BBC reporter Chris Hogg has a great first person account of what it was actually like to interview PM Fukuda.
The reason, I am told, is that here the politicians do not actually matter. The country is run by the bureaucrats – the middle managers.
I was at first a little sceptical of this claim, until I went to the prime minister’s office to interview the previous incumbent, Yasuo Fukuda.
The problem with these kind of encounters is that Japanese civil servants are always terrified that their man might put a foot wrong. They try to leave nothing to chance.
For days before there are tortuous negotiations about what topics might or might not be discussed.When you arrive for the interview, there are more flurries and fuss from the small army of men in suits, who fill the room long before their boss makes an appearance.
On this occasion, they wanted Mr Fukuda to talk about the environment. But they were worried he might not follow the script in his interview with me, so they had written out what they wanted him to say and put it on a teleprompter just behind my left ear.
We pointed out politely that this might look a little unnatural, but they were having none of it.
The prime minister would make a statement before the interview began, they said, to make sure he got all the points in, whether I asked them or not.
“But we won’t use that,” I explained.
No matter, the great man was on his way.
‘Three, two, one, cue PM’
He came in, sat down, was perfectly pleasant, and even had a few words to say in English.
But there was no time for chat. An aide started gesturing from behind my head, and barked out: “Three, two, one, cue PM”.
The poor man started reading from the teleprompter. I had to keep a straight face so as not to put him off. So did he.
It was quite obvious to both of us that this was not going to be used, but he was doing what he was told.
By the time I was given the opportunity to ask my questions, I have to confess the latent, bolshy teenager inside me had emerged.
I noticed he had five pieces of paper with densely typed briefings on his lap, one for each question I was expected to ask.
I started asking them but in the wrong order.
That prompted much harrumphing and agitated shuffling of papers from the audience of advisers clustered around us, but the prime minister, to his credit, soldiered gamely on.
The poor man looked like a puppet though, and the fact that he was clearly an intelligent, talented politician made the whole experience feel that much more depressing.
Anyone know if the preparations for interviews with domestic press are similar?