Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Suspect shocks as much as the crime


It wasn’t just the arrest of a high-ranking bureaucrat suspected of falsifying paperwork in a multi-billion yen fraud that astounded the Japanese media this week. It was the fact that she was a woman.

Atsuko Muraki, a senior official at the Health and Welfare Ministry, was arrested on Monday on suspicion of issuing a fake certificate to allow a group involved in direct mail marketing to claim a disability discount on postal costs.  “Female ace arrested,” ran the headline in the Sankei newspaper, next to a picture of the long-haired Muraki, and other media offered a similar angle.


The media reaction is perhaps not surprising. Less than 2 percent of managerial level staff in Japan’s national bureaucracy are women, government statistics show, and media said only four have ever reached Muraki’s rank in her ministry. Bureaucrats often complain that their long working hours affect their home lives.

“Japan is still a very male-dominated society, so it is very unusual for a woman to reach the top level of the bureaucracy,” said Professor Fukuko Kobayashi, who heads a gender research bureau at Tokyo’s Waseda University. “She must have been very talented and worked extremely hard to reach that position. Because it’s tough for a woman to get that far, people expected a lot of her.”