Fukushima: Japan’s lonely bureaucrat speaks out

by Dennis Riches

A former high level bureaucrat in the Japanese Ministry of Trade was one of the few public officials to bravely speak up for radical change in the wake of the earthquake-tsunami-meltdown catastrophe. The Economist was one of the first in the English language media to report on Shigeaki Koga’s radical proposals for reform of national energy policy. In September 2011, The Economist reported his views:

“I believe this is the final chance for Japan to change,” Mr. Koga said in May, when I asked him during a wide-ranging interview why he was speaking out. “If I shut my mouth and obtain a good post in the ministry—even if I did that, in a few years Japan’s economy would plunge,” he said. “That is why I am taking on risks, and I don’t care if I have to resign. Because if I don’t speak out, Japan will not change. It is meaningless for me to be in the government if I cannot advocate reform.”

Since this time he has been shut out of meaningful participation in reform, but he has been a regular guest commentator on news programs. He has been a regular on TV Asahi’s evening news program Hodo Station, but things took a bad turn in January, when, taking inspiration from the “Je suis Charlie” frenzy, he held up a placard during the broadcast stating “I’m not Abe.”

At a press conference afterwards at the Tokyo Foreign Correspondents Club, Mr. Koga explained the way he was being excluded from further appearances on Hodo Station:

(Reporter) Mr. Koga, just to follow up on this because your case may be very important for the future of Japan. Could you tell us if you are officially and publicly being “sacked” from your job?

If I make any mistake in explaining this, it will bring about many problems. Even if I am scolded, I will be scolded only by TV Asahi. So it is not as scary as being scolded by [Chief Cabinet Secretary] Suga. Precisely speaking, there is no contract that guarantees exactly how many times per year that I will appear on Hodo Station. From TV Asahi’s perspective, they ask me to appear on a case-by-case basis. So, it is not that they are firing me. As far as I have heard, it is the producer who has the leading role in deciding which commentator appears on the show. As for me, I have been very busy, so the producer and I used to set a schedule for next three-month period. Basically, the producer asked me to appear about once a month, and as for the exact date of appearance, we agreed to decide two or three months ahead.

I heard that the head of the press bureau of TV Asahi had not been comfortable with my appearances since last year. But, after January 23, he ordered a strict prohibition on my appearances after April 2015.

I have not heard this from the head in person, so I would like to hear this from him in person.

This is how I understand the case. My appearance on March 6th and 27th were already scheduled. If they had canceled scheduled appearances, there would have been criticism. But since no appearances by me were scheduled after April, I think that is the reason why they decided to enact the prohibition in April.

Koga san

A reporter at yesterday’s press conference by the president of TV Asahi told me that nothing has been decided yet about my future appearances. Moreover, the president maintained that he is not aware of any pressure coming from the Kantei [Prime Minister’s office]. (as reported by Japanese Perspective)

On March 27, 2015, Mr. Koga made what he said on air would be his last appearance on the show (now on Youtube). He had a rather tense exchange with the host, but managed to say some of the things he wanted to say. He countered the common wisdom that Prime Minister Abe is not accomplishing anything, and explained sarcastically that in fact he was pushing through his vision of a “beautiful Japan.” He then held up a placard that listed the three major goals the Abe administration has been working toward: nuclear technology exports, weapons exports, and gambling (or recklessness might be a better translation). Mr. Koga then gave his own advice that these three arrows of reform should be replaced by exports of renewable energy technology, peace and culture. Then he again held up the “I am not Abe” sign, explaining politely to his host that this time he did not trouble the Asahi staff to make the sign. This one he made for himself. He finished by holding up a placard with a quotation by Gandhi as he advised Japanese people to not be afraid to express their views:

Nearly everything you do is of no importance, but it is important that you do it. Changing yourself may not change the world, but for the world to stay as it is, it depends on you not changing.

Mr. Koga's proposals for changing national policy goals to renewable energy, peace and culture.

Mr. Koga’s proposals for changing national policy
goals to renewable energy, peace and culture.

Shigeaki Koga may be banished from certain media outlets for the time being, but I have a feeling we haven’t heard the last of him.


MARCH 30, 2015: The Japan Times reported on the controversial broadcast a few days afterwards: Ex-bureaucrat blasts Abe on news program.

MARCH 29, 2015: Asahi Shimbun reported on the controversial broadcast the day after I wrote the above: Abe critic claims on air he was axed from TV program at behest of management.


The GoodBureaucrat.” The Economist. September 14, 2011.


ShigeakiKoga Criticizes Abe Administration’s Pressure on the Media,”

Japanese Perspective, February 27, 2015
Abe critic claims on air he was axed from TV program at behest of management,” Asahi Shimbun, March 29, 2015.

Tomohiro Sasaki, “Ex-bureaucrat blasts Abe on news program,” The Japan Times, March 30, 2015.

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