Yasuo Tanaka (田中 康夫 Tanaka Yasuo?, born April 12, 1956) is a Japanese novelist and politician. He served as the governor of Nagano prefecture from 2000 to 2006, became president of New Party Nippon and has been elected to Japan's legislatures.
Tanaka was born in Musashino City in Tokyo, and moved to Nagano at age 8 when his father became a professor at Shinshu University. He initially failed the university entrance exams in 1975 and spent the next year studying in Tokyo to retake them. In 1976 he entered the Faculty of Law at Hitotsubashi University. He received the Bungei Prize in 1980 for his first novel, Nantonaku, Crystal Feeling while still a student. He graduated in the same year and briefly worked for the Mobil Oil Corporation for three months before leaving to continue his career as a writer. Tanaka married after graduating from university but divorced 11 months later.
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In 2000, Tanaka was elected governor of Nagano Prefecture, a rural prefecture in Japan, standing as an independent without the support of any major Japanese political party. Soon after, Tanaka became a focus of public attention in Japan for policies that represented a radical departure from the priorities of the Japan's bureaucratic establishment. These included his policy of halting dam building, campaigning for environmental issues and abolishing the Nagano Press Club.
These policies were designed to address ruinous public development projects that had left Nagano and many other prefectures burdened by debts. Japan is one of the most heavily dammed countries in the world with more than 3,000 dams and virtually no un-obstructed rivers.
These problems had long been recognized by citizens, but had been suppressed by the national media through the kisha club (記者クラブ kisha kurabu?) system which promotes a cosy relationship between journalists and the political and bureaucratic establishment.
Tanaka was one of the first prefectural governors to speak out against these issues and also filled a political vacuum caused by the paralysis of political leaders in Tokyo. His outspoken pronouncements have often been targeted and criticized by the media and other politicians, but his policies helped slash the debt burden faced by Nagano Prefecture.
In 2002, conservative assemblymen who were upset by Tanaka's challenge to decades of pork-barrel politics forced him from office by passing a vote of no-confidence. But in the ensuing election, Tanaka made a successful comeback, thanks to overwhelming popular vote.
In August 2005, Tanaka formed the New Party Nippon with a handful of other reform-minded members of the House of Representatives. He has said that the purpose of this political party is to push for reform.
He lost his governor's post in the August 2006 election to Liberal Democratic Party opponent Jin Murai. He regained political office in the 29 July 2007 elections by winning a seat in the Japanese House of Councillors, the only member of the New Party Nippon to hold a seat in either legislature. He currently serves in the House of Representatives of Japan in the People's New Party.
- People Power, Time magazine, 9 September 2002, retrieved 10 September 2007
- No more dams, Nagano Prefecture website, 13 November 2001, from Internet Archive: Wayback Machine, retrieved 10 September 2007
- No more dam illusions: The growing success of dam opponents in Japan, International Rivers Network, 2003, retrieved 10 September 2007
- Nagano's Champion of Change, Japan Times, 4 September 2005, retrieved 10 September 2007
- Ex-minister Murai beats incumbent Tanaka in Nagano gubernatorial race, Mainichi Daily News, 7 August 2006, from Internet Archive: Wayback Machine, retrieved 10 September 2007
- Ex-Nagano Governor Tanaka, Minshuto form alliance in Diet, Asahi Shimbun, 6 September 2007, retrieved 10 September 2007
- "Members (T)". House of Representatives of Japan. 17 June 2010. Retrieved 16 August 2010.