Kanemitsu Anraku is a modest guy who just happens to have been friends with two prime ministers—and served as a private secretary to one—moved effortlessly between Japan’s political and business spheres, and climbed up near the top of auto giant Nissan’s hierarchy.
Kanemitsu Anraku says he was “just an ordinary boy with a good sense of humor” who grew up in Tokyo. His manner is humble, affable and reflective. You have to listen to his narrative to discover the extraordinary events that shaped his life and watch for the brief flashes of a true humorist to know the man he became.
First, about that “ordinary boy” aspect—during his school years Anraku organised events such as athletic meets and wrote scripts for and performed in dotabata (slapstick) comedy shows in the wacky style of famed comedian Ken Shimura, including one titled “Julio and Romeo.” While at university, he says, he didn’t go to student demos, which were all the rage at the time. “I played tennis with my friends instead.”
His choice of major at Tokyo University was, however, a vast departure from his dotabata days—the dismal science of economics. His inspiration was one of his professors, Dr. Ryutaro Komiya, an influential economist who earned the Order of Culture, went to the U.S. to study at Harvard, and in 1961 wrote an influential book called American Life.
“He discovered such big differences between Japan and the States,” Anraku notes. “For example, hot water on tap was rare in Japan then, but was common in the U.S.”
When Anraku joined Nissan Motor Co. in 1964, he was placed in the accounting department. “New people usually get sent to the factory to count small parts and so on, but I was employed in the head office,” he recalls.
Three years into his career an unexpected opportunity came along. “The head of our labor union—who had some connection with the political world—was asked to recommend someone from Nissan to the government, which wanted to add people from the private sector to the Economic Planning Agency. I was selected, maybe because of my career at university.”
The position didn’t pay anything, he notes, but “we could learn how the political world works and about economic white papers. We joined to write white papers, formed relationships with bureaucrats, and the government gained knowledge from private companies.”
That assignment lasted three years. When Anraku returned to the Nissan fold in 1970, he joined the finance department. The yen was appreciating at the time, and yet foreign exchange was not really popular with banks, and knowledge at Nissan about forex was limited. Since he’d researched this—and despite his youth—Anraku was asked to talk to the big boss in accounting and explain its importance.
Five years later, yet another fantastic twist in the matrix put Anraku back into the public sphere—as the private secretary to Prime Minister Takeo Miki.
“I had gone to school with his daughter and visited his home to have fun with those people,” Anraku says casually. “I also stayed at their family cottage. We were very close. Because of that, he even became my nakodo (matchmaker) when I wanted to get married.”
The chairman of Nissan at the time, Katsuji Kawamata, agreed to send Anraku along to take on the role of PM Miki’s secretary.
That same year, in November 1975, Anraku accompanied the prime minister to France to attend the first G7 world summit, staged at the Chateau de Rambouillet on the outskirts of Paris. “But I was just looking around Paris, having nothing to do with meeting itself,” he says with a grin.
Given Anraku’s ability to move smoothly between the public and private sectors, it was not surprising that Miki urged him to run for a Diet seat. “But I was just a Nissan employee, not from a family of Diet members, and you need a lot of money and people around you to help. It was too difficult, so I rejected the idea.”
Many years later, Anraku became close to yet another prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi. “For some reason, Isao Iijima, Mr. Koizumi’s head secretary, liked me very much and invited me to the Cabinet Office,” he says. By this point, it should be mentioned, Anraku was the vice chairman of Nissan.
“I had a chance to talk to Mr. Koizumi many times,” he relates. “Again, nothing to do with my business career, and no pay for it, but it was a good experience.”
The two men share another bond that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with family and the arts. “He likes opera very much,” Anraku reveals, “and my daughter is a harpist for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. My wife and I went to the opera and saw Mr. Koizumi there. I told him, ‘My daughter is over there,’ and he waved at her. Whenever I see him, he always asks me how she’s doing.”
His daughter is in fact the acting principal harpist in that orchestra, and made her debut as a soloist with the Toronto Symphony. She’s also played in Germany, Israel, Austria and the U.S., among other places. Anraku is clearly proud of her career and music, calling it “angelic and ethereal.”
A Canadian Interlude
Anraku has his own powerful connection to Canada: Nissan sent him there between 1979 and 1984 as the vice president of administration and finance of Nissan Canada Inc. “We were the only Japanese auto company in Vancouver then,” he recalls. Times were hard because of the deficit in the international balance of payments with the U.S., which was fighting off imports from Japan.
Since he was on Canada’s West Coast it was perhaps inevitable that he would meet Wilf Wakely. “While I was in Vancouver, Wilf was there with his wife,” he recalls, “and we were both members of the Canada-Japan Society.
“The society holds a salmon derby every year on Horseshoe Bay,” he continues. “Wilf taught me how to use a rod. I went out one year and was the only person who caught a fish—just a little one—so I was the champion!”
Anraku later moved his office and staff to Toronto, joining Mazda and Toyota there. He cites an example of why he and his family found Canada and Canadians so friendly and kind. “We didn’t have a telephone in Toronto, but our next-door neighbor came to us and said: ‘If you want to use our telephone, please do. Here’s a key.’ ”
After stints in Canada and the U.S., he came back to headquarters and gradually moved up in the ranks at Nissan. In 2000, he became vice chairman and took a newly created position focussing on external and government relations. After a few years in the Ghosn era, he retired.
Many years later, no doubt due to his extensive experience with the government and business at high levels, Wilf Wakely asked Anraku to join the HBA, which is how he came to the CCCJ.
In recent years, Anraku has served as an advisor to Nissan entities such as Nissan Network Holdings as well as an independent director for Sony and Mizuho. “We look at a company as a whole, and if we have some doubts or questions, we ask them why they’re doing what they’re doing,” he states. “Because of my background, I focus on profit and other financial matters.”
On the personal side, Anraku is a long-time golfer and skier. “I often went skiing in Europe, like Zermatt in Switzerland from the top—over 3800 meters—and around the Matterhorn area,” he says. He enjoyed crossing the border into Italy for pasta afterward. While in Canada, he also regularly tested the slopes at Whistler in BC.
As you can tell, Kanemitsu Anraku was no ordinary boy.