from heaven occurs five or more times. Those former bureaucrats who travel from one reemployment post to another are known as "migratory birds" (Jin et al. 1981, 199–200). In the lore of the Ministry of Construction, "Migratory Bird Number One" was Housing Bureau Director Mihashi Shin'ichi, who retired in 1968 and peregrinated through six posts in five separate public corporations.

What distinguishes side-slip amakudari from the other forms is its highly institutionalized nature. In fact, side-slipping amakudari is so structured and "hereditary" that it is possible to predict with a high degree of accuracy the active bureaucrat, who is most likely to descend into a given post. Ministries and agencies jealously protect the posts perceived as their own, even as they constantly seek to "colonize" new territories.

Descending into Elective Politics

Within MOC, an old saying holds that "those who have no place to go [after retirement] become MPs," and indeed MOC is well represented in the Diet. In particular, the Diet's Upper House "reemploys" many former high-level officials of the River Bureau, who have relatively few amakudari landing spots in private or public corporations. Like other ministries, MOC engages in the practice of "gilded promotion," whereby junior officials with designs on elective political careers are promoted ahead of their cohort group. In many cases, offi-


cials occupy the gilded post only briefly, generally a matter of months or even weeks, before retiring from government service (Asahi shinbun , 21 Oct. 1993). These gilded promotions enable the aspiring legislators to impress voters and industry groups by citing the high-status position at which they retired.

Among former MOC officials who choose a second life in the parliamentary realm, technicians far outnumber generalists. For in retirement the technical officials are able to convert their years of contact with local contractors into political backing and campaign contributions from the construction industry. And the former technicans are attractive candidates for elective office owing to the clout they wield at their former agency.

Notably, all of the MOC officials who descended into second careers in elective politics between 1950 and the summer of 1993 joined the LDP or one of its conservative forerunners. (During the tumultuous 1993 general elections, four "old boys" joined Ozawa Ichiro's Shinsei Party, and another was elected under the banner of the Komeito) Over two-thirds of the MOC retirees chose to join the LDP faction headed by former Prime Minister Tanaka and later led by "construction tribalists" Takeshita Noboru and Kanemaru Shin.[11]

MOC's might in national elective politics was first demonstrated in 1950, when former Vice-Minister Iwasawa successfully campaigned for a seat in the Upper House. Following his lead, MOC's next four vice-ministers also opted to descend into the political world. This string of victories culminated in the election of Yoneda Masafumi as the top vote-getter for the Upper House election in 1959. The parliamentary success of retired MOC officials is easy to explain: MOC's control over the country's massive public works budget, as well as the ministry's "godfather" status vis-à-vis the country's half a million construction companies and more than six million workers, naturally attracts campaign contributions and votes.

Informally, MOC supports the campaigns of its former upper-level officials with an organizational weapon known as the Construction Machine (kensetsu Mashiin ). The Construction Machine was especially efficacious in securing seats for candidates running under the national constituency system in the Upper House prior to the reforms of the early 1980s. Among the informal rules of the game was a two-


term limit that ensured a place for a new MOC candidate every six years (Jin et al. 1981, 188–89, Minami 1981, 141–46). Coordination of the system fell to MOC's deputy vice-minister for administration, who carefully divided up the expansive field of construction industry votes by segmenting the country into eastern and western blocs. Each bloc was then designated to favor one or the other of the MOC candidates.[12] The task of making sure that local construction interests voted for the desired candidate fell upon the shoulders of the directors of the regional construction bureaus and the heads of MOC's numerous work offices. It is rumored that the promotional future of these two groups of officials depended on their ability to target the construction vote for the designated candidate, and that these officials issued veiled threats of withholding public works funding when visiting local districts in which opposition party candidates were believed to wield substantial support among construction contractors (Jin et al. 1981, 201).

MOC is also said to indirectly influence elections in the localities by way of its power over the "on loan" appointments of midcareer officials to serve as heads of the civil engineering departments in prefectural and some municipal governments (van Wolferen 1989, 117). The presumption here is that these on-loan officials influence the voting behavior of members of the myriad of local-level construction industry associations. In addition, some have argued that public construction spending increases in the prefectures represented by former MOC officials. A case in point is the sudden jump in public construction appropriations that accompanied the election of Imai Isamu, a former director of the Shikoku Regional Construction Bureau, to a Lower House seat representing the Ehime Third District. From a ranking of forty-second among Japan's forty-six prefectures (excluding Okinawa) in 1972, Ehime Prefecture moved steadily upward in the national rankings to the twentieth slot in 1977. A similar blessing is alleged to have been bestowed upon Oita Prefecture in 1979, following the election of former Kyushu Bureau Chief Tawara Takashi to a Lower House seat representing the prefecture's Second District.

