Born into a family of politicians, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (born 1942) was regarded as an outsider and a maverick, due to his surprise election to his post and his insistence on widespread reforms. Elected through a first–time open–door process in 2001, Koizumi is known for both his flamboyant personality and his politics and has become a pop culture icon in Japan. Following his election, he recorded a karaoke CD of Elvis Presley cover songs, while a chewing gum company released a mint flavor that bears his name.
Koizumi was born on January 8, 1942, in Yokosuk, outside Tokyo, Japan. He is one of six children born to Yoshi and Junya Koizumi. He came by his later interest in politics naturally. Koizumi's maternal grandfather, Matahiro Koizumi, a farmer's son, was a plasterer before he was elected to Japan's House of Representatives in the late 1930s. The House of Representatives is one of two houses of the Japanese Parliament, which is also known as the Diet. Koizumi's grandfather later also served as minister of posts and telecommunications and vice–speaker of the House. Junya Koizumi, Koizumi's father, was elected to Parliament using his father–in–law's politically advantageous last name, and for a time the two served beside one another. In the 1960s, Junya Koizumi also served as minister of state for defense.
Elected to Parliament
Koizumi graduated from Keio University with a degree in economics in 1967. He began postgraduate studies at the London School of Economics, but returned home in 1969 following the death of his father. After running unsuccessfully for his father's seat in Parliament, he became a junior secretary to Takeo Fukuda, a member of the House of Representatives who later became prime minister. "Petitioners made a line outside every morning," Koizumi once told Asahi Shimbun, according to an article in the New York Times. "I guarded the entrance, did calligraphy for Mr. Fukuda and dealt with the phone."
Koizumi sought a seat in the House again in 1972, and this time his bid met with success. Determining that marriage would enhance his political career, he consulted a matchmaker and picked out a photograph of Kayoko Miyamoto, a university student 14 years younger than him. He proposed to her after their first date, and the couple wed in 1978 in a lavish celebration with 2,500 guests. They divorced four years later and Koizumi retained custody of the couple's two children. As is the custom in Japan, all ties between the children and their mother were severed. Likewise, Koizumi has had no contact with a third son, born after the divorce.
Koizumi filled several government posts during the 1970s and 1980s, serving as state secretary for finance, the chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) and House of Representatives' finance committees, and chief deputy chair of the LDP's Diet Affairs Committee. In 1988, he was named health and welfare minister under Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita and was reappointed to the same post six months later under new Prime Minister Sosuke Uno. In 1991, he was named to the powerful post of chief deputy secretary general. That same year, along with two other LDP politicians, Koichi Kato and Taku Yamasaki, Koizumi laid out several political initiatives, which ultimately led to the resignation of recently elected Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu. Koizumi was named minister of postal and telecommunication services in 1992 but the next year, after the LDP failed to win a majority in the House of Representatives, he resigned.
Became Prime Minister
Koizumi launched his first bid for presidency of the LDP, a post that would make him prime minister, in 1995, pushing as a major plank in his platform privatization of Japan's postal–savings system, a massive government–run banking system based in post offices throughout the country. Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto appointed Koizumi to the post of health and welfare minister again in 1996. He stepped down from the post in 1998 to seek the LDP presidency a second time, losing to Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. When Obuchi fell into a coma in 2000, he was replaced by Yoshiro Mori, who achieved only a one–digit approval rating among Japanese citizens. In 2001, Koizumi won the LDP presidency in a surprise defeat of Hashimoto, and on April 24, 2001 he was named the party's 20th president and the country's 56th prime minister. For the first time in the country's history, the typically closed–door selection process was held in a more open forum, foreshadowing the numerous reform efforts on which Koizumi planned to embark.
Ignoring the long–standing tradition of awarding cabinet posts to those owed political favors, Koizumi quickly assembled an unorthodox cabinet of five women and three private–sector experts, most of them relatively young, alongside seven ministers from the previous administration. He named former opponent Makiko Tanaka, daughter of the late, reform–oriented Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, as the country's first female foreign minister. He vowed broad economic and political reforms of his own, as well, even if he could not gain LDP support. "If my party tries to destroy my reforms, if they try to stand in my way, I won't hesitate to destroy the party itself," he remarked, as quoted in a 2001 issue of Time.
