Naoki Tanaka, Japan's New Defense Minister

Naoki Tanaka, Japan's New Defense Minister (Source: Sankei/Yahoo)

It was only a few months ago that I was lamenting the high turnover of defense ministers (far in excess of their prime ministerial counterparts), but with the coming week, we will see a new man in Ichigaya: Naoki Tanaka.

Tanaka is the husband of former LDP member Makiko Tanaka, daughter of one of Japan’s most controversial and powerful post-war Prime Ministers, Kakuei Tanaka, and foreign minister to one of the other most controversial PMs, Jun’ichiro Koizumi. Naoki Tanaka was adopted into the Tanaka family upon their marriage, taking on his wife’s name in the process.

A cute story, for sure, but one that might have observers worried. His wife was notorious for her outspokenness, particularly against Koizumi and the Foreign Ministry, but also against issues that her husband now has a say in: particularly the US-Japan security relationship and the stationing of US Marines on Okinawa.

It is the current Okinawan problem, named the impasse over Futenma and the gaffes of the Okinawa Defense Bureau chief, that brought her husband into the defense ministry – he will be entrusted with bringing progress to an issue whose legs gave out years ago. As a member of the Special Committee on Okinawa and Northern Problems, Naoki Tanaka would appear to have an interest in the Okinawan problem (or perhaps he’s just interested in the Northern Territories?), but we can only hope this will not see Makiko Tanaka, now Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, getting her say again.

Naoki Tanaka has served as parliamentary secretary in the foreign ministry and head of the upper house’s foreign affairs and defense committee. Compared to his self-professed ‘amateur’ predecessor, Yasuo Ichikawa, Tanaka at least looks like he is interested in the issues he will be facing at the head of Ministry of Defense. However, as the AFP unflatteringly writes, he “has spent most of his political life riding the coat-tails of his adopted family” and is “remains an unknown quantity for many in defense and national security circles.” The Yomiuri quotes a defense ministry official’s response to the appointment: “He’s an amateur, isn’t he, just like Mr. Ichikawa?” Uh-oh.

This quote from the Japan Times only adds to the sense of malaise:

“No one knows if Tanaka can handle” the relocation issue, Nihon University’s [Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor,] said. “But the appointment must have been a desperate measure” for party unity.

Also like Ichikawa, Tanaka’s placement says more about the political dynamics of the Democratic Party of Japan than it says about the Party’s designs on foreign and security policy. Tanaka and his wife are close allies to Ichiro Ozawa, and Makiko Tanaka remains something of a heavyweight, as the Yomiuri explains:

A senior official in the DPJ speculated Tanaka was appointed to acquire the support of his wife, former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, also a DPJ member, for raising the consumption tax rate. Makiko Tanaka has so far criticized efforts to increase the consumption tax rate.

We at JSW hope that Naoki Tanaka will surprise us and bring energy to the deflated ministry, but we’re not holding our breath. In the meantime, I leave you with an updated infographic: Japanese Prime Ministers and their Defense Ministers.

Japanese Prime Ministers and their Defense Ministers

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch