Ryutaro Hashimoto

Old-school Japanese prime minister


Ryutaro Hashimoto, politician: born Soja City, Japan 29 July 1937; Minister of Health and Welfare 1978-79; Minister of Transport 1986-87; Minister of Finance 1989-91; Deputy Prime Minister 1995-96; Prime Minister of Japan 1996-98; Minister for Admin Reform 2000-01; Secretary-General, Liberal Democratic Party 1989, President 1995-98; married 1966 Kumiko Nakamura (two sons, three daughters); died Tokyo 1 July 2006.

Ryutaro Hashimoto, who was Japan's prime minister from 1996 to 1998, will probably always be remembered for the grubby scandal that ended his sterling political career. The incident epitomised the corruption and influence-peddling that has riddled Japanese politics for over half a century, particularly for Hashimoto's detractors, who also blamed him for badly mishandling the economy during the Asian financial crash of the late 1990s.

The diminutive politician is also associated, however, with a softer brand of conservatism and old-school diplomacy than the bitterly divisive Koizumi era that followed. Despite his faults, Hashimoto may ultimately be judged a lot less harshly than his flashier, more famous successor, who has undone much of Hashimoto's bridge-building with Japan's fast-rising neighbour China.

In July 2001, a group of executives from the Japan Dental Association handed Hashimoto, then leader of the Liberal Democratic Party's most powerful political faction, a cheque for 100 million yen (£500,000) in a Tokyo restaurant. The cheque, which Hashimoto folded and stuffed into his jacket pocket, was never declared in the party's annual funds report, and his repeated statements that he had "no memory" of receiving it made him a figure of ridicule in the Japanese media.

The image of a slightly oily politician, accentuated by Hashimoto's permanently slicked back pompadour and fox-like face, was fixed forever and the scandal forced him to resign from the LDP faction in 2004. In truth, however, he had already been eclipsed by the reign of Junichiro Koizumi, who, as well as being a member of the rival Mori faction, had declared war on the construction welfare-ism that Hashimoto championed. Hashimoto retired last September citing ill-health, a spent force and an emblem of the backroom politics that Koizumi said he wanted to sweep away.

It was an undistinguished end to a long political career that began in 1963 when he followed his father Ryogo into the Diet, aged just 26, after graduating from Keio University in Tokyo. In the "miracle years" of Japanese economic growth, he served in several key posts, including minister of health, director of party finance and LDP secretary general, and during the troubled 1990s was a famously tough negotiator for the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Throughout it all, he managed to avoid the muck that rained down on his closest mentors, especially the prime ministers Kakuei Tanaka and Noboru Takeshita, who both resigned in disgrace amid corruption and bribery charges. But the whiff of scandal trailed him into office when he took over from Tomiichi Murayama in January 1996 after two years of political turmoil that had briefly terminated the LDP's long post-war rule.

Hashimoto's market-driven economic instincts, financial and administrative reforms and hawkish politics were considered by many a retreat from the progressive, consensus-building style of Murayama - Japan's only post-war social democrat premier. Hashimoto helped pry open Japan's closed markets and controversially hiked consumption tax to 5 per cent, snuffing out a promising economic recovery; a sin he compounded with a huge government bailout of the housing loan industry. When the voters punished the LDP by taking away its Upper House majority in 1998, he resigned.

Hashimoto was a dedicated champion of traditional right-wing causes, earning his first political stripes by travelling to former Second World War killing fields in Asia to retrieve the remains of fallen Japanese soldiers. "I am not worshipping war criminals," he said.

But he also helped thaw the diplomatic ice with Russia and China and was in recent years highly critical of Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni, which have helped send Japan's relations with China to a 30-year low. Hashimoto was part of a Japanese delegation that met Chinese President Hu Jintao in March this year.

David McNeill

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower