Itochu chief Sejima, ex-war strategist, dead at 95

Kyodo News

News photo
Ryuzo Sejima –
poses with Toshio Doko (center), then chairman of the government’s second ad hoc
council for the promotion of administrative reform, in Tokyo’s Nagatacho district in June 1986.

Born to a farming family in Toyama Prefecture on Dec. 9, 1911, Sejima graduated from the army academy and participated in forming war strategies as a staff member of the Imperial Headquarters.

Imprisoned in Siberia for 11 years after the war, he returned to Japan in 1956 and joined C. Itoh & Co., the predecessor of Itochu, in 1958. He contributed to turning it from a textile trader into a major general trading house.

After joining the company, he was engaged in the aircraft business and became a board member in four years. While leading the company to expand its business into the oil industry, he also arranged an alliance between U.S. automaker General Motors Corp. and Isuzu Motors Ltd. in 1971.

After serving as executive vice president and president of Itochu, he became chairman in 1978 and served as a special adviser between 1987 and 2000.

In March 1981, Sejima joined the second ad hoc council of the government for the promotion of administrative reform, helping Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone push forward reform measures.

As a member of the council, Sejima played a major role in privatizing Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corp. and the Japanese National Railways as a member of the government’s commission on administrative reform.

As a powerful aide to Toshio Doko, chairman of the council, Sejima worked behind the scenes to convince politicians, labor unions and others that opposed the privatization.

Sejima served as Nakasone’s emissary to Seoul, paving the way for his unexpected visit to South Korea in January 1983 for talks with President Chun Doo Hwan.

Nakasone, who came to power in November 1982, made South Korea his first overseas destination as prime minister. He visited the United States for talks with President Ronald Reagan later the same month.

Besides being one of the brains for Nakasone, he was also close to many other prime ministers, including Keizo Obuchi, Kiichi Miyazawa and Ryutaro Hashimoto.

Sejima was repeatedly criticized by those who said a former war planner shouldn’t meddle with politics.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe praised Sejima for “surviving before, during and after the war, particularly the 11 years of hardship in Siberia.”

Abe said Sejima “rendered distinguished service to Prime Minister Nakasone’s administrative reforms.”

Nakasone told reporters he will not forget Sejima’s efforts in the privatization of JNR and NTT and that he is “disappointed and saddened at the loss of such a valuable human asset.”

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