Book slamming Japan's "graveyard" bureaucracy a hit

TOKYO - It belongs to an unpopular genre and lacks a gripping title, but a Japanese book blasting the country's bureaucratic elite - by a bureaucrat - is proving an unlikely hit with a nation fed up at a lagging response to the massive March disaster.

"Collapse of Japan's Central Administration", by the outspoken Shigeaki Koga, is a tale of internal bickering, falsehood and the stifling culture within the Japanese bureaucracy which led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster and hinders recovery from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Calling Kasumigaseki, the name of the Tokyo area housing Japan's bureaucracy, "a graveyard for talent", Koga - who works at the powerful trade ministry - slammed a lack of cooperation between ministries and a system that does not reward bureaucrats who try to serve the nation rather than their ministries.

"It's convincing because it's been written by a top official at the ministry, who's actually working there," said Tsuguo Nishike, who runs a bookstore in Akasaka, just a stone's throw from Japan's parliament building.

"It had excellent timing as well. Everyone has been curious about what's been happening behind the scenes about Fukushima."

Koga, who has been at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) for over 30 years, drew official ire earlier this year when he wrote an memo picking apart the logic of the backroom deal his ministry was crafting to save Tokyo Electric Power from bankruptcy because of mounting liability due to the Fukushima crisis.

An advocate of tough-love restructuring, Koga in 2003 helped create a new agency to speed the restructuring of Japanese"zombie" firms such as retailer Daiei. But his push for a similar handling of the power firm

prompted requests for him to leave the ministry, media reports said. Though he has hung onto his post, he has also taken the unusual step of going public with his criticism in the media.

His book, which has been among the top 100 sellers on Amazon Japan since its publication in May, has sold more than 380,000 copies - quite unusual for a serious political book.

"It's been reigning at the top of the shelf virtually from the week it was published," said Eiji Koshiba, who manages another Akasaka bookstore.

"Compared to its competitors, it's head and shoulders ahead, selling double or triple similar books in the genre."