Japan's Quartet of Important Advisors

By Lamont-Brown, Raymond | Contemporary Review, April 1995 | Go to article overview
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Japan's Quartet of Important Advisors

Lamont-Brown, Raymond, Contemporary Review

Chukoku - the Japanese way of advice - is very much alive in the country. Not for nothing do the Japanese prize the counsel of those who have been the nation's leaders. In a land where the led are reluctant to be leaders, the high-fliers who have achieved prominence in the civil service and private commerce, are, on retirement invited to become advisors on all matters; the Japanese call the process amakudari ('descending from heaven').

As Japan looks to solve the problems and challenges it has never had to face before - from no more employment for life to a re-vamped international role - the media clamour for advice for self-help articles and sound bites on every subject imaginable. At the top of every media person's contact list are the leaders of what is known as the keizai yondantai; the four most prominent and influential economic groups.

The keizai yondantai are made up of Nissho (Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry); Keidanren (the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations); Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives); and. Nikkeiren (Japan Employers' Federation). Their birth was a practical answer to the then current economic problems prevailing. Their prime focus, as a team, was to rebuild Japan after the enforced restructuring of the constitution that followed the Second World War and the consequences of the American Occupation (1946-51). Today they co-operatively confront any issue involving Japan, while maintaining their own independence. Japanophiles see clearly, too, that the importance of the patronage, hegemony and chukoku of the keizai yondantai is increasing.

Nissho is an abbreviation of Nihon Shoko Kaigisho, and the first chambers of commerce and industry were established at Tokyo, Osaka and other locations in 1878. Nissho was created in 1922 to represent the views of member organizations. It was born when Japan was fighting to establish herself in the face of dominance from foreign interests. Nissho is the only one amongst the quartet to have a foundation in law, but its officers are not public servants. Their one and a half million members have a policy worked out by Nissho that is of 'public good'. Nissho (along with the other quartet fellows) is a part of the zaikai (the business leader clique) which superceded the financial clique (the zaibatsu) of pre-war days. As Professor Yoshio Ando pointed out in Zaikai no Chii to Yakuwari (1957): 'Zaikai literally presides over Japanese society', and their influence is felt at the highest level. Thus Nissho has spoken up regularly on important political matters, and nominates members/representatives to sit on governmental advisory panels.

These days Nissho's core activity comprises canvassing its members' opinions on such subjects as trade and market measures, the economy and the financing of industry, and the material gathered is formed into policy recommendation's to be passed to the government. Nissho has direct access to the consultation offices run all over Japan by the 508 local chambers, and through them it offers a wide range of advice on such topics as tax, worker relations and computers and offers courses for the learning of commercial English Language to the use of the ubiquitous soroban (abacus). Up to date projects too, have included strategies for the revitalisation of local economies, creative modernisation projects for towns and villages and a trying issue 'succession problems'. The latter have been caused by young people not entering family or locally run businesses, preferring to join the workforces of 'big business'.

The abbreviation of Keidanren is formed of the calligraphy for Keizai Dantai Rengokai, and the membership of industry-wide groups was first brought together in 1946 with the merger of five major wartime economic organizations. This was a time when there was a general reorganization of business groups in Japan, following the purging of the imperialist/militarist prewar business leaders.

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