A self-effacing former banker, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida isn't known for courting publicity in a way that comes naturally to most politicians.

So when he appeared this month with a comedian clad in clashing animal prints to promote a United Nations program, media outlets splashed the photos across newspapers and websites. The display also added to speculation that the normally low-key Kishida might be gearing up for a run to replace his increasingly unpopular boss, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"Kishida has always been quiet and had a princely air," said Takeshi Iwaya, a fellow lawmaker with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a friend since the two were students together at Tokyo's Waseda University. "He tends to listen to others rather than put his own views forward. But if he's looking to take over, I think he needs to make his presence felt a bit more."