Chapter 2: YOMEI
"To raise one's name"
Imprisoned by pride, and a lack of both money and skill, Kakuei suddenly found himself reduced to a plankton, paddling for life in Tokyo's ocean of faces. No time for recrimination, he scrambled for support, quickly securing a live-in apprenticeship at a small branch office of Inoue Kogyo Construction. A paltry five yen ($70) a month, working 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., six days a week, was the best he could manage. Determined, Kakuei devoted two-thirds of his income to a night course in drafting at Chuo Kogakko Engineering School. It was a torturous year that ended in his dismissal from work after a quarrel with his boss.
Now experienced in the harsh ways of Tokyo, Kakuei secured brief employment with an insurance magazine, followed by a short stay with Takasago Trading Company in 1935, all the while continuing his studies in drafting.
The new year proved lucky for Kakuei's father, who came to his son's
rescue with financial help. The money from home freed Kakuei's days for
study. He took up courses at three additional schools: Kensu Gakkan, Kinjo
Commercial and Seisoku English. He also worked part-time at night doing
tracing work for a friend. He made a serious attempt to gain acceptance
into a naval academy, but it ended in failure. However, he did graduate
from Chuo Kogakko Engineering night school in 1936 and at age eighteen
he secured a comfortable drafting and accounting position at Nakamura
Unknowingly, Kakuei would now be a witness to history. On February 26, 1936, downtown Tokyo was suddenly besieged by 1,400 soldiers of the First Division (and part of the Imperial Guard Division), led by about twenty young officers. They occupied key government ministries and demanded that General Kazushige Ugaki and several others be placed under arrest, while General Sadao Araki be appointed head of the Kwantung Army. The Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, the Minister of Finance and the Inspector General of Military Education were gunned down. The Grand Chamberlain was seriously injured and Prime Minister Okada had narrowly escaped the attack because the conspirators mistakenly killed his brother-in-law instead of him. The outrage actually provoked an imperial response. Emperor Hirohito, in a rare execution of power, ordered that the mutineers be subdued. The majority of the armed forces responded to the call and the incident ended in three days; 123 conspirators were quickly arrested and nineteen of them were executed in July.
Everyone knew that there was political tension between the military and
the civilian power brokers the groups were clearly divided on the issues
of China policy, economic reform and international disarmament. This incident,
however, was the outgrowth of an internal rift within the military itself.
Ugaki's group came to be known as the Tosei-ha (The Control Faction). Its principle leaders were Tetsuzan Nagata and Hideki Tojo. Like everyone in the military, they believed that they should run the government. Their views were extreme right, but holistic, in that every sector of society was viewed as a contributor to their order. The Tosei-ha permeated the Ministry of War.
Opposite the Tosei-ha was General Sadao Araki, an extreme jingoist who wanted to turn the clock back to early Tokugawa. His group was known as the Kodo-ha (Imperial Way Faction). He favored a military composed of rapid strike forces filled with the ancient Yamato spirit (Samurai spirit). His group believed that Japan had a heavenly mission to unite the "Asian race" and lead it to glory. They saw their path to power through the tactics of assassination.
Buzzing around both these groups were scores of ultra-nationalist societies, civilian and military. Again it must be remembered that the military as a whole enjoyed tremendous popular support. They were the flag bearers in what was labeled the Showa Restoration, a supposed replay of Meiji. Only now, the ambition was not to catch up, but to lead.
The first major clash between the Tosei-ha and the Kodo-ha came in late 1931. Araki was made Minister of War and began to purge the Ministry of Ugaki followers. He wasn't clever enough. In 1934, he was purged by Tetsuzan Nagata. The following year, a Kodo-ha officer burst into Nagata's office and shot him.
As a backlash to the killing, Kodo-ha members were driven out of office. On February 25, they responded to the massive purge by attempting to rebel. No one rallied to their cause. General Araki, though not officially a part of the rebellion, was forcefully retired. To prevent any form of comeback, a law was passed that allowed only active generals and admirals to serve in the Ministries of War and Navy.
