Yasuhiro Nakasone (中曽根 康弘 Nakasone Yasuhiro, 27 May 1918 – 29 November 2019) was a Japanese politician who served as Prime Minister of Japan and President of the Liberal Democratic Party from 1982 to 1987. He was a member of the House of Representatives for more than 50 years. He was best known for pushing through the privatization of state-owned companies, and for helping to revitalize Japanese nationalism during and after his term as prime minister. He was the oldest living former state leader at the time of his death in 2019, aged 101.
Nakasone in 1982
|Prime Minister of Japan|
27 November 1982 – 6 November 1987
|Preceded by||Zenkō Suzuki|
|Succeeded by||Noboru Takeshita|
|Member of the House of Representatives|
26 April 1947 – 10 October 2004
|Constituency||Gunma 3rd district (1947–1996)|
Northern Kanto PR (1996–2004)
|Born||27 May 1918|
Takasaki, Gunma, Japan
|Died||29 November 2019 101) (aged|
|Political party||Liberal Democratic Party|
(m. 1945; died 2012)
|Alma mater||Tokyo Imperial University|
|Years of service||1941–1945|
|Rank||Lieutenant-commander (as Naval Paymaster)|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Nakasone was born in Takasaki in Gunma, a prefecture northwest of Tokyo, on 27 May 1918. He was the second son of Nakasone Matsugoro II, a lumber dealer, and Nakamura Yuku. He had five siblings: an elder brother named Kichitaro, an elder sister named Shoko, a younger brother named Ryosuke and another younger brother and younger sister who both died in childhood. The Nakasone family had been of the samurai class during the Edo period, and claimed direct descent from the Minamoto clan through the famous Minamoto no Yoshimitsu and through his son Minamoto no Yoshikiyo (d. 1149). According to family records, Tsunayoshi (k. 1417), a vassal of the Takeda clan and a tenth-generation descendant of Yoshikiyo, took the name of Nakasone Juro and was killed at the Battle of Sagamigawa. In about 1590, the samurai Nakasone Sōemon Mitsunaga settled in the town of Satomimura in Kōzuke Province. His descendants became silk merchants and pawnbrokers. Nakasone's father, originally born Nakasone Kanichi, settled in Takasaki in 1912 and established a timber business and lumberyard which had success as a result of the post-First World War building boom.
Nakasone described his early childhood and youth as a happy one, and himself as a "quiet, easy-going child" nicknamed "Yat-chan". He attended a local primary school in Takasaki and was a poor student until the fourth grade, after which he excelled and was at the top of his class. He entered Shizuoka High School in 1935, where he excelled in history and literature, and learned to speak fluent French. In the autumn of 1938, Nakasone entered Tokyo Imperial University. During World War II, he was a commissioned officer and paymaster in the Imperial Japanese Navy. He later wrote of his return to Tokyo in August 1945 after Japan's surrender: "I stood vacantly amid the ruins of Tokyo, after discarding my officer's short sword and removing the epaulettes of my uniform. As I looked around me, I swore to resurrect my homeland from the ashes of defeat".
In 1947, he gave up a promising career in an elite government ministry to run for Parliament with the belief that in its postwar remorse, Japan was in danger of discarding its traditional values. He campaigned on a nationalist platform, arguing for an enlarged Self-Defence Force, to amend Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution (which outlawed war as a means to settling international disputes), and to revive Japanese patriotism, especially in reverence for the Emperor. He entered the Diet of Japan as a member of the House of Representatives for the Democratic Party. "As a freshman lawmaker in 1951, he delivered a 28-page letter to General MacArthur criticising the occupation, a brazen move. The General angrily threw the letter in [the] bin, Yasuhiro was later told. This stand established [Yasuhiro Nakasone's] credentials as a right-wing politician." He gained brief notoriety in 1952 for blaming Emperor Hirohito for Japan's defeat in the war. In 1955, at Nakasone's urging, the government granted the equivalent of $14,000,000 to the Agency for Industrial Science and Technology to begin nuclear power research. Nakasone rose through the LDP's ranks, becoming Minister of Science in 1959 under the government of Nobusuke Kishi, then Minister of Transport in 1967, Director General of the Japan Defense Agency from 1970 to 1971, Minister of International Trade and Industry in 1972 and Minister of Administration in 1981.
