Japan Data

The Key Government Post of Chief Cabinet Secretary

Politics

Here we look at some of the most influential people to have held the role of chief cabinet secretary, who is sometimes seen as the shadow prime minister.

The Japanese politician most in the public eye, with the exception of the prime minister, is the chief cabinet secretary. At the two regularly scheduled daily press conferences, the chief cabinet secretary lays out fundamental government policies in his role as cabinet spokesman. But this public-oriented role is just one part of the job. The chief cabinet secretary is also responsible for a crucial broad-ranging mission that includes coordinating policy across governmental ministries, negotiating within the cabinet, serving as a conduit between the prime minister and his party, handling crisis management, and dealing with political scandals. 

The chief cabinet secretary is considered the right-hand man of the prime minister, so the post has been held by many highly competent, problem-solving politicians close to the prime minister. At times, the chief cabinet secretary is considered the shadow prime minister because of the huge influence wielded, but most who have held the post have remained devoted to performing the role of chief advisor. Indeed, since the start of the Heisei era in 1989, there have only been three chief cabinet secretaries who went on to become prime minister: Obuchi Keizō, Abe Shinzō, and Fukuda Yasuo.

Only a single woman has been chief cabinet secretary in the history of Japanese constitutional government, Moriyama Mayumi, who held the post during the first administration of Prime Minister Kaifu Toshiki. Moriyama, who was head of the (former) Environment Agency at the time of her appointment in 1989, was chosen to replace a predecessor who had resigned in the wake of a scandal.

The Three Heisei Chief Cabinet Secretaries Who Became Prime Minister 

Chief Cabinet Secretary Cabinet(s) Period in the Position
Obuchi Keizō Prime Minister Takeshita Noboru November 6, 1987–June 3, 1989
Fukuda Yasuo Prime Minister Mori Yoshirō and Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō October 27, 2000–May 7, 2004
Abe Shinzō Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō October 31, 2005–September 26, 2006

Suga Yoshihide has been the chief cabinet secretary since Prime Minister Abe began his second period of office on December 26, 2012. As of April 30, 2019, he had served 2,317 days in that post, and he continues to extend his record as the longest-serving chief cabinet secretary.

The eldest son of a farming family in Akita Prefecture, Suga moved to Tokyo under the “collective placement” (shūdan shūshoku) program for young workers at the time. He worked hard to earn money for school tuition and went on to graduate from university. After working in the private sector, he became the secretary of the former Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Okonogi Hikosaburō. After serving two terms on the Yokohama City Council, he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1996.

Obuchi, who announced the name of the Heisei era back in 1989, went on to become known as “Mr. Heisei” among Japanese people, so perhaps Suga will similarly come to be known as “Mr. Reiwa” some day.

Longest-Serving Chief Cabinet Secretaries

Chief Cabinet Secretary Cabinet(s) Days Holding the Position
Suga Yoshihide Prime Minister Abe Shinzō 2,317 (and counting)
Fukuda Yasuo Prime Minister Mori Yoshirō and Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō 1,289
Hori Shigeru Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru and Prime Minister Satō Eisaku 1,258
Gotōda Masaharu Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro 1,075
Miyazawa Kiichi Prime Minister Suzuki Zenkō 864

Suga Yoshihide held the position of chief cabinet secretary for 2,317 days as of April 30, 2019, and has extended his record since then. Fukuda Yasuo served as chief cabinet secretary under two successive administrations. The period for Hori Shigeru includes two non-consecutive terms as chief cabinet secretary, the first from 1951 to 1952, and the second from 1968 to 1971.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo: The current Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide. © Jiji.)

Abe Shinzō Suga Yoshihide chief cabinet secretary