Profile of Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka

October 1998

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka is a six-term member of the House of Representatives and is a powerful figure in the largest faction of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) headed by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. He played a key behind-the-scenes role in the inauguration of the Obuchi administration.

When Prime Minister Obuchi set about forming his cabinet, his first decision was to appoint Nonaka as Chief Cabinet Secretary. This position makes Nonaka the Prime Minister's right-hand man and the cabinet's spokesperson. In any cabinet, the Prime Minister selects a politician he trusts and relies on to become Chief Cabinet Secretary. For Obuchi, Nonaka was just the man for the post.

Nonaka has few equals in the political world when it comes to information-gathering skills and the ability to conduct analysis and make decisions. The ruling LDP fell far short of a majority in the House of Councillors in the July 1998 upper house election, so negotiating with the opposition parties has become a vital factor for the government in enacting bills. Nonaka has strong ties with opposition parties' leaders, so much is expected of his talents in this respect. Nonaka is a veritable mainstay in the Obuchi cabinet.

Nonaka, 72, was born in Kyoto Prefecture on October 20, 1925. This makes him 11 years older than the Prime Minister. It is rather unusual for there to be such a large age difference between the Prime Minister and Chief Cabinet Secretary, but this is an expression of the expectations that Prime Minister Obuchi, facing a tough political situation, places in Nonaka's political abilities.

Nonaka is a typical parliamentary politician, having worked his way up from a municipal assembly seat. After graduating from a prewar middle school, he went to work in the Japanese National Railways' Osaka rail control bureau. At the age of 25 he became an assembly member in Sonobe, his hometown, and during his three terms he served as Vice-Speaker and Speaker of the assembly. At the age of 33 he became the Mayor of Sonobe, and during his two terms he served as Vice-Chairman of the Japan Association of Towns and Villages, and on the National Government's Tax Commission, which made him a familiar figure on the national scene.

In 1967 Nonaka became a member of the Kyoto Prefectural Assembly, serving three terms. At that time the LDP was an opposition party in the Prefectural Assembly, but Nonaka provided a check for the prefectural government's policies with insightful and persistent questioning fueled by his characteristic abundance of information. He therefore made a strong impression on the citizens of Kyoto Prefecture.

In 1968 Kyoto elected a conservative-centrist governor, and Nonaka, picked for his political ability, became Vice-Governor. In 1983, just after his resignation as Vice-Governor, a by-election for the House of Representatives was held in Kyoto's then second constituency to fill the vacancies left by the death of two LDP MPs. Nonaka was endorsed as a successor to one of them and gained a seat. He was 57 years old at the time.

Despite his late entry into national politics, Nonaka was quick to make a name for himself. After serving as a Director of the House of Representatives Committees on Communications and Construction, he was appointed Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Construction and then, in 1991, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Communications.
He worked hard to bring together the coalition cabinet of the LDP, Social Democratic Party of Japan (SDPJ), and New Party Sakigake, headed by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, in June 1994 and was given his first cabinet post as Minister of Home Affairs and concurrently Chairman of the National Public Safety Commission. Despite being elected to the House of Representatives just five times, Nonaka was singled out for his abilities.

In the following year, 1995, the myth that Japan was a safe country was rocked by a series of emergencies: the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake on January 17, which claimed more than 6,000 lives; the sarin poisonous gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult on March 20; and the shooting of the Director General of the National Police Agency on March 30.

Amid a questioning of the government's crisis management capabilities, Nonaka took the initiative and responded swiftly at the time of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake by mobilizing police and fire-fighting forces, and he demanded a thorough investigation of Aum Shinrikyo, setting the ball rolling toward the cult's disbandment.

Moreover, prior to the sarin attack in Tokyo, there had been a similar attack by the same cult in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, and initially one of the victims had been treated by the police as a suspect. Nonaka won plaudits from the mass media for the sincerity of his response when, in his position as Chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, he made a public apology to the victim.

In September 1995 Nonaka entered the LDP's executive lineup as Acting Secretary General. He became an essential figure not only within the LDP but also in maintaining ties with the LDP's coalition partners, the SDPJ and New Party Sakigake. As a "shadow secretary general," he played a key supporting role for the administration of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. The political commentator Takao Iwami has given high marks to Nonaka's energetic activities and strong influence in a wide range of policy-drafting fields, calling him the "sharpshooter of the political world." Time magazine also praised his activities as the command post of the Hashimoto administration.

For Prime Minister Obuchi, Nonaka is an irreplaceable figure, and the two act in perfect unison.

Nonaka also has long experience in helping the disabled. For many years he has operated two facilities in Kyoto for the severely physically disabled.

Nonaka's motto is, "Society without love is darkness, society without sweat is ruin." Nonaka and his wife Tsutae have one daughter.

Brief Personal History
Oct. 20, 1925Born in Kyoto Prefecture
1943Graduates from Sonobe Prefectural Middle School and enters JNR Osaka rail control bureau.
1951Elected member of Sonobe Municipal Assembly.
1958Elected Mayor of Sonobe.
1967Elected member of Kyoto Prefectural Assembly.
1978Appointed Vice-Governor of Kyoto Prefecture.
1983Elected to the House of Representatives (H.R.); now serving his sixth term.
1988Appointed Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Construction.
1991Appointed Chairman, H.R. Committee on Communications.
1993Appointed Chairman, H.R. Committee on Construction and Director, H.R. Committee on the Budget.
1994Appointed Minister of Home Affairs and Chairman of the National Public Safety Commission.
1995Appointed Liberal Democratic Party(LDP) Acting Secretary General and Director of General Affairs, LDP Election Strategy Headquarters.
July 1998Appointed Chief Cabinet Secretary.

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