There is widespread speculation that Director General Masaaki Okuhara of the Management Improvement Bureau will be promoted to the position of vice minister of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries in the next round of personnel changes in Kasumigaseki this summer.
Okuhara has no experience heading the Minister’s Secretariat or any of the extra-ministerial bureaus, which are positions considered to be the stepping stones to becoming the vice minister. He has been in his current post for four years and six months, so it was thought that he would be retiring this year. The favorite for the vice ministerial job has been Director General Satoshi Imai of the Forestry Agency. Since Okuhara has postponed his retirement, there is great interest in whether there will indeed be an “unusual appointment.”
Shinjiro Koizumi, head of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Agriculture and Forestry Division who asserts that the Norinchukin Bank is useless and who is calling for “robust agricultural reforms,” holds the key in this matter. Okuhara is his adviser. A reporter covering Koizumi says that Okuhara visits Koizumi’s office at the Diet members’ office building frequently. The Kantei (Prime Minister’s Official Residence) is also thinking of forming a team of these two to counteract Diet members lobbying for agriculture and forestry interests. Okuhara played an active role in the JA Zenchu (Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives) reforms last year. Although some of the reforms were emasculated subsequently, the Kantei has high regard for his ability. Okuhara is planning to work on reforming the JA distribution systems next. JA officials are already feeling anxious.