A friend of mine once happened upon a former Japanese prime minister. This English teacher was sitting on a riverside bench in Kyoto when Junichiro Koizumi came strolling past, accompanied by two security guards. The former prime minister (in office from April 2001 to September 2006) was immediately recognizable from his wavy, Richard Gere-esque hairstyle.

Koizumi is one of the few Japanese prime ministers to become easily recognizable to people outside of Japan. He played catchball with George W. Bush, and did an Elvis impersonation in Graceland. At home, he courted controversy by sending Japanese Self Defence Forces to Iraq, privatizing the postal service and regularly visiting Yasukuni Shrine.

Part of the reason Koizumi was so recognizable may have been because of the length of his time in office. It is hard to be colorful or make a mark outside Japan if you aren’t in office for long, and that has tended to be the case with many Japanese prime ministers. The recently departed Yoshihide Suga, for instance, lasted just over a year (September 2020 to October 2021). And before Shinzo Abe took power in 2012, there were six prime ministers in six years — all men of a certain age.