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HATOYAMAS

For Hatoyamas, politics is considered birthright

by Alex Martin

Often compared to the Kennedy family for the impressive list of lawmakers and scholars hailing from its ranks, the Hatoyama clan is one of the nation’s most prominent political dynasties.

And with Yukio Hatoyama, president of the Democratic Party of Japan, and brother Kunio, a veteran Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, stirring up the political scene as the general election nears, the glare of the media spotlight is on their each and every move.

Following are question and answers regarding the Hatoyamas:

Who are some prominent members of the clan?

The standout of this superrich family of political blue bloods is Ichiro Hatoyama (1883-1959), a prime minister and a founder of the LDP. Yukio and Kunio are his grandsons.

Throughout the prewar and postwar periods, Ichiro Hatoyama was a highly prominent politician and the main rival of early postwar Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, grandfather of Prime Minister Taro Aso, Yukio’s current main rival of sorts.

Born to Kazuo Hatoyama (1856-1911), a Yale University graduate who served as a chairman of the Lower House, Ichiro was first elected to the Lower House in 1915.

During the Occupation, he organized the conservative Liberal Party, which won a 1946 election and became the No. 1 party. He was almost set to become prime minister, but he was purged by the Occupation authorities from all public positions.

Yoshida instead was made the nation’s leader.

Ichiro became prime minister in 1954. In 1955, he combined conservative forces to establish the Liberal Democratic Party, which has since ruled the land except for eight months in 1993 and 1994. Ichiro served as the first president of the LDP.

Ichiro’s son, Iichiro (1918-1993), was a Finance Ministry bureaucrat and foreign minister in the Cabinet of the late Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda.

In 1942, he married Yasuko Ishibashi, the oldest daughter of Shojiro Ishibashi, founder of Bridgestone, now the world’s largest tire maker. The couple had two sons, first Yukio and then Kunio.

What is the Hatoyama brothers’ net worth?

Their cash and assets were the main financial source for establishing a group in 1996 that became the DPJ, which has since grown into the largest opposition force and may possibly oust the LDP from power in the Lower House election now expected to be held Aug. 30.

Yukio has reportedly provided financial assistance to many DPJ members, helping to expand his influence over others in the party.

The most recent public reports reveal that Yukio’s ¥1.65 billion in financial assets makes him the richest Lower House lawmaker and exceeds Prime Minister Aso’s ¥455 million by almost four times. Not listed are the assets held in the names of other members of the Hatoyama family.

These figures also do not include the 3.5 million Bridgestone shares that Yukio owns — estimated to be worth a few billion yen — as well as Hatoyama Hall, estimated to be worth around ¥5 billion.

Kunio’s latest figures, revealed in 2007 when Yasuo Fukuda inaugurated his Cabinet, show he had ¥730 million in assets. This figure excludes the value of 3.75 million Bridgestone shares.

Who is Yukio Hatoyama?

Born in 1947 in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, the one-time engineering scholar and current head of the largest opposition force is now regarded as one of the most likely to become prime minister.

Yukio became an assistant professor at Senshu University after graduating from the University of Tokyo and receiving a Ph.D. in engineering from Stanford University.

A latecomer to politics compared with Kunio, he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1986, running on the LDP ticket in Muroran, Hokkaido.

He left the LDP in 1993 to form New Party Sakigake at a time when the LDP was awash in money scandals and served as deputy chief Cabinet secretary under Morihiro Hosokawa, the first non-LDP prime minister since 1955.

Together with Kunio and Lower House member Naoto Kan, Yukio helped establish the early stage DPJ.

Yukio was DPJ chairman and leader of the party from 1999 to 2002 and later served as secretary general until replacing Ichiro Ozawa as president when he stepped down amid a political fundraising scandal in May.

What does Yukio Hatoyama advocate in terms of policies, and how would he perform if he became prime minister?

Yukio supports amending the Constitution and in the past wanted the definition of the Self-Defense Forces changed to reflect that it stands as the nation’s military.

He believes that females should be able to inherit the Imperial throne, and he has proposed giving foreign residents the right to vote in local elections.

These policy proposals, however, have yet to be included in the DPJ’s official platform or election campaign pledges.

As DPJ president, Yukio has mainly toed the party line, advocating administrative reform, decentralization of power from the central government to local governments, and providing support for farmers, fishermen and small and medium-size businesses.

He has stressed the need to tighten the nation’s finances — the DPJ reckons ¥16.8 trillion could be generated by cutting down on wasteful government expenditures.

LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc lawmakers have called the DPJ’s proposals unrealistic, saying the party has failed to specifically identify what projects or budget allocations should be scrapped.

In sharp contrast to Ozawa, Yukio is considered more soft-spoken and willing to defer to his peers, raising questions about his suitability as prime minister to unite the opposition camp if it wins the general election.

Ironically, the DPJ has come out recently in opposition to the notion of hereditary politics, in which relatives of politicians inherit support groups and funds, and thus have a leg up on nonhereditary rivals.

Who is Kunio Hatoyama?

Born in 1948, Kunio was one of Aso’s closest aides, but he left the Cabinet recently and has left the prime minister and LDP considerably — if not critically — weakened.

Analysts say he could be a key player in the expected realignment of political forces after the next Lower House election.

A 1972 political science graduate of the University of Tokyo, Kunio became an aide to Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka. He joined the LDP after running for the Lower House in 1976.

In 1996, Kunio helped his brother form the DPJ, but he left in 1999 and after an unsuccessful run for governor of Tokyo returned to the LDP in 2000.

He was internal affairs minister in the Aso Cabinet before resigning after demanding that Japan Post Holdings President Yoshifumi Nishikawa be replaced.

He criticized Japan Post’s attempt to sell off the Kanpo no Yado chain of resort hotels to leasing firm Orix Corp. at fire-sale prices. But Aso sacked him instead, sending voter support rates for the Cabinet further south in media polls.

As justice minister under both Shinzo Abe and Fukuda, the media gave him the nickname “Grim Reaper” for signing off on a record 13 executions.

He also drew scorn for apparently trying to duck accountability by saying the justice minister shouldn’t have to be the one legally bound to sign the final orders.

Kunio is a prominent advocate of an environmentally friendly society and sustainable coexistence with nature. Speculation has been rife that he may soon leave the LDP and form a brand-new party based on environmental policies.

Kunio is known as a master cook, and also a noted collector and researcher of butterflies.

How well do the Hatoyama brothers get along?

Although divisions between them over the acceptance of Social Democratic Party members in the DPJ eventually led Kunio to leave the party in 1999, they generally appear to be on friendly terms even if they do exchange criticism as politicians working for rival parties.

When Kunio recently resigned as internal affairs minister, the media reported on rumors that he was thinking about rejoining the DPJ. The two siblings denied this possibility.

Kunio has signaled his interest in forming a new party, although he has said he plans to hold off for now to see which way the political winds end up blowing.

During a commemorative ceremony in March in honor of the 50th anniversary of Ichiro Hatoyama’s death, the brothers are said to have indicated their interest in a possible future grand coalition between the LDP and the DPJ.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays (Wednesday in some areas). Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to National News Desk