Some MOC officials pursue elective careers in local, rather than national, politics. In autumn 1993, for instance, twelve descended angels from MOC or the National Land Agency were serving as prefec-


tural governors or mayors of major cities. Among them, the governor of Gifu Prefecture was a former director of the City Bureau, while the mayor of Yokohama was a retired vice-minister. MOC was hardly alone among government agencies in dispatching ex-officials into second careers in local elective politics. In October 1993 nearly 60 percent of all prefectural governors were either ex-government bureaucrats or former officials of government entities. Of course, this total would have included an additional name, that of Takeuchi Fujio, a former director of MOC's City Bureau, had he not been forced to resign as governor of Ibaraki Prefecture in the midst of the zenekon scandal. The ensuing investigations revealed the widely underestimated power of local authorities to exercise the "voice of heaven" in the designation of firms to bid for public works contracts. Indeed, it was said that Governor Takeuchi's power was "rather close to that of a king" (Asahi shinbun , 21 Oct. 1993).

"Construction Friction"

When the U.S. government began to demand changes in Japan's government procurement system, the media in Japan labeled the imbroglio "construction friction." But "friction" would seem to be an understatement. That the Japanese government was willing to suffer economic sanctions in order to protect its procurement system illustrates the power of the MOC bureaucracy and its allies in the Japanese business world and the parliamentary realm. In resisting the U.S. ultimatum, the government bureaucrats involved in Japan's public works administration demonstrated that they were willing to fight to protect their interests, no matter what the cost to the national economy. As Sahashi Shigeru, a former vice-minister at MITI, once remarked, "bureaucrats are officials of the various ministries before they are the servants of the nation" (in Johnson 1975, 7). Had he pressed this logic a bit further, however, he might have added that Japan's bureaucrats are rational, self-interested individuals before they are officials of the various ministries.

Most imperiled of all bureaucratic interests in the bilateral construction friction were the interests of the engineers and technical specialists in MOC and other contracting agencies. As Maureen Smith, a U.S. Commerce Department official, pointed out:


We recognize the fact that the commissioning entities in Japan have very substantial design staffs. This means that large elements of the design work would not be open to bidding of any kind, and that it basically would be done in-house. Now the logical extension of this concept is that American or foreign companies can be and often are excluded from the design stage, or, if you will, "designed out."

(Brooks 1990, 13–14)

Analysts in Japan understood the message perfectly: "The demands of the U.S. side to open the construction market amount to an ultimatum for the Japanese government to surrender its monopoly over the performance of engineering services in favor of utilizing America's own massive engineering construction contractors" (K. Maeda 1990, 136).

As the case of the public works bureaucrats illustrates, important implications flow from the goal-oriented behavior of Japanese government bureaucrats. For example, the sectionalism that pervades Japan's bureaucracy derives more from officials' quest for security via budget aggradizement and expansion of administrative turf than from elements of the national culture, though the latter are emphasized in much of the literature. The pursuit of security is also reflected in the informal ties and policy networks binding bureaucrats, private-sector clients, and parliamentarians into a symbiotic embrace. In this regard, diverse organizations—such as the numerous deliberative councils (e.g., shingikai , kondankai ) and government-sponsored think tanks (e.g., the Research Institute on Construction and the Economy)—have been established to facilitate public-private cooperation and consultation. Similarly, the various forms of "root-binding" (nemawashi ) reinforce informal ties between bureaucrats and their patrons in the parliamentary world, particularly members of the relevant "policy tribes."

As we have seen, the patterned behavior of Japanese government bureaucrats is shaped by the civil service employment system, particularly the practice of early retirement whereby former officials are reemployed in the private sector, public corporations, and in elective politics. While the system facilitates interaction between the government and civil society it also provides strong incentives for particularistic, and sometimes corrupt, behavior on the part of supposedly neutral government officials. Such activities include strategic leaks of information concerning the confidential government ceiling price for


public works projects. (It is impossible to believe that the systematic ability of firms employing, ex-bureaucrats to submit bids identical to or within a fraction of a percentage point of the ceiling price is coincidental.)

In the final analysis, therefore, the intransigence of the government bureaucrats toward U.S. pressure to modify the government procurement system for public works was rooted in a pervasive sense of crisis. Changes of the sort demanded by the United States threatened to erode the administrative turf and promotional possibilities of the public works bureaucrats. Particularly threatened were the technicians in the contracting agencies, especially MOC, who perceived the U.S. assault as a challenge to their virtual monopoly over basic design services. Moreover, any change in the status quo threatened to undermine the reemployment system, which is essentially an informal extension of the career ladder for Japan's government officials.

Yet if the conflict over bidding for projects at Kansai Airport upset the bureaucrats, it also cast a shadow of gloom over elected politicians, particularly those in the long-preeminent LDP, many of whom believed that their political careers depended on claiming credit for the preferential allocation of structural policy benefits. And so we now turn to the plight of the career politicians.


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