TOKYO, NOV. 6 -- Noboru Takeshita, the soft-spoken son of a sake brewer who says the devastation of World War II motivated him to enter politics, was elected Japan's 15th postwar prime minister today.
Takeshita's election and installation by the Japanese Diet, or parliament, had been expected since Oct. 20, when then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone personally anointed Takeshita, 63 (pronounced Tuh-KESH-tuh). Both men are members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has dominated the Diet for more than 30 years.
In a largely symbolic effort, an unusual coalition of opposition parties today offered up their own candidate for prime minister, Japanese Socialist Party chairwoman Takako Doi, who received 217 votes to Takeshita's 442 votes. A handful of votes went to two other minor candidates.
The policies of Japan are expected to change little, if at all, with today's selection of a new prime minister and Cabinet. Takeshita said he expects to follow the international and domestic policy lines pursued by Nakasone.
Foremost will be continued close ties to the United States. During the campaign for prime minister, Takeshita said he would work to improve the Japanese-U.S. relationship, which has become strained by the two countries' large trade imbalance. He is planning to visit Washington in January.
Officials said this week that the trip will be designed to increase Takeshita's exposure in the United States, where, despite his previous position as Japan's finance minister, he is almost unknown. Takeshita also may use the visit to demonstrate his willingness to cooperate with the United States by offering a concrete proposal to deal with one of the many festering economic issues between the two countries, associates said.
On the domestic front, Takeshita said he will push tax reform, an issue that eluded Nakasone, expansion of Japan's domestic economy, reduction in skyrocketing land prices and improvement of rural living standards.
Although Takeshita is unlikely to differ from Nakasone in policy, he offers a stark contrast in style to his outspoken, gregarious predecessor, whose manner helped him achieve unusual popularity at home and abroad.
Nakasone conspicuously cultivated a "presidential-style" image of a strong leader providing direction from the top. Takeshita is a consensus politician who moves carefully and often slowly, shunning the limelight. His oft-quoted credo is, "I do the sweating and give others the credit." Associates say he is relaxed and easy-going in private, but uncomfortable and tense in more formal settings. He is jug-eared, self-effacing and diminutive. He recently recalled attending a summit of finance ministers -- when seated at the discussion table, his feet did not reach the ground.
Takeshita is the son of an affluent sake brewer and local politician in western Shimane Prefecture. During World War II, he was drafted from Waseda University to serve as a pilot.
After the war he finished college and returned home to teach English, which he acknowledges that he cannot really speak. Elected to the local legislature at age 27, he moved up quickly into the national Diet, holding important positions in various Cabinets, including Nakasone's.
Takeshita has little experience in foreign affairs, and there are some worries here that he will not handle himself -- or Japan -- well in this area, which Nakasone made his forte and which is viewed as vitally important for this rich island nation. While Takeshita has not fostered great expectations -- in fact, public opinion polls show little enthusiasm for a Takeshita-led government -- optimists here, including U.S. diplomats, see much possibility for surprise.
Takeshita comes to the office with a stronger hand than Nakasone had for tackling some sticky domestic issues, such as agricultural subsidies and tax reform, that are certain to offend politically powerful special interests.
Takeshita is known as one of the Diet's most effective behind-the-scenes operators, and his party faction is the largest, which gives him a comfortable base for launching tough legislative battles.
Coming from a rural, agricultural area, he has the credentials to take on the well-entrenched agricultural cooperatives that have kept markets restricted, officials said. Because of a stint as construction minister, he has strong links to the building trades that could be used to convince them to allow greater access for foreign companies, a goal strongly sought by the United States.
Shortly after his election today, Takeshita began appointing his Cabinet. Under the Japanese political system, Cabinet posts are doled out to the various Diet factions of the Liberal Democratic Party, more or less in accordance with their size and the significance of the role that they played in the new prime minister's election.
The Nakasone faction did especially well, with Sosuke Uno winning the high-profile Foreign Ministry post and two other members being given the Construction and Telecommunications ministries, plum assignments when it comes to political fund-raising.
Takeshita's two opponents in the prime minister's race, who gracefully backed down in his favor after Nakasone's decision to back Takeshita, also were given good posts. Kiichi Miyazawa will remain finance minister while taking on the job of deputy prime minister. And former foreign minister Shintaro Abe takes over the top party post of secretary general, a job that Takeshita and many others have used as a jumping-off point for prime minister.