The Week of 27 September 2020

Another week is finished for Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide. This week includes new chart showing the week-over-week change in the number of minutes the prime minister devotes to different activities and advisers.

  • Perhaps not surprisingly given that one of the major stories this week was what appeared to be a clear decision by Suga to put off a snap election until 2021, the prime minister spent nearly twice as many minutes meeting with senior Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito officials this week as he did last week. The more than three hours he spent with party officials included dinner with the LDP’s “big three” — Secretary-General NIKAI Toshihirō, General Affairs Council Chairman SATŌ Tsutomu, and Policy Affairs Council Chairman SHIMOMURA Hakubun — on Monday evening. It also included a meeting with Komeitō’s top leaders, including President YAMAGUCHI Natsuo, Vice President SAITŌ Tetsuo, and Secretary-General ISHII Keiichi on Monday and a separate one-on-one meeting with Yamaguchi on Friday that ran for nearly an hour.
  • After last week was dominated by meetings with outside advisers — what I am calling Suga’s “brain trust” — the largest block of time on the prime minister’s schedule this week was time spent with Kantei officials, a group that includes the chief cabinet secretary, deputy and assistant chief cabinet secretaries, and the special advisers and secretaries to the PM. Often these meetings happen over meals, most commonly breakfast but occasionally lunch or dinner, and the participants in the meals are not named. The schedule will simply say “dined with secretaries.”
  • There was a significant increase in meetings I characterized as “other,” which included a dinner with his political office staff, dinner with formed secretaries from his time as chief cabinet secretary, and a lunch Saturday with educator TANOOKA Yukiko.
  • He had only two calls with foreign leaders (Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Canada’s Justin Trudeau) but spent a similar amount of time in discussions with his foreign policy and national security advisers. Cabinet Intelligence director TAKIZAWA Hiroaki had at least four meetings with the PM, either individually or as part of a group. National Security Adviser KITAMURA Shigeru, returned from the US, was named five times, three one-on-one meetings and two meetings in which he joined other officials. For the second straight week, Suga held a session on Thursday with Kitamura, Takizawa, Defense Ministry Defense Policy Director-General OKA Masami, and SDF Chief of Staff YAMAZAKI Kōji.
  • The time coded as “national security/foreign policy” probably understates the amount of time spent on these issues, because some of the time coded as “senior bureaucrats” — used for meetings with senior officials (administrative vice ministers or bureau chiefs) from one or several ministries — likely also touches on foreign affairs. For example, on Friday, Suga held a forty-five-minute meeting on Friday, 2 October that included METI Minister KAJIYAMA Hiroshi; Deputy Foreign Minister SUZUKI Hiroshi; ŌSAWA Makoto, the vice minister for international affairs at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries; TANAKA Shigehiro, METI’s vice minister for international affairs; ARAI Masayoshi, METI’s director general for policy planning and coordination; and IIDA Yuji, deputy commissioner of METI’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.
  • This week saw the first appearance of the leaders of Japan’s largest business federations on the PM’s schedule. Suga met with Keidanren chairman KOGA Nobuyuki, Keizai Doyukai chairman SAKURADA Kengo, and Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) chairman MIMURA Akio on Tuesday, 29 September. He also met with the leaders of two nurses’ associations – FUKUI Toshiko from the Japan Nursing Association and ŌSHIMA Toshiko from the Japanese Nursing Federation – and the chairman and vice chairmen of the Japan Medical Association.
  • By my count, the two leaders of the nurses are roughly twenty percent of the women Suga has met with since becoming prime minister. In a rough estimate, I counted ten women out of the 164 individuals named in the digest. That group includes YOKOTA Sakie, mother of abductee Megumi, with whom Suga met on Tuesday, 29 September.
  • If the PM’s schedule is any indication, speculation about the resurgence of the Ministry of Finance’s (MOF) influence in the government may have been premature. It was only on Friday, 2 October that Suga met for the first time with MOF’s senior-most officials, Administrative Vice Minister ŌTA Mitsuru and Budget Bureau Director-General YANO Kōji. For that matter, Friday was also the first time that Finance Minister ASŌ Tarō was named in the digest. MOFA and METI have been considerably more visible on the schedule.
  • The person to watch most closely in Suga’s Kantei is special adviser IZUMI Hiroto. Izumi, who had thirty-six-year career at the former Ministry of Construction and its successor the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation, and Tourism that culminated in a post at the Cabinet Secretariat during DPJ rule, was a special adviser to Abe for his entire second premiership and was retained in the same post by Suga. There was some speculation that with Abe’s secretary IMAI Takaya stepping back to become a cabinet counselor, Izumi’s role would grow, and his presence in one-on-one meetings with Suga and in meetings on issues ranging from housing (his bureaucratic background) to foreign policy to Covid-19 would seem to bear this out.
  • ABE Shinzō himself appeared on the schedule for the first time since Suga took over, meeting briefly with the PM on Thursday, 1 October.
  • Suga’s press availability remains limited, although there were two developments this week that suggest that his approach to the press will be similar to the Abe administration’s (for which Suga was undoubtedly at least partly responsible).
  • First, on Saturday, he held an off-the-record breakfast at Eggs ‘n Things in Harajuku with reporters covering the PM’s office, a breakfast most notable for the refusal by the Asahi Shimbun and the Tokyo Shimbun to participate. Both publications instead demanded that Suga address the growing controversy over his decision not to appoint six academics recommended by the Science Council of Japan (SCJ) for council membership. The PM has thus far not explained why he broke with the precedent of appointing all individuals recommended by the SJC to reject six individuals who in the past criticized the Abe administration’s national security policies.
  • Second, this week Kyodo editorial writer — and author of a very good book on Abe’s ideology that was an invaluable resource for my book research — KAKIZAKI Meiji joined the government as a special adviser responsible for Suga’s relationship with the press.
  • The increase in the number of individuals named in the digest slowed this week. Whereas last week saw eighty new people named, this week saw only fifty-three new names. As noted previously, 164 individuals have now been named as having met with the PM.
  • ORIGAMI watch: Four meals at ORIGAMI, the restaurant at the Capitol Tokyu Hotel where Suga has long been a regular.

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