(Kanagawa Prefecture, 1942- )
In the staid and stuffy world of Japanese party politics, Koizumi Junichiro has to be seen as something of a breath of fresh air. A popular politician for several years, the stepped into the political vaccuum left when former prime minister Mori Yoshiro resigned in April 2001. With his own popularity and the support of other popular young politicians such as Tanaka Makiko, Koizumi defeated his main rival for the leadership of his party, former leader Hashimoto Ryutaro.
Koizumi appointed 5 women and 3 non-politicians (both records) to his inaugral cabinet, which achieved the record high rating of 87.1 percent in the popularity polls. He kept up his campaign claims that he would force commercial banks to write off their bad debts and privatise Japan's postal savings system. Both plans are seen as key to economic recovery but at the same time involve painful but necessary measures that will hit crucial LDP support groups. He has also promised to abolish the LDP's faction system, a huge task in that it is the core of the party's internal power structure. Indeed Koizumi himself rose to power by being leader of a major faction. He had to work with some of the key party powerbrokers to get where he is now. But he refers to himself as a 'kakumei no hito' or revolutionary and the time is certainly ripe for just such a figure in Japan.
Whatever Koizumi may call himself, within political circles he is known as 'henjin' or weirdo. This reflects the fact that he is not your typical politician. He divorced his wife in 1982 - and won custody of his two sons - making him a very rare single prime minister. He is also instantly recognizable with his gaunt look and unruly, permed grey hair. Koizumi is known to be a fan of opera and rock music - his favorite song is said to be 'Forever Love' by the now defunct glam rock band X Japan. Shortly after becoming prime minister, he opened a museum built to commemorate Hide, the late guitarist with the hugely popular band, in his own hometown of Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. There is also a CD featuring Koizumi's favorite tracks by Elvis Presley - the cover has a "photo" of the two together.
But Koizumi also has his conservative side. His is yet another of the 'inherited' political names, his father and grandfather having served in the Diet before him. He also has announced plans to revise the peace constitution to increase the role of the Self-Defense Forces and paid several official visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. The shrine is where Japan's war dead are entombed and such visits always enraged its Asian neighbors, even when Koizumi took pains to avoid visiting on particularly sensitive dates. But on August 15, 2006 - just month before he was to stand down as LDP leader and prime minister, and the anniversary of the end of WWII, he made one last visit in his official capacity. protests ensued but were somewhat dimmed by the fact that Asian leaders knew it was a final dramatic gesture from a man who always has a firm grasp of how to play the media.
Time will probably remember Koizumi mainly as a maverick reformer, a politician with the personal confidence and charisma to take on his own party. His five years in power saw many changes, both within the party and nationally. At the end of the 1990s, Japan was deperately in need of change, and Koizumi was just the man to bring it. He will be a hard act to follow.