(Bungeishunju: December 2015 – p. 234)
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Akitaka Saiki (MOFA class of 1976) will retire voluntarily after the end of the Group of Seven (G7) Summit (Ise-Shima Summit) and the regular Diet session next year. It appears likely that Takeo Akiba (MOFA class of 1982), currently deputy vice minister for foreign policy and director general of the Foreign Policy Bureau, will be promoted to the post of vice minister for foreign affairs, as the replacement for Saiki. Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Shinsuke Sugiyama (MOFA class of 1977) and Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Yasumasa Nagamine (MOFA class of 1977), who were retained in their current posts in the personnel changes in October, will retire together with Saiki. As a result, the lineup of senior MOFA officials will be suddenly rejuvenated.
Akiba enjoys the confidence of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Saiki, and he is regarded as a candidate for future vice minister. Behind the possibility of Akiba becoming vice minister next summer lies the strong intention of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and other officials who abhor the seniority system and routine personal changes.
In the personnel changes in October, MOFA officials such as former Foreign Policy Bureau Director General Kenji Hiramatsu (MOFA class of 1979), former Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau Director General Junichi Ihara (MOFA class of 1979), and former North American Affairs Bureau Director General Koji Tomita (class of 1981), who were viewed as potential candidates for the next vice minister, all left the ministry. In the political district of Nagatacho and Kasumigaseki, there were rumors that Sugiyama would become vice minister next summer. Reportedly, the personnel changes in October were interpreted as the solidification of Akiba’s leadership framework.
In fact, excluding the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, which is headed by Kimihiro Ishikane (class of 1981), all the major bureaus are now headed by officials who entered the ministry in the same year as Akiba or later – International Legal Affairs Bureau Director General Naoko Saiki (class of 1982), Deputy Vice Minister for Minister’s Secretariat Kazuyuki Yamazaki (class of 1983), North America Affairs Bureau Director General Takeo Mori (class of 1983) and Economic Affairs Bureau Director General Kenji Kanasugi (class of 1983). A source who is very familiar with the personnel changes in MOFA said: “Consideration is being given so that Akiba will be able to easily manage the ministry next year and after.
Although Akiba is not a China School member, he served as director of the China Division. He has experience as director of the Treaties Division, minister at the Japanese Embassy in the U.S., and director general of the International Legal Affairs Bureau. He is viewed as an “ace officer” in MOFA, who is good at handling all sorts of situations.
In order to stabilize the “Akiba leadership framework,” it is likely that ambassadors to major countries such as Ambassador to the U.S. Kenichiro Sasae will be replaced. It is very probable that officials who joined MOFA later than Saiki and before Akiba will be appointed as ambassadors to major countries. MOFA is about to enter a new era.