The Kodo-ha permitted the Tosei-ha to play the role of moderate in the political arena. After the foiled coup, the Tosei-ha were able to galvanize the armed forces behind them. They were not a moderate group, however, and they quickly used their new-found power to quietly seize control of the government.
The effect was immediate. Meaningful cooperation with Western powers ended and a full-scale war with China began. Ostensibly precipitated by a minor clash on the Marco Polo Bridge, on July 7, 1937, an all-out blitzkrieg was launched. Unlike in 1931, the scope of conquest vastly exceeded the borders of southern Manchuria. The generals assured that the imperial court victory would be achieved within a month. Given the swift conquest of strategic points, it would have been a reasonable boast, had China been the land of Yamagata's time. Those days were over. The Nationalist Party had joined forces with Mao Tse-tung's Communist Party. Yamagata's Tosei-ha heirs unknowingly had walked into a new epoch of warfare that of the peoples' war. The capture of buildings and railways meant nothing. The only path to victory was mass extermination. Tokyo was not above that, but it was unworkable from the start. Field commanders quickly learned that they were in a protracted quagmire. Conquest without victory had but one value: it roused public support within Japan. The national mood became intensely patriotic and purposeful, supported by a suddenly over-stimulated economy. Materially and spiritually, it was the best of times. For Kakuei Tanaka, it was even more than that.
The year of 1937 marked the beginning of an incredible string of luck
for Kakuei. Purely by chance, Nakamura Architecture was subcontracted
to the Riken group. Kakuei, a novice at Nakamura, was often sent to the
headquarters of Riken for delivery and pickup. One day, while on just
such a mission, he rushed through a crowd of waiting employees in the
lobby of Riken in an effort to catch a strangely empty elevator. It was
empty because the Viscount Okochi was on it. Kakuei's impertinence was
indeed embarrassing. A few days later he found himself in an identical
situation. However, this time he demonstrated some circumspection and
waited outside with the others. The Viscount, remembering the youth, inquired
as to why he was being so slow to get on the elevator. Kakuei, always
opportunistic, took his cue and joined the Viscount. From there, he secured
a chance for a meeting in the Viscount's office later that day. He quickly
related to the Viscount the tale of his pilgrimage to Tokyo. Responsive
to Kakuei's ambitious nature, Okochi decided to give the lad a chance
to prove himself capable of higher station and promised to grant one wish.
Kakuei was able to make a comfortable living, drawing about 500 yen ($5,000) a month until the spring of 1939 when he was drafted into the army and shipped to Manchuria.
Obviously, being drafted into the Japanese Army could hardly be viewed
as lucky. Being posted with the First Troop, in the Twenty-fourth Regiment,
Third Brigade of the Morioka Cavalry and then sent to Manchuria, was
even less so. But Kakuei was billeted as a clerk, and that was lucky.
His time of service, 1939-1940, was also fortuitous. After this period,
it all turned sour for the military; 1941 to 1945 was absolutely the wrong
moment in history to be a Japanese soldier. Nonetheless, the time Kakuei
did serve was enough to erase any romantic notions of military life. Before
joining the army, he was just starting to be somebody. He entered the
Pan-Asian crusade with a strong sense of self-esteem a character trait
incompatible with the dictums of military management in a war zone.
Kakuei was routinely beaten by his superiors for impertinence. Barracks life that first year was sheer misery, even though he was in the winning army. But from his clerk's desk he could maintain a delusionary edge in a bizarre culture of cruelty. His was a bleacher seat in a Manchurian theater of atrocity. The war trauma was enough to put a cynical lean on his enthusiasm for military glory and maybe on his beliefs about the nature of his fellow man as well. Still, he was only twenty years old. It was his first trip to a foreign country and he was surrounded by death, plunder and starvation for the first time in his life.
