“Yakebutori”—to prosper after a fire—is an old word that refers to merchants whose businesses profited from the misfortunes of others, such as those whose residences burned down.
The fire that will ultimately kindle a huge amount of “yakebutori” gains, it appears, will be the “sacred flame” from Mt Olympus in Greece. By the time the flame arrives in Tokyo in July 2020, reports Shukan Post (Aug 8) at least 1,144 bureaucrats—at current count—will have retired and landed cozy second careers with generous salaries in construction firms and other major corporations, through Japan’s deeply entrenched “amakudari” (“descent from heaven”) system.
The main destination for these “amakudari” will be the large general contractor firms with vested interests in the 2020 Olympics.
The approximately 1 trillion yen the city has budgeted for infrastructure and other projects ahead of the games promises a generous windfall for the ex-bureaucrats.
Tokyo will be building or modifying 33 venues for the events, of which 28 will be within an eight-kilometer radius of the Athletes’ Village in Harumi, Chuo Ward. The estimates for construction costs have already swollen to 455.4 billion yen. In addition, infrastructure improvements to the metropolitan expressway and other projects will add 626.2 billion yen. Plus outlays to add elevators at 179 Tokyo metro stations in order to make them barrier free (23.1 billion yen), and various others.
In the past, according to a former government worker, when bureaucrats in the Tokyo metropolitan government retired, the accepted standard for annual salaries in their second careers was 10 million yen for a bureau head and 8 million yen for a division head. But thanks to windfall from the Olympics, their remuneration has swelled.
In addition to identifying the names and titles of these individuals, Shukan Post provides an extensive list of firms where the former bureaucrats will be assuming their lucrative second careers. They include general contractors (Obayashi-gumi, Tokyu Kensetsu, Shimizu Kensetsu, Takenaka Komuten, etc), manufacturers of construction equipment (Kubota), real estate developers (Mitsubishi Real Estate), private railway companies (JR East, Keihin Kyuko), electronics companies (Hitachi Ltd), printing companies (Kyodo Insatsu) and utility firms (Tokyo Gas).
The Tokyo government has already accepted initial bids for certain projects, and the firms involved have begun clamoring to bring in “amakudari” to “smoothe” the construction orders.
It seems local governments pose few constraints on this sort of hiring. The regulations for metro Tokyo workers specify that “A city employee cannot be hired to engage in related sales activities within two years of his retirement, if he has had dealings with the same company within five years prior to his retirement.” In other words, as long as the individual joins a section other than sales, he’s within the parameters of the law.
“In the case of civil servants in the national government, the law is clear about prohibiting ‘amakudari,’” says Eiji Hara, a former bureaucrat and author of a book whose title translates as “The tricks of the bureaucracy that keep Japanese tied up.” “But there are practically no laws constraining workers in regional governments, and they can get away with practically anything.
“Osaka Prefecture and Osaka City have been able to drastically reduce the hiring of retired civil servants by use of an ordinance instead of going to the extent of passing a law,” Hara adds. “But Tokyo hasn’t taken such measures.”