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September 1, 2008

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Japan New PM | Taro Aso

24.September 2008 | Political Dynasties: Taro Aso

Taro Aso

As with most political systems, I’d imagine, Japan’s political elite have more than a slight dynastic nature. I plan to look at some of the family trees of Japan’s political figures over a series of articles. I will start with one of the most interesting: Taro Aso (麻生太郎, Tarou Asou), Minister for Foreign Affairs since 31 October 2005, as well as a candidate for Koizumi’s replacement as Prime Minister.

Taro Aso is a politician born and bred. He is perhaps best known for his controversial statements reflecting his revisionist and conservative stance on Japan’s history. Others know him for being somewhat of a manga enthusiast, keen to use the popular form of entertainment as a source of soft power. Love him or hate him, Aso is here to stay.

Taro Aso

Taro Aso was born on 20 September 1940 in Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture. He is the oldest among his five siblings.

Education – He studied in the Faculties of Politics and Economics at the prestigious Gakushuin University (学習院大学, Gakushuuin Daigaku), whose other alumni include Studio Ghibli head Hayao Miyazaki, Beatles wife Yoko Ono, and current Emperor Akihito. He then travelled to the US to study at Stanford University, but his family (particularly his grandfather, Shigeru Yoshida) called him back to Japan over fears he was becoming ‘too Americanised’. Aso attempted to reason with them, but they cut off his allowance forcing him to take a ship home. Aso then left again, this time to study at the University of London.

Work – Following his time in London, Taro Aso worked for a diamond mining company in Sierra Leone. After two years, civil war forced him out of the country. In 1966, he joined the family company, Aso Industry (formerly Aso Mining Company, later Aso Cement Company), and held the post of president from 1973-1979.

Life – Aso was on the Japanese shooting team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. In 1978, Aso became president of the Japan Junior Chamber, a federation of Japan’s young business leaders. He is a devout Catholic, confirmed with the name Francisco (by which he is sometimes known), although partakes in Shinto rituals. Aso is a frequent reader of manga, said to read around 10-20 volumes a week, and is particularly known as a fan of Rozen Maiden (leading him to be dubbed ‘Rozen Aso’). In a campaign rally in Akihabara, a district of Tokyo renowned for its geeky visitors (otaku), he spent 60% of his time discusses pop-culture. He plays golf in his downtime.

In the Diet – Aso is a member of the Kono Faction, an LDP group led by Yohei Kono (the politician who recognised the comfort women issue in his ‘Kono Statement’).Taro Aso was elected to the Diet’s Lower House (House of Representatives) in October 1979 and has been re-elected eight times. In 1988, Taro Aso became Parliamentary Vice Minister for Education, Sports, Science and Culture which he held until June 1989. From January 1991, Aso became Chairman of the Lower House’s Special Committee on Coal Issues, until November 1991, when he became Chairman of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, which he held until Jan 1993. In November 1998, Aso became Chairman of the Special Committee on Fiscal Structure Reform, which he held for a month.

In the LDP – In March 1990, Aso became director of the Education Division of the LDP, until December 1990. While still Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, in November 1992, Aso became Director of the Foreign Affairs Division until Aug 1993. In March 1999, Aso was Deputy Secretary-General of the LDP, and in October 1999, he became Deputy Chairman of the Policy Research Council, which he held until July 2000. In April 2001, he became Chairman, which he held until September 2003.

In the Executive – In November 1996, Aso was made Minister of State in Economic Planning Agency by Ryutaro Hashimoto, which he held until Sep 1997. From January 2001, Aso Minister of State, Economic and Fiscal Policy under Yoshiro Mori until the end of Mori’s term in April 2001. In 2003 he became Minister of Internal Affairs, Posts and Communications to Jun’ichiro Koizumi, and on 31 October 2005, he became Minister for Foreign Affairs, a post he has retained in Shinzo Abe’s first cabinet. During the leadership contest within the LDP following the stepping-down of Koizumi, Aso was a candidate running against Shinzo Abe.

