It has often been said that Japan’s robust bureaucratic system has served as a pillar of stability as the nation has navigated through challenges, making up for perceived deficiencies in its political leadership. Nevertheless, emerging signs suggest that the old truism may be out of date.

The number of applicants for public service positions has dropped, while that of public servants leaving for the private sector has increased. With little hope for prompt improvement in the quality of many politicians, a potential faltering of the competence and dedication of bureaucrats is particularly worrisome.

Data from the National Personnel Authority show that the number of applicants for career-track positions at central government ministries and agencies, which serve as a pipeline for future top bureaucrats, hit a record low in the spring employment examination for fiscal 2024, which started this month. Additionally, since fiscal 2018, the number of public servants who quit after less than 10 years has consistently exceeded 100 per year.