Kakuei Tanaka was the most powerful politician in Japan for nearly two decades, and his followers have dominated Japanese politics for most of the country's recent history. Implicated in scandal from the beginning of his career, he was forced from office under a cloud of suspicion and later convicted of bribery, but Tanaka continued to control Japan from behind the scenes. Even after his power waned in the mid-1980s, most Japanese prime ministers continued to operate in the style which he had perfected and taught them.Tanaka was a self-made man with little education who used corruption and a sharp mind to advance in business and politics. He spent his time with geisha and in the teahouses buying loyalty and power. At the same time, his rough style made him an immensely popular figure with the public.
Tanaka's political abilities cannot be doubted, but modern Japan continues to confront his legacy: dynamism which helped to build the post-war economic miracle in Japan; massive spending on public works and public subsidies to assist disadvantaged rural areas which brought Tanaka votes; policies of expansion and a tolerance of corruption at the root of the serious difficulties the country now faces; political tactics based on opportunism, money politics and unstable coalitionsThis full-length account of the life and times of Tanaka explores the public profile and private power-broking of this controversial and powerful politician, opening up in the process the intimate political history of modern Japan.James Babb is Lecturer in Japanese Politics at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He has taught in universities in the United States and Japan, and writes a regular column 'Who's Who in Japanese Politics' in the magazine 'Insight Japan'.