Now Fighting Japan's Cold War: Prime Minister Nakasone and His Times, a biography by Ryuji Hattori (Routledge, 2023) is now available in English. With an expert translation by Graham Leonard, this volume focuses on Nakasone's period as prime minister from 1982 to 1987. Adeptly it weaves the story of Nakasone's 101 years with that of Japan's history during this period.
Nakasone is considered the "presidential prime minister" for his stately bearing and international presence. Moreover, he was one of Japan's leading and most prominent postwar politicians. Interestingly, however, he was never a member of a large faction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. In fact, he almost always tended to be in the anti-mainstream due to his focus on personal conviction over political pragmatism.
Ryuji Hattori, a political and diplomatic historian and prolific author at Chuo University who has served as an advisor to the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic Records Office, has produced another masterful biography. This time it's of Japan's 71st, 72nd, and 73rd prime minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone.
Nakasone was born in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, in 1918. He joined the Ministry of Home Affairs after attending the Tokyo Imperial University. Soon, though, he entered the Imperial Japanese Navy and served as a paymaster. Returning to a devastated Tokyo after the war, he decided to go into politics and was elected in 1947.
Shigeru Yoshida was the prime minister and Nakasone was critical of his administration. It was too accommodating to the United States, he felt. He also called for constitutional revision early on, becoming known as a "hawk."
The well-read Nakasone hosted a study group with Tsuneo Watanabe, then a reporter with the Yomiuri Newspaper. In addition, he used any chance he had to travel around the world and see things for himself and meet with world leaders at a young age.
When he became prime minister, he utilized his brain trust, and international connections to pursue policies he felt were important for Japan. The privatization of major public cooperations like the national railways was among them.
A New Kind of International Leadership
On the international stage, he promoted closer ties with South Korea, the People's Republic of China, and the United States. He had an especially good rapport with US President Ronald Reagan, which led to the "Ron-Yasu" relationship.
One of the things that kicked off that relationship was Nakasone's mistranslated comment in a US newspaper interview that Japan was "an unsinkable aircraft carrier" which the American side appreciated, especially in the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
After stepping down as prime minister in 1987, he created the Institute for International Policy Studies in 1988. Since 2018 it is known as the Nakasone Yasuhiro Peace Institute. Through it, he also continued to play the role of domestic and international statesman. This continued even after being forced to retire from politics in 2003 by then-LDP President Junichiro Koizumi, who would not allow party candidates older than 73 to run in proportional representation blocks.
In 2005, the IIPS established the Yasuhiro Nakasone Award to recognize outstanding scholarship and international contributions. This reviewer received the award in 2012. It was the first of several times to meet him.
Throughout his life, Nakasone authored many articles and books. There are also many studies about him. Nevertheless, biographer Hattori felt that the time was right to reexamine Nakasone and proceeded to interview him 29 times. This book was first published in Japanese in 2015.
Nakasone in Hattori's Perception
The book, translated expertly by Graham Leonard, is structured as follows.
- Nakasone's Youth: From Lumber to the Home Ministry
- Deployment and Defeat: A Lieutenant in the Navy
- The 'Young Officer': Nakasone's Time in the Opposition
- A Conservative Merger and Nakasone's First Cabinet Position: Director-General of the Science and Technology Agency under Kishi
- From 'Killing Time' to Becoming a Faction Leader
- 'Autonomous Defense' and the Three Non-Nuclear Principles: Nakasone under Satō – Minister of Transportation and Director-General of the Defense Agency
- 'Neoliberalism' and the Oil Crisis: MITI Minister in the Tanaka Government
- The 'Sankaku Daifuku Chū' Era: LDP Secretary-General, General Council Chairman, and Director-General of the Administrative Management Agency
- 1,806 Days as Prime Minister: Seeking to be a 'Presidential Prime Minister'
- 'Rain of Cicada Cries': The 32 Years After Being Prime Minister
Not only has Hattori produced an amazing biography, but he has done so in a way that helps the reader understand prewar, wartime, postwar, and post-Cold War Japanese history and politics in a way most others have not. His faithfulness to primary documents and sources allows the biography to present an unbiased account of a statesman constantly thinking of Japan's place in the world.
About the Book:
Author: Ryuji Hattori
Translated by: Graham B Leonard
Publisher: Milton Park: Routledge, 2023
ISBN: ISBN 9781032399096
For more about the book: Check the publisher's website.
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Reviewed by: Robert D Eldridge
Eldridge is a former associate professor of Japanese political and diplomatic history at Osaka University, and also the translator of numerous books, including Watanabe Tsuneo, Japan's Backroom Politics: Factions in a Multiparty Age (Lexington, 2013).