Profile of Yasuo Tanaka

Former Nagano Governor,Ex-member ,Huse of Representative

Yasuo Tanaka was born in Tokyo on April 12, 1956. He moved to Nagano prefecture with his family in 1963, when his father took a teaching position at Shinshu University. He spent his childhood days in Ueda and Matsumoto cities in the prefecture from the 2nd grade until graduation from high school.

Tanaka received the Bungei Award in 1980, when he was a law student at Hitotsubashi University, with his maiden novel, ‘Nantonaku, Crystal (Feeling Crystal)’. The story, about young people living in an age of post-war economic prosperity, sold over one million copies. It received rave reviews from many literary critics, including Jun Eto and Hiroshi Noma, who is also a novelist.

In his second novel, ‘Brilliant na Gogo (Brilliant Afternoon)’, Tanaka wrote about a fashion model who puts all her energy and spirit in the spotlight of the catwalk. In ‘On Happiness’, he explored the checkered relationship between two girls seeking true happiness in life. He also wrote many short stories including ‘Mukashi-mitai (Just like Yesterday)’, ‘Thirsty’, and ‘H’, all of which focus on young people, the so-called ‘children of the consumption age’, living in an age of material prosperity and each struggling to find his or her true, self identity.

In his work in sociology, Tanaka began a series called ‘Faddish Modernology’ in the weekly Asahi Journal in 1985, and ‘Kami-naki kuni no Gulliver (Gulliver in a Godless Land)’ in the weekly Shukan Spa!. He is currently writing ‘Tokyo Peroguri Diary’ and ‘Kikkai Nippon (Bizarre Japan)’ in the evening newspaper, Nikkan Gendai.

In 1995, four days after the great Hanshin Earthquake, Tanaka rushed to help quake victims at evacuation shelters and tent villages, reaching survivors by riding on a 50-cc motorbike. He continued his volunteer activities for 6 months, helping people living in temporary housing. He wrote about his activities and thoughts on his ‘engagement’ with survivors in a book called ‘A Kobe Earthquake Journal’.

In October 2000, Tanaka was elected the Governor of Nagano. He declared a policy of‘No More Dams’ in February 2001, and a departure from the conventional press club system in May of the same year. His actions caused major controversy but also signaled the beginning of his fight against the system of an “old boys club” and the insular nature of the Japanese political system.

In July 2002, the Nagano assembly, which was overwhelmingly dominated by proponents of dam construction, passed a no-confidence motion against Tanaka. He chose to step down and announced a gubernatorial election on August 15th, which was coincidentally the anniversary of the end of World War Two. Tanaka won the election by a landslide.

Under Tanaka’s leadership and as detailed in his New Japan Declaration, Nagano became the only prefecture to reduce outstanding debt for 6 consecutive years by a total of 92.3 billion yen, and achieve a primary surplus for 7 straight years. Tanaka also implemented an open and transparent, competitive tendering system in various fields. The unprecedented move reduced the average successful bidding rate of over 97 percent to about 75 percent.

Nagano was the first nationwide to introduce elementary school classes limited to 30 students and carried out reforms in welfare, education, health care and the environment. His Declaration of the Karuizawa Method for Condominiums to preserve the scenery of the Karuizawa summer resort area was emulated by other autonomies in undertaking similar efforts.

Tanaka set up an investigative committee to probe irregularities in the bidding process for the Nagano Winter Olympics. Books, supposedly incinerated by the former governor and his close aide, were discovered. The committee also uncovered evidence of an audit oversight report by a bank president that dismissed all findings of irregularities in the financial reports for the bidding process, which resulted in massive unaccounted expenditure.

In August 2005, Tanaka established New Party Nippon with the message of ‘changing Japan from regional communities’. In a general election in September of the same year, the party fielded candidates in 5 out of 11 blocks under the proportional representation system and garnered 1.64 million votes (about 2.4 percent of total votes cast, and equivalent to votes garnered by the Social Democratic Party in the 11 blocks.)

In August 2006, Tanaka sought gubernatorial re-election for the 3rd time, but lost by a narrow margin, despite receiving 530,000 votes, or about 48 percent of valid ballots.

In the 21st Upper House election held in July 2007, New Party Nippon, with its ‘New Japan Declaration’ manifesto, won 1,770,707 votes under proportional representation and successfully secured a seat in the Diet.

New Party Nippon received over half a million more votes than the People’s New Party. It also won more votes than the Social Democratic Party in several municipalities, including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Nagoya.

Tanaka declared his candidacy for the No. 8th constituency in Hyogo prefecture in the 45th Lower House election held in August 2009, amid widespread public demands for a ‘change of government’.

The constituency covers all of Amagasaki city, which New Komeito Party heavyweight and former Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Tetsuzo Fuyushiba had consistently won over the years. As in past elections, neither the Liberal Democratic Party nor the Democratic Party fielded their own candidates, resulting in a race that pitted Tanaka, endorsed by the DPJ, against Fuyushiba, who was backed by the LDP.

At the same time, the DPJ’s key backer, Rengo (the Japanese Trade Union Confederation), chose not to endorse Tanaka because of his opposition to the construction of Kobe Airport. The local labor union, instead, backed a candidate from the Social Democratic Party. With two other candidates fielded by the Japanese Communist Party and the Happiness Realization Party, five candidates ran for a seat in the Hyogo No. 8 district. Amid wide public attention, Tanaka defeated Fuyushiba, a veteran politician with a 23-year-career dating back to the days of the old election system.

Since September 2009, Tanaka had been a member of a lower house parliamentary group it formed with the ruling DPJ and independents. But the resignation of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama prompted Tanaka to form a new parliamentary group with the People’s New Party, led by Shizuka Kamei, on June 8th, 2010.

In an agreement signed when forming the parliamentary group, New Party Nippon and the People’s New Party pledged to work together to create a community-centered society of aspiring middle-class families. The two parties also pledged to realize a society of hope and pride, instead of fear and anxiety, in which people are inspired to grow together through friendly competition.

This is very much in line with the philosophy that has always been championed by Tanaka and clearly stated in his ‘Change Nippon Declaration 2009.’

However, New Party Nippon ended its parliamentary partnership with the People’s New Party on April 6th, 2012 when its leader, Mr. Shizuka Kamei, who shares the same vision towards rebuilding Japan with New Party Nippon, left the party he had co-founded.

Free from affiliation to any businesses, public/private organizations and unions, New Party Nippon enjoys overwhelming support of so-called “ultra-independent voters” dissatisfied with existing political parties.

Main books
‘Nantonaku, Crystal (Feeling Crystal).’
‘a Kobe Earthquake Journal.’
‘Nippon - Minia Japonia’
‘Nagano Revolution 638 days’
‘Tokyo Peroguri Diary,’
‘Anti-Bid-Rigging Governor Yasuo Tanaka’

Tanaka has given speeches 4 times in the past at FCCJ, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, in June, 1981, May, 2001, August, 2002 and in August, 2005.

Declarations in English

Speeches in English at FCCJ as Nagano Governor
May 21st, 2001:
August 12th, 2002