2021-09-29 22:40:36 Who Is Fumio Kishida, Japan’s Likely Next Prime Minister?

Who Is Fumio Kishida, Japan’s Likely Next Prime Minister?

Fumio Kishida, the man who is almost certain to become Japan’s next Prime Minister, is an establishment choice who has tried to portray himself as more than just another colorless bureaucrat.

Mr. Kishida, 64, has advocated for economic policies that would increase wealth distribution to the middle class, and he has written that spending part of his childhood in the United States instilled in him the ideals of justice and diversity.

His message has not resonated with a large portion of the Japanese public, but it was enough to win him the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party on Wednesday, virtually ensuring that he will become Japan’s next prime minister, a role he has been preparing for for decades.

Both Mr. Kishida’s father and grandfather served in Japan’s House of Representatives. In 1993, he successfully ran for his father’s parliamentary seat in Hiroshima.

Mr. Kishida would go on to become a pillar of Japan’s ruling party and the country’s longest-serving foreign minister since World War II.

He has been widely characterized as an uncontroversial moderate who enjoys the confidence of party leaders. Nonetheless, in a political system that rewards conformity, Mr. Kishida has attempted to differentiate himself from the unpopular departing prime minister, Yoshihide Suga.

Mr. Kishida carried a series of notebooks on the campaign trail in which he said he jotted down notes and observations from people he met while traveling the country, referring to the notebooks as “my biggest treasures.”

He has stated that he has a strong sense of justice, which he attributes to his childhood stay in the United States.

His father, a government trade official at the time, was appointed to a position in New York in 1963. Mr. Kishida’s family relocated, and at the age of six, he enrolled in public schools, including P.S. 13 in Queens’ Elmhurst neighborhood, where he attended second and third grade. In a 1965 class photo, he is wearing a bow tie and standing in front of a massive American flag.

His classmates came from a variety of backgrounds, including white, Korean, Indian, and Native American children, but he occasionally felt the sting of racial discrimination. Mr. Kishida described a time in 1965 when a white classmate refused to hold his hand as instructed by a teacher on a field trip in his book “Kishida Vision,” which was published last year.

Nonetheless, he grew to admire the United States, finding it remarkable that students from various backgrounds “respected the national flag and sang the national anthem together in the morning.”

Updated

6:01 a.m. ET on September 29, 2021

“During the war, the United States was an enemy of Japan and the nation that dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima,” he wrote. “But I was young, and to me, the United States was nothing more than a generous and diverse country.”

He was an infielder on his high school team and an average student, failing a law school entrance exam three times. He is a baseball fan and supports the Hiroshima Carp, his hometown team. When he expressed an interest in politics, his father tried to steer him in a different direction, warning him that “there’s nothing sweet about the political world.” Mr. Kishida’s first political job was as his father’s secretary, following a stint in banking.

Mr. Kishida rose steadily in office, eventually being appointed foreign minister by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2012. His tenure was defined by two notable accomplishments: assisting in the organization of then-President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima in 2016, and finalizing an agreement with South Korea in which Japan compensated “comfort women,” the term for those taken as sex slaves by Japanese soldiers during WWII.

He also courted his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, forging a bond over their shared love of whisky and sake as he sought to improve a relationship stymied by a territorial dispute over islands seized by the Soviet Union after WWII.

Unlike Mr. Abe, who is a teetotaler, Mr. Kishida is a heavy drinker within the party. Mr. Kishida wrote that one year he planned a birthday party for Mr. Lavrov and gave him a bottle of 21-year-old Hibiki whisky. In exchange, Mr. Lavrov presented Mr. Kishida with an ornately bound book. When Mr. Kishida opened it, he discovered a bottle of vodka inside.

Mr. Kishida wrote, “If we’re drinking, we’re friends.” “The first step toward international peace is a relationship in which both sides can speak openly.”

Mr. Kishida, on the other hand, has struggled to connect with voters. Mr. Kishida faced embarrassment last year during the race to succeed Mr. Abe when he tweeted a photo of his wife bringing him dinner at home. The image, which showed him seated in a suit and tie with his wife standing behind him wearing an apron, was widely mocked as out of touch and misogynistic.

Mr. Kishida appeared to acknowledge public dissatisfaction in this year’s race, promising to introduce a “new capitalism” and encourage corporations to distribute more of their profits to middle-class workers. Mr. Kishida had received little support from the general public or rank-and-file party members. However, the conservative wing of the party, which controls Parliament, chose a safe pair of hands.

Motoko Rich and Makiko Inoue contributed reporting.

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Who Is Fumio Kishida, Japan's Likely Next Prime Minister?