On August 8, 1989, Kaifu Toshiki (born 1931) was elected the 14th president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and, next day, the 76th prime minister of Japan since the cabinet system was instituted in the country in 1885. Despite much popular support Kaifu was abandoned by his party and left office in October 1991.
Kaifu Toshiki was born on January 2, 1931, in Nagoya City. His father owned and managed the oldest photography studio in the city. The studio had been founded by Kaifu's grandfather. After finishing a local primary school, Kaifu attended Tokai Middle School in the same city, then enrolled in the special two-year law course at Chuo University in Tokyo, which he completed in 1951. The next year he was admitted to the night school program in the law faculty of Waseda University as a junior and graduated from the program with the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1954.
While at the middle school, but especially at Chuo and Waseda universities, Kaifu developed a keen interest in competitive oratory, an extracurricular activity among high school and college students that dates back to the turn of the century. He began to participate in speech contests in middle school and while at Chuo University won the Prime Minister's Cup in an annual Kanto regional intercollegiate contest. By the time he arrived at the Waseda campus and joined its Oratorical Society in 1952, he was well known among fellow student orators as a "genius speaker," a reputation he proved himself to be amply deserving by, for example, leading the Waseda team to victory in 1953 "with unequaled sophistry and double-talk," as one of the judges at the contest is said to have remarked. In that same year he was elected a deputy secretary of the society.
Founded in 1902, Waseda's original Oratorical Society was disbanded in 1929 under the pressure of the increasingly conservative and nationalistic university administration. When re-established after Japan's defeat in World War II, the organization with the same name was a much more conservative organization than its prewar predecessor. By the early 1950s, when Kaifu joined it, it had become a staunchly anti-Communist rightwing campus organization, a part of the national alliance of rightist student groups, the League for the Democratization of the Student Movement. Kaifu's relationships with it and with its other alumni were to have important impacts on his subsequent life and career.
More immediately important for Kaifu's subsequent career was his encounter with Kono Kinsho, a Reform Party member of the lower house and a longtime ally of Miki Takeo, who led the small Cooperative Party in the early 1950s but subsequently joined the LDP and became its president and Japan's prime minister in 1974. When Kaifu enrolled in Waseda's law faculty in 1952, he visited Kono, who represented the Nagoya constituency where Kaifu's family lived. Kono offered the smooth-talking young compatriot the job of a live-in staffer. For the next six years, until Kono died in 1958, Kaifu kept the job, initially to earn a stipend with free board and room that put him through Waseda and, subsequently, to receive the veteran representative's hands-on training for a political career. Over this period they developed a close personal relationship; Kaifu learned from his physically handicapped mentor—not only about politics and elections, but also about such virtues as courage, perseverance, sincerity, and compassion.
At the 1954 Oratorical Society's party for graduating seniors, Kaifu told his audience that someday he was going to run for a Diet seat and eventually become prime minister. He did not wait very long before he could prove that he had meant what he said on that occasion. Kono suddenly died in March 1958, and his widow, Takako, ran for his seat and won it. She served, however, only a brief two-year term before she passed her seat, and the entire local campaign machine she had inherited from her late husband, on to Kaifu in the 1960 general election. At the age of 29, Kaifu was the youngest winner in that election. He was subsequently reelected to the lower house nine times before he was elected the LDP's top leader, and Japan's, 29 years later.
Upon his election to the lower house, Kaifu joined the Miki faction of LDP Diet members. Almost immediately Kaifu became one of Miki's most favored and trusted confidants. After the faction's reins passed to Komoto Toshio upon Miki's retirement in 1980, Kaifu stayed with the faction. His uninterrupted record of reelections in the subsequent lower house elections made him by the early 1980s a senior member of the faction and one of the most promising potential successors to the aging Komoto.
Kaifu's close relationship with Miki and the fact that the faction had few members helped Kaifu rise quickly to a leadership position in the Komoto faction. The faction's minor group status, however, also seriously handicapped Kaifu's position among his fellow LDP Diet members at large.
