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Looking Back
Guilty: The Shadow Shogun:TOKYO, OCTOBER 1983

Asiaweek Pictures.

Tanaka Kakuei's innovation — the alchemical transformation of influence-peddling and porkbarrel-spending into political power — took the rough-hewn son of a bankrupt horse-trader to the top of Japan's political world. The Lockheed scandal was Tanaka's public undoing, but not his professional watershed. He already had been deposed as prime minister in 1974 over questionable dealings in finance and real estate. (He also had been jailed on a bribery conviction, later overturned, during his second year as an MP.) Then came charges in 1976 — unearthed in Washington — that he had been given about $1.7 million by America's Lockheed Corp. in return for helping the aerospace giant sell 21 jets to a Japanese airline. More than six years of legal argument ensued until, finally, a court in Tokyo sentenced Tanaka to four years' hard labor. He immediately appealed, as did many of the 14 businessmen, former ministers and aides convicted with him. And he left court unbowed, left, to resume control of the largest faction in Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party — a position that enabled him to confirm or reject any prime ministerial candidate for a further four years. Nicknamed "The Shadow Shogun," Tanaka left school at 13 and made his fortune as a building contractor before being elected, at 29, to the Diet. Seen as an uncouth outsider by his university-educated colleagues, Tanaka nevertheless became the ablest, most popular, most feared, most corrupt and, for more than 20 years, the most powerful man in Japanese post-war politics. A shrewd tactician, skilled fund-raiser and deft dispenser of patronage, he epitomized modern Japan's rapid growth in commerce and industry and its shady politics. He fought his Lockheed conviction until his death in 1993, when the Supreme Court quietly closed the books on his appeal. In its day, the Lockheed affair was the most sensational saga of political corruption that Japan had seen. Within a few years, however, there was a worthy contender. The man who had snatched control of Tanaka's LDP faction, Takeshita Noboru, also was driven from the PM's office — by the 1989 Recruit shares-for-favors scandal.

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