Decades ago, power struggles within the Liberal Democratic Party, then the ruling party, enlivened politics. Perhaps the best-remembered "epic battle" was fought 40 years ago between Kakuei Tanaka and Takeo Fukuda. Dubbed "Kakufuku Senso" (Kaku-Fuku war), it was over who should become the party president to succeed Prime Minister Eisaku Sato. Tanaka, then 54 years old, won.
Every time a victorious Tanaka appeared on television, a woman told her teenage daughter, "Look, your father's on TV." The woman was Akiko Sato, Tanaka's secretary and chief accountant, who bore him a daughter out of wedlock.
The daughter, Atsuko Sato, is now 54. In her just-published book from Kodansha, Ltd., titled "Aki: Tanaka Kakukei to Ikita Onna" (Aki: The woman who lived with Kakuei Tanaka), she recalls the triumphs and defeats of her extraordinary parents as she knew them as a child.
Tanaka, a politician of "decision and action," fully entrusted the financial management of his support group, Etsuzankai, to Sato. For this, she was dubbed the "Queen of Etsuzankai." Both were natives of Niigata Prefecture, and their relationship was firmly grounded on mutual trust.
I remember Tanaka as an energetic politician who always spoke with passion, his face glistening with sweat. But that is not the Tanaka portrayed by his daughter; he was a doting father who loved her to distraction, which made him a regular visitor at the residence of the woman he loved.
How busy his life must have been. Tanaka controlled bureaucrats and his team of secretaries and aides, took care of innumerable petitions and found employment for his supporters, survived political battles, and still managed to enjoy his private time with his two families. He certainly was an extraordinary "multi-tasker."
But his hyperactive life eventually landed him in trouble, both in public and private. He came under intense fire for his plutocratic ways, was indicted for his role in the Lockheed payoff scandal, and later suffered a stroke.
Sato, the daughter, found out about the circumstances of her birth at an impressionable age, and she turned to drugs, alcohol and self-harm. But she recalls in her book, "What stopped me from living the life of a criminal was the awareness that I was my most beloved father's daughter."
There is a scene in the book where Tanaka, then finance minister, sits down to a sukiyaki dinner at his mistress' home. Being impatient by nature, he dumps a huge mound of sugar and far too much soy sauce into the iron kettle, causing his daughter to lose her appetite.
When I read this passage, I certainly sympathized with her, and yet I also felt a surge of deep nostalgia. I suppose I am fed up with today's bland politicians who neither decide nor act.
--The Asahi Shimbun, March 25
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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