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Transferring from University to Kasumigaseki—My Work at an Investigatory Organization


Dr. iur. Toshiyuki Ishikawa
Full-time Member of the Japan Transport Safety Board
(former Professor in the Chuo Law School)

1. Introduction


After completing my undergraduate and graduate studies on the Surugadai Campus of Chuo University, I was hired as a Research Assistant in the Chuo University Faculty of Law in 1976. Afterwards, I worked on the Tama Campus as an Assistant Professor and Professor. In April 2004, I was transferred to the Ichigaya Campus, where I experienced a turbulent six years starting from the establishment of the Chuo Law School.

Offer to change careers

At that time, a strange coincidence led me to receive an offer to change careers and start working in Kasumigaseki. Although I was approaching 60 years of age, I still had 12 years left until the mandatory retirement age at Chuo University. This led me to agonize somewhat over the decision. However, after giving it a lot of thought, I ultimately decided to accept the offer.

Moving to Kasumigasaki

After receiving approval from the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors (both houses of the Diet) and negotiating with the Faculty Meeting, I left my position at Chuo University on March 14, 2010. I began my new career in Kasumigaseki on the following day. At the time, the Japanese government was led by the Cabinet of Yukio Hatoyama of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ; official homepage of the Office of the Prime Minister). A little more than eight years have passed since then.

Introduction of my workplace

I currently work at the Japan Transport Safety Board (JTSB). The JTSB is an administrative organ (defined in Article 3-(2) of the National Government Organization Act) and is separate from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT; our parent ministry); in other words, it is an external bureau or “subsidiary” (refer to the appended table 1 of the above link). Main duties of the JTSB are clarifying the causes of accidents, etc.(1) which occurred on land, sea, and air transportation, and proposing measures to prevent reoccurrence of those accidents (refer to the Act for Establishment of the Japan Transport Safety Board).

(1) Accidents, etc. include not only accidents but also quasi-accidents; in other words, “situations in which a single mistake would have resulted in an accident” (also known as “serious incidents”).

Trends in accidents, etc.

During the eight years since I assumed my post at the JTSB, the number of accidents, etc. in land, sea, and air transportation has decreased steadily. This is the result of diligent effort by officials involved in each mode of transportation. However, there is one area where the number of accidents has not declined—accidents related to pleasure.

2. Five characteristics of the JTSB

Background of establishment

The author poses in front of the JTSB office
In January 1974, the Aircraft Accident Investigation Committee (AAIC) was established as a permanent organization at the Ministry of Transport (a ministry existing at that time) in reaction to the mid-air collision between a Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) jet fighter and an aircraft operated by All Nippon Airways in the skies above Shizukuishi Town, the center of Iwate Prefecture. Next, a Railways Division was added to the AAIC in response to an accident involving the derailment of a TRTA Hibiya Line train (the accident occurred near Naka-meguro Station). This led to the establishment of the Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission (ARAIC) in October 2001.

Japan Transport Safety Board

Finally, the Japan Transport Safety Board (JTSB) was established on October 1, 2008 as the result of duties related to clarifying the causes of maritime accidents at the former Marine Accident Inquiry Agency (MAIA) being merged with the ARAIC. This means that October of this year will mark the 10th anniversary of the JTSB; however, when counting from its predecessor organizations, it actually has a history going back 45 years. I will discuss the five characteristics of the JTSB below.

First characteristic

Theoretically speaking, the JTSB is referred to as an (independent) administrative committee. Normal administrative organs use a bureau system in which a single official (Minister, etc.) makes decisions and expresses the intent of the Japanese government. In contrast, administrative committees use a collegial system in which multiple officials (members) engage in discussion from an expert standpoint and make decisions in a democratic manner. This is the first characteristic of JTSB. The JTSB has a total of 13 members—a full-time Chairman, seven full-time members, and five part-time members (there are currently nine male and four female members).

Second characteristic

The second characteristic of the JTSB is its independence from the Minister. Based on this position, the JTSB has the right to make recommendations to the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism on policies or measures to be taken to prevent accidents, etc., or to reduce damage if such accidents occur, when it finds it necessary at the completion of the investigation of an accident, etc. (Article 26 of the Act for Establishment of the Japan Transport Safety Board)

Third characteristic

The third characteristic is that, unlike other administrative organs, JTSB personnel include “accident investigators” who are specialists on aviation, railways, and maritime vessels (called the “three modes”). There are about 20 investigators for each mode, for a total of more than 60. This accounts for about half the number of employees (approx. 120) at the JTSB Secretariat in Tokyo (JTSB homepage)(2). None of these accident investigators are in their 20s and very few are in their 30s; the overwhelming majority are age 40 or older (in other words, they are mid-level to executive-level officials at the MLIT).

(2) In addition to the JTSB Secretariat, the JTSB has eight regional offices (from north to south: Hakodate, Sendai, Yokohama, Kobe, Hiroshima, Moji, Nagasaki, and Naha) which employ about 70 people. Of those 70 people, about 40 employees work as “regional accident investigators.”

