July 26, 2021

Takashi Tachibana, forerunner of investigative journalism in Japan, is dead

Journalist Takashi Tachibana, a pioneer in investigative journalism in Japan, died on April 30 of cardiovascular disease. He was 80 years old. As he wished, his funeral was held in the strictest of privacy, and his disappearance was not announced by his family until June 23.

Almost half a century ago, his meticulous survey published by the monthly Bungei Shunju, in October 1974, led to the downfall of the then popular prime minister, Kakuei Tanaka (1972-1974), over corruption cases. His revelations prompted other publications to also investigate the bubbling prime minister who was later also found guilty in the notorious Lockheed affair (international scandal over commissions paid by the American aerospace group to win contracts).

Born on May 28, 1940, in Nagasaki prefecture, a graduate of French literature from the University of Tokyo, Takashi Tachibana began by collaborating with the weekly Shukan Bunshun in 1964, then he resumed studying philosophy. Pulling the devil a little by the tail, writing for various magazines, he had opened a tiny bar, the Gargantua, with the motto “Fay what you want”, in the small enclosure of the alleys of Golden Gai, in the district of Shinjuku. in Tokyo, then haunt of a whole somewhat marginal world of writers, journalists, artists, filmmakers. He sold his bar two years later and traveled to Europe and the Middle East.

Thunder clap

Freelance journalist, not having to respect the caution of the editorial staff of the mainstream media with regard to power and stimulated by the Watergate affair in the United States, he embarked on a vast investigation into the “machinery” of the system. Tanaka power (land speculations, rigged calls for tenders, multiple complicity in the business world, slush funds and vote buying in favor of hidden financing of electoral campaigns, etc.). Armed with the documents he had gathered, he waited until his voluminous article was practically in print before contacting political figures in order to avoid a counter-offensive by Kakuei Tanaka to block the publication.

In Japan, where the mainstream press has always been – and still is – cautious about politics, Tachibana’s investigation sounded like a thunderclap, but it initially drew skeptical comments. It didn’t take long, however, to have a snowball effect. Invited to the Foreign Press Club in October 1974, Kakuei Tanaka appeared for the first time taken aback, if not destabilized, by the flood of questions. Angry, he had ended up leaving the room. This press conference has remained one of the most memorable of the Foreign Press Club, a venerable institution founded in 1945. It forced the major Japanese media out of their wait-and-see attitude.

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