Japan watchers may have wondered why two candidates hailing from the same Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) wound up fighting each other for the Saga Prefecture governor’s office. Simple. MIC is a super ministry put together in the 2001 administrative “reform” from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, and the Management and Coordination Agency (MCA). Yoshinori Yamaguchi, the winner, joined MHA in 1989, while Keisuke Hiwatashi, the loser, joined MCA in 1993. If you’ve seen how long and complicated the post-merger integration process is in Japanese corporations, imagine what it has been like for Japanese bureaucracies, where most of the pre-mergers functions survived largely intact. To complicate things further, MHA was one of the most prestigious bureaucracies, regularly competing with the pre-2001 Ministry of Finance for the most attractive fast-track candidates*, while MCA was one of the employers of near to last resort for the leftovers**. There was no way that anyone could step in and mediate.
* No false modesty here. The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now Ministry of Trade, Industry and Economy) competed for the best and brightest with MOF, but not with MHA, which typically did not appeal to officials interested in economic policy.
** I’d wondered why someone in his thirties threw away his career as a MIC fast-track official was serving as a mayor of a city with a population of only 50 thousand, even if it was his home town. This explains it. If he had been a MHA official, he would have waited for something much bigger.