Junichiro Koizumi, the Liberal Democratic Party’s new president, has been dubbed by fellow lawmakers a maverick, an eccentric, a heretic and “the Don Quixote of the political world.”
Although his gray, permed hair and stylish clothes are a rarity in the nation’s corridors of power, it is his unconventional attitudes that have given him labels such as “an oddball in Nagata-cho” — where the Diet is located. This remark came from LDP maverick Makiko Tanaka.
The former health minister advocates widespread reforms, particularly privatizing the postal system — a long favorite — and ending the LDP’s factional politics.
Koizumi not only dismisses the nicknames, saying it is Nagata-cho that is weird, but has used the labels to appeal to the public, emphasizing that he is criticized because he is a reformer.
Indeed, Koizumi, 59, swept the party’s presidential election with rank-and-file voters responding to his promise to change the LDP and Japan.
The Lower House member is known for often going against expectations.
Tuesday’s victory follows two failed attempts for the party helm, and it is rare for an LDP member to run for the presidency three times.
His first defeat, in 1995, was to former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. In the 1998 race, Koizumi’s aides advised him not to run, worried he would look silly due to his slim chance of winning. He was defeated by the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.
Koizumi’s policies have drawn strong opposition from the LDP’s mainstream faction, led by Hashimoto, whom he defeated Tuesday. As well as his advocacy of privatizing the national postal system, which includes delivery, savings and insurance services, he is a staunch proponent of structural reforms and dedicated to health insurance reform for Japan’s rapidly aging population.
The latter position comes from his time as health and welfare minister in the Cabinets of Noboru Takeshita and Sosuke Uno in the late 1980s, and of Hashimoto in the late 1990s. Koizumi also served as posts and telecommunications minister in the early 1990s under Kiichi Miyazawa.
Born into a family of politicians in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, Koizumi was first elected to the Lower House in 1972 at age 30, and has served 10 straight terms.
His grandfather, Matajiro, served as posts minister and vice speaker of the Lower House, while father, Junya, headed the Defense Agency.
In 1967, Koizumi graduated from the department of economics at Tokyo’s Keio University, an alma mater for many of Japan’s top business and political leaders, and went on to study economics at London University.
After his father’s sudden death in 1969, he prematurely quit the university to return and run in a Lower House election that December. But he failed to get elected.
In preparation for running in the next Lower House poll, he worked as a secretary to the late Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, father of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda.
Koizumi became the nominal head of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s faction — at one time led by Takeo Fukuda — when Mori took office on April 5, 2000.
Earlier this month, however, Koizumi ended 30 years with the faction as a demonstration of his proposed party reforms that formed the platform of his presidential race.
Koizumi has emerged as a leading younger member of the LDP, one of the “YKK trio,” which includes former Secretary General Koichi Kato and Taku Yamasaki, a former chairman of the Policy Research Council. The three jointly formed the now-defunct intraparty study body Group New Century in 1994 as part of efforts to reform the party.
Unlike other senior LDP politicians, Koizumi is known for not engaging in “ryotei” politics, in which negotiations or behind-the-scenes maneuvering are made at ryotei — expensive restaurants.
Lower House member Hakubun Shimomura, a younger member of the Mori faction, said Koizumi does not entertain others, including junior members of the faction, at such restaurants.
Koizumi is also known for declining a commendation for his long-term service in the Diet.
In 1978, he married a college student 14 years his junior, but was divorced in 1982. He has since remained a single father of two sons.
“He raised his two sons. It is ‘Kramer vs. Kramer,’ ” an official working for Koizumi said, referring to the Oscar-winning 1979 film about a single father’s struggle.
Koizumi once said he remains single because, “Getting divorced needed more than 10 times as much energy as I needed when getting married.”
Koizumi enjoys skiing, watching movies, kabuki, opera and classical music concerts. He was a member of a junior high school orchestra club and played the violin. He also enjoys rock music, ever since hearing music by the rock band X Japan.
The once charismatic group’s song “Forever Love” is his karaoke favorite.
When X Japan’s popular guitarist Hide committed suicide, at age 33 in May 1998, Koizumi spoke to his parents.
Koizumi worked with land developers to set up a museum commemorating the guitarist’s life. He attended an opening ceremony for the museum in July in Yokosuka, also the birthplace of Hide.
Commenting on Koizumi’s personality, Isao Iijima, his secretary for the past three decades, said, “He is rather shy and bashful in front of strangers.”
Koizumi admits this, saying: “I wonder why I have been in the political circle.”
His hairstyle, which has been likened to Beethoven’s, was designed by his longtime barber, Teruo Nakagomi, in Yokosuka.
Nakagomi, 60, said Koizumi wanted to have his hair permed about 15 years ago, against the advice of his aides, who thought older supporters would dislike permed hair on a man.
Koizumi says he is the first male Diet member to have his hair permed. He visits Nakagomi several times a year and the perm costs 8,000 yen, the barber said.
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