Junichiro Koizumi

(1942– ) Japanese prime minister

Junichiro Koizumi was born to a political family in Kanagawa Prefecture and educated at Keio University and University College London. He began his political career as a secretary to Takeo Fukuda, who later became prime minister. Koizumi was elected to the House of Representatives (lower house of the Diet) in 1970 as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party. He became minister of posts and telecommunications in 1992 and served three terms as minister of health and welfare, the first beginning in 1996. Koizumi ran unsuccessfully for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party in 1995 and 1999 before he was successful in 2001. He became prime minister of Japan on August 26, 2001, and was reelected in 2003 and 2005; he stepped down in 2006.

Koizumi was very popular when first elected. Although his popularity fluctuated over his years in office, he was the longest-serving Japanese prime minister in two decades. His greatest efforts were directed at revitalizing the Japanese economy. To this end he proposed privatizing the Japan Post, a public corporation that offers banking and life insurance as well as postal and package delivery services. This proposed privatization was a controversial issue in Japan for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it employed one-third of all Japanese government employees, who feared the elimination of their jobs. Koizumi also decreased traditional subsidies for infrastructure and industrial development in rural areas, part of an attempt to shift the base of support for the Liberal Democratic Party from rural areas to a more urban core.

Koizumi made several visits to the Yasakuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors the Japanese war dead, beginning in 2001. Because 14 Class-A war criminals are honored at the shrine, these visits drew international criticism, especialy from China and South Korea, Japan’s victims. Koizumi’s decision to send members of the Japan Self-Defence Force to Iraq in support of U.S. operations in 2003 was also controversial, even though the Japanese troops were theoretically only involved in humanitarian activities.

Koizumi’s personal style was quite different from that projected by most Japanese politicians: he called himself a kakumei no hito, or revolutionary, although some of his critics considered him more of a henjin, an eccentric. His personal appearance, complete with relatively long and unkempt hair and fashionable suits, and his much-publicized interest in rock music, suggested cultivation of this image.

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