An American journalist's informed and eye-opening audit of Japan's de facto governance by unelected bosses during much of the post-WW II era. Drawing on five years of experience as a Tokyo-based correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, Schlesinger first outlines the history of the Liberal Democratic Party, which effectively ran the island nation from 1955 until 1993. At the heart of the LDP's story is Kakuei Tanaka, the sometime prime minister who gained influence the old-fashioned way, i.e., by purchasing it with cash, favors, and public works projects. The author devotes more than half his text to the roguish, pragmatic populist who, before coming to grief (over a bribe from Lockheed Aircraft), created a political machine that dominated the LDP and hence Japan. Tanaka and his faction wielded clout sufficient to pick compliant prime ministers, fill key cabinet posts, and determine budget priorities. After the founding father faded from the scene during the early 1980s, a troika of remarkably talented pols (Shin Kanemaru, Ichiro Ozawa, and Noboru Takeshita) took control of the Tanaka coalition. While the shadow shoguns were masters at attracting billions of yen in campaign contributions, they proved inept at selecting prime ministers able to stay the course. At length, the Cold War's end, the implosion of Japan's so-called bubble economy, Western pressures for more open trade practices, and a series of sordid scandals helped put paid to the Tanaka bloc's unchallenged dominion. The days of the backroom power brokers are over, albeit with consequences that have yet to be reckoned with either in the archipelago or the wider world. An astute, accessible, and absorbing analysis of an insular nation's arrogant and corrupt political heritage.