National

Shinjiro Koizumi faces baptism of fire in Japan as criticisms of style over substance pile up

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

In the two weeks since his inauguration as a Cabinet minister, young scion Shinjiro Koizumi has seen his populist rhetoric — one of his biggest political weapons in making him the darling of the public — increasingly turn into a liability, earning him criticism and ridicule on social media.

Koizumi, a son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, has yet to make a critical slip of the tongue that would jeopardize his nascent career as the environment minister. But the past two weeks have seen the press and social media vet his speeches more stringently than before, treating the new minister to something of a baptism of fire.

Koizumi made headlines this past weekend when he made a diplomatic debut in New York at a United Nations-hosted climate summit. Speaking to reporters on the eve of the summit, the 38-year-old enthused in English how he thinks the fight against climate change should be made “sexy.”

In using the word “sexy,” Koizumi was essentially quoting from his earlier conversation with former U.N. climate negotiator Christiana Figueres, whom he was speaking alongside.

But his rather unorthodox choice of vocabulary immediately attracted attention, feeding nicely into the narrative pushed by his critics that his speeches are all about style over substance. The supposed emptiness of his response has left many on social media likening him to a “poet.”

“His remarks have been taken as nuanced at best and incomprehensible at worst,” Kazuhisa Kawakami, a professor of political science at the International University of Health and Welfare, said.

“I think his political career is at a crossroads right now in that he is no longer expected to just make witty comments on the campaign trail but put forward his own policies that have some consistency,” he said.

The recent turn of events has shown that Koizumi hasn’t improved very much as a politician over the past several years, with his speeches as superficial as ever, according to a reporter of a major newspaper who used to be part of a limited circle of journalists granted regular access to him.

“Even back then when I was covering him, his comments often smacked of shallowness, but people were giving him some slack because at the time, he wasn’t holding any major position,” said the journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But being a Cabinet minister means he’s on a completely different level now, and yet he hasn’t changed that much.”

That said, the reporter acknowledged that mainstream media is complicit in Koizumi’s overblown fame today, having talked him up for the simple reason that his blue-blooded political background, youth and charm tend to drive ratings and page views.

“Articles about him really helped attract traffic to our website. So in a way, we were treating him as a celebrity on entertainment news,” he said.

This trend, the reporter added, appears to be continuing even now that Koizumi is a minister, with major broadcaster TBS running an exclusive Sunday on the mere fact that he dropped by a steak restaurant in New York for dinner.

“It’s as if he were some kind of idol,” the reporter said.

Shigenori Kanehira, a prominent TV journalist, laments the trend.

“It seems to me that those in the TV industry today don’t prioritize catering to viewers but keeping up with their rivals. So their mindset is ‘if our competitors are covering Shinjiro, so should we,'” he said.

Koizumi, he noted, is adept at utilizing media to his advantage, carefully orchestrating the announcement of his surprise marriage with TV personality Christel Takigawa to a crowd of political reporters covering the Prime Minister’s Office to gain publicity. The media, meanwhile, pounced on this to boost ratings, Kanehira pointed out.

“So in a way, there’s a win-win relationship there,” he said.

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