Chikako Aso

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Taro Aso’s Wife: Chikako Aso née Suzuki

Chikako Aso (麻生千賀子, Asou Chikako) is the third daughter of Zenko Suzuki (鈴木善幸, Suzuki Zenkou), the 70th Prime Minister of Japan (July 1980-November 1982).

Update: His son, Masahiro Aso, attends William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri and is set to graduate in 2011. [Thanks to the anonymous commenter!] I cannot verify this independently because the Japanese newspapers appear to have a great deal of respect for the rights of minors – I can’t find anything on his son or daughter, except that he has at least one of each, both at university.

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SpacerPrincess Tomohito of Mikasa
SpacerTaro Aso’s Princess Sister: Nobuko

The third daughter of the Aso family, Nobuko (信子), studied in the UK at Rosslyn House College (about which I can find nothing) and graduated in 1973. She met and married Prince Tomohito of Mikasa (三笠宮寬仁, Mikasa no Miya Tomohito Shinnou), heir to the mikasa no miya (House of Mikasa), and became Princess Tomohito of Mikasa (寛仁親王妃信子, Tomohito Shinnouhi Nobuko). Together they have two children, Princesses Akiko (彬子女王, Akiko Joou), currently studying at Oxford, and Yoko (瑶子女王, Youko Joou). It was Prince Tomohito who suggested that Crown Prince Naruhito should take a concubine in order to produce an heir. He is a cousin of the current Emperor Akihito.

Taro Aso’s Other Siblings

The second son of the Aso family is Jiro (次郎, Jirou [?]).

The first daughter of the Aso family, Setsuko (雪子, [? – perhaps Yukiko]), married Kazutane Soma (相馬和胤, Souma Kazutane), the 33rd descendent of the Soma clan.

The second daughter of the Aso family, Asako (旦子) married former ambassador to Spain, Kiyohiko Arafune (荒船清彦).

The youngest son of the Aso family, Yutaka (泰) is the current head of the Aso Group.

Taro Aso’s Grandfather: Shigeru Yoshida

Taro Aso’s mother was Kazuko Yoshida (吉田和子), whose father was Shigeru Yoshida (吉田茂), one of Japan’s great post-war prime ministers (1946-1947, 1948-1954). He formulated what has become known as the Yoshida Doctrine, a process of ‘free-riding’ on security issues while concentrating heavily on economic strength. His doctrine dominated Japanese thought at least until the supposed dishonour brought upon Japan by its response to the 1991 Gulf War. He signed both the Treaty of San Francisco (1951) and the US-Japan Security Treaty (1951), both crucial to Japan’s reconstruction. Yoshida was by birth a Takeuchi, but was adopted by Kenzo Yoshida (a silk merchant) after they lived together.

Taro Aso, Takakichi Aso, Shigeru Yoshida

The picture above shows Aso as a baby in the lap of Kazuko Aso née Yoshida, with Shigeru Yoshida (left) and Takakichi Aso (right). In addition to the link to Shigeru Yoshida, Aso’s father had close ties to Kakuei Tanaka (田中角栄), Japan’s Prime Minister from 1972-1974. Tanaka also had a child in Koizumi’s cabinet, Makiko Tanaka (田中真紀子), who was Japan’s Foreign Minister from April 2001 to January 2002.

Taro Aso’s Great Grandfather: Tsuna Takeuchi

Tsuna Takeuchi was Shigeru Yoshida’s biological father. He is more commonly known in English as Tsuna Takenouchi, but this is infact incorrect: 竹内綱 in this case is read Tsuna Takeuchi. Takeuchi was a key figure in Japanese civil rights politics hailing from the Tosa (土佐) clan (from Shikoku). Yoshida was Takeuchi’s fifth son whose mother was rumoured to be a geisha. Takeuchi was a leader of the Movement for Liberty and Civil Rights (自由民権運動, jiyuu minken undou) and was in prison during Yoshida’s birth, hence Yoshida’s time with Kenzo Yoshida.

