Fukushima and Amakudari:

Gail Marcus lived and worked in Japan. Here’s an excerpt from her thoughts on Japan’s utilities and regulators:

(…) The Japanese system, often called amakudari, or “descent from heaven” has long been criticized by outsiders. In earlier days, it undoubtedly helped foster the image that used to be called “Japan, Inc.” At one time, that mode of operation had considerable benefit for Japan, as it seemed conducive to developing unified positions in confronting the global marketplace. Somewhere along the line, however, that benefit seems to have lessened, and people stopped using that term as much. In fact, at that point, some of the disadvantages of amakudari seemed to emerge, particularly the inefficiencies caused by sometimes force-fitting people into positions for which they were not well matched.

Now, perhaps, a more serious shortcoming of amakudari may have reared its head and it may become more imperative to alter the kinds of relationships that have existed between the regulators and the regulated community.

It would be far too simple to say that reform of the government pension system is the solution to any problem in Japan. Amakudari is certainly not the fundamental cause of the Fukushima crisis, and it is unclear at this time whether any of the problems at Fukushima will be traced to repetitions of the previous instances of TEPCO misconduct and regulatory “indulgence” that have been dredged up by the press. In fact, my guess at this time would be that amakudari is not a factor. Furthermore, there are other Japanese government and industry practices that might also merit scrutiny in the face of current events. Perhaps I might address them in a future blog.

However, getting rid of amakudari will be a giant step in the right direction for an industry that is now under siege, and should help restore the faith of the Japanese people and the world that the nuclear industry–as well as other industries in Japan–will be subject to the kind of regulatory scrutiny the world expects from one one of the most advanced countries in the world.

Many people feel that Chernobyl helped to topple the old Soviet Union. It would be fitting for Fukushima to topple amakudari.