secrecy {fragments}

~ musings on secrecy ~

Freedom of Information (FOI) in Japan

What has been characterized as secrecy* has run high during the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster, bringing into question the reliability of monitoring data and TEPCO’s management of the crisis.  Since March 11, radiation readings continue to be above background levels in many areas in eastern Japan surrounding the crippled plant. Uncertainty regarding the release of radionuclides and long term implications for both local and global human health and the environment seems to be one of the only certainties in the wake of the accident.

Freedom of information (FOI) laws in the U.S. and Japan are one remedy for citizens to learn of the ongoing disaster. There are a plethora of Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. § 552) resources for U.S. citizens on the Web, including links to resources here at bkofsecrets.  As an example of FOIA, early in the accident, a group of public interest groups submitted a request to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to understand the decision behind the evacuation of American citizens from Japan within a fifty mile radius of the reactor.

This short guide will hopefully encourage individuals – especially journalists, nongovernmental organizations, and concerned citizens who reside outside Japan – to submit freedom of information requests to Japanese ministries. In submitting requests on plant procedures, especially disaster plans and TEPCO’s consultation with various governments and nuclear agencies, a more complete picture of global impact of the disaster will take shape. Release of information might also contribute to continuing demand for data integration.

The Right to Know in Japan: FOI

The Act on Access to Information Held by Administrative Organs (Act No. 42 of 1999, .pdf), also cited as Law Concerning Access to Information Held by Administrative Organs, went into effect April, 2001. Similar to FOIA in the United States, the law includes exemptions to information disclosure.

Article 4 of the Act, the Procedure for Requesting Disclosure, outlines the procedure for submitting a FOI request. Note that it is recommended that requesters submit titles of administrative documents (see (2), in bold, below).  However, other portions of (2) indicate that a description of the information will suffice: “other particulars that will suffice to specify the administrative documents relevant to the disclosure request.”

More on submitting requests and associated procedure:

1. A request for disclosure as provided for by the preceding Article (Hereinafter referred to as a “disclosure request.”) shall be submitted to the head of an administrative organ as a document (Hereinafter referred to as a “disclosure application.”) in which are entered the following items.

(1) The requester’s full name or title, along with a permanent address or place of residence, as well as the full name of a representative in the case of a corporation or other group.

(2) The titles of administrative documents or other particulars that will suffice to specify the administrative documents relevant to the disclosure request.

2. When the head of an administrative organ concludes that there is a deficiency in the form of the disclosure application, he or she may, fixing a suitable period of time, ask the person making the disclosure request (Hereinafter referred to as “the requester.”) to revise the request. In this case, the head of the administrative organ shall endeavor to put at the requester’s disposal information that will be helpful in the revision.

Article 10 of the Act outlines the time limits imposed on Japanese ministries in to address requests:

(Due Date for Disclosure Decisions, Etc.)

Article 10

(1) The decisions set forth in each items of the preceding Article (Hereinafter referred to as “disclosure decisions, etc.”) shall be made within thirty days from the date of a disclosure request. However, in the case that an amendment is requested pursuant to the provision of Article 4, paragraph 2, the number of days required for the amendment shall not be included within this period of time.

(2) Notwithstanding the provision of the preceding paragraph, when there are justifiable grounds such as difficulties arising from the conduct of business, the head of an administrative organ may extend the period of time prescribed in the same paragraph for up to thirty days. In this case, the head of an administrative organ shall without delay notify the requester in writing of the extended period and the grounds for the extension.

Article 18 describes the appeals process.


List of Ministries & Contact Information Additional Bodies

Freedom of Information in Prefectures

Article 41 of Japan’s freedom of information law, “Information Disclosure by Local Public Entities,”indicates that prefectures have their own info disclosure laws:

In keeping with the spirit of this law, local public entities shall strive to formulate and implement measures necessary for the disclosure of the information that they hold.

I couldn’t locate direct details on how to file a request in Fukushima Prefecture. Perhaps contacting Information Clearinghouse Japan, an NGO that deals with transparency in Japan, might yield an answer on how to submit a request on the accident and local conditions.

Further Information

Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center(Japan), Fukushima Nuclear Earthquake Disaster. Retrieved from

Japan, History & background of Japan’s freedom of information law. Retrieved from

Information Clearinghouse Japan. (2010, January 4). Statement seeking realization of “open government,” letter to Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Retrieved from

Joho Kokai Shimin Center (Information Disclosure Citizens Center), has a wealth of information on how to use the Act (Repeta & Schultz, 2002). Although in Japanese, google translate can be used to piece together materials into English.

Legislation Japan, Lexadin, World Law Guide. Retrieved from

Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare. Information about the Great East Japan Earthquake. Retrieved from

Repeta, L.J. (2006). Business confidentiality versus human health: the role of Japan’s information disclosure laws. Open Government: A Journal on Freedom of Information, 2(1), 1-32. Retrieved from

Repeta, L.J. (2003, August). Government transparency: Japan’s information disclosure law of 2001. Freedom of Information Review, Issue 106, 56-60. Retrieved from

Repeta, L. &  Schultz, D. M. (2002, May 23). Japanese government information: New rules for access, the 2001 Information Disclosure Law, and a comparison with the U.S. FOIA. National Security Archive.

Sunaoshi, I.(2001). Legal regulation of the disclosure of information to employees or prospective employees in Japan. 22 Comp. Lab. L. & Pol’y J. 585.

Tokyo Electric Power Company.  Retrieved from



* Secrecy is defined by sociologist Georg Simmel as “consciously willed concealment” of information (see p. 11, The sociology of secrecy and of secret societies, American Journal of Sociology 11 (1906): 441-498). However, can the lack of information – especially during ongoing disasters – be totally attributed to secrecy? The chaos described in the early hours of the accident suggest not only a lack of concerted disaster planning, but it appears that training and modeling anticipated none of what workers might encounter if an accident occurred. See my post on Three Mile Island accident, and work on (bureaucratic) communication and information flow during disasters by scholars such as Bill Freudenburg, Charles Perrow, James R. Chiles, Sheila Jasanoff, Diane Vaughan, and Edward Wenk on tradeoffs.

** The Investigation Committee on the Accidents at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station of Tokyo Electric Power Company is charged with investigation of the accident. Prime Minister Naoto Kan heads the Committee. It isn’t clear if the Committee is located in the  TEPCO building or if  Japan’s freedom of information laws apply.

Thanks to Thomas M. Susman, Director, Governmental Affairs Office, American Bar Association for suggestions on sources.