Preferred Citation: Woodall, Brian. Japan under Construction: Corruption, Politics, and Public Works. Berkeley, Calif:  University of California Press,  c1996 1996.




For three decades, U.S.-Japanese relations have been marked by a succession of disputes over Japanese exports of textiles, steel, automobiles, machine tools, semiconductors, flat panel display monitors, and consumer electronics. Japan's potential for overseas conquests in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and high-definition television has exacerbated these tensions, as has Japan's unwillingness to open its protected domestic markets in agricultural commodities, telecommunications equipment, and forestry products. Over the years, of course, the United States has issued various demands fur "fairness" and "reciprocity." Nonetheless, it came as quite a surprise to many in 1986 when the United States began to mount an extraordinary effort to force Japan to open its domestic construction market to foreign bidders.

To be sure, Japan's domestic construction market was the largest in the world (valued at about ¥53.6 trillion a year), and it was expanding at an unparalleled rate. But given the size of the mounting bilateral trade imbalance—some $50 billion annually, about half of the total U.S. trade deficit—one would have expected Washington to focus attention on policies regarding automobiles and automobile parts, which accounted for about two-thirds of the trade imbalance, or perhaps on office machinery, the second-largest component of Japan's exports to the United States. The sudden burst of enthusiasm for penetrating Japan's domestic construction market was even more surprising in light the U.S construction industry's seeming disinterest in Japan and the ignominious withdrawal, some twenty years earlier,


of the last American firm to have been awarded a major Japanese public works contract.[1]

No one was more startled by the uproar than Japan's public works bureaucrats, who never would have imagined that domestic public works would occupy center stage in a major trade dispute with the United States. To their dismay, the dispute soon broadened, as Canada, South Korea, France, Britain, and China all weighed in, pressing their own demands for access to the Japanese construction market.

Eventually, the threat of additional U.S. retaliation—in the wake of a Congressional bill that excluded Japanese firms from selling goods and services for federally funded public works—compelled Tokyo to compromise, but not before the protracted conflict had come close to humiliating Japan's newly elected prime minister and his party. (For a chronology of these events, see Appendix A.)

The first question raised by these events is why the Japanese government allowed the apparently trivial issue of construction bidding procedures to jeopardize its continued access to vital U.S. markets, the destination of one-third of Japan's vast export product. As we will see, Japan's seemingly irrational economic behavior in this affair was, in fact, politically rational. For the pressures to open the domestic construction market threatened the interests of three sets of powerful political actors: construction contractors, public works bureaucrats, and career politicians, especially members of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Naturally, the construction contractors opposed any market-opening measures that would have provoked additional uncertainty in an already volatile industry. But the U.S. demands also threatened to undermine the occupational mission and postretirement prospects of Japan's public' works bureaucrats and to imperil an important source of electoral advantage fur career-minded politicians. Over time, pervasive networks of mutually beneficial links among Japanese construction contractors, government bureaucrats, and legislators had developed. Clientelism bound these diverse actors into a symbiotic embrace: Legislators exchanged political influence for campaign contributions and votes from construction industry clients, while bureaucrats leaked confidential information in return for postretirement sinecures with construction firms.


This spectacle prompts two more questions. First, How did Japan manage to sustain miraculous rates of economic growth in the post-World War II era despite the vast political pork barrel? And second, Why did the political, bureaucratic, and industrial actors involved in Japan's public works, by their continued collusion in price-fixing and bid-rigging, behave so differently than their counterparts in most other advanced democracies?

To answer these questions, we must examine the behavior of, and relations among, the legislators, government bureaucrats, and construction contractors who command Japan's public works subgovernment. In this introductory chapter I survey the analytical topography and introduce the theoretical framework that informs this study. Chapters 1 through 3 profile, in turn, the construction industry, the public works bureaucracy, and the career politicians of the Liberal Democratic Party, which dominated the Japanese legislature from 1955 until 1993. In chapter 4 I use the example of the construction system to explain how LDP politicians sought to exploit the party's formal and informal organizational structures—especially intraparty factions and policy tribes—for their electoral ends. In the concluding chapter I examine the way in which international forces shaped the calculus of self-interest on the part of the Japanese actors, the implications of Japan's simultaneous experience of economic growth and political clientelism, and the manner in which the principal institutions interacted to mold the behavior of elite actors.

The Dual Political Economy

Japan's grudging response to foreign pressure to pry open the domestic construction market must be viewed from a domestic vantage. The saying "first-rate economy, third-rate politics" refers to the paradoxical coexistence in Japan of world-class levels of economic performance in internationally competitive sectors, in contrast to wholesale inefficiency and political clientelism in certain politically vital domestic domains. Most scholars have focused on Japan's efficient and relatively unpoliticized internationally traded sectors and industries.[2] With an occasional caveat regarding the cost side of the Japanese model, these studies emphasize the positive aspects of the Japanese economic


juggernaut and the industrial giants at its vanguard. The dysfunctions generated by the government's "economics first" strategy and the political inputs undergirding such a strategy in an advanced industrialized democracy have received less attention.