He salvaged his own pride in the spring of 1940. His camp commander was severely reprimanded for giving regimental headquarters a sloppy draft of a training schedule for second-year soldiers. By custom, such documents required a perfect style of penmanship. The commander was given two days to resubmit a blueprint. Kakuei had previously drawn up a plan for a camp stable and he was remembered for that. His superiors reworked their schedule and then gave Kakuei one night to make a formalized copy of it. With the very officers who had been so cruel to him watching from behind, he successfully completed the task. From that point on he was accorded a measure of respect and dignity.
In the autumn of 1940, Kakuei contracted croupous pneumonia and dry pleurisy. After a month in Manchurian field hospitals, he was given a ticket home. He was first sent to a Red Cross hospital in Osaka and later transferred to a military installation in Sendai. From there he was discharged back into civilian life for complete recovery. By this time, the life of a draftsman looked very promising to him. With his health restored, his definition of patriotic duty no longer included military service. He was out and intended to keep it that way, regardless of the ever-increasing need for young men. It is doubtful that such a sequence of events could have occurred in 1941. A twenty-three-year-old, semi-healthy male would not have been discharged so easily.
During Kakuei's time in the army, family tragedy struck. While he was in Manchuria, his younger sister, Yukie, died. While he was recovering in Sendai, a second younger sister, Toshie, also died. Upon his release from the army, Kakuei returned home for three days before renewing his career in Tokyo.
Wishing to reestablish his drafting business, Kakuei went in search of office space. This seemingly innocuous pursuit brought him to the offices of Sakamoto Civil Engineering and Construction, a firm closely engaged in large contracts for the Department of the Interior one of the most prestigious in Tokyo.
Company President, Kihei Sakamoto, had just passed away. Though
the office door was still open, for all practical purposes the company
was no longer conducting business. While there, Kakuei met Sakamoto's
widow. She was most taken by the young man. Not only did she help him
secure a lease on office space, but she also introduced him to some of
her deceased husband's business clients.
The widow Sakamoto was desperate to correct this repugnant situation by finding a new husband for Hana. Locating a suitor for a "used woman" in 1941 Japan was no small undertaking and the widow was swift in enlisting Kakuei as an aid to search for recommendations.
At this time in Japan, marriage was a contrived affair. The system, known as omiai, was undertaken for reasons of family politics rather than love. Male fidelity was not requisite in such a marriage.
Pondering the situation, Kakuei realized that he had discovered El Dorado. By tradition, with Kihei Sakamoto dead, the entire corporate empire and the loyalty of all family members would fall to whomever married Hana. While she was much less than he could have hoped for, the Sakamoto industry was not. Even though Hana was eight years his senior, Kakuei magnanimously offered himself in sacrifice to the widow. For reasons outside present literature, she accepted.
Whether Hana was thrilled with the arrangement is a mystery, but she was willing to make a deal. She agreed to take Kakuei into high society by making him an instant millionaire, if he would honor three conditions: never beat her, never divorce her and allow her to tag along if he were ever invited to meet the Emperor. Tanaka would make good on all three promises to Hana. Without hesitation, Kakuei agreed, escaping the lower class in one fell swoop. More importantly, he escaped a complex and unique Japanese system of social dispensations or giri (indebtedness).
This phenomenon (as outlined in the Tokugawa era in Chapter One), makes
class mobilization almost impossible. Favors given must be returned in
kind with an added interest of loyalty. Kakuei's new-found wealth put
him in the position, at age twenty-four, of being able to give favors,
instead of receive them. Such a position, in wartime Japan, was an awesome
social weapon. Personally, he was in debt to only two men Viscount
Okochi Tanaka repaid his giri in 1958 by joining a memorial
Just how long that life would be was an open question in 1942. Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor three months prior to Kakuei's marriage on March 3, 1942, but the public illusion of an ever-expanding rising sun was shattered on May 18, when Colonel James H. Doolittle dropped America's first incendiary bombs on Tokyo. The Doolittle raid was only a confirmation of what many must have suspected when the 1941 Basic Necessities Control Ordinance was promulgated. The Tosei-ha had built an empire on egg shells. With each passing month, the list of rationed items grew in number.
