JAPAN: The Godfather-san

Back in 1964, former Japanese Premier Nobusuke Kishi needed a big favor: a guarantee that his brother Eisaku Sato would succeed ailing Hayato Ikeda as Premier. So Kishi paid a secret visit to a Tokyo businessman who obligingly made a few telephone calls to his friends. As a result, Sato's opponent hastily withdrew from the race, and Sato went on to become Japan's Premier for an unprecedented eight years.

The tale illustrates the astonishing behind-the-scenes influence wielded by Ryoichi Sasakawa, 75, the most powerful remaining member of a vanishing breed of Japanese...

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