Several recent studies, however, have focused on the inefficient, highly protected, and patronage-ridden distributive sectors of Japan's political economy: the government-set rice price, the protection for small business, the official tolerance of a multitiered distribution system, the "non-policy" for land use, and a rigged public construction market. "After reviewing Japan's domestic policy sectors," Kent Calder (1988, 465) observes, "one begins to wonder both where the economic juggernaut so clearly visible to foreign competition could have come from and why domestic policy patterns so differ from the common generalizations about Japanese policymaking in internationally traded sectors." In Japan's domestic policy arenas, not only the policy outcomes but also the roles of the policy protagonists, the key pressure points, the preferred policy tools, and the mode of decision-making differ significantly from popular perceptions.

There is a systemic logic, however, to the behavior and interactions of elite actors in Japanese policymaking. Simply put, the behavior of policy protagonists is based on the incentives perceived to accrue from involvement in a given policy domain. As Theodore Lowi (1964, 688) argues, political interactions are determined by the type of policy at stake, so that for every type of policy there is likely to be a characteristic pattern of interactions among the central political actors. Or, in Aage Clausen's words (1973, 31), "Different alignments form as the policy content changes." The calculated pursuit of self-interest, in sum, prompts political actors to behave in characteristic ways in response to the varying incentives for involvement in different policy arenas. (Accounting for cross-national differences, however, demands an appreciation of the case-specific institutional infrastructure, a topic I address later in this chapter.)

In Japan, as in other advanced industrialized democracies, economic policy is forged in two fundamentally different policy markets. A policy market is the stage on which the key political actors meet and make key policy decisions. Out of the process of political exchange emerge the public policies that determine the allocation of economic


and political benefits for the society. Policies for potential growth sectors, internationally competitive industries, and sectors deemed vital to the national interest emerge from what I call the strategic policy market . In this market, government bureaucrats and private sector elites act as the key policy protagonists, while elected politicians play a decidedly minor part. Meanwhile, the largest share of public policy decisions are forged in a highly politicized structural policy market encompassing domestic sectors in which the public is often the client. In these domains, elected politicians as well as government bureaucrats and private-sector elites play a direct and extensive role in policy formulation

In this sense, the Japanese system is a dual political economy in which segmented policy markets generate separate but interactive "policy regimes" that operate under different equilibrium conditions. I refer to these segmented policy regimes as the developmetal state and the clientelist state . Nevertheless, in any given arena, both policymaking and policy outcomes are likely to be an admixture of clientelism and developmental capitalism. This admixture is especially conspicuous in domains, such as telecommunications, where more than one government ministry and its parliamentary patrons contest jurisdiction. However, while few truly pure cases remain, especially since the mid-1970s, one can identify policy domains in which one or the other of Japan's "two states" predominates.

The Developmental State

The theory of the developmental state, pioneered by Chalmers Johnson (1982), has attracted widespread attention as an explanation for the phenomenal economic growth of Japan and East Asia's newly industrializing economies (e.g., Amsden 1989; Wade 1990). From this literature, we may distill three domestic conditions as crucial prerequisites to export-led, ultra-high-speed economic growth. First, protracted political stability creates an environment in which a meritocratic bureaucratic elite can play an active role in the policymaking process. Second, a system of government-business relations founded upon broad interaction and intensive bargaining imparts strategic vision to an economy driven primarily by the market-oriented calcula-


tions of the private sector. Third, a relatively equitable distribution of national wealth provides the social stability necessary to endure the stresses and strains imposed by an economic growth agenda that subordinates the interests of the general citizenry to those of private business.

Although the developmental state's actual contributions to Japanese economic growth are hotly contested,[3] these three conditions offer insights into the pattern of elite interactions that characterize policymaking in Japan's strategic policy market, where decisions concerning the broad architecture of the national economy and the course of development for the national industrial structure are forged. At the core of this policy market are policies designed to encourage growth in the high-growth "sunrise" sectors that have large potential spillover effects and in other industries deemed vital to the national interest.

In Japan these strategic policy domains are characterized by world-class rates of technological advancement, labor productivity, price-competitiveness, and economic efficiency. of course, domestic politics determines which industries and sectors are deemed vital to the country's economic and security interests. For example, the development of commercially viable industries is the principal concern in Japan, whereas defense industries are deemed vital to the national interests of the United States.

Economic bureaucrats and private-sector elites are the protagonists in the formulation of strategic economic policy. As Edward Lincoln (1993, 4) explains, "Economic policy decisions in Japan emerge in a setting dominated by the central government bureaucracy and private sector firms. Depending upon the issue, politicians may also play an important role, although they are not consistently involved in all economic issues." The officials of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) wield extensive powers, although administrators in other ministries, particularly the Ministry of Finance, also play key roles. The tradition of substantial autonomy inherited by this administrative elite dates back to the genesis of Japanese industrialization in the latter half of the nineteenth century (Johnson 1982, 35–82; Pempel 1982, 46–89). On this score, the situational contingencies of late development dictated the emergence of an activist


state bureaucracy, which has, for "path-dependent" and historical reasons, continued to exert power in the policymaking process (see Sheridan 1993).

