Shot seemingly in mid-March, before the authorities got serious about stay-at-home directives, the May 12 installment of the Nippon TV variety show “Kayo Surprise” featured three male celebrities — Yoshizumi Ishihara, Kazushige Nagashima and Daigo — frolicking in the seaside environs of Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture, where Ishihara grew up. The thread connecting these three men is that they’re all from illustrious families, which in itself is not a novelty. These days, it’s probably harder to find a TV personality that doesn’t have a famous forebear.
Ishihara’s father is novelist-cum-politician Shintaro Ishihara, while Nagashima’s father is Shigeo Nagashima, one of the most beloved baseball players in Japanese history. Yoshizumi Ishihara and Kazushige Nagashima are both in their 50s and have cultivated media images distinct from their families. So has Daigo, who is always described as a musician and TV personality and only goes by his given name (his surname is Naito). His maternal grandfather is the late Noboru Takeshita, Japan’s prime minister from 1987 to 1989. Now 42, Daigo has been a TV fixture for more than 15 years, during which he has developed an on-air persona that is part rock god, part mischievous slacker.
In April, Daigo’s wife of four years, actress Keiko Kitagawa, announced on her official website that she was expecting her first child in the fall. Daigo dutifully updated his blog to note the happy occasion, apologizing for talking about such a matter while Japan faces “hardship,” but adding that he will keep his wife and child safe by being careful. As Nikkan Gendai Digital pointed out in its coverage of the announcement, Daigo did not use his patented comical diction, which relies on English-Japanese puns, but stuck to proper Japanese. The article repeated rumors that have been circulating since last year, saying that Daigo’s marriage was on the rocks and he was living apart from Kitagawa at his parents’ house in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.
An anonymous source suggested the separation had been sparked by something other than marital growing pains. Apparently, Daigo’s mother, Maruko, has decided it’s time for her son to do the right thing by his family and enter public service as the heir to the Takeshita political dynasty. Many assumed that such a move was inevitable, but according to an article published last September in the tabloid Sports Hochi, Daigo did not exploit his family connections when he endeavored to become a rock star in his 20s, and his advent as a TV personality was an accident of timing and circumstance. When he was 29, a TV show wanted to do a special on Noboru Takeshita’s home and asked Daigo’s older sister, Eiko, to be the tour guide. Eiko, a successful manga artist, declined the opportunity, but suggested her brother conduct the tour, who took to the task like a pro. A star was born.
It’s not clear if he always intended to accept the mantle of political scion, but his continued success as a media celebrity increased his general appeal. The sticking point now is Kitagawa, who reportedly told him when he proposed that she didn’t want to be the wife of a politician. She was determined to continue with her acting career, even after having children. Consequently, the tabloids suspect the friction is the kind that develops between a married woman and her mother-in-law.
The current standard bearer for the Takeshita dynasty is Noboru’s 73-year-old half-brother Wataru Takeshita, who was absent from his Lower House seat for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party between January and November 2019 due to treatment for cancer. According to the June 2 issue of Flash, Wataru has recovered, but the family is thinking about his future replacement, and Daigo is reportedly the preferred choice of the LDP office in the Takeshita constituency in Shimane Prefecture. Nevertheless, when asked about the matter by Flash, Maruko said she doesn’t think Daigo will run.
A show business journalist told Flash that Maruko is probably thinking about Kitagawa’s feelings, and implies Maruko has every intention of urging Daigo to run after Wataru leaves the political stage. The stakes are high. Politics is literally the Takeshita family business. Dynasties that, legitimately or otherwise, amass fortunes through political activities can retain that money over generations by giving or loaning it to political support groups.
One of the best examples is the present prime minister, Shinzo Abe. From 1982 until 1991, Abe’s father, Shintaro, gave ¥638.23 million to three of his political support groups. According to the Political Funds Control Law, registered political support groups can receive donations that are tax deductible for the politicians who donate the money. After Shintaro died in 1991, his son, who succeeded him in his Yamaguchi Prefecture constituency, “inherited” these support groups, along with their money. He paid no inheritance tax on those funds.
If a politician does well by their constituency, the support groups will continue to work toward the politician’s election and that of their heirs. That’s why many legacy LDP lawmakers live full-time in Tokyo. They never need to go “home” as long as they tend to their constituents’ interests in the capital. According to NHK, Shimane receives more public works money per capita than any other prefecture. Daigo has never lived in Shimane, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have value for his family and their supporters.
A show business reporter cited in the Nikkan Gendai Digital article says that, by announcing her pregnancy herself, Kitagawa may be showing signs of succumbing to the idea of being married to a politician. If she works together with Maruko they would make a formidable team. Daigo’s uncharacteristically serious tone could also be seen as an indication that he is finally thinking of a career in politics, with the ultimate prize being the premiership. Of course, that’s hardly guaranteed, but having a prime minister already perched in one’s family tree increases one’s chances by a lot, and more than makes up for being a professional goofball.