Fourth characteristic

The fourth characteristic is that the JTSB can be called a workplace of engineers. This applies to board members (JTSB homepage) as well; in fact, I am the only one of the 13 members who comes from a humanities background. The accident investigators discussed above come from technical and engineering backgrounds. As a result, when I first transferred to the JTSB, I couldn’t understand specialized terminologies related to engineering in aviation, railways, and maritime vessels. It took me a good amount of time to adjust (refer to my discussion of “A mole that flies??” in section 3 of this article).

Fifth characteristic

The fifth characteristic of the JTSB is found in its duties. Specifically, administrative organs normally work with an eye on the future—that is, they protect and improve the lives of citizens. On the other hand, the JTSB conducts accident investigations by referring to accidents in the past (to clarify the true causes of accidents). Stated differently, responsibilities of the JTSB resemble those of jurisdiction, particularly criminal justice. This discussion ultimately leads to the question of how investigations by the JTSB differ from criminal investigations; however, I will not address that topic in this article.

Information on Table 1

Using the same standards to compare the three modes of transportation is extremely difficult. However, standards of some kind are essential in order to promote understanding. Therefore, in Table 1, I use various statistics in an attempt to compare the three modes. Please use this table for your reference.
Table 1: Comparison of the three modes
  Aviation Railways Maritime vessels
Legal basis Civil Aeronautics Act+Ordinance for Enforcement of the Civil Aeronautics Act (Ministerial Ordinance) Railway Business Act, Railway Operation Act (Sorry, no translations in English)+Ministerial Ordinance(3) Three Maritime Transportation Acts(4)+various maritime laws and regulations
Licenses, etc. Airmen Competence Certification (13 types) (Article 24 of the Act listed above) Railroad Engineer Certification (12 types) (Article 4 of the Ministerial Ordinance on Licensing of Railroad Engineers (Sorry, no translations in English)) Seamen’s competency certificate (4 categories; 19 types) + small craft operator certificate (3 types) (Article 5 and Article 23-(2) of the Act on Ships’ Officers and Boats’ Operators (Sorry, no translations in English))
Number of
Airline companies: 23(5)
Reference: Foreign airline companies flying in Japan = 105
Railway and tramway business operators: 216 (railway business operators: 206, tramway business operators: 40; includes overlap between railway and tramway)(6) Coastal shipping companies: 3,040(7)
Personal use Yes
(private planes, etc.)
(although there used to be a “Monkey Train” at Ueno Zoo)
(fishing boats, pleasure boats, etc.)
No. of
2,796 aircrafts (1,335 jet airplanes, 812 rotary-wing aircrafts, 648 gliders, 1 airship) 64,212 railway cars (1,034 locomotives (JR = 828, private railways = 206), 52,693 passenger cars (JR = 25,192, private railways = 27,501), 10,350 freight cars (JR = 9,881, private railways = 469), 135 special cars (JR = 83, private railways = 52)) Approx. 2,900 registered coastal vessels, 257,000 fishing boats, approx. 350,000 small crafts
volume (annual)
Passengers: 95.2 million (domestic) + 68.49 million (international) Passengers: 27,980 million (six JR companies = 17,240 million, private railways = 10,740 million) Transportation volume of coastal shipping: 3,930 million tons (freight vessels = 2,437 million tons, + tankers = 1,492.1 million tons)
Reference: Ratio of coastal shipping among domestic freight shipping: 43.4% (automobile 51.3%, railway 5.0%, aviation 0.2%)
Freight: 929,000 tons (domestic) + 3,263 thousand tons (international) Freight (JR freight): 19.61 million tons (container) + 10.22 million tons (carload)(8)
No. of
34,280 (JAL: 10,854; ANA: 11,826) 200,385 (JR companies: 116,924 + private railways: 83,461) Crew: 64,351 (maritime shipping: 29,827 (international voyages = 2,188; domestic voyages = 27,639) + fishing: 19,055 + other: 15,469)
I created the above table based on various statistical data; however, space prevents me from listing all of the sources here. Differences in the way in which standards are defined made incorporation of exact number into the table difficult, so “nearly equal” numbers are listed as reference. The Actual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Japan in 2014 was approximately 513.876 trillion yen. The GDP of transportation industries (air transportation, railway transportation, automobile transportation, maritime transportation, etc.) was approximately 24.319 trillion yen (4.7% of the total GDP). Also, the GDP of the marine products industry in the same year was 707.2 billion yen.
(3) The Ministerial Ordinance referred to here is the Technical Regulatory Standards on Japanese Railways (MLIT Ministerial Ordinance No. 151 of 2001) based on the Railway Operation Act.
“Three Maritime Transportation Acts” are a comprehensive term for the Act on Preventing Collision at Sea, the Maritime Traffic Safety Act, and the Act on Port Regulations.
(5) The number of Japanese airlines which currently operate regular routes.
(6) Stated simply, “rail-track” refers to the track used by streetcars/trolleys.
(7) Due to complicated formats such as ships sailing under the flag of convenience, it is not possible to list a numerical value of international shipping companies for comparison.
(8) Carload shipping is shipping performed by private rental of a tanker or other freight car as a single unit.