Taro Aso’s Great Grandfather: Count Nobuaki Makino

Yoshida’s wife, Yukiko, was the daughter of Nobuaki Makino (牧野伸顕) of the Satsuma clan. Like his son-in-law, Makino was adopted. He attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 as Japan’s ambassador pleponitary. He was Minister for the Imperial Household in 1921 and became a baron (男爵, danshaku) and then a count (伯爵, hakushaku) under the kazoku (華族) peerage system during his time as Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal of Japan (内大臣, Naidaijin), which became an incredibly powerful position under his charge.

Taro Aso’s Great-Great Grandfather: Toshimichi Okubo

Count Makino’s biological father was Toshimichi Okubo (大久保 利通, Ookubo Toshimichi), a Satsuma samurai who played a lead role in the Meiji Restoration. He played a key role in allying the Satsuma and Choshu clans against the Shogunate, and was part of the provisional government with Saigo Takamori and Kido Takayoshi. Okubo, as Finance Minister, ended discrimination against the eta-hinin. He was part of the very important around-the-world Iwakura mission to renegotiate unequal treaties with the major powers and collect information crucial to Japan’s modernisation.

This final figure might be the jewel in Aso’s genealogical crown, of which there are many gems to choose from. Furthermore, given Aso’s hobbies, Taro Aso probably read about Okubo in Rurouni Kenshin, the great samurai epic. It is safe to say that Taro Aso was handed a political destiny, it only remains to be seen how far he will go.

Taro Aso as a Boy

Charts

I have prepared two pdf documents for you. The first is an overview of Taro Aso’s relation to his kinsmen, see how many names you can recognise: Aso Kinship Chart. The second is a large family tree, as detailed as I could make it without going too far off the reservation: Aso Family Tree.

Notes

The family tree was adapted from Taro Aso’s Japanese Wikipedia page. The names of some of the family may not be correct (uncertainty is shown with a bracketed question mark), however, the Kanji always derives from the Wikipedia page.

Profile of Japan's new premier Taro Aso, who has taken charge as Japan's new prime minister. Aso has lined up his cabinet with like-minded conservatives to help his mission to revive the economy and win upcoming elections.

Agence France-Presse – 9/24/2008 12:10 PM GMT

Taro Aso took charge as Japan’s new prime minister Wednesday, lining up his cabinet with like-minded conservatives to help his mission to revive the economy and win upcoming elections.

The divided parliament voted along party lines to install the flamboyant former foreign minister, who was expected to fly a day later to New York for the UN General Assembly.

Aso bowed four times and shook hands with fellow lawmakers after the more powerful lower house approved him.

“I truly feel the heavy responsibility of being prime minister,” Aso told a news conference as he announced his cabinet.

“To make Japan a bright and strong nation — that is my mission,” he said.

Aso replaced Yasuo Fukuda, a mild centrist whose ratings dived after he raised medical costs for the elderly.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) picked Aso on Monday as its new leader by an overwhelming majority, placing its trust in a crowd-pleasing — though gaffe-prone — campaigner.

Analysts expect him to call a general election as early as late October in a bid to hold off gains by the rising opposition, which has pounded away at the LDP’s traditional strongholds in the countryside.

“The final battle has begun. The autumn of elections — the autumn to change the government — is coming,” said opposition chief Ichiro Ozawa, whose bloc controls one house of parliament.

The LDP has been in power for all but 10 months since 1955, but Aso will be its fourth prime minister in the past two years as the party struggles over a raft of scandals and, more recently, a faltering economy.

Aso said his first priority would be to pump stimulative spending into the economy, the world’s second largest but teetering on the brink of recession , clashing with LDP free-market reformists who in recent years have pushed to tame a ballooning public debt.

