Japan from the inside out

A look at how sausage is made

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 25, 2011

THE following is an excerpt from a roundtable discussion with members from different government ministries that appeared in the 5 August issue of the weekly Shukan Post.

If you’ve ever thought I’ve been exaggerating about how socio-political sausage is made in Japan, this excerpt should demonstrate that, if anything, I’ve been understating the issue.

The participants were identified only by a letter of the alphabet. METI is the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. MOF is the Ministry of Finance. A is an older man, and D is a younger man.

Q: Was the confusion over the issue of eliminating nuclear power due to the politicians and the national newspapers getting caught up in the tug-of-war between METI and the Finance Ministry over the expenses for cleaning up the nuclear reactor accident?

METI A: Senior ministry officials were enraged at the change in the Asahi Shimbun’s attitude, and they began to pay closer attention to the Finance Ministry’s movements. The strength of electric power industry advertising (revenue) had caused them to promote nuclear power, so the change in the tone of Asahi’s argument itself could have been nothing more than the use of the nuclear accident as an opportunity to revert to a leftist opposition to nuclear energy. The argument that an increase in the amount of green energy could be a substitute for nuclear energy is of such a low level as to be risible.

MOF B: Wasn’t it METI who leveraged the media’s paucity of scientific knowledge, though? After their editorial calling for a nuclear power-free society appeared, even the Asahi reported that the suspension of operations at the Genkai-cho plant would cause difficulties for auto production. Just one part of the media made a big issue of eliminating nuclear energy. The poison had circulated throughout the kisha (journalists’) club.

METI A: Poison, eh? The favors the power companies provided to the reporters were quite extensive, seen from outside. The trip to China that Tokyo Electric Chairman Katsumata Tsunehisa took with executives from the major newspapers on the day of the earthquake became an issue, but every power company has done the same thing for quite a while. They hire buses to take young reporters on observation tours of nuclear power plants, and then have a banquet at a nearby hot springs resort. They’re each promised a companion. But the ones who did that were the power companies.

MOF B: Please stop avoiding the issue. METI prepared the information when the reporters among whom the poison had circulated wrote articles promoting the use of nuclear power. That provided the reporters with the excuse that the power companies didn’t make them write the articles. You had Mr. D. prepare the information, didn’t you? And after he put the information together, his superior probably praised him for his work and took him to a ryotei (expensive traditional Japanese restaurant). The power companies took care of those expenses, too.

Q: If we trace those expenses back to the source, the money would come from the electric bills paid by the public. What do you think, Mr. D?

METI A: (Silencing D with a motion of his hand): That’s a tradition among our ministry, so there’s no reason to blame Mr. D. personally.

Cabinet Office E: We have a publicity budget we also spread around to newspapers and television, so we can’t behave so self-importantly either. But METI had the power companies handle the publicity expenses, so neither the bureaucracy nor the reporters receiving favors had a guilty conscience. Wasn’t that the reason no one could put a stop to it?

METI A: Those are the circumstances, so I’ll humbly accept the criticism. But (looking at MOF C) the MOF generated public opinion for a reconstruction tax without spending a single yen. They kept the primary mass media outlets quiet by bombarding them with tax audits. Surely it wasn’t a coincidence that the Yomiuri accepted Tango Yasutake, the former deputy finance minister, as an outside auditor? When it comes to media operations, you’re the ones with the deadly poison.

Q: Listening to this conversation, I have to believe that both METI and the MOF thought only of their own benefit while manipulating the mass media to cause confusion in the nuclear power debate — METI to preserve nuclear power, and the MOF to prevent tax funds from being used for nuclear power.

MOF B: This country faces the immediate problems of rebuilding from the earthquake and cleaning up after the nuclear power disaster. The very act of putting those problems aside and giving precedence to the long-term issue of phasing out nuclear power demonstrates the impotence of politics and the media. We are presenting a solid argument based on what we should do about the funding sources for reconstruction and cleaning up the nuclear accident. It is regrettable that this is being disposed of by talking about what benefits the ministry.

METI A: I agree. Our ministry is responsible for the stable supply of electric power. Someone has to sound the alarm at the shallow debate conducted due to the ignorance of the media and politicians.

Q: Is that how you’re going to patch things up, at least superficially? The issues of nuclear energy and funding sources are related to the approach of the state. The most important thing should be the will of the people.

METI A: But this will of the people is to be regarded with suspicion, because the people uncritically believe whatever is casually written in newspapers or broadcast on television. This is not something we should say, but if you want to proceed with any major enterprise in this country, the most important thing is to give favors to the media to get them to listen to you. That’s not just the power companies or government agencies; most private sector industries have done the same thing.

Q: So when the reporters you’ve denigrated write stories that are contrary to your wishes, won’t (your) nuclear power (policy) and tax increases fail to move ahead as you would like? That’s why Kasumigaseki is losing confidence.

MOF B: (After a pause) It’s true that in this government, different gears have started to slowly shift out of alignment.

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One Response to “A look at how sausage is made”

  1. Marellus said


    I like that METI fellow …

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