In the case of MITI, the ministry was given power, in the form of formal legal authorizations and informal "administrative guidance," to develop whatever industries it deemed critical to the health of the national economy (Johnson 1982). Aside from the policy domain of the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency, the lack of concrete distributive policy benefits insulated many of MITI's functions from partisan meddling. Fortunately for strategic economic policy, MITI offers few "opportunities for pork barrel politicking" (Okimoto 1989, 21; see also Campbell 1989, 130–33). From 1955 to 1988, MITI's annual budget averaged a minuscule 1.3 percent of the general accounts, only slightly more than the allocations of the markedly less prestigious Labor and Justice ministries.

Infrastructural power—the ability to formulate and implement policies through a process of negotiation, intimidation, and, mostly, compromise—prevails in the developmental state (Onis 1991). This is not meant to imply that the Japanese developmental state is or was a Stalinist-style totalitarian regime. As Richard Samuels (1987, 8–9) points out, the developmental state does not always get its way, and reciprocal consent has always characterized relations between government and business in Japan. However, aside from a few notable instances of private-sector defiance and policy failure, the majority of industrial policy outcomes have not diverged significantly from the state bureaucracy's objectives.[4] And although a form of market capitalism drives the economy, the state's role in the economic transformation has hardly been laissez-faire.[5] In particular, the state works with the private sector to create a macroeconomic infrastucture conducive to the development of strategic industries.

The developmental state employs a variety of policy tools to achieve its objectives. In Japan the tools of preference involve tariff, tax, and financial incentives. Specific policy tools include the waiving of import duties on designated machinery, accelerated depreciation and tax exemptions for R&D expenditures, low-interest policy loans for the introduction of designated foreign technology, and the creation of various government-business consortiums. In addition, the state provides


tax incentives and subsidies to support R&D activities, and it has established blueprints, in the form of "visions," for a future industrial structure. The collaboration of government bureaucrats and private-sector elites in formulating these visions resembles French indicative planning (described best by Cohen 1969). Case studies reveal the application of these strategic policy tools in a host of Japanese industries, including textiles, shipbuilding, steel, automobiles, semiconductors, computers, consumer electronics, and biotechnology. (See, e.g., Chida and Davies 1990; Johnson 1982; Genther 1990; Okimoto et al. 1984; Anchordoguy 1989; Yoshikawa 1987; Yoshino 1993.)

Nevertheless, largely because of Japan's miraculous rate of economic growth (as well as enormous trade and current accounts surpluses), the role and power of the developmental state has atrophied over time. In the late 1960s, MITI began surrendering many of its formal powers and prerogatives. Meanwhile, many of the erstwhile infant industries nurtured in the developmental greenhouse no longer required nor desired further government assistance, by then perceived as meddling. But when formerly strategic sectors enter the sunset stage of the industrial life cycle, the demands for government protection and the incentives for meddling by legislative patrons grow. Sectors such as textiles, coal mining, shipbuilding, and steel clearly illustrate this phenomena. (See, e.g., Destler et al. 1979; Friman 1990; Lesbirel 1991, esp. 1088–91; Peck et al. 1987.)

By the early 1990s, the only relatively pure forms of strategic policymaking could be found in sunrise industries such as biotechnology, medical imaging, and future-generation computers. In such industries the knowledge-intensive character and scant employment held little appeal for meddlesome politicians, who were more readily attracted to the immediate and tangible electoral rewards of distributive policies. The role of elected politicians in strategic economic policymaking in Japan is thus broadly similar to the role played by Congress in the politics of commercial R&D programs in the United States.[6]

The Clientelist State

Structural policy constitutes the bricks-and-mortar of economic policy. The structural policy market concerns itself with state-owned enterprises, government spending on public works (as opposed to incen-


tives to private business), and the regulation of business activities. It also entails government procurement, distribution of the tax burden, setting of interest rates, balancing the budget, and policies to protect mature industries and to ease the decline for sunset industries (Clausen 1973). At the core of the structural policy market are distributive policies that are characterized by "the ease with which they can be disaggregated and dispensed unit by small unit more or less in isolation from other units and from any general rule" (Lowi 1964, 690). For instance, distributive policy benefits might be exchanged for the explicit or tacit promise of campaign support or postretirement careers for government officials.

Legislators, government officials, and special interests play the role of policy protagonists in the clientelist state. In the politics of Japanese public works during the period under scrutiny, the key parliamentary actors belonged to the Liberal Democratic Party, especially its influential public works caucus, known as the "construction tribe" (kensetsu zoku ). The bureaucratic elite included upper officials of the ministries of Construction, Agriculture, Transport, and various other central government ministries and agencies. Because of the centrality of expenditures from the national budget, officials of the Ministry of Finance also played a role. The key special interest in this arrangement is the construction industry, with land developers and the real estate industry also figuring prominently.

As we will see, foreign pressure injected crisis into this normally tranquil policymaking arena. By threatening painful retaliation under a deadline for action, American gaiatsu (the term used by the Japanese media to describe the external pressure) altered the character and the pace of decision-making and drew additional actors into the policymaking process. These new actors included the mass media, opposition parties, the Foreign Ministry, MITI, the peak associations of big business, and public opinion. In addition, U.S. pressure altered the cost-benefit calculations of traditional actors, such as the large-scale general contractors, with their deep pockets, and the petty contractors, who are perpetually verging on insolvency.

