Mejiro Residence That Was Symbol of Japan Ex-PM Tanaka’s Political Power Completely Burns Down

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Jiang Zemin, then general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, made a courtesy call to former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka at his residence in Mejirodai, Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, on April 7, 1992.

A fire broke out at the onetime home of former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka in central Tokyo, burning the 800-square-meter two-story wooden house as well as a separate single-story structure and undergrowth in a forested area within the premises of the residence.

Tanaka’s eldest daughter, Makiko, 79, a former foreign minister, was at the residence in Mejirodai, Bunkyo Ward, when the fire started, along with her husband, Naoki, 83, a former defense minister, according to a senior officer of the Otsuka Police Station of the Metropolitan Police Department. They were evacuated without injury.

Makiko reportedly told the police that she had offered incense at a Buddhist altar. Police are investigating the cause of the fire.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A house that former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka once lived in is seen on fire in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, at around 4 p.m. on Monday.

Venue of political maneuvering

The residence, known as “Mejiro Goten,” or Mejiro palace, was seen as a symbol of Tanaka’s financial muscle and power.

Frequented by political heavyweights and lobbyists, the residence was the leading venue for political maneuvering during the Showa era (1926-1989).

Related parties who know of the residence during its heyday were at a loss for words over its sudden destruction.

In 1972, Tanaka became the youngest post-war prime minister at the time at 54. Even after he was arrested in 1976 in connection with sales of U.S. aircraft as part of what is said to be the biggest post-war bribery scandal in Japan, the Lockheed scandal, he continued to be called “the power behind the throne” and exercise influence.

Many politicians frequented the former Tanaka residence mainly during his term between 1972 and 1974, visits described as “pilgrimages to Mejiro.” Tanaka reportedly once said, “Japanese political decisions are made in Mejiro.”

Before he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1986, Shigeru Ishiba, former secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, worked for the Tanaka faction’s office and regularly visited Tanaka’s residence.

“Tanaka met lobbyist groups from around the country for five minutes each, and gave answers on the spot,” Ishiba said in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun on Monday. “Cabinet members, party executives, Diet members and heads of local governments all gathered in Mejiro.”

He also said the residence looked like a gorgeous public hall, with a huge garden and a reception room. “The waiting room could accommodate about 30 to 40 people,” he said.

The former Tanaka residence was the location of a number of significant moments in Japanese history.

When the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office arrested Tanaka over the Lockheed scandal, he turned himself in at his Mejiro home. He reportedly met with former executives of a trading company to discuss the selection of the aircraft model at the residence, which was searched by Tokyo prosecutors over the allegation.

On New Year’s Day in 1987, Noboru Takeshita, who was LDP secretary general at the time and later became prime minister, went to greet Tanaka at the residence but was turned away at the gate.

Tanaka was recuperating from a stroke that he had suffered after becoming furious that Takeshita, who was the key member of the Tanaka faction, had founded a group called Soseikai in 1985.

Tanaka is also known as the prime minister who managed to normalize diplomatic relations between Japan and China in 1972. For this reason, many key Chinese figures paid a visit to his Mejiro residence.

After Tanaka had retired from politics, Jiang Zemin, then general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, visited him at the residence in April 1992.

“The residence represented the pinnacle of Tanaka’s power. Another such place will never emerge. The symbol of that time has disappeared,” Ishiba said.