Yasuhiro Nakasone (中曾根康弘) has already been mentioned in a couple of posts, but today, on what would have been his 102nd birthday, I thought I would pull together some additional thoughts.
Back in 1993, while on the JET Programme, when I decided to become an academic and start on a PhD, I had no idea that so much of my research would connect with Nakasone.
When I started my PhD, my plan was not to focus primarily on the Japanese education system, and certainly not Nakasone himself. But as my research evolved, it became clear that he would become a central figure in the research. In the end the PhD, and subsequent book (Japanese Education Reform: Nakasone’s Legacy) contained a chapter all about Nakasone and he appeared throughout the book as I looked to link the ideas of the on-going education reforms with Nakasone’s ideas.
As I completed my PhD and worked on the book, I also gave a seminar about whether Nakasone was a ‘nationalist’ or ‘internationalist’, the text of which I have put on this site.
During the course of my PhD research I was very fortunate to get to meet and interview Mr Nakasone. I had first seen him in 1996 when I visited his office and his secretary pointed him out to me as he was working on an email and coming to grips with this technology. I then met him in 1997.
I don’t remember many specifics from that interview now – although parts of it went into my papers and book. A couple of things I do remember is that he was very open and happy to talk – the whole interview being done in Japanese. One thing I do remember is walking around Tokyo afterwards not being able to quite believe that I had managed to meet Nakasone. I remember also reflecting on this when meeting a couple of Japanese friends during the trip and us discussing how far our lives had come since being at school together at Concord College. I had just interviewed a former Japanese Prime Minister (prime minister when I started at Concord College), one was looking after Debbie Gibson (who had been popular when we were at school) during a tour of Japan, and the other had (or was about to) travel with the Olympic flame in preparation for the Winter Olympics in Nagano. We’d come a long way, it seemed.
I went on to meet Nakasone on a few more occasions and he continued to come into my research. In 2000 I started researching the shinkansen and Nakasone’s involvement in the privatisation of JNR formed part of the discussions. I was also still working on some papers, for example for Chatham House (see my publications), in relation to nationalism in Japan and also got to meet then Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara.
By this time I had started working at Cardiff University, so for the meeting with Nakasone, I decided to wear a badge featuring the Japanese and Welsh flags. When he asked me what the badge was, I took pleasure in explaining what both flags were – although, of course, Nakasone was no stranger to the Japanese flag.
During another meeting, he was happy to show off some of his latest paintings.
I remember thinking in 2000 that Nakasone – by this time 82 years old – had aged a lot in the three years since I had seen him. However, in the following meetings, he seemed back to his sprightly self and was very sharp.
On one occasion I met him in London. I have two memories of this visit. First is that we went out to lunch with some Japanese journalists. It was a Chinese meal and after several courses it was clear that Nakasone was full. When the next course was served, and despite all of the conversations having been in Japanese up to that point, he sat back and said in English “Unconditional surrender”. The joke wasn’t lost on any of us. Also during that visit I was at his hotel when he met with Margaret Thatcher. I didn’t get a picture of Nakasone, but I did get one of Thatcher – apparently she wasn’t that happy about this. I may try to find this picture and digitise it one day & post it here.
The next time I saw him was at a reception after giving a paper, ‘Education as the Foundation of Everything’ and a Conference on Japan’s Political, Economic, and Social Systems and Its Contribution to the International Community hosted by the Institute of International Policy Studies, in Tokyo in 2006. We didn’t talk for long, but I do remember him being amused at (and not denying) my idea that Takasaki was looking to take over Maebashi and become the capital of Gunma.
When I started doing my research about the JL123 plane crash, I remember not even thinking about the fact that Nakasone was PM – and from the prefecture where the plane crashed – when I started the research, but thinking ‘Again?’ when I came across reference to him in one of the first Japanese books I read on the subject. I never interviewed Nakasone about the JL123 crash. I didn’t see the point as I couldn’t imagine him opening up to me about what really happened during that period and adding to what he had said/written before. Recently I have provided some text for a book by Tohko Aoyama about Nakasone and JL123. I still don’t know what happened – but there it is clear that there is still more to uncover. Whether Nakasone wrote anything and this will become public one day, I don’t know. I hope so. But I doubt it.
In 2019 I finally got to visit two sites in Hinode connected to Nakasone, as I have written about in this post. I went there as I had always wanted to visit and also because one of the sites would feature in my second novel, Tokyo 20/20 Vision. Shortly after completing the book, Nakasone died at the age of 101.
I was very fortunate to have met the man on four occasions. I spent a long time trying to ‘get inside his head’. Although my views on nationalism and my own identity have changed a lot since I first met him, I have continued to have a great deal of respect for the man. However, it would be amiss for me not mention that despite this, there are many things that he did that I cannot support, particularly in relation to the JL123. I am glad that the BBC gave me the opportunity to contribute their obituary of Nakasone – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000c4s6.
Yasuhiro Nakasone (27 May 1918 – 29 November 2019, Prime Minister 27 November 1982 – 6 November 1987).