Political clientelism is an interaction characterized by the selective allocation of distributive policy benefits by public-sector elites in exchange for the promise of solidarity and mutually beneficial inputs from favored private-sector interests. This exchange may involve gov-


ernment subsidies, official price supports and import quotas, targeted tax breaks, regulatory favors in the allocation of trucking routes, and other policy benefits. Three generic by-products accompany systematized political clientelism: particularism, political corruption, and economic inefficiency. Let me define each of these in turn.


Particularism is the consistent granting of priority to a small set of special interests at the public expense. From the perspective of democratic political theory, political clientelism aggravates the problems posed by the tension between "part versus whole" and "constituency versus nation" (Archer 1983, 378; Pennock 1979, 332, raises similar themes). As a nineteenth-century American legislator concluded, "Representatives of the people have, of a truth, secured appropriations for works in their own districts more to further their personal ambition than to promote the general welfare" (Emory R. Johnson, cited in Wilson 1986, 736). Motivated by personal ambition, legislators channel distributive policy expenditures into their electoral districts and thereby enhance their prospects for re-election. Naturally, constituents crave these outlays, since taxation disperses the financial burden of such public goods. Directly or indirectly, distributive policy benefits also serve material needs of government bureaucrats and a host of special interests. Because these special interest groups often donate generously to political campaigns, legislators equate the public interest with that of the interest groups. These groups subsequently gain preferential access and distributive policy benefits. In short, as one Washington insider has conceded, "It's hard to say no to someone who gave you five grand" (quoted in Drew 1983, 77).

In the early 1990s, particularism prevailed in a number of Japan's distributive policy domains. Nowhere was it more striking than in agricultural policy, where Japan ranked markedly higher than the European Community and the United States in government assistance to producers and in the consumer cost of subsidizing those producers—and this notwithstanding a steep thirty-year decline both in agriculture's contribution to the gross domestic product and in the percentage of the workforce employed in agriculture.[7] Meanwhile, a host of government policies ensured access to capital, preferential tax


treatment, and protection from competition from large retailers for the country's massive small business establishment. In addition, subsidies flooded narrow constituencies, particularly rural districts in which the LDP ruled supreme. (See, e.g., Calder 1988, 312–48; Upham 1989, 1993; Hirose 1981; Fukuoka 1985.) With regard to land-use policy, as Hasegawa Tokunosuke (1990, i) observes, "The greatest common measure in deciding actual policy is the sphere of interests of the various ministries and agencies (see also Fukai 1990; Nihon keizai shinbunsha 1990; Woodall 1992.)

In order to keep their particularistic interests on the government's agenda, the construction and real estate industries contributed massive amount of money to the LDP and its candidates. Beginning in the late 1970s, the combined generosity of the two industries ranked first or second on time list of the LDP's most beneficent industrial donors (Hirose 1981; Ishikawa and Hirose 1989; Hrebenar 1986). A decade later, political contributions from the real estate industry increased while, perhaps not coincidentally, land prices soared (Nihon keizai shinbunsha 1990, 156). Precise contributions are impossible to calculate, because Japan's election finance laws do not require the reporting of donations of less than ¥1.5 million, but donations from the real estate and construction industries amounted to nearly 15 percent of the reported contributions to the ruling party in 1990 (Asahi shinbun, 6 Sept. 1991).

Political Corruption

A second by-product of systematized clientelism is political corruption, which includes situations involving gain on the part of a public official, receipt of a benefit by a private citizen, or an improper nexus between the gain and the benefit (Thompson 1993, 369). Instances from the U.S. experience include the legendary "honest graft" of Tammany Hall's political bosses. Or as Fiorello La Guardia quipped, "Every time the city builds a school, a politician goes into the real estate business" (cited in Caro 1974, 328).

The formal authority exercised by public officials over the distribution of policy benefits grants a sometimes irresistible temptation to engage in corrupt behavior. So regularly does actual behavior deviate from the prescribed pathway in the Japanese context, that "formal institutions . . . often serve as a facade, giving legal sanction to what


has already been decided by informal and covert techniques" (Ike 1972, 74). As Terry MacDougall (1988, 193) observes, "The politico-economic system of Japan is inherently corrupt. The combination of capitalists, power brokers, and government leaders known as 'Japan, Inc.' which produced an eye-popping rate of economic growth and catapulted a defeated island nation into the front rank of economic superpowers, cannot by its nature be anything but corrupt."