Animosity between Japan and the United States had been festering for decades over imperial interests in China. Their common bond of anti-communism simply was not enough to sustain the relationship after 1937. To the Japanese mind, they would never be accepted fully nor accorded their proper station within the club of white colonial powers, who had no business in Asia to begin with. By the mid-thirties, Japan believed that its strategic proximity, racial superiority, level of armaments and ability to mobilize its population were sufficient deterrents to Caucasian influence on its side of the world.
With war in Europe eminent, Japan saw its best chance for achieving what it liked to call The Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere through alliance with Germany a colonial power with only marginal holdings in Asia. War would make French, Dutch and British holdings "easy pickings." Like Germany, Japan badly miscalculated American strength. Once Germany invaded Poland and all-out war began, Japan quickly moved into southern China, then Indo-China. The United States responded by abrogating its commercial treaty with Japan and thereby paving the way for a series of embargoes. In 1940, Japan was 80 percent dependent on the United States for its oil. That flow was cut off by a coordinated Dutch, British and United States embargo. The United States followed by extending its lend-lease program to the Soviet Union and nationalist forces in China. To complete the encirclement, a joint command of the Southwest Pacific and South Asian region was created.
In 1941, Japan faced two choices it could pull out of China or watch
its industrialized society grind to a halt. Bolstered by German success
in Europe, the imperial high command saw little incentive in capitulation.
The United States was not mobilized for war and it was an ocean away.
The general public in the United States had little interest in Asia and
the U.S. Pacific Navy was a paper tiger.
As with any plan, execution was the key. By failing to knock out U.S. aircraft carriers and oil depots at Pearl Harbor, the scheme went awry during its inauguration. In what has to be a military miscalculation of unparalleled historic precedent, Germany and Japan totally failed to forecast the awesome industrial potential of the United States for war. Only 179 days into the conflict, following Japanese naval defeat off the island of Midway, the tide was turned irreversibly in favor of the United States. After June 5, 1942, one defeat followed another.
In Tanaka's case, his newly discovered wealth was a shield to physical hardship. As with his experience in Manchuria, he was lucky enough to have bleacher seats once again.
In 1942, he became a father with the birth of his first son, Masanori. As for his business, he became the Director and Chief Executive Officer of Japan's fiftieth largest construction firm. His rise to power was achieved by the skillful merger of his tiny drafting office with Sakamoto Industries, producing Tanaka Civil Engineering and Construction Industries. During a war, one could not have had a better business. Government contracts were plentiful and unlike armorers, such an industry was not a priority for enemy bombing raids. The only downside was payment in war notes, the value of which depended on the eventual outcome of the war. As CEO, it was essential that Tanaka develop an interest in politics the survival of his company depended on it.
In 1944, his first daughter, Makiko, was born. This was the year that citizens of mainland Japan no longer could be protected from the truth of what their leaders had done. On November 24, the B-29 raids on Tokyo and other major cities began. At first only factories were hit, but by March 1945, the level of destruction had expanded to comprehensive fire-bombings of entire metropolitan areas.
During the period between the birth of his two children, Tanaka became friends with Kazuya Hoshino, an executive at Riken. Hoshino often gave Tanaka substantial construction projects, the largest coming in the spring of 1945. The army commanded Riken to disassemble a piston ring factory in Tokyo and reassemble it in Taejon, Korea. The problem for Riken was that none of the major contsruction subcontrators wanted the job because of the danger posed by American air raids. Hoshino offered the project to Tanaka and he took it.
Staying off major rail lines, Tanaka routed the equipment through Niigata. From there he was able to elicit the services of a destroyer for transportation to Korea. Having passed the first obstruction, Hoshino secured an advance from the army and sent Tanaka 15 million yen in war notes ($78,000,000). Tanaka was still procuring supplies when he got wind of the war's unfavorable termination.
