Obituary: Sosuke Uno

Paul Carter
Wednesday 20 May 1998 00:02

THE politician and former Prime Minister of Japan Sosuke Uno was one of a long line of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) politicians who acted as conservative overseers of Japan's post-war economic renaissance. In power continuously from 1955, and until their demise in 1993, the leading politicians of the conservative LDP were akin to emperors in ancient Rome and in many ways enjoyed a similar perception of their own rather curious standards of ethical integrity and financial propriety.

In a country where political scandal is commonplace, Uno was no stranger to controversy. However, unlike many of his colleagues who were implicated and convicted in bribery and corruption scandals, Uno set a precedent for being the first Prime Minister and indeed Japanese politician to be forced out of office for a sex scandal.

Uno became Prime Minister in June 1989, following the demise of the corrupt Takeshita administration. This had fallen in the wake of the Recruit company scandal whereby politicians received Recruit shares in exchange for political favours.

He had managed to avoid being implicated in this scandal, which may say something about his political ability, given that Recruit executives only indulged those they thought influential. However, as a safe pair of hands, he was nominated and selected as Prime Minister at the age of 66, and immediately declared Recruit "deplorable".

Despite the promise of a "clean start" for Japanese politics, 69 days later and in the fourth shortest administration in Japanese politics, Uno was forced to resign following allegations of a five-month affair with a sometime prostitute, and further allegations of sexual misconduct with geisha girls.

Unlike the British newspaper-reading public, the Japanese have always been forgiving when it comes to dealing with their leaders' sexual (and even financial) irregularities. Indeed the concept of uwaki mono or "frivolous womaniser" is well ingrained and accepted in the culture. However, what was unforgivable in the eyes of the Japanese was that Uno, despite being one of Japan's richest politicians (as Foreign Secretary he was the second richest member of the Takeshita Cabinet), was publicly ridiculed on national television by his former lover for being tight-fisted.

In giving the geisha girl a miserly 3 million yen (about pounds 13,000) for her services and abruptly leaving her without so much as a parting gift, Uno's uwaki behaviour, though forgivable, began to be seen by the wider public as ketchi or "stingy", which was not forgivable.

The ire of women voters and, it should also be said, the national anger over the introduction of a 3 per cent consumption tax, along with the first ever Upper House defeat for the LDP in the preceding month's elections and attempts to open up Japan's agricultural market to foreign competition, all conspired against Uno and he was replaced on 10 August by the fresh- faced Toshiki Kaifu.

Despite the brevity of Uno's premiership, he had enjoyed a somewhat distinguished political career. Elected to the House of Representatives for the first time in 1960, aged 38, he became a Vice-Minister at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry six years later. Once established as uncontroversial and a loyal hand to his superiors, the conveyer-belt aspect of Japanese politics came into play and Uno also served as a junior minister in the Science and Technology Agency and the Administrative Agency, as well as holding Cabinet positions as Minister for Trade and Industry and then Foreign Secretary between 1987 and 1989.

Uno's tenure as Japan's prime minister was too brief for him to have made any significant impact on the country's direction in the late 1980s. However, he was regarded as a successful Foreign Secretary at a time when Japan was being called upon by the international community to make a more sizeable contribution to international relations in proportion to her economic might.

Uno did not contest the last 1996 general election; he enjoyed a quiet retirement and followed his pursuits of painting, music and writing poetry. During his lifetime he had published two volumes of haiku poetry and also a well-regarded book recounting his experiences as a prisoner of war in Siberia.

Sosuke Uno, politician: born Shiga, Japan 27 August 1922; Prime Minister of Japan 1989 married (two daughters); died Shiga 19 May 1998.

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