Italy's Mani Pulite ("clean hands") operation offers a most powerful lesson of the extent to which political corruption can pervade a governmental apparatus. The ongoing nationwide investigation, begun in 1992, has exposed a corrupt pyramid of infinite proportions,in which contractors paid billions of dollars a year to politicians in exchange for lucrative public works contracts. In the impoverished South, inflated contracts for public works were funneled to firms controlled by the Mafia, which reciprocated by delivering votes to those politicians who helped to sidetrack investigations into the activities of organized crime. Although the exposure of systematized political corruption was likened to "the invention of the umbrella"—because all Italians knew about the payoffs—the magnitude of the bribery was greater than anyone had assumed. Indeed, virtually every public contract was accompanied by bribes and kickbacks; even the contract for the maintenance of voting booths in Turin was awarded only in exchange for a bribe (New York Times , 8 June 1993). In order to secure a public works contract, contractors had to bribe strategically placed politicians to the tune of from 2 to 10 percent of the total value of the contract.

Conservative estimates fixed the grand total of such payoffs at over 80 billion lire (about half of Italy's enormous government budget deficit) during the course of the ten years preceding the exposure of the scandal. During the first year of the investigation, nearly 3,000 individuals were arrested or notified that they were under investigation, including senior executives of the country's largest private corporations and over 150 members of Parliament, among them four ex-premiers and a host of former cabinet members.

Japan's elected politicians are no strangers to political corruption. To cite but one example, an investigation into the Sagawa Kyubin parcel delivery company in 1992 uncovered over $50 million in cash, untraceable discount debentures, and gold bullion stashed away in the office of LDP Vice-President Kanemaru Shin. Investigator discov-


ered that most of the booty went to the LDP kingmaker by way of "gifts" and illegal political contributions from construction companies and the yakuza, the organized underworld (New York Times , 14 Mar. 1993; Asahi shinbun , 28 Mar. 1993; Japan Times , 31 Mar. 1993).

But the most notorious example of systematized political corruption involving Japanese elected officials was the zenekon scandal (the general contractors scandal), which erupted in the summer of 1993. Armed with evidence of Kanemaru's dubious dealings, investigators from the Public Prosecutors Office unearthed a labyrinth of illegal political contributions, bribery, and influence-peddling: Under an institutionalized system of bribery, contractors funneled money to politicians or their intermediaries in exchange for public works contracts. After a series of exposés by the mass media, bribery charges were brought against high-level officials of eight major construction companies, the former president of a land development company, and the head of a wood products firm. The mayors of Sendai City and Sanwa Town, the governors of Ibaraki and Miyagi prefectures, and a member of the Diet were arrested on charges of illegally using the powers of public office.

The corruption also pervaded zoning decisions and land-acquisition policies for public works projects. A noteworthy case is the Recruit scandal, which ultimately toppled the Takeshita cabinet in 1989. The influence-peddling came to light when a newspaper revealed that Komatsu Hideki, the deputy mayor of Kawasaki City, had profited handsomely from the sale of stock in the Recruit Cosmos Company. Komatsu, who was in charge of urban development for the city, had advised the Recruit conglomerate to purchase land for construction of a skyscraper in an area designated as Kawasaki Technopia. He also informed Recruit officers that the land values in that area were likely to soar following the planned deregulation of development there. Acting on this advice, Recruit immediately purchased the land and, in gratitude, the president of Recruit gave Komatsu a "gift" of 30,000 shares of stock, worth more than ¥100 million. (On the origins of the Recruit scandal, see Shiraishi 1990.)

Economic Inefficiency

A third by-product of political clientelism is economic inefficiency. The most egregious example of government-sponsored inefficiency in Japan is the price support system for rice,


which forces consumers to pay more than six times the international market price for the staple of their diet. Conspicuous inefficiency also abounds in the health care industry, where the government procurement system permits pharmaceutical companies, distributors, and physicians to reap unjustifiable profits.

In the public works sector, the cost of paying off politicians is factored into the bids, and the result has been that the unit cost of private construction work in Japan far outpaces the cost in any other advanced industrialized country, including Italy (T. Sato, 1992). The cost of kickbacks aside, pork-barrel politics leads to overspending for projects whose value is questionable except insofar as they enhance the electoral success of the politicians who vote them into being. As John Ferejohn (1974, 58) notes, "projects do not spring from some Zeus's head complete with a particular configuration of benefits. . . . In large part the benefit-cost ratio is determined by the essentially political nature of project choice." The mission-oriented mentality of the bureaucrats, the profit motive of the special interests, and the politicians' compulsion to build things in order to get reelected—these are the building blocks of what U.S. lobbyist George Pring has dubbed the "edifice complex" (Ashworth 1981, 124).

Among the losers are not only the Japanese taxpayers but the smaller construction companies, a point noted by an observer in the early 1980s:

A certain segment of contractors, politicians, and [government] officials glean an unjust profit. The self-defense of the construction industry and the Construction Ministry concerning the "theory of dango [bid-rigging] as a necessary evil" is fallacious. If the bankruptcy of medium and small enterprises is to be avoided, an approach should be adopted that does not waste the taxpayers' money. In particular, the situation of divvying-up tax moneys by the parliamentary, bureaucratic, and business worlds definitely ought to be rectified.

