Kakuei Tanaka

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Tanaka shook hands with his similarly-embattled contemporary, U.S. President Richard Nixon, during a Washington visit in July of 1973.

Kakuei Tanaka (田中 角栄 Tanaka Kakuei May 4, 1918December 16, 1993) was a Japanese politician and the 64th and 65th Prime Minister of Japan from July 7,1972 to December 22,1972 and from December 22, 1972 to December 9, 1974 respectively. He was also the most influential member of the ruling LDP until the mid-1980's, when he fell from power after a long series of scandals.


Early life

Tanaka was born into a rural family with seven children in Nishiyama, Niigata Prefecture. His father was involved with a distastrous venture to start Niigata's first dairy farm, and so the family scraped by in abject poverty. Kakuei left school after the equivalent of the eighth grade and went to work in the construction business, and soon moved to Tokyo.

In 1937, while running errands for a construction firm, Tanaka ran into an elevator occupied by the Viscount Okochi Masatoshi, head of the Riken corporation. Okochi, apparently impressed with Tanaka's energy and ambition, agreed to help the young man start a drafting office in Tokyo.

The drafting office only kept Tanaka busy for two years: he was drafted into the army in 1939 and sent to Manchuria, where he served as a clerk in the Morioka Cavalry. After two years in the military, he contracted pneumonia and was returned to Tokyo to recover; he never re-enlisted.

Tanaka went to the Sakamoto Civil Engineering firm, looking for office space to restart his drafting business. There, he met the late company president's widow, who not only gave him the real estate he needed, but also asked him to marry her daughter, Sakamoto Hana. Tanaka accepted, and married his way into the upper class.

Rise into politics

In 1942, Tanaka took over the Sakamoto company and renamed it Tanaka Civil Engineering and Construction Industries. He soon had two children: a son named Masanori Tanaka in 1942 (d. 1948), and a daughter named Makiko Tanaka in 1944.

Luck favored Tanaka during the endgame of World War II. None of his major buildings were damaged in the firebombing of Tokyo, and just weeks before the Japanese surrender, he travelled to Seoul and cashed in ¥15m (about US$78m) in Japanese war bonds. In December of 1945, as the first postwar Diet was being planned by the American occupation authorities, Tanaka was able to give generous donations to an associate affiliated with the Japan Moderate Progressive Party (Nihon Shinpoto).

In 1946, he moved from Tokyo to Niigata to prepare his first bid for a Diet seat: he worked around the election laws of the time by buying buildings throughout the district and placing large "TANAKA" signs on them. However, his bid unraveled at the last minute when three other JMPP candidates entered the race. Tanaka only captured 4 percent of the vote in the general election.

In 1947, however, he placed third in his district after a strategy targeting rural voters. He took his Diet seat that year as a member of the new Democratic Party (Minshuto). In the Diet, he became friends with former prime minister Shidehara Kijuro and joined Shidehara's Doshi Club. Then in 1948, the Doshi Club defected to the new Democratic Liberal Party, and Tanaka instantly won favor with the DLP's leader, Shigeru Yoshida. Yoshida appointed Tanaka as a Vice Minister of Justice, the youngest in the nation's history.

Then, on December 13, Tanaka was arrested and imprisoned on charges of accepting ¥1m (US$128,000) in bribes from coal mining interests in Kyushu. Yoshida and the DLP dropped most of their ties with Tanaka, removed him from his official party posts, and refused to fund his next re-election bid. Despite this, Tanaka announced his candidacy for the 1949 general election, and was released from prison in January after securing bail. He was re-elected, and made a deal with Chief Cabinet Secretary Eisaku Satō to resign his vice-ministerial post in exchange for continued membership in the DLP.

The Tokyo District Court found Tanaka guilty in 1950, and Tanaka responded by filing an appeal. In the meantime, he took over the failing Nagaoka Railway that linked Niigata to Tokyo, and through a combination of good management and good luck, brought it back into operation in 1951. In that year's election, he was re-elected to the Diet in a landslide victory, and many of the railroad's employees came out to campaign for him. That year's election was also the first in which he was supported by billionaire capitalist Kenji Osano, who would remain one of Tanaka's most loyal supporters to the end.


Tanaka's most important support base, however, was a group called Etsuzankai (越山会, lit. "Niigata Mountain Association"). Etsuzankai's function was to screen various petitions from villagers in rural parts of Niigata. Tanaka would answer these petitions with government-funded pork barrel projects. In turn, the local villagers all financially supported Etsuzankai, which, in turn, funded the re-election campaigns of local Diet members, including Tanaka. At its peak, Etsuzankai had 100,000 members.

The projects funded by Etsuzankai included the Tadami River hydroelectric power project, the New Shimizu Tunnel, and, perhaps most infamously, the Joetsu Shinkansen high speed rail line.

During the 1950's, Tanaka brought Etsuzankai members to his residence in Tokyo by bus, met with each of them individually, and then provided them with tours of the Diet and Imperial Palace. This practice made Etsuzankai the most tightly-knit political organization in Japanese history, and it also furthered Tanaka's increasingly gangster-like image.

Consolidation of power

Tanaka became a member of the Liberal Democratic Party in 1955, when it absorbed the DLP.

When Nobusuke Kishi became prime minister in 1957, Tanaka was given his first cabinet post, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. He already carried great influence in the LDP, despite his lack of seniority: this was partly because of his friendship with future prime minister Satō Eisaku, and partly because his stepdaughter had married future prime minister Hayato Ikeda's nephew, giving him a personal relationship with both key heads of the party.

