"Jigyo-Shiwake" in Japan

In Japan, after the political change last summer, there were many changes in the political scene- for better or worse. One of those changes is "Jigyo Shiwake (budget-cutting panel)".

In the former LDP administration, budget creation and cutting was done internally in the government and there was no transparency for this process. After DPJ came to power, they created a new division called "Government Revitalization Unit(行政刷新会議[ja])" which holds Jigyo Shiwake to cut budgets from various governmental projects. Bureaucrats and project members explains to the politicians(Shiwake-nin) the importance of their projects to keep the budget, and Shiwake-nin decides whether that project will be able to keep the budget or not. This whole process is streamed live on the Internet.

The first Jigyo Shiwake was held last November, which was a huge success in terms of making the ruling party look very transparent. Taro Kono, LDP politician says in his blog[ja] "I went to watch Jigyo Shiwake. To be honest, I envy them for being able to do this."

In terms of decreasing the budget drastically, they were not successful. Projects that were discussed in this Jigyo Shiwake was only 15% of the total governmental projects and the amount they were able to cut was not large. Yet Shiwake was a great step towards government transparency which the LDP administration never had.

This time around- it started last Friday (4/24) and will continue until 4/28 (time table (PDF) [ja])

Yukio Edano, State Minister in charge of Administrative Reform who manages this Jigyo Shiwake giving the opening statement.

Renho- a popular DPJ politician and one of the Shiwake-nin.

A bureaucrat explaining why his project is necessary and needs budget. (Check the number of viewers- 17,222!)

In the former regime, this process was easy for the bureaucrats as the people they needed to explain were the people they knew which did not require much explanation. It was held in a private room where the general public was unable to know what was being discussed. After the political change, they need to go through this Shiwake process where they need to explain to the politicians who are not familiar to specific projects. Also the general public is watching the whole process from morning to night LIVE on Internet and they are chatting about this Shiwake the whole day using Twitter. They can't hide anything any more. Now, it is really important for those bureaucrats to learn how to make comprehensive explanations and presentations. Apparently some of them are not used to being asked and exposed, and were unable to reply to questions properly. The results are strict- for example JAXAi, a showcase of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency(JAXA) is going to be closed because 10 out of 12 Shiwake-nin thought it was unnecessary after listening to the explanation by JAXA.

There were 5 official companies live-streaming this Shiwake on the Internet. (BTW, the government is NOT paying for the streaming.)

Screenshots from NicoNicoNamahousou, which had a very good quality streaming and I think they had more cameras than others (according to this article on Asahi[ja], NicoNico had 6 cameras in the venue) so they had better shots getting the Shiwake-nin, bureaucrats explaining to Shiwake-nin, and also shots with wider angle to show the atmosphere, etc.

I was also using this website called USTWRAP to watch the 2 U-stream channels (there were 2 rooms for Shiwake) simultaneously as well as watch the Twitter stream on each room.

The ministry created an excellent website[ja] that has all of the timetables, descriptions of each project, handouts, results of Shiwake, links to all of the Internet streaming channels, and Twitter stream talking about Shiwake. I was able to get all of the information necessary from this single website which is VERY rare in Japanese government websites which are usually like a maze.

Another great thing is that NicoNicoNamahousou is doing a wrap-up event each night inviting journalists to talk about the results of the Shiwake on that day.

I think this whole Shiwake process is great, and value it largely. On the other hand, it clarifies more and more of what we really need. Current Shiwake projects are more in detail. What we REALLY need for this country is a bigger and long term vision and strategy,and Shiwake should be done based on such bigger vision. Unfortunately, DPJ's Manifesto (campaign promises) does not have such vision and strategy- I am hoping such debate to be started before the upper house election this summer.


Ustream and Twitter changing politics in Japan

For the long history of the Japanese media- when Japanese prime minister, ministers, local governments, police etc make press announcements, the rule was that the "press club" would take care of those press meetings. Press club consists of major newspaper publishing companies and mass media. Freelance journalists, web media, magazines, foreign media, citizen journalists etc were all excluded from those press clubs. This means that the press club and the politicians can control what would be spoken, what would be asked at the press conferences, which means that the citizen's right to know was not protected in this country- at least to a certain extent.

I wrote a lot [ja] about this old press club system and how it is changing recently on my Japanese blog. After the political change last year, the ruling party -DPJ had been pressured to keep their campaign promise to open up the press conferences.

Katsuya Okada- Minister of Foreign Affairs decided to open his press conference to a wider range of journalists, Shizuka Kamei - Minister of State for Financial Services decided to hold 2 press conferences (1 for the press club, another for other journalists including magazines, freelance, internet media etc). On 3/26, FINALLY the press conference of Prime Minister Hatoyama was opened to freelance and foreign journalists [ja] and was ustreamed.

On 3/9, Kazuhiro Haraguchi - Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications who is an active Twitter user, decided to hold his press conferences using Ustream. His announcement to hold this Ustream press conference was released only on Twitter. 1,200 people watched this 30 min long Ustream press conference which he spoke about the privatization of postal services that happened in the former Koizumi administration. After he finished his speech, he returned in front of the camera to answer directly to the comments by the viewers. The funny thing was that the PR division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications did NOT know about this event- replying to the interview by ITMedia[ja] that they are "perplexed" and that they "do not have any information about this Ustream conference".

(screenshot from Haraguchi's 4/16 Ustream)

On 3/5, LDP politician Taro Kono did a NicoNicoNamaHousou (a Japanese Ustream-ish live video broadcasting service) of his project to review the projects by the ruling party DPJ. He not only streamed the whole process but also came back in front of the camera during the break time to give a short and concise lecture on what the theme is, what the issues are, what the conclusions are, to enhance the understanding of the viewers. Kono is an active Twitter user as well.

(screenshot from Kono's NicoNama)

Japanese political system was really conservative and seemed that nothing would change- but services such as Ustream and Twitter are really changing the way we interact with politicians.