Depending on who you ask, Yoshihiko Noda is a fiscal policy expert, a conservative who believes the Class-A war criminals were not in fact so, or the ailing Democratic Party of Japan’s last hope to regain the public’s trust.
The new prime minister describes himself as more of an “ordinary man” who “doesn’t have the elegance or the looks” to charm voters. “I am not a hereditary politician and do not have any substantial asset,” he acknowledged in a magazine article published in August.
But what the Chiba Prefecture native lacks in appearance he makes up for in effort.
“I am convinced that out of all the active lawmakers, no one has done more early morning campaigning (at local train stations) than I have,” he said.
Born May 20, 1957, Noda at age 54 is the third-youngest politician following Shinzo Abe and the late Kakuei Tanaka to be elected prime minister since 1945.
Policywise, he is considered a tax hike advocate who believes this is key to mending the nation’s ailing finances, and he’s less bent on shedding the nation’s nuclear plants, unlike his predecessor, Naoto Kan, although it has been said he won’t push for any new reactors.
Noda was reportedly interested in becoming a journalist, but his father, a former member of the Ground Self-Defense Force, persuaded him to enter Matsushita Institute of Government and Management after graduating from Waseda University.
Noda worked various jobs, including checking home gas meters and being a home tutor, before he won a seat in the Chiba Prefectural Assembly in 1987.
He started reaching out to voters at train stations on Oct. 1, 1986, and continued the practice until June 2010, when he was named finance minister.
Pundits say pressing the flesh helped Noda hone his speaking skills and sense of humor. Asked in recent weeks how he would approach the opposition camp, Noda, quoting a popular 1990s TV drama, said he, “wouldn’t mind repeating a marriage proposal 101 times to the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.”
When he became senior vice finance minister in 2009 after the DPJ came to power and, as required, his family’s assets were made public, Noda joked that he “learned for the first time that my wife has some secret savings.”
Noda won a seat in the 1993 Lower House election on the ticket of the now-defunct Japan New Party (Nihon Shinto).
In 1996, he lost his seat, making it tough for his family to make ends meet.
“It’s nice to buy your kids new pants and shoes when they grow out of their old ones,” Noda said in a speech Monday. “But without a job, it was difficult for me to do that.”
Noda’s career suffered another setback in 2006, when he was the DPJ’s Diet affairs chief. Party colleague Hisayasu Nagata made an accusation against a Liberal Democratic Party executive in the Diet based on a fake email hinting at a political scandal. Noda was criticized for not being able to prevent this fiasco and resigned his post along with DPJ President Seiji Maehara.
Despite the scandal, Noda quickly gained clout within the party and was touted as one of seven future DPJ leaders, along with Katsuya Okada, who is set to exit as secretary general, Yukio Edano, the departing chief Cabinet secretary, and Maehara.
Noda lost out to Yukio Hatoyama in the September 2002 DPJ presidential race, during which he called for a “rejuvenation” of the party. He was considered a potential candidate again in 2008 but declined at the last moment and thus lost some close allies, including former land minister Sumio Mabuchi.
Noda is known to be close to Maehara, a fellow Matsushita Institute graduate, as well as DPJ veteran Hirohisa Fujii, considered one of his mentors in fiscal policy.
“I am worried that Noda will follow the same path as Fujii,” Fukashi Horie, a political science professor emeritus at Keio University, said, citing how Fujii resigned in 2009 as finance minister after DPJ members opposed his efforts to achieve a fiscal balance.
“Let’s hope Noda will be more resilient,” Horie said.
Popular DPJ Upper House member Renho was not only listed as one of the initial party members to endorse Noda’s candidacy for Monday’s DPJ presidential race but was also one of the few present at his kickoff speech to the media Friday.
A heavy smoker and drinker who can hold his sake well, Noda also likes to watch professional wrestling. He has practiced judo since high school and holds a black belt, which may explain his stoutness.
The witty speaker has even made that a joke in one of his speeches. “They are calling us a heavyweight Cabinet,” Noda told reporters in 2004 after being named a member of the DPJ’s shadow Cabinet. “I think I am contributing to that with my weight.”
Noda is married and has two sons. On Tuesday he revealed he hasn’t been able to see his family since being elected DPJ president. “They did leave me a message on my cellphone, though,” he said.