Under Ikeda's cabinet, Tanaka became chairman of the Policy Affairs Research Council, and eventually Minister of Finance. When Satō became prime minister in 1965, Tanaka was slated to become the LDP's new secretary general, but the emergence of the Black Mist Scandal, where Tanaka was accused of shady land deals in Tokyo, meant that Takeo Fukuda got the job instead.

Fukuda and Tanaka soon became the two battling heir apparents of Satō's faction, and their rivalry was dubbed by the Japanese press as the "Kaku-Fuku War." Despite the scandal, Tanaka made a record showing in the 1967 general election, and Satō re-appointed him as secretary general, moving Fukuda to the post of finance minister. In 1971, Satō gave Tanaka another important stepping stone to taking over the government: minister of international trade and industry (MITI).

As head of MITI, Tanaka gained public support again by standing up to U.S. negotiators who wanted Japan to impose export caps on several products. He had so many contacts within the American diplomatic corps that he was said to have played a larger role in the repatriation of Okinawa than Satō himself.

Although Satō wanted Fukuda to become the next prime minister, Tanaka's popularity, along with support from the factions of Yasuhiro Nakasone and Masayoshi Ohira, gave him a 282-190 victory over Fukuda in the LDP's 1971 prime ministerial election. He entered the office with the highest popularity rating of any new premier in Japanese history.

Tanaka's foreign policy mirrored that of Richard Nixon, and his most notable achievement was the normalization of Japan's relations with the People's Republic of China. On the domestic front, he proposed an enormous infrastructure investment program that never got off the ground, primarily because it required more money than Japan had at the time.


In October of 1974, the popular Bungei Shunju magazine wrote a critical article of Tanaka's business practices, which inspired his LDP rivals to open a public inquiry in the Diet. (Among other things, Tanaka had purchased a geisha and used her name for a number of shady land deals in Tokyo during the mid-sixties.)

The Diet commission called Etsuzankai's treasurer, Aki Sato, as its first witness. Unbeknownst to the committee members, Sato and Tanaka had been involved in a romantic relationship for several years, and Tanaka took pity on Sato's troubled upbringing. Rather than let her take the stand, he announced his resignation on November 26, 1974.

The Tanaka faction supported Takeo Miki's "clean government" bid to become prime minister, and Tanaka once again became a rank-and-file Diet member.

Then, on February 6, 1976, the vice chairman of the Lockheed Corporation told a United States Senate subcommittee that Tanaka had accepted $1.8 million in bribes during his term as prime minister, in return for having Japan's parastatal airlines purchase Lockheed L-1011 aircraft. Although Henry Kissinger tried to stop the details from making their way to the Japanese government, fearing that it would harm the two countries' security relationship, Miki pushed a bill through the Diet that requested information from the Senate. On July 27, Tanaka was arrested: he was released in August on a ¥200m (US$2.46m) bond.

In retaliation for Miki's actions, Tanaka persuaded his faction to vote for Fukuda in the 1976 "Lockheed Election." The two old rivals did not cooperate for long, however: in 1978, Tanaka threw his faction behind Ohira's. After Ohira died in 1980, the Tanaka faction elected Zenko Suzuki. Suzuki hated his position so much that he resigned in 1982: Tanaka responded by re-electing him.

The Lockheed trial ended on October 12, 1983. Tanaka was found guilty and sentenced to 4 years in jail. Rather than cave in, he filed an appeal and announced that he would not leave the Diet as long as his constituents supported him. This sparked a month-long war in the Diet over whether or not to censure Tanaka; eventually, Prime Minister Nakasone, himself elected by Tanaka's faction, dissolved the Diet and called for a new election.

In the "Second Lockheed Election," Tanaka retained his Diet seat by an unprecedented margin, winning more votes than any other candidate in the country. Nakasone placed six members of the Tanaka faction on his 1984 cabinet, including future prime minister Noboru Takeshita.

Fall from power

Early in 1985, Tanaka finally lost his power. Takeshita formed a "study group" called Soseikai, and this group quickly won over 83 of the faction's 120 Diet members. The split in Tanaka's faction aggravated his existing problems with alcoholism and hypertension, and he suffered a stroke just three weeks after Takeshita's departure. His daughter Makiko spirited him from the hospital after authorities refused to give the former prime minister an entire floor, and the Diet session halted entirely while details of Tanaka's condition leaked out to the press.

Tanaka remained in convalescence through the election of 1986, where he retained his Diet seat. On New Year's Day of 1987, he made his first public appearance since the stroke, and was clearly in poor condition: half of his face was paralyzed, and he was grossly overweight. In that year's election, virtually all of his faction members joined behind Takeshita, and Etsuzankai lost five of its twenty seats in Niigata.

The Tokyo High Court dismissed Tanaka's appeal on July 29th, and the original sentence passed down in 1983 was reinstated. Tanaka immediately posted bail and appealed to the Supreme Court.

While his appeal lingered in the Court's docket, Tanaka grew older and increasingly more ill. He resigned from the Diet in 1989, was diagnosed with diabetes, and finally died of pneumonia at Keio University Hospital on December 16, 1993.

Makiko Tanaka, who was not associated with Etsuzankai, was elected to her father's old seat in Niigata in 1991, and became foreign minister in the cabinet of Junichiro Koizumi in 2001.

Tanaka's LDP faction has survived beyond Tanaka's death. Its support base, which flocked to Takeshita in the late 1980's, coalesced during Tanaka's convalescence. After Takeshita was sidelined by the Recruit scandal, the Tanaka faction rallied behind Ryutaro Hashimoto, who continues to lead the Tanaka faction (now called the Hashimoto faction) in the Diet.

External links

Preceded by:
Eisaku Satō
Prime Minister of Japan
Succeeded by:
Takeo Miki
fr:Tanaka Kakuei

ko:다나카 가쿠에이 ja:田中角栄 zh:田中角荣


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