As the head of the Self-Defence Force, Nakasone argued for an increase in defence spending from less than 1% GDP to 3% of GDP. He was also in favour of Japan having tactical nuclear weapons. He was labelled "the weathervane" in 1972 because he switched his support from Takeo Fukuda to Kakuei Tanaka in the leadership election, ensuring Tanaka's victory. In turn, Tanaka would give his powerful support to Nakasone against Fukuda a decade later in the fight for the premiership.
In 1982, Nakasone became prime minister. Along with Minister of Foreign Affairs Shintaro Abe, Nakasone improved Japanese relations with the USSR and the People's Republic of China. Nakasone was best known for his close relationship with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, popularly called the "Ron-Yasu" friendship. Nakasone sought a more equal relationship with the United States, and said: "President Reagan is the pitcher and I'm the catcher. When the pitcher gives the signs, I'll co-operate unsparingly, but if he doesn't sometimes follow the catcher's signs, the game can't be won". Nakasone said Japan would be "America's unsinkable aircraft carrier" in the Pacific and that Japan would "keep complete control of the four straits that go through to Japanese islands, to prevent the passage of Soviet submarines". He was attacked by political opponents as a reactionary and a "dangerous militarist". Nakasone responded by saying: "A nation must shed any sense of ignominy and move forward seeking glory". However his attempt to amend Article 9 failed.
In 1984, Nakasone visited China on the twelfth anniversary of Japan's diplomatic recognition of the People's Republic, for which the Chinese government arranged tours of China for 3,000 Japanese youths. On the trip, Nakasone's son was privately accompanied by the daughter of Hu Yaobang, the-then General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. After the event, Hu was criticised by other members of the Chinese Communist Party for the extravagance and warmth of the event. Nakasone also visited President Corazon Aquino in a series of talks between the Philippines and Japan during a special state visit from 1986–87, to provide good economic and trade relations.
In economic affairs, Nakasone's most notable policy was his privatisation initiative, which led to the breakup of Japan National Railways into the modern Japan Railways Group. This led to 80,000 redundancies, unheard of in Japan until that point. Nakasone wrote of his economic reforms:
I was carrying out a kind of "improvement" of Japan's structure. For 110 years, ever since the Meiji restoration, Japan had been striving to catch up with America and Britain. In the 1970s we did catch up. Beyond that point the [state's] regulations only stand in the way of the growth of the economy. If government officials have too much power, the private sector of the economy will not grow. We had to change the system.
For the first time in Japan's post-war history, bureaucrats lost their leading role. In 1985, Nakasone appointed the former Governor of the Bank of Japan, Haruo Maekawa, to head a commission on Japan's economic future. In 1986, the Commission recommended that Japan should grow not through exports (which were angering Japan's trading partners) but from within. Nakasone advised the Japanese public to purchase foreign imports; in a well-publicised shopping trip, he bought an American tennis racket, an Italian tie and a French shirt. He said: "Japan is like a mah-jong player who always wins. Sooner or later the other players will decide that they do not want to play with him". The Japanese public were skeptical but the Commission created a good impression abroad, especially in America, where the Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs W. Allen Wallis called it a watershed in Japan's post-war economic policy.
Nakasone also became known for having a nationalist attitude and for wanting to stimulate ethnic pride amongst the Japanese. He was an adherent to the nihonjinron theory that claims Japan is incomparably different from the rest of the world. Influenced by Japanese philosopher Tetsuro Watsuji, Nakasone believed that Japan's "monsoon culture" inspired a special Japanese compassion, unlike the desert culture of the Middle East that produced the Judeo-Christian "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth". In a speech in 1986, Nakasone said it was Japan's international mission to spread the monsoon culture abroad.
