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The ambition of “Don Juan” bureaucrat never fades

  • July 1, 2018
  • , p. 58
  • JMH Translation

In May 2017, Vice Minister of Finance for International Affairs Masatsugu Asakawa was in the limelight when he performed on the flute at a reception held on the sidelines of the Asian Development Bank’s annual meeting held in Yokohama. The event was hosted by the Japanese government and he was overseeing it as the head of the logistical team. A former correspondent of a leading media outlet described him as being in the “prime of his career” as he had been serving as vice minister for international affairs for nearly two years. He had his sights set on succeeding ADB President Takehiko Nakao, who was in the audience listening to his music performance.  


The Ministry of Finance is now mired in an unusual situation. It took a hard hit from a sexual harassment scandal involving the former administrative vice minister and the post has remained empty for newly two months. Since late May, media speculation has been rife over who will be tapped as the next administrative vice minister. Asakawa, dubbed as the “Don Juan of the MOF,” was reported to be a leading candidate. He was singled out by Finance Minister Taro Aso. “MOF officials were slow to report to the Finance Minister at a time when a number of scandals, including the shady sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen, were popping up  one after another,” said a person close to the Aso faction. “[Aso] was beginning to distrust the mainstream officials in MOF and came up with the idea of appointing Asakawa, his right-hand man.”


But Asakawa has many enemies both inside and outside MOF. When the Sankei Shimbun cited Asakawa as a leading candidate, discontent erupted from various corners. “He was favored just because he served as a secretary to Aso when he was prime minister,” said one person. “He has been serving as vice minister of finance for international affairs for three years and now might be promoted to administrative vice minister. That is not acceptable.” He is one of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s favorites, but he and Takaya Imai, executive secretary to the Prime Minister, don’t get along well at all. A source close to the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei] predicted that “Asakawa won’t make it to the administrative vice minister post due to his extramarital affairs,” and told the media about his “past relationship” with a friend of his from the music world.


While anti-Asakawa sentiment was spreading, another report surfaced that Tax Bureau Director-General Tsuguhiko Hoshino would be promoted to administrative vice minister. When the Sankei Shimbun again reported that Hoshino was finally picked to lead MOF, a MOF official said, “I was relieved that the post of administrative vice minister was not snatched by the International Bureau.” This was evidence that Asakawa is truly disliked. But the idea of Hoshino as administrative vice minister vanished within a few days after his alleged harassment of a female reporter came to light. With Asakawa moving back into the running for the administrative vice minister post, “Hoshino and Asakawa were locked in a mudslinging match as the details of their involvement in sexual harassment were revealed one after another,” said a political news reporter.


Who is this person who has been responsible for creating a maelstrom in the selection of the next administrative vice minister? Asakawa graduated from the University of Tokyo with a degree in economics in 1981 and has since built up his career in the international field. He has been dispatched to the ADB and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and within MOF, he has served as a division director inside the International Bureau. In 2008, then-Prime Minister Taro Aso requested MOF to send him a secretary well-versed in international affairs and Asakawa was picked. Since then he has enjoyed Aso’s patronage and finally won his sought after position of vice minister of finance for international affairs.


But in contrast to his stellar career background, people from the Aso administration blame Asakawa for causing the Kantei to cease to function and for failing to prevent Aso from making verbal gaffes when he was in office. Asakawa is also known to let down his guard when it comes to women. Rumor had it that he had an inappropriate relationship with a female reporter from a private TV broadcaster who was mentioned in connection with the sexual harassment scandal involving the former administrative vice minister. There was much talk of the leakage of specific MOF-related information to that broadcaster on several occasions among reporters and journalists in charge of the ministry.


But the aforementioned correspondent clearly noted that “Asakawa could not care less about the administrative vice minister post.” With MOF’s reputation taking a nosedive from its former position as Japan’s most powerful ministry, technocrats who specialize in international finance are not seeking to lead the ministry as “a manager with a limited tenure of one year.” What they want is to climb to the top of international organizations to seize power and money. Rumor has it that “Nakao’s successor will be Asakawa.” The Don Juan bureaucrat took a fall due to a scandal over his womanizing but he is still filled with ambition to distinguish himself in his career.  

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