Tanaka made a furious dash to the bank in Seoul, Korea, and converted the notes to cash just in the nick of time. Faced with an interesting dilemma, he had to decide what to do with the money. He hadn't built the piston ring factory, but he still had two-thirds of the allocated funds. It wasn't Riken's money, it was the government's, but there wasn't a government to give the money back to. It was likely that the money would be worthless anyway. Tanaka kept it as a hedge against a very frightening future. The Japanese had no way to discern what the Americans would do to their society. One could only assume the worst.
On August 30, 1945, General Douglas MacArthur stepped off his plane at Atsugi Airbase. The Showa Era was instantly given a new direction under his supervision as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP). The Emperor renounced his divinity, Shinto doctrines were prohibited and somewhere near 200,000 "undesirable individuals" were removed from government over the next two-year period. Three classes of war criminals were created by the International Military Tribunal. Of the twenty-eight classified as Class A, seven were executed. This included Sadao Araki and Hideki Tojo. Of the 5,700 labeled Class B or C criminals, 934 were put to death. Over the course of the war, 1.5 million Japanese soldiers had died. Air raid civilian casualties were listed at 300,000. The combined total, while horrible enough, was almost insignificant in comparison to the apocalyptic destruction that Japan had caused in China, Korea and Southeast Asia. The issue of war reparations was therefore a priority with SCAP managers. This issue included the wholesale shipment of factories to victim countries. A sentimental point, the reparation policy quickly proved to be unworkable in the face of SCAP's counter policy to rebuild the Japanese economy. The cumbersome task of repatriating over six million soldiers and civilians further strained an economy near collapse.
In those first days of the American occupation, no amount of personal
wealth appeared relevant. The national mood quickly changed as it became
evident that SCAP's intentions were reform not plunder. Tanaka's private
war booty turned out to be negotiable. Miraculously, the Tanaka Civil
Engineering and Construction Company, along with ten other buildings he
owned, were untouched by the fire bombings of Tokyo. His string of
luck had held and with the aid of the black market, Tanaka comfortably
sat out the most difficult year in Japanese history. That is not to say
that his life was void of annoyance. Postwar inflation dramatically depreciated
yen value. Fortunately, Tanaka's worth sunk relative to that of everyone
else. An additional uncertainty was created by SCAP's purported assault
on what it labeled "Excessive Concentration of Economic Power."
It was rumored that as many as twelve thousand companies faced dissolution.
Though Tanaka's company was too small be be a target of MacArthur's trust-busting,
a commission existed that was capable of wiping him out at anytime should
he be labeled "undesirable." His principle benefactor, the Viscount
Okochi, was arrested and the Riken Conglomerate was dissolved along with
eighty-two other zaibatsu. As with wartime Japan, the postwar
environment was generous to the construction industry. Tanaka was in the
right business at the right time. At age twenty-eight he was already set
for life in financial terms. With each passing day, fear of SCAP policies
A Cry of Young Boiling Blood
On November 9, 1945, Ichiro Hatoyama and other former Seiyukai members formed the Nihon Jiyu-to or the Japan Liberal Party. On November 16, several remnant politicians of the old, prewar Minsei -to (Public Welfare Party) organized the Nihon Shinpo-to (Japan Moderate Progressive Party). A throwback to the old koku system of acquiring social station by achieving wealth, the Nihon Shinpo-to decided to elect as president the first member who could come up with three million yen ($1.5 million) in needed campaign funds. One of Tanaka's construction company advisors, Tadao Oasa, asked him to give the money to his friend, Chuji Machida, who was in a tight race with the former Tosei-ha military general, Kazushige Ugaki. Tanaka honored the request and Machida won the party post. In return, Machida and Oasa's Nihon Shinpo-to Party told Tanaka that if he would give 150,000 yen ($78,000) to them and follow their directives, they could get him elected.