Aso tapped as his finance minister Shoichi Nakagawa who, echoing the incoming premier, said he would make “full use of all sorts of policies” to invigorate the economy.

“Some people label us as freespenders or old-guard cronies as we say we are not hesitant on fiscal spending,” Nakagawa , a former industry minister, wrote in a newspaper column. “But we do not intend to backtrack on reforms.”

Nakagawa — who was shunned by the more dovish Fukuda — has raised controversy through strong criticism of China and calls for Japan, the only nation to have suffered atomic attack, to study developing nuclear weapons.

“This is the lineup aimed at avoiding any political scandals ahead of the imminent general elections,” said Shujiro Kato, professor of politics at Toyo University.

“Nobody reported to be appointed as minister is a fresh face.”

The foreign ministry went to Hirofumi Nakasone, the son of one of Japan’s best-known premiers, Yasuhiro Nakasone, who led Japan in the 1980s and was a close ally in US president Ronald Reagan’s anti-communist campaign.

Like Aso, Nakasone was uneasy with some of the free-market reforms during the 2001-2006 premiership of Junichiro Koizumi, who was popular with the public but blamed by some LDP members for alienating rural voters by cutting services.

However, in a bid to ensure party unity, Aso kept in place Fiscal and Economic Policy Minister Kaoru Yosano, who had challenged him for the top job arguing that Aso’s economic policies were irresponsible.

Another rival, Shigeru Ishiba, was made farm minister, a position that has frequently been hit by scandal. Ishiba survived resignation calls as he managed crises as Fukuda’s defence minister.

Aso promises a return both at home and abroad to some of the more flamboyant ways of Koizumi, who would regale summits by singing Elvis Presley songs, after a two-year gap of drier leaders.

Known for his love of comic books, as foreign minister Aso entertained summits by doing a Humphrey Bogart impersonation and dancing in the costume of a samurai.

Japan PM says he is resigning

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, seen here last month, has announced his resignation.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced on Monday that he was resigning.

“Today, I have decided to resign. We need a new line-up to cope with a new session of parliament,” Fukuda told a news conference.

Economic survey of Japan 2008

Contents | Executive summary | How to obtain this publication | Additional info

Published on 7 April 2008. The next Economic survey of Japan will be prepared for 2010.

An Economic Survey is published every 1½-2 years for each OECD country. Read more about how Surveys are prepared. The OECD assessment and recommendations on the main economic challenges faced by Japan are available by clicking on each chapter heading below.

Bookmark this page: www.oecd.org/eco/surveys/japan

Statement by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General at the launch of the Economic Survey of Japan at the Japan Press Club, Tokyo on 7 April 2008.

Contents

Chapter 1: Key challenges to sustaining the expansion in Japan

The economic expansion, the longest in Japan’s post-war history, remains on track, though at a slower pace. The upturn is driven by business investment and exports, while other components of demand remain sluggish. Although growth is projected to continue at a 1½ to 2% rate through 2009, Japan must address a number of problems to sustain the expansion over the medium term. This chapter identifies five key challenges: i) ensuring a definitive end to deflation under the new monetary policy framework; ii) achieving progress in fiscal consolidation in the context of high public debt and rapid population ageing; iii) implementing a comprehensive tax reform to increase government revenue, while promoting economic growth, addressing rising income inequality and improving the local government tax system; iv) enhancing productivity growth in the service sector; and v) reforming the labour market to reverse rising dualism and boosting labour force participation to offset demographic trends.


Chapter 2: Bringing an end to deflation under the new monetary policy framework

With the end of quantitative easing in 2006, the Bank of Japan introduced a new monetary policy framework that includes an understanding of price stability as 0 to 2% inflation and raised interest rates from zero to 0.5%, although most measures of inflation have remained negative. Given remaining deflationary pressures, slower economic growth in 2007 and increased uncertainty about the outlook for growth, the central bank should not raise the short-term policy rate further until inflation is firmly positive and the risk of renewed deflation becomes negligible. In addition, the lower end of the inflation range should be increased to provide an adequate buffer against deflation.


