My first day in Japan found me at the headquarters of the National Police Agency (NPA) in the heart of Tokyo’s government district around Kasumegaseki station. Though not formally designated as such, the NPA is really the lead government agency countering terrorism in Japan. The NPA serves as the headquarters element of Japan’s police, performing important administrative, training, and support functions, including intelligence collection and analysis.

Meanwhile, Japan’s prefectural police (led by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, akin to New York’s finest) span the breadth of the country and are the operational arm. From a policy perspective, my discussions with NPA officials demonstrated a clear understanding of terrorism and its potential threat to Japan (to review the threat, see Part I).

Unlike America’s federalized police, Japan’s national police force is overseen by the National Public Safety Commission, a five-member oversight body appointed by the Prime Minister. Regional bureaus, which serve supervisory roles over prefectural police, add another layer of bureaucracy to Japan’s police system, which is based on the post-World War II Police Act and its subsequent amendments. While I learned a great deal from my visit to the NPA, I was also becoming cognizant of the larger system of counterterrorism in Japan.

Japan’s constitution is what really provides the legal framework (some say, constraints) within which the police conduct counterterrorism. Many may be familiar with the creation of the so-called “peace” constitution. In the aftermath of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur led American occupation forces, civilian and military, for several years helping to shape Japan’s political system, its constitution in particular. Article 9 of the constitution forswears the use of military force and prohibits Japan from maintaining a standing, offensive military. This legal abandonment of what is arguably the fundamental sovereign right of any nation-state has ramifications for counterterrorism: It imposes artificial restrictions on the use of force which has negative consequences on the country’s overall security capabilities, including counterterrorism.

The government takes these democratic values seriously, as is seen in the activities of its legislative and executive organs, the Diet and Cabinet Secretariat. Both play roles in shaping and influencing counterterrorism policy; however, it is the Japanese bureaucracy that does the heavy lifting. While Japan’s police may be considered the central organization countering terrorism in Japan, it is by no means the only one. Just as “homeland security” spans across the behemoth U.S. government, counterterrorism in Japan cuts across powerful bureaucratic lines.

Ostensibly coordinated by the Prime Minister through the Cabinet Secretariat, organs conducting counterterrorism in Japan include: the Ministry of Justice, which includes the Public Security Intelligence Agency (PSIA); the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA); the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, which includes the Japan Coast Guard; the Ministry of Defense (MOD); the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare; the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry; Ministry of Finance; the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology; and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. And, as a foreigner (gaijin) I undoubtedly omitted some agency or ministry that does something related to counterterrorism.

Nevertheless, with this list, one gets a genuine sense of the bureaucratic politics and challenges facing the Japanese government, which are real and perhaps even more daunting in qualitative terms than in the United States. (Certainly, the size of the Japanese government is minuscule vis-a-vis the U.S. government, but size is only one measure of bureaucratic politics.) Japan’s bureaucratic politics may be explained, in part, by the rigid cultural views of the individual, groups, and hierarchies within Japanese society, all of which are antithetical to American views.

In Japan, individual achievement is suppressed for the benefit of the whole. While groupthink may not always be present, it is clear that within the Japanese government (as well as Japanese businesses), the group is valued over the individual. In the Japanese bureaucracy, moreover, is the characteristic of tatewari gyosei, or vertically segmented administration – in other words, stove-piping.

An excellent example of Japanese stove-piping with dangerous counterterrorism ramifications is occurring within Japan’s intelligence community. While the U.S. intelligence community comprises approximately sixteen members, Japan’s has five: the Cabinet Intelligence Research Office (CIRO), which is intended to act as the coordinating and integrating body; the PSIA and its apparatus embedded in various ministries; the MOD’s Defense Intelligence Headquarters; the NPA’s Public Security Department; and MOFA’s Intelligence and Analysis Service.

While the specific shortcomings of the Japanese intelligence community and the current debate over reform need not be recounted here, in my firsthand discussions with government officials and experts, the lack of information sharing was identified as a severe and on-going challenge, especially the struggle between the NPA and the PSIA. The NPA has the clear upper hand, due to its position as head of the interagency-staffed CIRO and the relative size of the organization, which dwarfs the PSIA by an order of magnitude. Regardless, such stove-piping poses a threat to national security, as we learned here in America.

Japan’s system of countering terrorism, thus, is rooted in its own culture and history, which never seems far away. Like all liberal democratic nation-states, the rule of law plays a central role in countering terrorism in Japan, and its political organizations are based on the unique characteristics of its society. The extent to which socio-cultural nuances sets Japan apart in terms of counterterrorism remains to be researched in depth. Nevertheless, it is clear that fellow liberal democracies such as Japan face counterterrorism challenges like ours.

Whether across the Pacific or the Atlantic we all face internal bureaucratic struggles in the development of robust, effective counterterrorism systems based on the rule of law. In the final analysis, real progress in counterterrorism reform – whether in Japan or the United States – will be slow and difficult to accomplish, and largely immeasurable. Therefore, things may not be as bad as they seem in Japan or here in America, nor may they be as good.