This article extends the recent empirical work on the perceptions and role of bureaucrats and politicians in policymaking. The question of the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats and the role of each in policymaking is especially important in the case of Japan, because the prevalent models of Japanese politics and policymaking are those of the “bureaucracy dominant” or of a closely interwoven “ruling triad” of bureaucracy, big business, and the governing Liberal Democratic Party.
Data are from a systematic survey of 251 higher civil servants and 101 members of the government and opposition parties in the House of Representatives, supplemented by data from other surveys and, wherever possible, compared to equivalent data from western democracies.
The results indicate that Japanese politicians and bureaucrats resemble Western European elites both in social background and in the fact that although the roles of politician and bureaucrat are converging, there are still differences in their contributions to the policymaking process. However, politicians influence policymaking more than most models of Japanese politics have posited, and even government and opposition politicians share some consensus about the most important policy issues facing Japan. A factor analysis demonstrated that higher civil servants' orientations toward their roles vary significantly with their positions in the administrative hierarchy.
The 27-year incumbency of the LDP as ruling party has been particularly important in determining the Japanese variant of the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats. We suggest that the Japanese case shows that the bureaucracy's increasing role in policymaking is universal; however, in late-modernizing political systems like Japan's, where the bureaucracy has always been a dominant actor, the growing power of politicians in postwar politics has been the most significant actor in bringing about more convergence in the two elites. Our data on this trend argue for a more complicated and pluralistic view of Japanese policymaking than that provided by either the bureaucracy-dominant or the ruling-triad model.