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Light and Shadow of Independent Administrative Institutions

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For two years after the launch of RIETI in 2001, its leadership, researchers, and staff were united in the enthusiasm to create “Kasumigaseki Team II” (Fig. 27.1). I think it was Executive Vice President Nobuo Tanaka who coined that term, intending it to mean that RIETI would engage in long-term policy research which could not be done in the Ministry. He and I were involved in a workshop when he was the Deputy-Director of Science, Technology, and Industry at Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). And, as he had observed the workings of the Brookings Institution and other American think tanks when he was posted as Minister for Energy, Trade and Industry at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., he was a close colleague of mine. We did not subscribe to the notion of “the lost decade,” the depressive view popular at the time, as we aggressively pursued the potential for institutional change. During the three years I was at my post, we put out commercially based publications from Tōyō Keizai Shinpōsha: over ten volumes each on a full-fledged “Economic Policy Analysis Series” (Fiscal Reforms of Japan: Redesigning the Frame of the State, Aoki, Masahiko and Kōtarō Tsuru , authors and editors) and policy-oriented “Economic Policy Review Series” (Modularity: A New Industrial Architecture, Aoki, Masahiko and Haruhiko Andō, authors and editors). These reached a standard we could be proud of. This work led many to start on the path of becoming first-rate researchers.

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-981-13-2757-5_27
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Fig. 27.1

(photo courtesy of Bungei Shunjusha)


  1. 1.

    Shimizu (2007).

  2. 2.

    From what I hear, the oversight evaluation committee recently downgraded RIETI for the reason that the implementation of competitive research funding was lagging. However, it is neither possible nor advisable that a policy research institute like RIETI compete with universities for research funding. This kind of hierarchical governance that issues such an evaluation is so characteristically bureaucratic, and a waste of the efforts to establish the system of “independent administrative institutions.” In the mid-1990s there was a similar hierarchical governance “reform” plan suggested for state corporations in China; if that had been selected, today’s Chinese economic development would have been inconceivable. Related to the same METI issues, there is currently an initiative under consideration for Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI) to become a special public corporation; but this way of thinking is off the mark at this time when a national strategy is required for securing of resources. This is for the sake of convenience to accomplish the results of “reform” by merely changing formats of organizations or juggling the numbers. Straying off course in these ways arises from the failure to design a governance structure that can evaluate and monitor each independent administrative institution on its own merits from a public and specialized perspective.

  3. 3.

    This type of experiment may require governance by a private foundation, such as the Brookings Institution, or placement under open, public governance by a parliament with near-parity between ruling and opposition parties.

  4. 4.

    Nobuo Ikeda , who was a Fellow at RIETI during its first three years, has written the following in his blog, which has been quoted by others on the internet. “… Takao Kitahata , then deputy vice minister (now administrative vice minister) … put pressure on Chairman Sōzaburō Okamatsu to replace Director Aoki and expel the “Aoki faction” researchers. As a result, Director Aoki resigned in 2004, and most of the researchers he had invited from elsewhere (including myself) resigned as well. Those Aoki faction researchers who remained were targets of harassment, such as not having their research expenses funded, and most of them resigned.” This explanation is overly political and not accurate. I resigned not because of “pressure” from the Ministry, but of my own will due to differences in “views of institutions” and “ideology” about organizations; and I think most of the researchers, other than Mr. Ikeda , felt the same way as I had.

  5. 5.

    For this reason, I am using the phrase “Belief-Institution Co-evolution Process” as a specialized term to concisely express the essence of social change. Here “Belief” means the “shared awareness” about the way social games are played. For further reading see: Aoki, Masahiko, “Understanding Douglass North in the Game-Theoretic Language,”

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Aoki, M. (2018). Light and Shadow of Independent Administrative Institutions. In: Transboundary Game of Life. Springer, Singapore.

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