Tanaka, Makiko


Tanaka, Makiko
▪ 2002

      Dubbed “the Lady with the Big Mouth” by Time magazine, Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka made headlines in 2001 for her outspoken comments and her skirmishes with Japan's senior political bureaucrats. She was criticized by members of the Diet, Japan's parliament, which did not permit her to represent Japan at the United Nations General Assembly in November, and officials of her own Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) for, among other comments, suggesting that the best way former prime minister Yoshiro Mori could help Japan was by putting a big adhesive bandage over his mouth; characterizing most party elections as “like a garage sale full of senior politicians who've been in office too long,” some of whom she said should be strapped to satellites; and making decisions and expressing opinions that veered from the official government policy. Her supporters, however, praised her as a reformer who spoke only the truth and provided a much-needed shake-up of the old scandal-ridden system.

      Many observers found it ironic that Tanaka was challenging the LDP old guard, since her father, former prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, had been instrumental in establishing the powerful political machine. Some analysts attributed her motives to the belief that her father had been betrayed when Noboru Takeshita (who later became prime minister) took over the ruling LDP faction that Kakuei Tanaka had helped found.

      Maki, as she was affectionately known, was born on Jan. 14, 1944. She attended high school in the United States before graduating from the School of Commerce at Waseda University in 1968. She frequently served as an unofficial first lady during her father's prime ministership (1972–74). In 1983 she campaigned for her husband, Naoki Tanaka, who was successfully elected to the Diet, but she retreated from the public eye to care for her father when he suffered a stroke in 1985. In 1993 Tanaka was elected to the Diet, and she served as head of the Science and Technology Agency from 1994 to 1995. She was reelected in 1996 and 2000, and by 2001 her relaxed, informal personal style and sharp wit had made her one of the most popular political figures in Japan. Her active support of reformist candidate Junichiro Koizumi (q.v.) contributed to his election as prime minister in April 2001, and he promptly appointed her Japan's first female foreign minister. She just as promptly began making waves, describing traditional Japanese diplomacy as “an exercise in telling nothing with as many words as possible.” In contrast, she remarked, “I usually like to say what's on my mind. I think that's what diplomacy is about.” She proved her point in the following months, even criticizing several of Koizumi's decisions, but the controversies served only to boost Tanaka's popularity with the public.

Amy R. Tao

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Universalium. 2010.

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