Tanaka Makiko

(Niigata Prefecture, 1944- )

Tanaka Makiko 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.