Foreign Student (hereinafter FS): It is said that former Prime Minister TANAKA Kakuei has had a great influence on contemporary Japanese politics and development. What kind of person was he? Teacher (hereinafter T): Good at math and with an ability to get things done, when he became Japan’s youngest ever Prime Minister in 1972, he was dubbed the “bulldozer with an inbuilt computer.” T: Born in snowy Niigata Prefecture, Kakuei was concerned that adults had to go to big cities to find work, so he considered ways to bridge the economic gap between rural areas and cities by doing things like giving out incentives to factories. Then he launched his “Plan for Remodeling the Japanese Archipelago” by building a network of highways and shinkansen railroads all over Japan. About three months after being sworn in as prime minister, he visited China, where diplomatic ties had broken down since the end of World War Two, and put into practice a plan to normalize relations between Japan and China. FS: However, although he was praised for his foresight, I’ve heard he came under fire for the way he handled financial affairs. T: Criticism of him grew fierce because of huge campaign donations from enterprises which stood to gain from the remodeling of Japan’s infrastructure and because of the massive profits made by construction businesses owned by his relations. Because of controversy surrounding the remodeling of Japan’s infrastructure, the price of land soared and this combined with the oil crisis meant that the cost of living went up and his support ratings rapidly dropped. Kakuei resigned as prime minister, but was later arrested under the suspicion that he had received 500 million yen for his involvement in the sale of aircraft made by the American company Lockheed to All Nippon Airways. FS: Does this mean he was a politician who did good things, as well as bad things? T: That’s right, but it is from this point on that people began to consider him to be a great man. After protesting his innocence, he was released from jail on bail and set out to recover from this setback. In the following election he was chosen for a senior position. Because he headed up the most influential faction of the Liberal Democratic Party, he became a king maker, and was known as the shadow shogun. Although Kakuei was said to be a politician who believed that “politics is numbers, numbers is power, power is money,” he was also a politician who fully understood the mindset of the people. He stood for the common people by capturing their hearts with his humorous straightforward style of speech. FS: What was it in particular that fascinated people? His academic career was over after he graduated from elementary school. When he was sworn in as the Minister of the Finance, he memorized the names of all the civil servants in the ministry. And he gave them a rousing speech saying, “Unlike me, you are well educated people. Feel free to shape policies as you please, I’ll take the blame.” He distributed political donations to politicians when he needed a favor from someone. Gauging the mentality of the recipient he acted as if it wasn’t a bribe, but a request for help. He was generous with his opponents. The former Tokyo Metropolitan Governor and writer ISHIHARA Shintaro, who heavily criticized his misappropriation of political funds, later wrote a book which portrayed TANAKA Kakuei as a genius politician. Kakuei died during a court of appeal for the Lockheed trial. You might say that as a politician he constructed the model for contemporary Japan by perceiving the fact that people are motivated by money and by gaining political power with money.
Explore Japanese culture with Hiragana TimesSubscribe