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Number 1 Shimbun

Politician Extraordinaire

No1-2018-09 03

 

Then Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka spoke at a professional luncheon at the FCCJ on October 22, 1974. Known as the “Shadow Shogun” for his influence in money politics, Tanaka was introduced by 1st Vice-president Bela Elias (Hungarian News Agency), with 2nd Vice-president Gebhard Hielscher (Suddeuttsche Zeitung) looking on. Elias was filling in for FCCJ president Max Desfor (AP), who was out of the country. The Tanaka luncheon turned out to be one of the Club’s more historic events. It started with a controversial introduction by Elias (some called it sarcastic and insulting) and then centered on questions regarding an article in the Japanese weekly Bungei Shunju implying shady origins of Tanaka’s wealth. Tanaka cut short the event by walking out, which led the major Japanese media to delve deeper into the story’s allegations. Tanaka’s resignation followed just over a month later, on November 26th.

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Kakuei Tanaka, born on May 4, 1918 into a poor farming family in Niigata prefecture, dropped out of school at age 15 to become a construction worker. Though his climb in the construction business was briefly interrupted by a stint in the army, by 1942 he was heading a successful engineering and construction company.

Tanaka was elected to the Diet in 1947. He established good relationships with major politicians, leading to a post in 1948 as a Vice-minister of Justice, but an arrest and imprisonment on bribery charges soon followed. Out on bail, he again won a Diet seat in 1949. Although he was found guilty in 1950, he appealed and continued pushing projects benefitting local communities, with an emphasis on construction. After becoming a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 1955, his skill at political deal making helped him consolidate his political power while serving as head of several key ministries, including Finance (MOF) and International Trade and Industry (MITI). He became Japan’s 40th prime minister on July 7, 1972.

Soon after assuming office, Tanaka succeeded in normalizing relations with the Peoples Republic of China, including the Chinese renunciation of war reparation claims

He traveled extensively over the following two years, visiting a dozen countries around the world, including the U.S. – where he met with then president Nixon. Domestically, Tanaka did not neglect the construction industry, launching major infrastructure projects such as expressways and shinkansen lines.

His resignation was prompted by the media furor after the FCCJ appearance, but his popularity with his district’s voters allowed him to retain his Diet seat. Even the bombshell Lockheed bribery case that later led to his arrest, trial, and conviction in 1983 by a lower court failed to dislodge him. A stroke and declining health resulted in his resignation from the Diet in 1989. Not one to give up, Tanaka’s appeal to the Supreme Court of his Lockheed conviction was still proceeding when he passed away in 1993.

Charles Pomeroy is editor of Foreign Correspondents in Japan, a history of the club that is available at the front desk.

 


Note: Eiichiro Tokumoto will speak at the Club on his new Japanese-language book, Tanaka Kakuei no Higeki: Beikoku-Gaiko-Kimitsu- Bunsho ga Akasu Shikkyaku-no-Shinso (“The Tragedy of Kakuei Tanaka: The True Story of a Prime Minister’s Downfall as Revealed by Secret U.S. Documents”). The Book Break, which will be in English, will be held on September 19, 2018

 

 

Published in: September 2018

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