The Week of 20 September 2020

Suga Yoshihide has completed his first full week as Japan’s prime minister. His schedule this week included both his first calls with foreign leaders and his first domestic trip at prime minister (to Fukushima prefecture). It is also possible to begin identifying certain patterns to his days, perhaps even certain officials or groups of officials he favors over others. As the press coverage reflected this week, we’re also getting a better sense of Suga’s “brain trust,” the informal advisers that the prime minister may consult with periodically.

Items of interest from this week:

  • I am also tracking all of the individuals named in the daily digest, and there was – perhaps not surprisingly – a sharp increase in the sheer number of individuals with whom Suga met. After the first four days, he had met twenty-five unique individuals; by 26 September, that number had grown to 108.
  • Thus far, no individual has appeared in the schedule more than three times. That group includes Chief Cabinet Secretary Katō Katsunobu; Special Adviser to the Prime Minister IZUMI Hiroto; Director of Cabinet Intelligence TAKIZAWA Hiroaki; and Administrative Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs AKIBA Takeo. This group also includes deputy chief cabinet secretaries SAKAI Manabu and OKADA Naoki, who saw the PM during the day Friday and then dined with him that evening. Of course, since the digest is not comprehensive, we cannot say with certainty that either there have been more meetings with these individuals or with others.
  • In policy terms, it was a week characterized by two major activities.
    • First, early in the week he had long meetings – often during meals – with informal advisers, including internet pioneer MURAI Jun; political journalist TAHARA Soichirō; economist and former MOF official TAKAHASHI Yoichi; economic journalist TAKARABE Seiichi; Daiwa chief economist KUMAGAI Mitsumaru; and medical researcher Dr. OKABE Nobuhiko.
    • Second, later in the week, Suga’s schedule was increasingly dominated by a small group meetings with senior bureaucratic officials. On Thursday, he held a meeting with the Cabinet Office’s Administrative Vice Minister, Assistant Vice Minister, and two directors general for policy planning (as well as Economic Revitalization Minister NISHIMURA Yasutoshi). He also had what appeared to be an international economic policy meeting with MAEDA Tadashi, Governor of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), SHIKATA Noriyuki from MOFA’s Economic Policy Bureau, Izumi, and Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism Assistant Vice Minister OKANISHI Yasuhiro; a meeting with the minister, administrative vice minister, and director general for policy planning from METI; and what looks like a Covid-19 policy meeting with the head of the Cabinet Secretariat’s response team, two senior MHLW officials, and head of MOFA’s consular affairs bureau.
  • Suga’s Thursday also included a national security policy meeting that included HAYASHI Hajime, an assistant chief cabinet secretary and the deputy director of the National Security Council; YAMADA Shigeo, director general of MOFA’s Foreign Policy Bureau; OKA Masami, director general of MOD’s Defense Policy Bureau; and General YAMAZAKI Kōji, Chief of Staff of the SDF’s Joint Staff. Foreign policy consumed a significantly larger share of Suga’s time, with meetings with officials and calls with foreign leaders taking up 14.6 percent of his recorded minutes. Suga had calls with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison; US President Donald Trump; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; European Council President Charles Michael; British Prime Minister Boris Johnson; IOC chairman Thomas Bach; South Korean President Moon Jae-in; UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres; Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi; and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
  • While Suga spent fairly little time explicitly on economic policy, he did have his first meeting with Bank of Japan (BOJ) Governor KURODA Haruhiko over lunch on Wednesday, 23 September.
  • His press availability has been minuscule, a mere twelve minutes over the course of the week.
  • His Saturday was spent visiting Fukushima prefecture with Reconstruction Minister HIRASAWA Katsuei, which included meetings with the governor and prefectural officials, a meeting with TEPCO President KOBAYAKAWA Tomoaki, a visit to a 3/11 archival project with LDP lawmakers from Fukushima, and a visit to a school.
  • ORIGAMI watch: Five meals, including twice on Monday and Wednesday. Orchid at the Okura has also made regular appearances on the schedule.

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