3. Life as a member of the JTSB

Atmosphere of the JTSB

Initially, the JTSB seemed to resemble a research institute or a law firm to me. I had this impression because our workplace had separate offices for each of the members. People often remark that my decision to change careers from a university to an administrative organ was quite bold; however, I don’t feel any substantial difference between the atmosphere of my former and current workplaces.

Theory and actual practice

Looking back, I had a vague desire in my younger days to someday acquire new experience by working in Kasumigaseki (my major at university was administrative law). In that respect, you could say that my current lifestyle is the realization of my past dream. Interestingly enough, the slogan of the Chuo Law School where I worked right before joining the JTSB was “bridging theory and practice.” Through my current work, I have actualized that slogan.

Three modes

The JTSB possesses a total of three subcommittees for each of the modes; specifically, the Aviation Subcommittee, the Railway Subcommittee, and the Maritime Subcommittee. Two full-time members are assigned to each subcommittee. However, the Chairman and I attend all three subcommittees. For that reason, I (as the member in charge of legislation) am known as a common member. This is because legislation is a common theme in all modes.

Reading reports

Although I have gotten totally used to it, I initially found it extremely difficult to simply read the reports drafted by the three subcommittees. Some of the reports are the same length and contents as a master’s thesis. It is my job to read those reports, provide advance written notification to the subcommittees if I have any related opinions, attend deliberations of the subcommittees, finalize reports while consulting with other members, and publish the reports.

Number of reports

Although the exact number varies depending on the subcommittee, I participate in screening and publishing an average of 20 accident reports in each mode every year(9). However, it takes several meetings to complete the screening of one report. Therefore, I read the same report drafts several times per case.

Screening and discussions at subcommittee

As I mentioned earlier, the screening at each subcommittee consists mainly of technical and engineering contents. Since I come from a humanities background, it makes the screenings difficult to follow—but it also gives me the joy of learning new things.

A mole that flies??

At one meeting of the Aviation Subcommittee, I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard someone mention a mogura that flies (mogura in Japanese means “mole”). It turns out that mogura is the Japanese abbreviation for mōtā guraidā (motor glider)! Also, at a meeting of the Railway Subcommittee, I read the characters 力行 as ka-gyō (thinking of the rows of the Japanese syllabary; i.e. a-gyō, ka-gyō, etc.), but I found out that the correct reading is actually rikikō(10). At a meeting of the Maritime Subcommittee, I read the kanji 船橋 as Funabashi (the name of a region in Chiba Prefecture), but the correct reading was actually senkyō, meaning “bridge.” It was quite embarrassing at first!

(9) For maritime vessels, in addition to the Maritime Subcommittee which handles serious accidents and incidents occurring in Tokyo, there is a Maritime Expert Subcommittee which handles incidents (regional accidents and incidents) that are processed by regional offices. The latter subcommittee publishes an average of 800 to 900 reports annually.
(10) Rikikō means “driving a train with the power turned on.” This is the opposite of dakō, which means “to coast-driving a train with the power turned off.”

4. Conclusion

It’s impossible to fully introduce the JTSB in a short article. If you have any further questions, please visit the JTSB homepage.

As an employee of an investigatory organization, I sincerely pray for peaceful days without accidents. In closing, I would like to thank everyone involved in giving me the opportunity to write this article.
Dr. iur. Toshiyuki Ishikawa

Dr. iur. Toshiyuki Ishikawa was born in Tokyo in 1951. In March 1974, he graduated from the Department of Law in the Faculty of Law, Chuo University. After completing the Master’s Program in the Chuo University Graduate School of Law, he assumed the position of Research Assistant in the Chuo University Faculty of Law in April 1976. He assumed the positions of Associate Professor (April 1980) and Professor (April 1987) in the same faculty and the position of Professor in the Chuo Law School (April 2004) before taking his current position from March 15, 2010. His main works written while at university include Introduction to Administrative Law (co-written, Yuhikaku Publishing), Profiles of Public Law Scholars in German-Speaking Countries (independently written and edited, Chuo University Press) and more. After starting his career as a government official, his main written works include “A Brief International Comparison of Investigations on Aviation Accidents, etc.” (published in Public Law Theory and Systematic Thinking, Shinzansha Publisher) and more. His written work aimed at university students includes “For New Students of Law” (published in the April 2013 edition of Legal Classroom, Yuhikaku Publishing), a transcript of dialogue with Professor Shuya Nomura (Chuo Law School). He earned his Dr. iur. in April 1991 (Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany).