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Japan: Bureaucrats give up a great treasure

Japan’s ministry of finance has lost face in the past decade as an arbiter of business development. The complexities of market growth have overwhelmed it, the collapse of a Liberal Democratic monopoly has removed its political underpinnings and scandalous revelations have been made about its corrupt practices. Now it has lost its traditional name. Despite the rise of rivals such as the Financial Services Agency and attempts by politicians to bypass MoF’s budget functions it’s far from clear who is in charge.

After more than a thousand years in all and more than 130 at the heart of Japan's modern economic history, a great and literally precious title has just been thrown into the dustbin of history - with profound implications for the future of the world's second biggest economy. Japan's ministry of finance has lost the Japanese name Okura-sho, literally ministry of great treasure, and become Zaimu-sho, plain ministry of finance. (In English, the ministry of finance title is being preserved though there was discussion about changing it to treasury.)

Although top MoF civil servants claim that the name change has no deep significance, the new name is symbolic of the rapid loss of power that the MoF has experienced. From being the pre-eminent power behind post-war Japan's rise from the ashes, the MoF has lost its policing authority over financial institutions and is even struggling to assert its control over the budget. Its downgrading raises an important question as to which institution or individual - if any at all - is in charge of Japan's economy.

Keiko Atsumi, founder of InfoPlus, a translation and conference agency with political and government connections, says the name change has a great significance.

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