Photo/IllutrationYoshitaka Sakurada, minister in charge of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, answers questions while consulting an aide at a news conference in Tokyo on Nov. 6. (Takahiro Okubo)

The Cabinet member who has attracted the most public attention during the current Diet session is probably Yoshitaka Sakurada, minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

On many occasions we have seen Sakurada struggling awkwardly to answer questions at the Diet, reading from written responses while wiping sweat from his face.

When asked what the basic concept of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics is, he was unable to reply immediately. He said “1,500 en (yen)” when he should have said “1,500 oku en” (150 billion yen).

But Sakurada gave a clear and definite answer when he was asked why he thought he had been appointed to the Cabinet post.

“The prime minister has chosen (me) as the best man for the job,” he said. “I’m working hard to perform properly the duties of my position for the person who has chosen me.”

Did he mean he was working mostly for the prime minister, not for the people?

A little while before Sakurada said that, the head of the Finance Ministry’s Financial Bureau made a similar remark while answering a question in the Diet.

“As a government employee, my job is to work as hard as I can for the person I am serving,” the senior Financial Ministry official said.

This bureaucrat also seems to be more interested in pleasing the minister and his other superiors than in serving the public.

Both Sakurada and bureaucrats must be well aware that they are public servants who work for the people. That is, at least, the official principle on which they are supposed to work.

But these officials do not appear to be sincerely and wholeheartedly committed to this principle. That is probably why they often fail to express this principle when they speak about the issue off the cuff.

The deeply ingrained factor that really governs their behavior seems to be loyalty to the boss.

This mental quality is reminiscent of the moral code of the samurai class, or Bushido.

One oft-quoted saying to describe the samurai code is “kimi kimi tarazutomo, shin, shin tarazaru bekarazu” (even if a lord is not good enough as a lord, his vassals should still be loyal to him as vassals).

It is, in short, a creed of unconditional obedience.

These days, it seems to me that many people working in Chiyoda Ward's Nagatacho, Japan’s political power center, and Kasumigaseki, Tokyo’s bureaucratic quarters, have the qualities required to be a good vassal.

It is, however, another question whether they have the qualities required to perform their heavy job responsibilities.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 11

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.