TOKYO – Former Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, a longtime ruling party power broker who ruled as the bubble economy of the 1980s entered a decade-long downturn, died Thursday, an aide to a family member said. He was 87.
Miyazawa, who served from 1991 until 1993 as prime minister, died of natural causes at his home in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon, said Shigeru Muta, an aide to Miyazawa's lawmaker nephew, Yoichi Miyazawa.
The statesman, who was first elected to parliament in 1953, returned to high-profile politics late in life in 1998 when he was named finance minister by then-Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. He retired in 2003.
"He was a very knowledgeable politician," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki. "He taught us a lot about his life as a witness of history."
Miyazawa became well-known in the United States in 1992 when then-President George H.W. Bush Sr. fell ill during a state dinner in Tokyo and vomited on him. Video showed Miyazawa holding the president's head as First Lady Barbara Bush wiped his face.
Despite being at the helm as finance and prime minister in the prelude and outset of Japan's long-term economic malaise of the 1990s, he was well-regarded as an architect of the government's plan to bail out its debt-laden banking system.
Miyazawa's term as premier — marked by massive public works spending to buoy the failing economy — was short and ultimately humiliating, ending as he was hounded by scandal and toppled as leader of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Born in 1919 in Tokyo, Miyazawa came from a family of prominent politicians. His father was a member of parliament; his grandfather was a cabinet minister. One brother was a one-time governor and another an ambassador. He was related through marriage to two former prime ministers.
Miyazawa was educated at the prestigious Tokyo University, and later joined the Finance Ministry. An avid student of English, he acted as interpreter in Washington talks between Japan's finance minister and U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles following World War II.
He later served as director-general of the Economic Planning Agency, minister of international trade and industry, chief cabinet secretary and foreign minister.
During his first stint as finance minister in the late 1980s, Miyazawa suffered his first real brush with scandal when he had to resign in connection with an influence-buying affair.
Still, he managed a comeback, gaining the prime ministership in November 1991 with the backing of Shin Kanemaru, a legendary kingpin of LDP backroom politics.
Miyazawa's government began to unravel when he lost a vote of confidence in 1993 after failing to enact promised anti-corruption measures. The LDP fared badly in a snap election, losing the lower-house majority they had held since 1955.
As finance minister in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Miyazawa dealt with the nation's worst economic slump in decades. Miyazawa also contributed to resolving the Asian currency crisis by setting up a fund of much as US$30 billion for affected countries.
After his retirement from politics in 2003, Miyazawa remained active as a political and financial critic, appearing on TV talk shows from time to time, until recently.