He came from the West and journeyed in regal splendor to the land of the Rising Sun, a tall stranger with a macho haircut, and his wife by his side. For his Japanese hosts, he evoked the rawboned cowboy heroes from Hollywood’s past. He gave a few speeches. He dined well. He was interviewed on Japanese TV. And, after eight days, Ronald Reagan returned to his California ranch with an estimated $2 million that he didn’t have before.
Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s visit to Japan last week was sponsored by the giant Fujisankei Communications Group, the country’s largest media conglomerate, which spent a total of $7 million—that’s 1 billion yen—on the Godzilla-size corporate goodwill visit. Sankei Shimbun, the group’s flagship paper, led the fanfare with a banner headline that proclaimed MR. AMERICA IS COMING. And a flurry of commercials on the group’s radio and TV stations made sure everyone knew that meant Reagan.
The former First Couple flew to Japan in a specially equipped Boeing 747, complete with bedroom and shower. They shared the plane, although not the bedroom or the shower, with a retinue of 20 staffers, a dozen Secret Service agents and 229 U.S. military dependents invited along for a free ride to visit their relatives stationed in Japan. After a welcoming ceremony at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, the Reagans toured an outdoor art museum owned by Fujisankei and then retired for the night to the company’s guest house near Mount Fuji.
Their itinerary after that included a concert to benefit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation, meetings with business leaders and guest spots on Fujisankei-owned TV stations. The Reagans also had two days of official visits, including lunch with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.
But was it appropriate, critics asked, for a former President to cash in on his White House luster so blatantly? Of the four living ex-Presidents, Jimmy Carter seems to have done the least for financial gain, spending his time instead on church-, housing-and peace-related efforts. Richard Nixon has published seven books, but accepts no honoraria for public appearances. Gerald Ford has turned himself into a one-man industry, producing endorsements, speeches and public appearances and serving on corporate boards; last year alone he earned an estimated $1 million. All that, however, pales next to Reagan’s $2 million single score in Japan. Says Henry F. Graff, a Columbia University professor who specializes in the Presidency: “The founding fathers-Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison—would have been stunned that an occupant of the highest office in this land turned it into bucks.”
Not that the Japanese seemed to mind. As Reagan flitted from one function to another, they were charmed by the smile that has come to be known as the Ron sumairu. And the Imperial Palace even awarded him the Grand Cordon of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum for his contribution to U.S.-Japan relations. Reagan-san made plenty of people feel good—and for that, his hosts may have reckoned, the price was right.