On 15 August 1985, the fortieth anniversary of Japan's surrender; Nakasone and his Cabinet visited the Yasukuni Shrine in full mourning dress. This had great symbolic significance as he visited the shrine in his official capacity and demonstrated that the Japanese government was reasserting its respect for the spirits of the ancestors killed in battle, including those who died in World War II. This was a controversial move and was criticised by the Chinese Communist Party newspaper, People's Daily. It was also attacked by opponents at home for violating the Constitution's separation of religion and state. Nakasone defended his actions by saying, "The true defence of Japan ... becomes possible only through the combination of liberty-loving peoples who are equal to each other ... The manner is desired to be based on self-determination of the race". He also said, "It is considered progressive to criticise pre-war Japan for its faults and defects, but I firmly oppose such a notion. A nation is still a nation whether it wins or loses a war".
Nakasone also sought educational reform, setting up a commission. Its report recommended that "a spirit of patriotism" should be inculcated in children, along with respect for elders and authority. This was not fully implemented and came under attack from the teachers' trade union. The commission also recommended that the national anthem should be taught and that the Rising Sun Flag should also be raised during entrance and graduation ceremonies. History textbooks were also reformed. In 1986, Nakasone dismissed his Education Minister, Masayuki Fujio, after he justified Japan's annexation of Korea in 1910.
Nakasone aroused controversy in September 1986 when he claimed that Americans were, on average, less intelligent than Japanese because: "the US has many immigrants, Puerto Ricans and Blacks, who bring the average level down". He then clarified his comments, stating that he meant to congratulate the U.S. on its economic success despite the presence of "problematic" minorities.
In 1987, he was forced to resign after he attempted to introduce a value added tax to reduce the burden of direct taxes in a policy designed to cut the budget deficit.
Later political life
Although he remained in the Diet for another decade and a half, his influence gradually waned. In 2003, despite a fight, Nakasone was not given a place on the LDP's electoral list as the party, by then led by Jun'ichirō Koizumi, introduced an age limit of 73 years for candidates in the proportional representation blocks, ending his career as a member of the Diet.
On 11 February 1945, Nakasone married Tsutako Nakasone (30 October 1921 – 7 November 2012). Nakasone's son, Hirofumi Nakasone, is also a member of the Diet; he has served as Minister of Education and as Minister of Foreign Affairs.
In 2010, "aware of his status as one of the few leaders revered across Japan's suddenly fractured political landscape" and the country's "most revered elder statesman", Nakasone launched a series of interviews to address the direction of prime minister Yukio Hatoyama's government. In a profile at that time, he saw Hatoyama's "inexperienced left-leaning" government as "challenging Japan's postwar political order and its close relationship with the United States". As well, the LDP was "crumbling into disarray" in the wake of Hatoyama's victory. In the profile, Nakasone described the moment "as a national opening on par with the wrenching social and political changes that followed defeat in the [world] war [and] praised the appearance of a strong second political party as a step toward true democracy". "Being knocked out of power is a good chance to study in the cram school of public opinion", he was quoted as saying of the LDP. He "faulted Mr. Hatoyama for giving Washington the impression that [Hatoyama] valued ties with China more than he did those with the United States. 'Because of the prime minister’s imprudent remarks, the current situation calls for Japan to make efforts to improve things,' he said. The [Japanese] relationship with the United States is different from that with China, he said, because 'it is built on a security alliance, and not just on the alliance, but on the shared values of liberal democracy, and on its shared ideals.'" And relative to another high-profile current source of friction between Japan and the United States, Nakasone said: "Problems like Okinawa [and the American military base there] can be solved by talking together."
Nakasone died in Tokyo on 29 November 2019, at the age of 101 years and 186 days. At the time of his death, he was the oldest living former Japanese prime minister as well as the oldest living former state leader in the world, following the death of Babiker Awadalla on 17 January 2019. Nakasone was the second oldest Prime Minister of Japan by age after Naruhiko Higashikuni, who lived to 102 years, 48 days.
Grand Officier of the Légion d'honneur Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum (29 April 1997)
- Golden Pheasant Award of the Scout Association of Japan (1986)
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