The author attempts to help uncover how to find these critical documents
by describing the Japanese policy making process, along with the life-cycle
of these documents at each step. The author believes there are two major
fundamental changes that must be made to improve access to Japanese government
documents; (1) an enforceable records management system must be established
across the government, and (2) a legally mandated open government mechanism
must be created.
Unlike the presidential system in the United States, under the Parliamentary system, the majority of policies are introduced to the Legislative branch (the Diet) as Cabinet bills (Naikaku- houan or Kaku-hou), which are generated by administrative branches. The administrative branches in Japan are roughly equivalent to Federal departments and agencies in the United States. Let's take a quick look at the Cabinet organizational structure and major administrative branches in Japan (chart 1). The Cabinet (Naikaku) is composed of a Prime Minister and 12 Ministers. For example, the Management and Coordination Agency is directly under the Prime Minister's Office.
I would like to show you the chart 2 and will explain how a draft bill moves through the system. A draft bill begins its life in a ministry with an interest in a particular issue. For example, an information disclosure bill was originated from the Management and Coordination Agency.
Usually in the first stage a ministry bureaucrat drafts up a proposed bill. The draft bill then goes through several rewrites within the agency. The document division within the agency is responsible for reviewing the contents of the proposed bill and negotiating the language between other government agencies and politicians in Parliament.
If a bill is controversial or high visibility, bureaucrats often form an official advisory council or commission (shingikai) to solicit input and recommendations. An advisory council is ideally composed of outside experts but reality often finds councils top heavy with hand-picked ex-bureaucrats. Issues surrounding the bill are studied and a report supporting agency bureaucrats is generated.
Sometimes instead of using an advisory council an unofficial private study group or ad hoc consultative group may be utilized. These groups are usually chaired by a high profile ex-official. One good example is the Maekawa study group chaired by the former Bank of Japan Governor.
Once the agency is satisfied with the language of the proposed bill, it is transferred to the Cabinet Legislation Bureau for official investigation. The CLB primarily focuses on the bill's legality and the successful passage of the bill often depends on how well refined the bill's language is when it arrives at the CLB.
When the bill arrives at the CLB, the agency simultaneously begins briefing members of the ruling party on the bill to garner support from the ruling party. As we know now that the ruling party is a coalition party.
If the bill passes the CLB investigation, it will next be presented
at a Cabinet meeting (kakugi). If the Cabinet supports the bill it will
go to the House of Representatives
or the House of Councilors as a
Cabinet proposed bill, where it will then be passed to the Parliamentary
Legislative Committees for review. Originating agency officials brief,
answer questions, and submit supporting materials to the committee members
who are Diet members from both ruling and opposition parties. Once the
bill is passed in the committee meeting, it is then sent to the full Diet
for discussion and vote.
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The documents typically used as a basis for the draft policy proposal are not released to the public. These documents could include supporting materials for the advisory council members. The maintenance and storage of these documents are at the discretion of each agency, and unfortunately, even where there are agency record management guidelines, they are seldom enforced. In reality, the agency official(s) who happened to work on an issue has the most control over the fate of the documents. That means that the entire document life-cycle (creation, storage & maintenance, dissemination, and disposal) is uncertain. It also means that you'll be more successful at obtaining documents if you can develop a personal network within different organizations and the officials you choose are good document record keepers.
It is unfortunate but important to understand that the Japanese public has no legal right to request these non-disclosed documents. Hopefully this will change once a pending information disclosure bill passes at the Diet. I just heard that the bill passed at the Cabinet Meeting and it is to be submitted to the Diet on March 27th. We'll see.
I see this is not always due to politics in Japan. Apparently it can
be a headache even for government officials. One official said, "I was
told to talk to Mr. so-and-so, who worked on the issue once. But he had
been transferred to a different division. I tracked him down and asked
for some background documents and information. But he said that he threw
away some documents but thought some were still in a document storage room.
I then went to the document storage room and spent almost two hours searching
through boxes and scattered documents since there is no such a thing as
indexes or catalogs for the documents in the room. Finally I found the
dust covered documents I was looking for. But I kept sneezing all day from
allergies triggered by dust."
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I should note here that after the recent Cabinet Decision regarding Advisory Councils (1995: Regarding the Transparency, etc. of Advisory Councils, etc.), some summaries of minutes and full-text reports have become available on the Internet. Especially Prime Minister's Office, Ministry of Post & Telecommunications, and Ministry of International Trade and Industry have good web sites. One caution here is that although there is an English version of a page is available, it is usually not as comprehensive as a Japanese one.
3), council reports are first released to the press and then the public
can obtain copies at the agency which initiated the bill if there are leftover
copies. Since record management systems are at the discretion of each agency,
the permanent maintenance and storage of these documents are very uneven
and range from good systems to no system at all.
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I heard the comment once that even the National Diet Library does not house the Maekawa Report. However, I found it when I was there. But it is often located under a formal title such as the "Report of the Economic Structure Adjustment Study Group for Integrating the Economy into the World" rather than the informal popular name such as "Maekawa Report."
The ruling party investigations: Yotoushinsa. The formal legislative check point is at the Political Affairs Research Committee (PARC). There are about 17 subcommittees which conduct actual investigations for the PARC. Each of subcommittees is closely tied to a correspondent agency. If you would like to know more about the LDP's organizational structure, the LDP has a good web page in English.
Since the ruling party is a coalition party now, there is another level
of negotiations between the Liberal Democratic Party and the others. For
example, it took them about three weeks to reach a concession regarding
the Information Disclosure Bill.
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Unfortunately, as it has been frequently pointed out, it is not easy to follow the Japanese government information life- cycle. Two major problems are: