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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:57 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #33: February 4, 2002

Reforms thrown out with Tanaka?

John de Boer (University of Tokyo)

It was the dismissal of Makiko Tanaka from her cabinet post as Foreign Minister that captured the most attention in media sources outside of Japan last week. Although much anticipated, the news was met with an abrupt questioning of Prime Minister Koizumi's priorities and served as a reminder of the powerful old guard politicians lurking behind the scenes.

Quickly dubbed "The Tuesday Night Massacre," the sacking was portrayed as the outcome of a year-long battle between reform minded Tanaka and conservative politicians and bureaucrats. Things eventually escalated to the point where Koizumi had to make a decision and ultimately "Koizumi was forced by members of the old LDP guard to purge Tanaka" said David Pilling and Alexandra Harney of the Financial Times. In fact, this interpretation was unanimous throughout most major news sources. James Brooke of the Associated Press claimed that "Tanaka's constant feuding with bureaucrats made her a liability to Koizumi" ("Japan Foreign Minister is fired after months of feuding, AP, January 31). Robert Whymant of The Times also concurred stating that Tanaka was, "defeated by old guard politicians and civil servants" (January 30).

For most of the world, Tanaka was regarded as a "symbol for reform" (Pilling and Harney, El Pais). She was reportedly fighting against "the entrenched world of Japanese bureaucrats, lawmakers and company executives" (Clay Chandler, Washington Post). Her image was one of a valiant fresh mind going against "a palace of demons" (Robert Whymant, The Times). According to Whymant, "Koizumi dismissed a minister who was detested by male chauvinists in the ruling party and corrupt officials." Clay Chandler of the Washington Post portrayed Tanaka as, "coming into office last April promising to shake up the status quo and put an end to closed-door dealing among politicians, bureaucrats and vested commercial interests" (Jan. 30). Closed-door dealings outlined by the Financial Time's David Ibison as consisting of, "spending sprees at Mitsukoshi, purchases of gifts, hotel suites, race horses, mistresses, travel and flats with public money" (Jan 31). Ibison went on to state that, "Tanaka was trying to penetrate the thick hide of elitism, isolationism and perceived invulnerability that had characterised bureaucratic behaviour." Even Gerald L. Curtis of Columbia University joined the dissenting voices claiming that, "Koizumi kicked out the one person, who, whatever her faults, was out to reform bureaucracy" (James Brooke, New York Times, February 1).

Without Tanaka, Koizumi was a "spineless leader" quoted Robert Whymant (The Times, January 30). James Brooke called the sacking, "a sop to conservatives in the LDP" ("Japan Premier taking heat over firing of Minister," AP, January 31). Apparently the public thought the same with the PM's public approval ratings plunging some 30 percentage points after the sacking. Simply put, the appraisal was that without Tanaka the Koizumi Cabinet was just another typical LDP Cabinet. The administration is now seen overseas as little more than a pawn of the powerful political factions raising doubts about the likelihood that serious reforms will take place any time soon.


  • "Cabinet approval dives to 46.9%," Yomiuri Shimbun, February 3, 2002
  • James Brooke, "Japan Premier taking heat over firing of Minister," The Associated Press, January 31, 2002
  • James Brooke, "Japan Foreign Minister is fired after months of feuding," The Associated Press, January 31, 2002.
  • David Ibison, "Return of Japan's retail therapy bureaucrats," The Financial Times, January 31, 2002
  • Clay Chandler, "Japan's leader dismisses popular Foreign Minister," The Washington Post, January 30, 2002
  • Robert Whymant, "Japan's Foreign Minister sacked in reform clash," January 30, 2002
  • David Pilling and Alexandra Harney, "Clinical sacking could leave Koizumi exposed," The Financial Times, January 30, 2002
  • "Koizumi destituye a la popular ministra de Exteriores de Japon," El Pais, January 30, 2002.

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