("Kanagawa ken" 1982, 49)

Clientelism and Single-Party Dominance

There are obvious incentives for clientelistic meddling policy benefits. In Japan these incentives are great because of the large share of the government's budget devoted to subsidies and public works. In


the early 1980s, for example, England and France allocated about 4 to 6 percent of their respective budgets to various subsidies, the U.S. government spent 8 to 10 percent of the budget on such expenditures, and the former West Germany devoted 18 to 20 percent. In Japan, however, subsidies consumed nearly one-third of government outlays (Hirose 1981, 76). Government spending for public works projects was also disproportionately generous in Japan. In the early 1980s, the percentage of GNP that Japan devoted to public works spending was twice that of France and quadruple that of the United States (Calder 1988, 240). Although the Japanese government's total expenditures are relatively low (owing to smaller outlays for defense, education, and health), its fixed capital formation—concentrated in public works—far outpaces other advanced countries. In addition, public works expenditures account for nearly half of all loans administered under the Fiscal Investment and Loan Plan—Japan's so-called second budget (Sakakibara 1991, 59–61). And catastrophes like the 1995 Kobe earthquake demand massive outpourings of government infrastructure investment. Indeed, the prinicipal means by which the Japanese government has promoted the emerging sectors has been by financing infrastructure to support the politically powerful construction and real estate industries (Calder 1993, 246).

Japanese legislative candidates instantly understood the electoral advantages of "bringing home the bacon." The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had the good fortune to be the first party to gain a parliamentary majority in the postwar era, strategically utilized the distribution of public policy benefits to substantially remake the country "in its own image and likeness, in ways designed to benefit its supporters and weaken its opponents" (Pempel 1990b, 334). During its four decades of dominance in the legislature, the LDP "used the government resources that come with that majority to help its members win reelection. Once the LDP gained control of these government resources, other parties were severely disadvantaged under Japan's electoral rules" (Ramseyer and Rosenbluth 1993, 17). Preferential allocation of regulatory favors, subsidies, zoning decisions, incentives for industrial relocation, special tax concessions, and policies to protect small retailers—all these distributive policy benefits promoted the LDP's staying power.


Naturally public works figured prominently in the LDP's grand scheme, and the LDP's strength was founded upon "the skillful linking of public subsidies to the expansion of party power" (Hirose 1981, 15). While opposition party candidates offered competing ideological visions, LDP candidates provided constituents with tangible distributive benefits. An aide to a veteran LDP politician boasted that "when people want a bridge or a road built in their district, they come to us, not the socialists" (San Francisco Chronicle , 20 Dec. 1988). In this way, the LDP effectively utilized distributive policy benefits, rather than ideological appeals, to enlist the support of the growing "floating vote" of Japans "new middle mass" (Rosenbluth 1993, 153; Murakami 1984, 202–29). The government deliberately increased spending on public works immediately before general elections (Kohno and Nishizawa 1990, 163) and, when confronted with the specter of electoral "crisis," the LDP "compensated" key claimants with strategically targeted policy measures (Calder 1988).

Japan's miraculous economic growth despite institutionalized political clientelism, and nearly four decades of uninterrupted single-party hegemony, upends the much-honored hypothesis that clientelism and its by-products inhibit economic development. Although various studies of developing countries and underdeveloped regions have offered evidence to verify this supposedly iron-clad law (e.g., Myrdal 1968), Japan appears to be a triumphant anomaly. Throughout this volume I will be taking a close look at the form and functions of Japan's clientelist state with the final goal of explaining the implications and potential exportability of Japan's dual political economy model.

Political Actors and Institutions

Though pursuing goals similar to their counterparts in other polities, political actors in Japan exhibit distinctly different patterns of behavior. For example: Competitors for public works projects willingly accept suboptimal profits by becoming co-conspirators in bid-rigging rings; the more efficient construction firms consistently forego potential profits and collude with less efficient rivals: some government officials perceive others, even colleagues posted to other sections of the same ministry, as principal adversaries; and LDP legislators construct


expansive networks of personal support organizations that have no meaningful connection to the central party apparatus. These behaviors are not unique to Japan, but, compared to conditions in other advanced democracies, the uniformity and pervasiveness of price-fixing cartels in public works, the intensity and ubiquity of internecine battles pitting government bureaucrats against one another, are remarkable.

Moreover, Japan is unusual in that the LDP—the once seemingly perpetual ruling party—never possessed a well-structured base of grassroots support under the control of the party's organization. Instead, LDP candidates had to rely on personal campaign machines and extra-party organs for the electoral resources to pursue parliamentary careers. While intraparty factionalism is common enough in advanced democracies, nowhere was it as highly structured and prominent as in the LDP. Finally, LDP legislators and their constituents have voracious appetites for pork, but the allocation of the bacon is unusual in that the legislators do not channel the bulk of distributive benefits directly to their home districts.

To understand these and other characteristics of Japan's political actors, we must look to various institutions that shape and constrain interactions, and, as such, define the rules of the game in a policy domain (North 1990, 3). In most domains, one can identify a critical institution that most directly and powerfully affects the purposive political behavior of legislators, bureaucrats, and special interests. The critical institution for legislators is the electoral system, especially the method of voting and the number of representatives per district. For government officials, it is the civil service employment system, particularly those aspects dealing with recruitment, promotion, and retirement. When it comes to special interests, the critical institution depends on the particular type of policy at issue. For instance, the government procurement system shapes the patterns of interactions among equipment suppliers for government offices as well the interaction between those suppliers and the contracting agency. The critical institution for farmers tends to be government support policies, while specific tax and regulatory policies exert the most effect on the incentives of self-employed businesspeople. In general terms, the incentive structure of special interests in the politics of structural policy-


making emanates from the key contact point between the state and civil society.

