Kakuei Tanaka 田中角栄
Kakuei Tanaka was one of seven children in a poverty-bound family in the rural, snowy north of Japan. He left school in his early teens to work in the construction industry.
A chance meeting, in 1937, changed his life--and the history of Japan. In an elevator, he met the head of Riken Corporation who was impressed enough by the young man to hire him and have him work in the company's Tokyo office.
After light duty during World War II, he went back to Japan to work at an engineering company. Once again fortune shone upon him. He befriended the late president's widow, who asked him to marry her daughter. This helped propel him into the ranks of Japan's elite society.
Shortly after the War, Tanaka was elected to the Japanese Diet. In 1948, his faction joined the recently founded Democratic Liberal Party. There he successfully curried favor with Shigeru Yoshida, who made the young Tanaka Vice Minister of Justice.
Shortly thereafter, however, Tanaka had his first taste of scandal. He was arrested for accepting a bribe and had his ties cut from the Party.
In spite of this, he emerged stronger and in 1957 was named Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. His ties with Eisaku Sato, a future prime minister, consolidated his personal connections and power base.
In the 1960s, he rose to Minister of Finance and was set to become secretary general, but once again scandal struck. Because of real estate shenanigans in Tokyo, Tanaka was not chosen for the position.
In 1971, Tanaka once again came back and was made the Minister of International Trade and Industry (MITI). There he battled with the US over trade issues, which made him popular within Japan.
Later in the same year, Tanaka with the blessing of Yasuhiro Nakasone became Prime Minister. His followed US President Nixon's lead and normalized Japan's relations with China.
In October 1974, during his second turn as PM, investigations into his business practices--land deals, and in particular a deal with the Lockheed Corporation--got him into real trouble. The latter, in which he accepted $1.8 million, lead to his downfall and ultimate arrest.
Behind the scenes, though, Tanaka wielded tremendous influence until a stroke disabled him in 1985.
His daughter, Makiko Tanaka, was Foreign Minister in 2001-2002, and is a long-serving Diet Member.