In the period between his first election to the lower house in 1960 and his election to the LDP presidency in 1989, Kaifu served at the LDP headquarters in various positions, but none of the party's Big Three positions—i.e., secretary-general, the General Council chair, and the Policy Research Council chair. Moreover, he held only one notable parliamentary position during the same period, i.e., the chair of the lower house's House Management Committee. Finally, he served in the mid 1970s as deputy chief cabinet secretary during Miki's prime ministership and twice as minister of education, first in Fukuda Takeo's cabinet in the mid 1970s and then in Nakasone Yasuhiro's cabinet in the mid 1980s. He thus never held any of the major cabinet portfolios, such as Finance, Foreign Affairs, and International Trade and Industry.
Kaifu's lackluster career record prior to his election to the top party and government position in 1989 partly reflected the limitations of his ability and competence as a legislator. Unlike many of his fellow LDP Diet members, especially those with bureaucratic backgrounds, Kaifu had no proven and outstanding expertise in any particular policy area except education. Even in that area he was not a specialist by training but became a leader largely because it was dominated by alumni of Waseda's Oratorical Society. More importantly, however, Kaifu's record reflected the minor group status of the faction to which he belonged.
Keenly aware of this handicap, Kaifu sought to make friends in other factions, especially the largest and most influential one once led by Tanaka Kakuei and later by Takeshita Noboru. For one thing, Takeshita was another Waseda graduate. For another, Takeshita was director of the LDP Youth Bureau and Kaifu's boss when, following his election to the lower house in 1960, Kaifu served in his first party post as head of the Youth and Student Department in that bureau. In 1977 he joined, with a dozen other LDP Diet members, a group of up-and-coming conservative politicians, businessmen, and scholars called the Free Society Study Association that was set up by Tanaka's deputy, Takeshita, and Abe Shintaro, with the help of Sony's Morita Akio and Suntory's Saji Keizo. At that time Kaifu's involvement provoked a rare rebuke from Miki, who was Tanaka's archenemy. After Komoto took over from Miki in 1980 and Takeshita from Tanaka in 1985, however, the relationship between the two factions significantly improved, and by 1989 Kaifu had become known as a closet Takeshita faction member.
Takeshita served as LDP president and prime minister for one and a half years, from late 1987 to mid 1989, before he was forced to resign by a stock-for-political-favor (Recruit/Cosmos Company) scandal involving not only himself but, directly or indirectly, virtually all other top LDP leaders. His immediate successor, Uno Sosuke, served only two months before he, too, was forced to resign by another scandal, involving this time a paid mistress. In the search for Uno's successor, Kaifu was a candidate preferred by three major factions led, respectively, by Takeshita, Abe, and Nakasone, as well as by his own Komoto faction, mainly because all prominent leaders of the three allied factions were involved in the Recruit scandal. In an election held by an assembly of all LDP Diet members on August 8, 1989, Kaifu easily beat two opponents, and became the new LDP president. At 58, he was the second youngest LDP president and prime minister in postwar Japan, next only to Tanaka, who had been four years younger when he was elected to those posts in 1972.
The circumstances of Kaifu's election, combined with his relatively lackluster history and the inferior position of his faction, led many observers to call him Takeshita's puppet and predict his fall from power within a few months. But he survived into the 1990s, successfully handling several controversial policy issues. The substantial number and influence of Waseda alumni among LDP Diet members—in 1989, 56 out of 413—did help. However in late 1991 Kaifu lost the support of the LDP forcing him from office. Kiichi Miyazawa became the new party head October 27 and premier a week later.
Despite his loss of power, Kaifu remained influential and in the spotlight. In 1994, he was the president of the New Frontier Party (NFP), a party formed from the merger of nine political parties. However, misguided moves by Kaifu in 1995 led the party to choose another candidate to lead them in early 1996.
For additional information on Kaifu and Japanese politics see Richard J. Samuels, "Japan in 1989," Asian Survey (January 1990). See also Toshiki Kaifu, "Japan's Vision," Foreign Policy (Fall 1990); Financial Times (January 13, 1994 and December 12, 1994); Nikkei Weekly (Japan) (October 16, 1995); and Far Eastern Economic Review (January 11, 1996).