He was born in Soja city, Okayama prefecture. His father, Hashimoto Ryogo, was a cabinet minister under Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke. Following his father's lead, Ryutaro received his degree in political science from Keio University in 1960, and was elected to the House of Representatives of Japan in 1963.
He moved through the ranks of the Liberal Democratic Party over the next twenty years, landing a spot as Minister of Health and Welfare under premier Ohira Masayoshi in 1978, and in 1980 became the LDP's director of finance and public administration. He again became a cabinet minister in 1986 under Nakasone Yasuhiro, and in 1989 became secretary general of the LDP, the highest rank short of prime minister.
The LDP momentarily lost power following the collapse of the bubble economy, and in 1991, the press discovered that one of Hashimoto's secretaries had been involved in an illegal financial dealing. Hashimoto retired as Minister of Finance, but was almost immediately brought back to the cabinet, this time under coaltion premier Murayama Tomiichi as Minister of International Trade and Industry. As the chief of MITI, Hashimoto made himself known at meetings of APEC and at summit conferences. When Murayama stepped down in 1996, the LDP elected Hashimoto to become Japan's next prime minister.
Hashimoto's popularity was largely based on his attitude. Famously, when asked about why Japanese car dealerships didn't sell American cars, he answered, "Why doesn't IBM sell Fujitsu computers?" However, when Japan's economy didn't seem to be recovering from its 1991 collapse, Hashimoto ordered a commission of experts from the private sector to look into improving the Japanese market for foreign competition, and eventually opening it completely. This gave Hashimoto the political capital he needed to dissolve the Diet in 1997 and win re-election.
The second time Hashimoto dissolved the Diet, in 1998, the LDP lost seats, so he resigned, letting Foreign Minister Obuchi Keizo take over. Hashimoto remains in the upper echelons of the LDP and continues to be a dominating back-room force in Japanese politics. He was a candidate for prime minister following the fall of Mori Yoshiro, but he elected to let Koizumi Junichiro through instead.
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