Chapter 3: Achiving progress on fiscal consolidation by controlling government expenditures

With gross debt of 180% of GDP, further measures to reduce the large budget deficit are increasingly urgent. An improvement in the budget balance of between 4% and 5% of GDP (on a primary budget basis) is needed just to stabilise the government debt to GDP ratio, a first step towards the government’s goal of lowering the ratio in the 2010s. The first priority is to further cut government spending, which has fallen by 2½ percentage points as a share of GDP during the past five years, focusing on public investment and the government wage bill. Expenditure reductions should be accompanied by reforms to improve efficiency in the public sector. In addition, policies to limit the increase in social spending, in the context of rapid population ageing, are essential for fiscal consolidation. However, expenditure cuts alone are insufficient to achieve Japan’s fiscal objectives, making it necessary to raise additional revenue.

Chapter 4: Reforming the tax system to promote fiscal sustainability and economic growth

Tax reform is an urgent priority, as Japan needs as much as 5% to 6% of GDP of additional government revenue just to stabilise public debt, which has risen to 180% of GDP. In addition to raising revenue, tax reform should promote economic growth, address the deterioration in income distribution and improve the local tax system. Additional revenue should be obtained primarily by increasing the consumption tax rate, currently the lowest in the OECD area, while broadening the personal and corporate income tax bases. The corporate tax rate, now the highest in the OECD, should be cut to promote growth, while eliminating aspects of the tax system which discourage labour supply and distort the allocation of capital. Japan should also consider introducing an Earned Income Tax Credit to promote equity. The local tax system should be simplified, increasing reliance on existing taxes on property, income and consumption.


Chapter 5: Enhancing the productivity of the service sector in Japan

Labour productivity growth in the service sector, which accounts for 70% of Japan’s economic output and employment, has slowed markedly in recent years in contrast to manufacturing. The disappointing performance is associated with weak competition in the service sector resulting from strict product market regulation and the low level of import penetration and inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI). Reversing the deceleration in productivity growth in the service sector is essential to raise Japan’s growth potential. The key is to eliminate entry barriers, accelerate regulatory reform, upgrade competition policy and reduce barriers to trade and inflows of FDI. Special attention should be given to factors limiting productivity growth in services characterised by either low productivity or high growth potential, such as retail, transport, energy and business services. Finally, it is essential to increase competition in public services, such as health and education, where market forces have been weak.

Chapter 6: Reforming the labour market to cope with increasing dualism and population ageing

The proportion of non-regular workers has risen to one-third of total employment. While non-regular employment provides flexibility cost reductions for firms, it also creates equity and efficiency concerns. A comprehensive approach that includes relaxing the high degree of employment protection for regular workers and expanding the coverage of non-regular workers by the social security system would help to reverse dualism. Given that non-regular workers receive less firm-based training, it is also necessary to expand training outside of firms to support Japan’s growth potential, while enhancing the employment prospects of non-regular workers. Reversing the upward trend in non-regular employment may also encourage greater female labour force participation, which is essential given rapid population ageing that is already reducing Japan’s working-age population by almost 1% each year. Expanding childcare facilities and paying more attention to work-life balance would also boost female employment, while also raising Japan’s exceptionally low birth rate.


How to obtain this publication

The Policy Brief (pdf format) can be downloaded in English and Japanese. It contains the OECD assessment and recommendations.

The complete edition of the Economic survey of Japan 2008 is available from:

Additional information

For further information please contact the Japan/Korea Desk at the OECD Economics Department at ecosurvey@oecd.org. The OECD Secretariat’s report was prepared by Randall S. Jones, Masahiko Tsutsumi and Taesik Yoon under the supervision of Stefano Scarpetta. Research assistance was provided by Lutécia Daniel.

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