Tanaka Makiko (Niigata Prefecture, 1944- )
The Tanaka family name carries quite a bit of weight in the Japanese
political world, especially when you're the daughter of the late Prime
Minister Tanaka Kakuei. This giant in the political pantheon
made his mark in the late '60s and early '70s. During his 2-year term
as Prime Minister (1972-74) he re-established relations with China and
won over the public with his electrifying speeches and expansion of
road and rail networks across Western Japan. Even his downfall in the
Lockheed bribery scandal of 1976 could not destroy the legacy
he had left in most people's minds and he remained a factional warlord
until a stroke in 1985. He recovered but his influence
continued to wane until his death in 1993.
Tanaka Makiko was born into politics in Niigata Prefecture (although
her father wasn't elected to the Diet until she was 3). After studying
at a high school in Philadelphia, she entered the prestigious Waseda
University. Upon graduation, she joined a theatrical company hoping
to become an actress, but gave up her dream due to fierce opposition from
her father. She later married into a political family: her husband
Naoki was also a child of a politician and she helped him win
election to a Diet seat in Fukushima Prefecture in 1983. She devoted herself
to caring for her father after his stroke, and became determined to work
as a politician to improve Japan's care system for the elderly.
She is a sharp-tongued and outspoken populist and often one of the most
severe critics of her own party, the Jiyu Minshuto (Liberal
Democratic Party or LDP). She is unpopular with many of the elder
statesmen within the party, both for her criticism and her refusal to be
affiliated with any of the party's factions. But this determination and
independence of spirit have made her one of the country's most popular
political figures; she has often topped the polls when people are asked
to name their ideal prime minister.
She is one of the current generation of so-called 'young turks' following
in their fathers' illustrious footsteps. Others include Kono Taro
(son of former Foreign Minister Kono Yohei), Watanabe Yoshimi (son
of former LDP powerbroker Watanabe Michio), and
Ishihara Nobuteru (son of former
Cabinet Minister and Tokyo Governor Ishihara
Shintaro). Tanaka had a cabinet post during the government of Tomiichi
Murayama in 1994 but had to wait until her support of
Koizumi Junichiro in his election as
prime minister in April 2001 got her back to the top. Koizumi named her as
the nation's first female foreign minister. She held her first telephone
conversation with US Secretary of State Colin Powell in fluent
English, a rarity among Japanese politicians.
Tanaka set about shaking up the Foreign Ministry but met fierce resistance
from career bureaucrats and other politicians with vested interests. This
ongoing battle kept Tanaka in the headlines but made it very difficult
for her to do her job. It all came to a head when Tanaka, lawmaker Suzuki
Muneo and several ministry officials got into a fierce "he said, she said"
slanging match. It later turned out that Suzuki had been wielding huge influence
over the ministry for years but by the time this came out, Tanaka had been
fired by Koizumi. She stayed out of the limelight only briefly and was soon
criticizing the prime minister.
But a scandal involving irregularities with her staff's salaries and her
refusal to cooperate with party elders led to her being barred from the party
for two years. It remains to be seen whether she can work her way back up
the political ladder.