TOKYO — Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, a giant of his country's post-World War II politics who pushed for a more assertive Japan while strengthening military ties with the United States, has died. He was 101.
The office of his son, Hirofumi Nakasone, confirmed that Nakasone died Friday at a Tokyo hospital where he was recently treated.
As a World War II navy officer, Yasuhiro Nakasone witnessed the depths of his country's utter defeat and devastation. Four decades later, he presided over Japan in the 1980s at the pinnacle of its economic success.
In recent years, he lobbied for revision of the war-renouncing U.S.-drafted constitution, a longtime cause that no postwar leader has achieved to date.
Nakasone began his political career as a fiery nationalist denouncing the U.S. occupation that lasted from 1945 to 1952, but by the 1980s he was a stalwart ally of America known for his warm relations with President Ronald Reagan.
He boosted defense spending, tried to revise Japan's U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution and drew criticism for his unabashed appeals to patriotism.
In the 1950s, he was a driving force behind building nuclear reactors in resource-poor Japan, a move that helped propel Japan's strong economic growth after World War II but drew renewed scrutiny in the aftermath of the meltdowns at a nuclear plant in Fukushima swamped by a tsunami in 2011.
The son of a lumber merchant, Nakasone was born May 27, 1918, the last year of World War I. He went to Tokyo Imperial University before entering the Interior Ministry and then the navy, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant commander during World War II.
In his last news conference as prime minister, he said his political ambitions were sparked after the war by "the conviction I felt as I gazed bewildered at the burned ruins of Tokyo."
"How can this country be revived into a happy and flourishing state?" he said.
He established his nationalist credentials by campaigning for parliament riding a white bicycle bearing the "rising sun," or the "Hinomaru" national flag, which Japan's wartime military had used. He won a seat in 1947, becoming the youngest member of parliament at age 28.
Nakasone became a leading figure in the Liberal Democratic Party that has dominated postwar politics. During more than a half-century in parliament, he served as defense chief, the top of the powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party before becoming prime minister.
Nakasone assailed the U.S.-drafted postwar constitution, demanding revision of the document's war-renouncing Article 9 and urging a military buildup.
He was a key figure behind crafting and ramming through government funding for nuclear research in 1954, less than a decade after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 200,000 people in the last days of the war. In 1955, he helped pass legislation designed to promote nuclear power.
"Atomic power used to be a beast, but now it's cattle," he told a parliamentary session in 1954.
In a 2006 speech marking the 50th anniversary of Japan's first nuclear institute in Tokaimura, Nakasone said he was intrigued by nuclear power as he tried to figure out why Japan lost the war.
"My conclusion was that one of the biggest reasons was (the lack of) science and technology," he said. "I felt strongly that Japan would end up being a lowly farming nation forever unless we take a bold step to develop science and technology."
After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, there was a public backlash against nuclear energy, but Nakasone said it remained indispensable to maintain Japan's industrial growth.
Nakasone is survived by his son Hirofumi — a parliamentarian — two daughters, and three grandchildren.