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Era of Growth, Political Developments

Nakasone Yasuhiro, mutual relations, Ryukyu Islands, rearmament, Nakasone

In the 1960s and 1970s Japan’s major diplomatic initiatives were aimed at improving relations with its Asian neighbors. In 1965 Japanese prime minister Sato Eisaku hosted South Korea’s foreign minister at the first meeting of the two governments since World War II. The meeting produced a far-ranging agreement on mutual relations. After the United States suddenly reestablished relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1971, surprising and exasperating the Japanese government, Japanese prime minister Tanaka Kakuei visited China in 1972. The two countries agreed to resume diplomatic relations immediately, and Japan severed official diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Finally, in 1972 Japan regained sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands, although the United States continued to maintain military bases on Okinawa.

In domestic politics, the LDP continued to hold the reins of government throughout the 1970s, although the party’s cabinets changed frequently, due largely to factional infighting. Six LDP politicians succeeded one another as prime minister in the ten years that passed between the cabinet of Tanaka Kakuei in 1972 and that of Nakasone Yasuhiro in 1982.

Factionalism and the growing expense of elections led politicians to become increasingly involved in dubious financial dealings, and during this period the first of a series of influence-peddling scandals involving the LDP came to light. In 1974 Tanaka had been forced to resign amid accusations of improprieties, and in 1976 he was arrested for taking bribes from the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, a U.S. firm. The scandal widened as it became clear that Lockheed had paid at least $10 million in bribes and fees to Japanese politicians and industrialists since the 1950s.

Tanaka’s trial and judicial appeals lasted for more than a decade. National voting rates declined steadily, and public opinion polls showed a rising indifference to politics.

In the aftermath of the scandals, the LDP lost its absolute majority in the lower house between 1976 and 1980. During the mid-1980s, Nakasone, a conservative who supported rearmament and a more active international role for Japan, revived the fortunes of the LDP. Under his leadership the party won its largest electoral victory in 1986, but this success owed much to the continuing influence of the Tanaka faction.

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