Washington's savvy ambassador to Japan in the 1960s, Edwin Reischauer, used to send visiting Americans to see a brilliant civil servant, Kiichi Miyazawa.
"He knows more about Japan and the world than the whole cabinet put together," Reischauer told the visitors.
Well, Mr. Miyazawa now has assumed, for the second time in his long career, the most important post in the cabinet. That's minister of finance, the economic czar who is supposed to close banks, rescue depositors, reform the Japanese financial system, and restart the slumbering economy (Japan's) that's supposed to rescue the sunken economies of Pacific Asia.
Tall order. And Miyazawa knew it. He accepted the post reluctantly, citing his age, but said "I will do my best for an economic recovery."
The younger generation in Japan is impatient over the nearly decade-long fumbling that has spent multibillions on public works and financial subsidies but left the economy stagnant.
So the appointment of the oldest finance minister since World War II to gun the engine that's supposed to tug Asia back to growth, new jobs, and prosperity might seem quixotic. But don't be fooled. Miyazawa is smart. He knows markets. And he has something to prove, since his prime ministership coincided with the start of Japan's economic stagnation.
Japan's economy accounts for some 70 percent of East Asia's gross product. It's the right engine to rescue.
Across the sea in China, octogenarian Deng Xiaoping once showed that a shrewd elder with little to lose could prod a stagnant hierarchy to change. Sometimes it takes an old reformer to introduce young ideas.