From 1955 to 1993 the patterns of behavior characteristic of Japanese public works' politics were largely the result of the interactive effects of three critical institutions: a government procurement system in which only a small pool of designated bidders received tenders, a civil service system that required government officials to retire at a young age and seek reemployment in the private sector, and an electoral system founded upon a single, nontransferable vote in "middle-sized" constituencies. The synergism created by these three institutions was colored by a fourth institution: the political party system, which was the quintessential case of a "one-party dominant regime" (Pempel 1990a). While other institutions played supporting roles, these critical institutions shaped the behavior of legislators, bureaucrats, and construction contractors into characteristic patterns. Decidedly secondary in influence was the impact of international forces on domestic politics, especially the ways in which the Japanese elite reacted to the pressure to reform these critical institutions.

This analysis rests in part on a simple assumption about human motivation: the foremost objective of most political actors is often the quest for a secure livelihood. For career politicians, this means reelection; for government officials, career and postretirement security. While the quest for personal security does not alone drive the actions of political actors—indeed, altruism, the desire to enhance one's reputation, and the simple lust for power also prevail—its role cannot be underestimated in explaining the behavior of protagonists in the policymaking process.

This quest for security of livelihood leads political actors to create formal and informal ties linking the parliamentary, bureaucratic, and industrial spheres into self-interest networks, variously termed "iron triangles," "webs of relationships," "whirlpools of activity," "subgovernments," "distributional coalitions," and "circles of compensation." For their part, legislators enact policies that favor particularistic interests in civil society, especially those groups and individuals that supply blocks of votes and political contributions. Government officials readily respond to requests that hold the prospect of lucrative postretirement positions. While vested-interest networks exist in all advanced democ-


racies, they tend to be more institutionalized in countries such as Japan, in which a stable, well-defined political elite dominates. As underscored by the Japanese response to U.S. pressure in the construction rift, any threat to the stability and survival of clientelist networks inevitably meets determined resistance.

Rival Approaches

To date, the debate among learned observers has focused on the question of whether Japanese bureaucrats or elected politicians dominate the policymaking process. The most unequivocal statement of the bureaucratic-dominance thesis holds that "the elite bureaucracy in Japan makes most major decisions, drafts virtually all legislation, controls the national budget, and is the source of all major policy innovations in the system" (Johnson 1982, 20). The opposing contingent, however, asserts that "real bureaucrats . . . administer in the shadow of the LDP" (Ramseyer and Rosenbluth 1993, 120). Yet other observers adopt a middle ground in arguing that policymaking is dominated by a coalition of politicians and bureaucrats.[8]

By conceptualizing Japan as having a dual political economy, however, one is better able to attend to how the policymaking roles of legislators, bureaucrats, and special interest vary according to the type of policy at issue. Bureaucrats and private-sector elites wield dominant sway over affairs in the strategic policy market—in which only a handful of politicians have either the incentive or the expertise to play more than a cameo role—while politicians play a leading, and in some cases, primus inter pares , role in the subgovernments that dominate the politics of structural policymaking. In addition, greater numbers of legislators tend to be attracted to those policy sectors employing large numbers of workers over a broad geographical area. Furthermore, roles change over time. From the end of World War II through the mid-1970s, Japanese government bureaucrats played a major role in a broad range of policy arenas. But since then their powers and prerogatives have steadily declined, while those of elected politicians and private-sector elites have increased.

A second advantage of viewing Japan as a dual political economy is that this approach illuminates the political and economic functions


of the "industrial dualism" prevalent in developed and developing countries alike.[9] The theory of the dual economy asserts that every economy "must be analyzed in terms of two relatively independent sectors: a modern, progressive sector characterized by a high rate of productive efficiency and economic integration, and a traditional sector characterized by a backward mode of production and local self-sufficiency" (Gilpin 1987, 66). While industrial dualism clearly prevails in Japan, there is also a dual structure of political relations among the leading actors in the two separate but interactive policy regimes. And, contrary to the theory of industrial dualism, which posits that market forces and internationalization will eventually lead to the incorporation of the traditional sector into the modern sector, my framework emphasizes the clientelization of erstwhile sunrise sectors as they gerontrify and as the incentives for political intervention and the demands for government protection increase. In Japan, market forces and international factors began to dismantle clientelist structures in policy domains like agriculture, small business, and construction, even as clientelism emerged in depressed manufacturing industries such as coal mining, shipbuilding, and steel.

My approach also provides a balanced explanation for the puzzling fact that in Japan economic growth has coexisted with political clientelism. In order to understand how the LDP delivered both public goods as well as private goods during its protracted legislative hegemony, one must look beyond the role of the ruling party to the often-times independent role of the government bureaucracy in the formation and implementation of industrial policy.[10] The interactions between the majority party and high-level bureaucrats are quite complex and intricate, in part due to the bureaucracy's historically elite status and relatively wide-ranging role in the policymaking process. Overall, the Japanese bureaucracy bears a greater likeness to the French grand corps than to the U.S. federal bureaucracy or the patronage-ridden civil service in Italy.