Unknowingly, Kakuei Tanaka was precisely in the right place at the right time with the right idea. He had seen his wealth twice threatened by political fortune first, by the madness of Tosei-ha elites and second by unpredictable SCAP policies. Only three things were certain: security required political power and under MacArthur, power was vested in the new congressional Diet; second, there was going to be a new Japan and the Shinpo-to Party had invited him to be a part of it; and third, chaos at the top of the social pecking order meant opportunity for those at the bottom. Despite his wealth, he still lacked the heritage and education to be taken seriously in Japanese society.
Through its fundamentally alien package of democratic reforms, SCAP had placed a tremendous burden on the traditional class of elites. On the one hand, those not directly involved in war crimes were kept in power; on the other hand, for a brief moment in history, they had to convince a befuddled citizenry of their worthiness. Virtually overnight, the traditionally voiceless were given a voice. The Emperor was mortal; everyone over twenty, including women, could vote; the oligarchy was detitled; and labor was given the right to organize and demand collective bargaining.
SCAP, for all its good intentions, was not about to legislate away a nation's culture and history. As an example of that, SCAP requested that interim Cabinet officials prepare a new constitution. What they came up with was an authoritarian replication of the old Meiji Constitution. MacArthur's team rejected that. SCAP wrote its own constitution which took effect in May 1947. Then, as now, it was a source of bitterness. Regardless of legislative changes forced by the American occupation, elite recalcitrance and public wariness combined to quickly coopt SCAP's grand design into something more Japanese. Yet during that brief moment between antithesis and synthesis there was an instant of confusion. Alertly, Tanaka stepped into that vortex. He gave the Shinpo-to Party the 150,000 yen they had requested and along with Teruji Hikita, his trusted secretary, Tanaka returned to south-central Niigata to make a bid for the Diet.
In 1946, Niigata was zoned into two political districts. Tanaka ran as a candidate in the Second District. Working out of local Riken offices, using several of his Niigata-born employees as aides, he put together a very unusual campaign. In an area where paper had become scarce because of postwar poverty and inflation, he lavishly handed out pamphlets and posters. In Japan, there is an official election period. During this time, and only this time, it is legal to put up campaign signs. To get around this law in his home area, Tanaka opened a bogus branch office of his firm in Kashiwazaki so he could erect a huge billboard. The word sprawled across it read "Tanaka." The sign attracted a lot of attention. As a name recognition gimmick, it was a novel twist.
This first election was an historic moment in Japanese history. SCAP's purge of government officials created an enormous political vacuum 194 political parties surfaced to fill the void. The Shinpo-to Party was one of the strongest. Tanaka had every reason to feel confident with Shinpo-to Party's support, Riken's logistical aid and his own money.
His political posters declared, "A Cry of Young Boiling Blood." His campaign slogan was directly out of the Futada Elementary School credo, "A man of sincerity is a man of real courage." He hated giving speeches, but those he did deliver ended with, "Believe in my executive abilities I bet my life on politics."
As election day approached, Tanaka's dream of a career change began to
unravel. On March 11, when candidates were officially announced, three
of his key aides betrayed him. Juichiro Tsukada, his company auditor,
as well as company employees Nitaro Yoshizawa and Kazutaro Kotajima,
all men who had promised to work for him, declared their own candidacies.
His support from Riken was gutted when Seishiro Sato's (the Riken
Kashiwazaki factory manager's) brother entered the race. Naturally, the
loyalty of Riken employees suddenly shifted. Tanaka's billboard, as impressive
as it was, did not provide local employment. There was little "sincerity"
to be found in bogus companies.
There were a number of concrete reasons for Tanaka's demise in the political
arena: he was very young by any cultural standard, he ran a campaign lacking
substance, he was a terrible public speaker and worst of all he was a
Tokyo transplant with an undistinguished Niigata heritage.
[ Chapter 2 is continued. The next section is Postwar Politics. ]
|© Steven Hunziker.|