Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada got a rapturous round of applause and a gift of a T-shirt when he made a speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo a few days ago. The reason had nothing to do with his diplomatic skills.
Access to news conferences and briefings at Japanese government ministries has long been at least partly restricted to members of the press clubs, which in general means the country’s mainstream media — not freelancers or foreigners.
Member reporters from the top newspapers and television networks have their own desks within the ministries they cover, including at the Imperial Household Agency, and pay a nominal fee for the privilege.
Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, whose Democratic Party scored a historic victory in last month’s election, wants to radically change how the country is run and in particular reduce bureaucrats’ control over formulating policy.
And his government has taken a symbolic approach – it has decided to ban top bureaucrats from holding news conferences to explain its policy stance. The Hatoyama government has also abolished twice-weekly meetings of top bureaucrats, which have discussed, coordinated and decided policy agendas before cabinet meetings so that cabinet ministers can rubber stamp them. Naoto Kan, the new deputy prime minister, has dubbed the so-called vice ministers’ meetings “the bid-rigging meetings” of bureaucrats.
When he met Japan’s incoming prime minister, a football helmet was the catalyst for conservation . Then Washington’s envoy in Tokyo bonded with the next foreign minister over a frog.
Katsuya Okada, who is expected to be appointed as Japan’s next foreign minister this week, is a policy maven with a “Mr. Clean” image. He is also known in Japan as an avid collector of frog-related knick-knacks such as miniatures and soft toys.