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Kakuei Tanaka was born into a poverty-stricken family in Japan in 1918. At the young age of 15, Tanaka left school to begin working- starting first in construction and later moving into drafting and architecture. In 1939, Tanaka was drafted into the army, joining the Morioka Cavalry where he served as an enlisted clerk. He served two years here before contracting pneumonia/lung issues and being hospitalized. Upon returning home, he founded the Tanaka Civil Engineering Corporation and married Hana Sakamoto. In the next few years their son, Masaho, and daughter, Makiko were born. His son only lived to be five years old, but Makiko is still alive today and remains a prominent political figure in Japan.
Tanaka got involved with politics by making a considerable donation to The Japanese Modern Progressive Party. His first attempt at a Diet seat was unsuccessful, but by his second attempt he was able to earn a seat and become a part of the Democratic Party. He then joined the Democratic Liberal Party (now known as the Liberal Democratic Party). Shortly after this he was arrested and imprisoned on charges of receiving bribes over coal mining. In Tanaka’s first trial he was found guilty, but after filing for an appeal, he was finally found innocent. He resigned from his Vice Minstrel position but still kept his spot in the DLP. In 1955, the DLP became the Liberal Democratic Party and Tanaka bounced around from one cabinet seat to another, gaining political experience while also getting involved in more legal trouble, known as the Black Mist scandal. The Black Mist scandals occurred when Sato was Prime Minister and involved fraudulent sales of government land and the misuse of government funding for personal travel.
Despite these scandals, Tanaka was elected president of the LDP and Prime Minister of Japan in 1972. Throughout his time being Prime Minister, Tanaka remained extremely popular with the Japanese people. One of the achievements he is most known for is forming a good relationship with the People’s Republic of China. He met with the U.S., Indonesia, and many European countries in attempt to form good relationships with them as well. While he may have had success with foreign policy, his economic policies did not fare as well and his popularity drastically dropped when there was an oil crisis in 1973. Shortly after this, Tanaka was accused of more shady business and resigned from his Prime Minister position in 1974. After this, he was rearrested on bribery charges from the Lockheed scandal and was sentenced to four years in prison and a 1 million yen fine (though he avoided this by appealing). His political status continued to fall over the next two decades, but his daughter Makiko won support in 1993, the same year Kakuei Tanaka passed away.
Though Tanaka’s reign as Prime Minister only lasted two years, his political influence was a great one and his legacy continues to be substantial today. The term “personality cult” came to my mind when I read about how strong Tanaka’s followers’ support was. During Tanaka’s campaign, a group called Etsuzankai was formed with the sole purpose of supporting Tanaka financially. Etsuzankai also provides us with an example of patron-client relations. At one point in time, the group had almost 100,000 members. In exchange for the members’ money, Tanaka helped push government-funded projects into effect for the villages of the members. These included a high-speed railroad, a hydroelectric power project, and a tunnel being built. Etsuzankai disbanded only three years ago, in 2012. Tanaka’s faction stayed with the LDP for quite some time and continued his legacy. It is said that other politicians, such as Junichiro Koizumi and Ichiro Ozawa still use similar campaigning strategies started by Tanaka. With traces of Tanaka’s influence still being seen in Japan today, this could be attributed to the dynastic pattern of his daughter being in politics after his death.
Makiko Tanaka is currently a member of the Democratic Party of Japan. She previously served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Japan and left her position of Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology more recently in 2012. Her husband, Naoki Tanaka, changed his family name to her to carry on their legacy. He is also involved in Japanese politics, serving as the Minister of Defense in 2012. The couple has two children together- a son, Yuichiro, and a daughter, Manako. Though neither have any political ties at the moment, it is still possible that they could eventually become members of Japan’s Democratic Party and make the Tanaka dynasty a significant part of Japan’s history. Although, this may not be very likely to happen due to how much scandal is associated with the Tanaka name.
When comparing Asia’s politics to ours here in America, one big difference we see is that Asian politicians may have had a bad past, but still end up being influential figures in the government. In America, it would be completely unheard of to elect a President that had previously been tried in court on charges of bribery and fraudulent transactions. Americans don’t want someone of that nature ruling our country. But in Japan, this is not the case. Despite Tanaka’s bad business deals and multiple mishandlings of government money, he was still able to be elected as Prime Minster. I am not sure, however, how public the Lockheed scandal and the Black Mist scandal actually were throughout the country. But it is likely that the public would have had some knowledge of the ordeals.
All in all, after reading Tanaka: The Making of Post-War Japan by James Babb I learned a lot about how Japan’s political figures function. Kakuei Tanaka’s life was one that the Japanese people will always remember- from the personality cult centered around him to the patron client relations formed with his supporters. His legacy continues on with his daughter’s political role and the future roles of his grandchildren.
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