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Reviewed by:
  • Political Corruption and Scandals in Japan by Matthew M. Carlson and Steven R. Reed
  • Aurelia George Mulgan (bio)
Political Corruption and Scandals in Japan. By Matthew M. Carlson and Steven R. Reed. Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY, 2018. x, 191 pages. $39.95.

The conduct of Japanese politics and public administration has periodically been punctuated by corruption scandals, some more serious than others and certainly more consequential in terms of the effects on the political or bureaucratic careers, and even lives, of those involved.

As Matthew Carlson and Steven Reed make clear, the list is long of the types and episodes of political corruption that have come to public attention, including "bribery, embezzlement, bid rigging, fraud, the misuse of public funds, vote buying, and tax evasion" (p. 3). In terms of the examples discussed in their new book, the majority have involved garden-variety bribery, namely, politicians accepting "money for favors" (or influence peddling). In popular commentary, this has often been called "money politics" (kinken seiji), although Carlson and Reed eschew the term, preferring instead the more scholarly "corrupt exchange." Other forms of political corruption have comprised donors and donees (politicians) violating campaign finance laws or (other) election laws. As the authors relate, in one particular case, LDP Diet politician Nakajima Yōjirō transgressed on all three counts: breaking campaign finance and party subsidy laws, misusing political funds, vote buying, and accepting a bribe. Faced with jail, he took his own life. [End Page 266]

Carlson and Reed identify three major causes of political corruption. The first is "bad people," where the root cause lies in the faulty character of individuals. This supports what they call a "bad apple" definition and theory of corruption (p. 12) focusing on individuals behaving dishonestly. As an explanation for political corruption in Japan, however, it is rejected as too narrow because "eliminating dishonest individuals would not solve Japan's corruption problems" (p. 13). Much more serious kinds of corruption are "rooted either in organizations or in the incentives generated by political structures" (p. 12). These lead respectively to "standard operating procedure (SOP) corruption" (p. 14) with the focus on what goes on in public organizations (in local government, central ministries, political parties, local assemblies, the police force, etc.) and "systemic corruption," which stems from "the incentives created [for corrupt behavior] by political structures" (p. 12) such as the electoral system, campaign rules, and the party system. The authors' definition of political corruption as behavior that "perverts the functioning of the democratic process" (p. 15) accommodates all three types of corruption.

The book also broadens its analysis to scandals not involving political corruption. These are divided into two major types: "embarrassment scandals" (p. 5), including sex scandals, and "policy failure scandals" (p. 7) involving bureaucratic, not political, corruption. Although bureaucratic corruption is not the major focus of the work, a whole chapter is devoted to "Bureaucratic Corruption and Political Scandals," and Carlson and Reed's conclusions are important. Defining bureaucratic corruption as "perverting the course of the administrative process" (p. 92), the book brings to light examples of bureaucratic malfeasance, criminal incompetence and negligence, and personal greed as well as complicity in the corruption of politicians—as the "other half" of the partnership between corrupt politicians and administrators, and as the third party in what former Prime Minister Kaifu Toshiki called the "triangle of corruption involving politicians, bureaucrats, and businesses"1 as well as interest group leaders. The picture that Carlson and Reed draw is of a bureaucracy whose reputation for being "clean and efficient" (p. 111) needs revising, particularly given the role of bureaucrats in a number of serious policy failure scandals, some of which are documented in the book.

Based on their prodigious research, Carlson and Reed tell a good story about many of the corruption cases and scandals that have plagued Japanese public life since the late 1940s, some with the sordid details included such as sex and campaign finance scandals. The unmistakable impression is that many Japanese politicians at all levels of government as well as bureaucrats, [End Page 267] organizational officials, interest group leaders, and business people have conducted themselves in a less than honest manner. Even when...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1549-4721
Print ISSN
0095-6848
Pages
pp. 266-271
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-28
Open Access
No
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