Other theories that purport to explain the unique character of Japanese political behavior fall into one of three categories: "culturalist theories," the "policy-determines-politics" approach, and "institutionalist theories." The respective strengths and shortcomings of each class warrant brief attention here.


Proponents of culturalist theory ascribe the behavioral patterns of Japanese political actors to various aspects of Japanese culture and tradition, such as the penchant for "groupism" and harmonious human relations. Culturalists have argued that the dango system of bidrigging, ministerial loyalty, the personal support organizations of legislative candidates, and LDP factionalism are all products of Japan's political culture. Although social structure and tradition surely influence behavior to some degree, the amorphous term "culture" suggests that some sort of omnipresent apparition mysteriously guides the behavior of Japanese political actors. Culturalist explanations also suffer from farsightedness in that they often involve an obsessive search for a distant historical precedent when, in fact, practices and organizational forms are actually rather new and are changing. Finally, the tautological tendencies of culturalist explanations inhibit cross-cultural comparative analysis, even though rigorous cross-cultural analysis is time only way to deduce which aspects of behavior are culturally derived.

Most forcefully articulated in Theodore Lowi's seminal work, the "policy-determines-politics" approach rises from a typology of public policies: constituent policies, redistributive policies, regulative policies, and distributive policies.[11] The beauty of this approach lies in its intuitive sensibility and elegant simplicity: the nature of politics in the policymaking process depends upon the type of policy. In distributive policy, for instance, logrolling is the characteristic mode of interaction, while the principal decisional locus is supposed to be the legislative committee. While this approach offers important clues into the politics of the policymaking process, it suffers in the translation, since the politics of policymaking around the world are enacted in unanticipated ways (Sartori 1970, 1984). For instance, although Congressional committees are the principal locus of distributive policymaking in the United States, the LDP's Policy Affairs Research Council was the legislative center of distributive policymaking in Japan during the LDP's heyday. Thus analysts must attend to the interactive effect of different configurations of political institutions, such as the political party system and electoral structures, on the politics of the policymaking process.

Institutionalist theories come in various forms, and my argument


aims to contribute to this school of thought. Here, however, it is crucial not to oversimplify by focusing solely on the nature of any single political institution.

One institutionalist theory that has gained some currency is the "legislative delegation approach."[12] Working from the premise that "Japanese political actors rationally maximize subject to institutional constraints," Ramseyer and Rosenbluth (1993) construct a tight argument that turns on "implicit agency contracts" between voters and legislators, LDP backbenchers and party leaders, LDP leaders and bureaucrats, and LDP leaders and judges. The strengths of this approach lie in its conceptual elegance and its links to a broad comparative literature. Nevertheless, it seems to ignore a central question: Aside from the path-dependent and historical reasons for the important role played by the bureaucracy in policymaking, why do influential Japanese politicians waste so much time and money currying the favor of these bureaucrats, rather than simply command them and fire them if they do not comply? And if bureaucrats really are mere lapdogs, why do key LDP corporate backers provide costly sinecures for retired government officials? Clearly, the system of incentives and rewards must be more complex than the legislative delegation approach allows.

Instead of attempting to demonstrate that policymaking in Japan is dominated either by autonomous state bureaucrats or by elected politicians, my dual political economy approach draws attention to the fact that the roles of legislators, bureaucrats, and private-sector elites differ according to the type of policy at issue. Within a given policy domain, critical institutions forge the elite's self-interested behavior into characteristic and predictable patterns. Thus elite behavior can best be understood as a product of institutions and their interactive effects, rather than as a cultural artifact.


By focusing on patterns of elite interaction in time politics of public works, the core chapters of this book constitute a case study of a crucial policy domain within Japan's clientelist state. Throughout, I seek to answer three broad questions. First, Why did the workings of Ja-


pan's domestic construction market become the subject of such a heated, protracted, high-stakes dispute between Japan and the United States? The goal here is not only to understand why the United States was so insistent and Japan so adamant but also to examine the domestic ramifications of the shifting power structure in the world political economy.

Second is the question of how Japan sustained rapid economic growth despite systematized political clientelism. Here, the contrast with Italy—the other advanced industrialized democracy most rife with clientelism—is instructive in assessing the potential exportability of the Japanese model. What can emerging democracies in Eastern Europe or the newly industrializing economies of East Asia learn from the Japanese and Italian experiences?

Finally, what does the recent burst of reform in Japan tell us about the conditions prerequisite to political reform and the consequences of such reform for entrenched patterns of political behavior? Again, parallels with the Italian case—with particular reference to the Mani Pulite investigations and the collapse of legislative hegemony under the Christian Democratic Party—provide insights into the conditions and consequences of political reform in an advanced industrialized democracy.



Preferred Citation: Woodall, Brian. Japan under Construction: Corruption, Politics, and Public Works. Berkeley, Calif:  University of California Press,  c1996 1996.