Hashimoto, Ryutaro


Hashimoto, Ryutaro
▪ 2007
 Japanese politician (b. July 29, 1937, Soja, Okayama prefecture, Japan—d. July 1, 2006, Tokyo, Japan), served (1996–98) as prime minister but left office after having failed in his attempts to end a long-lasting economic recession in Japan. He began his political career in 1963 when he won election to his recently deceased father's seat in the House of Representatives. Hashimoto went on to serve 11 terms as a Liberal Democrat representing the Okayama district. He was minister of transport (1986–87) and minister of finance (1989–91) but resigned the latter post in the wake of his department's failure to curb scandals in the banking and securities industries. As minister of international trade and industry (1994–95), he won national attention for his combative bargaining stance in an automobile trade dispute between Japan and the U.S. He served as the LDP's secretary-general (June–August 1989) and was chosen the party's president in September 1995. Though Hashimoto resigned in 1998 as both prime minister and president of the LDP, he later became leader of the LDP's largest faction. He attempted to regain the party's presidency in 2001 but was defeated by Junichiro Koizumi. In 2004 Hashimoto was implicated in a scandal involving an illegal campaign donation, and he subsequently resigned.

▪ 1997

      Before he was elected prime minister of Japan in January 1996, Ryutaro Hashimoto was a veteran politician highly respected for his knowledge of domestic affairs. He thus surprised his political friends and foes alike when he moved into foreign policy, announcing, days before U.S. Pres. Bill Clinton made a state visit to Tokyo in April 1996, that the U.S. had agreed to return the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa to Japan in five to seven years.

      Hashimoto was born on July 29, 1937, and graduated from Keio University, Tokyo, in 1960. He briefly worked at Toyobo Co., a spinning firm, until his father's untimely death. He then became a second-generation politician, campaigning from his father's constituency in Okayama prefecture. At the age of 26, he was elected to the House of Representatives. Always part of the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP's) mainstream, Hashimoto was named health and welfare minister in 1978 and subsequently held the portfolios of transport, finance, and international trade and industry.

      He faced a serious political crisis in 1991 when it was revealed that a major securities company had secretly compensated for losses incurred by its principal customers and that his own private secretary was involved in a bank loan scandal. He promptly resigned as finance minister in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu.

      Hashimoto also was partly blamed for the failure of seven housing loan companies known as jusen. In 1990, in an attempt to control land prices that had soared during Japan's bubble economy in the late 1980s, the Finance Ministry, which Hashimoto headed, imposed a ceiling on bank lending for real-estate projects. Because the jusen companies were excluded from the restrictions, the possibility of imprudent loans was ever present.

      Hashimoto was known outside Japan as a tough negotiator, but at home he was rated both high and low by those who knew him well. He was regarded as a man who looked after people who were junior to him, but he was also described as a loner who was arrogant, short-tempered, and politically hawkish. He was head of the Japan Association of War-Bereaved Families until he was named president of the LDP on Sept. 22, 1995. Perhaps because of this association, Hashimoto visited Yasukuni Shrine on July 29, 1996, his birthday. He did so, knowing that the visit would anger a segment of the population. Yasukuni was the burial site not only of the war dead but also of executed war criminals.

      Hashimoto dissolved the lower house of the Diet (parliament) on Sept. 27, 1996, after settling the Okinawa bases issue with the U.S. and the governor of the prefecture and committing 685 billion yen of taxpayers' money to liquidating moribund housing loans made by jusen firms. (TEIJI SHIMIZU)

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Universalium. 2010.

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