National / Media | MEDIA MIX

Scrutinizing Shinjiro Koizumi's political prospects in the wake of his marriage announcement

by Philip Brasor

Contributing Writer

A lot of people seem to be convinced that Shinjiro Koizumi will someday be prime minister of Japan. He’s got everything going for him — pedigree, good looks, proper manners. His youth is a plus rather than a minus, probably because he’s developed an understanding of his place in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and how to leverage it. The announcement of his engagement to popular newscaster Christel Takigawa on Aug. 7 in front of the Prime Minister’s Office was, as the Asahi Shimbun pointed out, the kind of “theater” his father, Junichiro, was noted for when he was prime minister.

But while coverage of the engagement announcement was mostly cause for felicitations, the media has never really warmed to Koizumi Jr. The Asahi Shimbun’s report focused on how well-planned the announcement was. It was intended to look spontaneous, but every detail had been worked out so that it would be covered live by the afternoon TV “wide shows.”

Koizumi showed up at the Prime Minister’s Office to see Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, which stimulated the curiosity of a group of press club members hanging around. There was nothing on the official agenda about Koizumi’s visit and, since he was accompanied by Takigawa, it immediately became obvious to the reporters what the purpose of the visit was. While the pair was talking to Suga, the reporters rounded up any available camera crews and photographers in the area so that they could confront the couple when they emerged.

Consequently, TBS interrupted its coverage of a Defense Ministry news conference at 1:45 p.m. and went live to the Prime Minister’s Office. Other stations soon followed. During their 10-minute chat with the press, Koizumi and Takigawa said they were expecting a child. As for visiting Suga, there seemed to be some protocol involved — a kind of blessing bestowed before taking the news public.

Former Mainichi Broadcasting System producer Takahiko Kageyama told the Asahi Shimbun that he assumed the whole enterprise was worked out beforehand so as to gain control of the story before the weekly magazines got ahold of it. However, not everyone found the stunt appealing. Iwao Osaka, an associate professor at Komazawa University, told the Asahi Shimbun that he thinks the LDP cooked it up to get free air time ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s presumed Cabinet reshuffle, in which it has been suggested that Koizumi will figure.

Tabloid Nikkan Gendai was even more suspicious, and the “honeymoon” they reported was not Koizumi and Takigawa’s, but Koizumi and Suga’s. Previously, the two politicians were not on friendly terms owing to the fact that in past elections for party president, Koizumi supported former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba over Abe. By reporting his marriage to Suga first, he was showing press and party that he was going to be a team player from now on. Everything about the announcement was exceptional, from the lack of a formal appointment to meeting the press “casually” in front of the Prime Minister’s Office. Although Suga professed surprise, Nikkan Gendai quotes an unnamed LDP source as saying that it was obvious he knew about it and probably was in on the scheme from the start. As if to confirm this suspicion, the issue of monthly magazine Bungei Shunju published three days later ran a “conversation” between Koizumi and Suga moderated by Shiro Tazaki, a political reporter who is a mouthpiece for the LDP. The timing was too perfect.

The gist of the Nikkan Gendai piece is that Koizumi is all image and no substance. He’s been a Diet member for just shy of 10 years with little to show for it in terms of accomplishment besides his appeal, and so Nikkan Gendai quotes an unnamed journalist suggesting that Koizumi has decided to abandon his makeshift maverick image and work on rising within the ranks of the LDP according to their rules. Abe and Suga covet Koizumi’s popularity, which will be important in the coming months when the unpopular consumption tax hike goes into effect.

However, Koizumi’s image still rubs some people the wrong way. In an Aug. 9 essay for Ronza, Rueka Aoki recalled how she was commissioned in 2012 by the magazine Shincho 45 to write a “critical” piece about any politician of her choosing, and she chose Koizumi because she was circumspect about him. At that time, Koizumi hadn’t been involved in any scandals and his demeanor was so inviting that most people couldn’t think of anything bad to say about him.

However, Aoki has never trusted Koizumi. She calls him “cold-blooded” — a chip off the old block, since his father was also distant and calculating. Even when his father bucked the LDP line on principle by campaigning against the resumption of nuclear power facilities, Aoki couldn’t quite accept the change and had certain reservations about how Junichiro handled his own family life.

Born into a political dynasty that’s had a lock on the Yokosuka City constituency for several generations, Junichiro famously proposed to his future wife the day after they were formally introduced by go-betweens. He needed a male heir and his new partner obliged with three before divorcing him in the middle of her third pregnancy. Junichiro, who didn’t even show up for the divorce mediation sessions, took custody of the older two boys and his ex-wife took the third son, whom Junichiro pointedly avoids.

Aoki sees the same cunning at work in Shinjiro’s marriage to Takigawa, which, given the fact that Takigawa is already pregnant, is a fait accompli. It’s telling, Aoki says, that Junichiro chose his second son, Shinjiro, as his successor and not his first son, Kotaro. Shinjiro is more like his father than Kotaro is, and Aoki wonders what kind of marriage he and Takigawa will make together.

Aoki’s assumptions are based on gut feeling, and something Shinjiro said at the Prime Minister’s Office gave her the chills. When asked what his feelings were about being a father, Shinjiro said he wanted to be like Junichiro, whom he admired more as a father than as a politician

And his father’s advice about marriage? “He said it’s something you should do at least once,” Shinjiro said.