Ishiharas — family ties with a twist


Staff Writer

The Ishiharas trail the Hatoyamas 2-0 in prime ministers. But when it comes to the variety, prominence and celebrity of each individual member, not many families in Japan today can compete with the Ishihara bunch.

Following are questions and answers regarding the Ishihara family, whose members include politicians, an iconic movie star, a weatherman, an artist, actresses and the 80-year-old fire-breathing don, Shintaro:

Who is the most prominent member of the Ishihara clan?

Shintaro Ishihara, 80, who until recently was governor of Tokyo, may still be making headlines today and seeking a comeback to the Diet, but the true star of the family is arguably his late younger brother, movie star Yujiro Ishihara.

Considered one of the biggest entertainment icons of the Showa Era, Yujiro joined Nikkatsu Motion Picture Co. and debuted in “Taiyo no Kisetsu” (“Season of the Sun”) at age 22. The movie was based on the prestigious Akutagawa Award-winning novel written by Shintaro.

The book and the movie, about a rebellious youth and his struggles, defined the generation of the time. It also sealed Yujiro’s iconic status.

He “created a rough and dynamic image in contrast with the emphasis on the good looks of earlier movie stars. Nevertheless, many female fans were attracted by his long legs,” The Japan Times wrote in reporting Yujiro’s death from liver cancer in July 1987 at the age of 52.

Yujiro had hit songs and also a string of successful TV series featuring him as a classy police chief.

Upon announcing his candidacy for Tokyo’s gubernatorial election in 1999, Shintaro began his speech saying “I am Yujiro’s older brother.” It is also one of his anecdotes that when he first ran for an Upper House seat in 1968, approximately 80,000 ballots were declared void because voters wrote Yujiro’s name instead of his.

Who are Shintaro Ishihara’s four sons?

The oldest is Nobuteru, 55, who recently served as secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party. He lost the September LDP presidential race to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Nobuteru served as land minister in 2003 and 2004 under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. He was a political reporter for NTV before winning a seat in the 1990 Lower House election.

The other politician in the family is Shintaro’s third son, Hirotaka, 48, who turned to politics after working at Mizuho Financial Group. He won his first Lower House election in 2005 but lost his seat in 2009 when the Democratic Party of Japan won big.

But what about the other two sons?

Second son Yoshizumi, 50, is the oddball of the clan. He opted to pursue a career in acting through his late uncle’s ties in the entertainment industry.

In 1997, he became a licensed weather forecaster and appears daily on evening news programs. Yoshizumi also makes regular appearances on variety shows as well as in commercials, including one for the NTT group.

Shintaro’s youngest son, Nobuhiro, is a contemporary artist who seldom comes under the media spotlight. But leave it to Shintaro to drag him into controversy.

In 2006, it was revealed that the then-governor paid ¥1.3 million for Nobuhiro to fly to Davos, Switzerland, in 2004 and participate in a cultural event on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum. Nobuhiro was asked to design the backdrop for a “taiko” drum performance, but the lavish spending for a virtually unknown artist later drew criticism.

Shintaro brushed off such disapproval, saying Nobuhiro “is a fine painter.”

What is it like being the son of Shintaro?

Not easy, according to Yoshizumi. In his book “Ishihara-ke no Hitobito” (“The People of the Ishihara Family”), published in 2001, Yoshizumi touches on the groundless rumor that Nobuhiro is a member of Aum Shinrikyo, the murderous doomsday cult.

“He has no ties with Aum,” Yoshizumi states, while adding that such gossip continues to rise whenever their father is running in an election. “This is the price you have to pay when you have a father who continues with vigor.”

Shintaro meanwhile is apparently something of a grumpy old man even at home. According to the book, dinner at the Ishiharas was always prepared separately for the kids and the father because Shintaro couldn’t stand eating with his noisy children. Even as an adult, Yoshizumi reveals, his father is always critical of his every move, including the way he dresses and the topics he chooses for conversation at the dinner table.

Yoshizumi writes that the very first major family meeting was convened in 1995, when Shintaro revealed his intention to resign from the Diet, three days before he stepped down. The son also said he wasn’t aware his father was making a run for Tokyo governor in 1999 until the official news conference.

What was it like for Shintaro to have four sons?

With all of his four children now married and moved away, Shintaro wrote in his 2005 book “Musuko-tachi to Watashi” (“My Sons and I”) that he now feels his task as a parent has been completed.

“But without anyone at home, it feels a bit empty and lonely,” he wrote.

Do the four brothers share anything in common?

All four graduated from Keio University, but according to Yoshizumi, each had different styles when it came to studying.

Nobuteru would try to predict the questions that would appear on a given test and aim for a passing grade. Yoshizumi would stay up all night cramming and be completely prepared for any question. Nobuhiro would attempt an all-night cram session but fall asleep.

Son No. 3 Hirotaka would be the one who wouldn’t panic even before the day of an exam because he studied daily, unlike the others, Yoshizumi writes in his book.

Who are some of the prominent women in the Ishihara family?

Yujiro’s wife, Makiko, was an actress until she retired upon marriage in 1960. She now runs Ishihara International Production Inc., a management company that includes actors who had close ties with her late husband, including Tetsuya Watari, Hiroshi Tachi and Masaki Kanda.

The “Ishihara Gundan” (Ishihara Army) as the actors are often referred to, endorse and support election campaigns by the Ishihara clan, including Shintaro, Nobuteru and Hirotaka.

Nobuteru’s wife, Risa, is a former newscaster and an actress.

“I get reminded of the movie ‘The Godfather’ whenever (the Ishihara) family gets together,” she wrote on her blog last year.

Does the Ishihara family hail from a distinguished background?

Shintaro and Yujiro’s father, Kiyoshi, worked for a transport company and did not have a notable background.

However, there is a link between the Ishiharas and Junichiro Koizumi’s family.

According to reports, Shintaro’s wife, Noriko, is the cousin of Koizumi’s brother’s father-in-law.

How close did an Ishihara ever get to becoming prime minister?

Shintaro ran in the LDP presidential race in 1989 but lost with only 48 votes against winner Toshiki Kaifu’s 279. Kaifu was later named the prime minister.

Nobuteru meanwhile ran twice for the LDP helm. His first challenge in 2008 ended with 37 votes, falling far short of the 351 amassed by Taro Aso. In his second run two months ago, he won 96 votes and ended third behind Shigeru Ishiba and Shinzo Abe.

How wealthy is the Ishihara family?

According to figures revealed last year, Shintaro is worth approximately ¥170 million, including his home in Tokyo and a villa in Kanagawa Prefecture. His assets include about ¥58 million in cash as well as two cars, two yachts and three country club memberships.

Yujiro was often ranked as one of the top-earning celebrities throughout the late 1960s and the 1970s, including in 1967, when he earned approximately ¥50 million at a time when new college graduates were making a tenth of what they do today.

When Shintaro first ran in the Tokyo’s gubernatorial race in 1975, he was trailing the incumbent, Ryokichi Minobe, in public polls.

But Yujiro walked in his office one day with large aluminum cases containing ¥200 million in cash to fund his campaign, according to Yoshizumi’s book.

Shintaro declined the offer. He also lost the election.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to hodobu@japantimes.co.jp