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Meet (Yet Another) Japanese Prime Minister

But don't get used to him. It's a high-turnover job.

by
Garrett DeOrio

Bio

September 29, 2008 - 12:00 am
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Three years ago, he had a big October, saying both: “[Japan] has one culture, one language, one civilization, one race” and was the only such country in the world, and “The Japanese were trusted [in the Middle East] because they had never been involved in exploitation there or been involved in fights or fired machine guns. Japan is doing what the Americans can’t do. It would probably be no good to have blue eyes and blonde hair. Luckily, we Japanese have yellow faces.”

In February 2006, he upset Taiwan by saying compulsory education, in Japanese, in Taiwan when it was a Japanese colony was a good thing, then upset China a month later by calling Taiwan a “law-abiding country.”

Most controversially, he called for the emperor to visit the controversial shrine to Japan’s war dead, Yasukuni, visits to which by prime minister Koizumi caused a substantial rift in Japan’s relations with both China and South Korea.

There are more, but you get the picture.

His hobbies? He’s into manga — Japanese comic books — especially a series called Rozen Maiden, and suggested that Japan promote these modern, popular art and entertainment forms abroad when he was foreign minister. While preparing for a debate with Yasuo Fukuda last year, he was caught on camera explaining manga plots to a visibly uninterested Fukuda. While it may not be a hobby of his anymore, Aso was once also an accomplished skeet shooter, representing Japan at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.

And his background? Like many Japanese politicians, he’s from a political dynasty — and an impressive one. Imagine the Bushes and Kennedys combined and with a direct link back through Roosevelt and Lincoln to Jefferson and you kind of have the picture.

Working backwards, Aso’s sister is Princess Tomohito of Mikasa, wife of Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, cousin of Akihito, the current emperor and nephew of the Showa emperor, better known in the West as Hirohito. On his father’s side, Aso is the son of Takakichi Aso, a cement magnate whose firm used forced Korean labor during World War II.

Aso’s mother was the daughter of former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, one of the founding members of the LDP in the 1950s, who was in turn the grandson of Toshimichi Okubo, the samurai-turned-founding father of modern Japan.

Aso’s wife, Chikako, is the daughter of former Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki.

Like many a scion of prominent Japanese families, Aso studied at Stanford University as a young man. Unlike any of his predecessors as prime minister, Aso is a Roman Catholic.

Now that you know a bit about the man, what is he going to do?

Well, he has advocated spending initiatives to stave off recession and will seek to renew Japan’s commitment to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, as well as the maintenance of Japan’s relationship with the United States.

All of this will draw less ink than the pure politics to come. Prior to Aso’s election, senior LDP officials began telling the press that the House of Representatives would be dissolved and a general election called in either late October or early November.

Unfortunately for Aso, the expected jump in approval ratings did not materialize and one day into the job, his cabinet’s approval rating stood at a mere 49.2%. His cabinet features portfolios that were apparently doled out in gratitude for support: a relatively low-profile chief cabinet secretary, Takeo Kawamura, already in trouble with financial scandals; the aforementioned, tainted Shigeru Ishiba, appointed as agriculture minister, a post from which departure in disgrace under the cloud of a financial scandal is the norm; and, as minister of internal affairs, former Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama, who is the son of former Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama, relevant here mainly because he holds the record for shortest term by a prime minister at 46 days.

With an election looming, the economy not looking any better, and scandals and mismanagement galore trying the voting public’s patience, the LDP might face rough times in the upcoming election. Should that happen, Aso might break Hatoyama’s record.

There’s more bad news for the LDP: overshadowing Aso’s first day as prime minister was the announcement of former PM Junichiro Koizumi, still among the country’s most popular political figures, that he would not run for reelection.

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Garrett DeOrio runs Trans-Pacific Radio, a podcast channel based in Tokyo which provides regular review and analysis of Japanese and East Asian news and politics
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