As expected, an overhaul of the postal savings system became one of Koizumi's top priorities, and he also sought to redirect automobile–related tax revenues away from road construction and into areas that would be more likely to spur economic growth. He set a three–year target for the country's banks to write off years of debt resulting from bad loans. He also proposed a fiscal discipline policy designed to limit deficit spending in his heavily debt–ridden nation, but was unable to implement the policy as Japan's economy worsened.
Koizumi and his advisors' administrative style also differed from that of their predecessors. "Surface calm—long considered a virtue of Japanese politics—has given way to open squabbles between ministers and running battles with bureaucrats," observed Jonathan Watts in The Guardian. "Scripts have been thrown away in favor of off–the–cuff remarks. Diplomatic policy is made one day, discarded the next. Instead of the stoic dispassion admired by the old samurai–style politicians, there are tears, outbursts or anger and admissions of stress reminiscent of Princess Diana."
Divorced, with grown–out permed hair and a noted preference for Armani suits and heavy metal music, Koizumi became known as much for his anti–establishment public persona as for his political agenda. Soon after assuming the prime minister post, he released a CD of his own karaoke covers of Elvis Presley songs, while a chewing gum company named a mint flavor in his honor and a publisher issued a coffee table book of photographs of the prime minister engaging in various leisure–time pursuits. "He was always murenai" observed political commentator Nobuhiko Shima in a 2001 issue of Time, "outside the group. He always went his own way. Now, in Japan, outsiders are respected. It's a big change." Koizumi even played up his reputation in a television campaign advertisement. "So I'm an eccentric?" he asked. "People judged eccentric in Nagata–cho [a district of Tokyo] are thought pretty normal by the general public."
Mixed Reception Internationally
Reaction to Koizumi outside Japan has been more mixed. He is considered an ally by U.S. President George W. Bush, due in part to his willingness to commit troops to the Iraq war, but he has raised the ire of China and South Korea with his annual visits to Yasukuni, a Shinto shrine honoring Japan's war dead, including several war criminals. Support at home began to wane, too, as the economy worsened and Koizumi found it difficult to implement many of his planned reforms. He faced a no–confidence vote in 2002, called by the rival Democratic Party. That same year he fired Tanaka, who had remained a controversial figure throughout her tenure. Tanaka broke down in tears publicly as the conflict came to a head, and Koizumi spurred a small controversy of his own. After he remarked that tears were a woman's greatest weapon, 18 female members of Parliament demanded a retraction.
Koizumi was re–elected in 2003, though by a smaller majority than in the 2001 election. By 2004, his approval rating fell to 36 percent and the LDP fell two seats short of its 51–seat goal for upper house Parliamentary elections, although the party retained its majority. Prior to the 2004 elections, Koizumi reaffirmed his promise to pursue reforms in a Parliamentary address, which is reprinted on his government's website. "Having been granted the trust of the people of Japan in the general election that took place in November 2003, I once again have been given the honor of bearing the heavy responsibilities of Prime Minister of Japan," he stated. "Firmly maintaining the policy that has been followed to date of 'without structural reform there will be no rebirth or growth in Japan,' and reflecting once more on the words of the Chinese philosopher Mencius that 'when about to place a great responsibility on a person, heaven may test one with hardship and frustrated efforts in order to toughen one's nature and shore up deficiencies,' I will continue to promote reforms with firm resolve." In addition, Koizumi committed to sustained environmental protection, improvements in the education system, and economic recovery. "On the foundation of the stable administrative coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito, I am now seeking to realize a country where the buds of reform are nurtured into a large tree and a country granted the trust of the world full of pride and confidence," he remarked.
In January of 2005, Koizumi announced that he would not seek re–election after the end of his term in September of 2006. "I'm trying not to succumb to pressures or exhaustion as this will end in September next year at the latest," he stated, as quoted by the British Broadcasting Corporation's wire service. He expressed hope that a like–minded politician would take his place. "I think anyone would be okay if the person is to promote reforms and win the trust of the people," he said.
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Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations: World Leaders, Gale Group, 2003.
BBC Wire Service, January 19, 2005.
Guardian, September 1, 2001.
New Statesman, July 9, 2001.
Newsweek International, May 7, 2001.
Time, September 17, 2001.
New York Times, April 25, 2001.
"Junichiro Koizumi," Biography Resource Center,http://galenet.galegroup.com (January 19, 2005).
Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet Website,http://www.kantei.go.jp (January 19, 2005).
"Profile: Junichiro Koizumi," BBC website,http://www.news.bbc.co.uk (January 19, 2005).