Obuchi Keizo

Publié le par Roger Cousin

Keizō Obuchi ( 25 June 1937 – 14 May 2000) was a Japanese politician who served in the House of Representatives for twelve terms, and ultimately as the 84th Prime Minister of Japan from 30 July 1998 to 5 April 2000. His political career ended when he suffered a serious and ultimately fatal stroke.

Obuchi Keizo

He was born in Nakanojō, Gunma Prefecture. At the age of 13, he transferred to a private middle school in Tokyo, and lived in the city for the rest of his life. In 1958, he enrolled at Waseda University as an English literature major, in hopes of becoming a writer. When his father died that same year, he decided to follow in his footsteps, so he changed his major to political science and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1962.

Between January and September 1963, he traveled to thirty-eight countries, completely circumnavigating the globe and taking odd jobs as he went, as he was short on money. These included being a dishwasher, an assistant aikido instructor and a TV camera crew assistant in Berlin which was the most physically demanding. While in the United States, he met Robert F. Kennedy by walking into the attorney general's office.

That November, inspired by his talk with Kennedy, he ran for the House of Representatives and was elected to a seat representing Gunma's 3rd district, making him the youngest legislator in Japanese history at 26 years of age. He served his first term in the Diet while pursuing graduate studies at Waseda.

In 1979, he became the director of the prime minister's office and director of the Okinawa Development Agency, his first cabinet post. He served there for eight years before becoming Chief Cabinet Secretary in 1987. He became famous two years later, by formally announcing the death of Emperor Showa. He later publicly announced the new era name "Heisei" for the new Emperor Akihito.

In 1991, he became secretary general of the LDP, and in 1994 became its vice president. In 1997, Ryutaro Hashimoto appointed Obuchi as Minister of Foreign Affairs, where he shone in negotiations with Russia over Japanese claims in the Kuril Islands, as well as negotiations over the unification of Korea.

In 1998, Obuchi's time came when the LDP lost its majority in the House of Councillors. Hashimoto resigned as LDP president, and Obuchi was named his successor. When the time came for the Diet to designate a new Prime Minister, Obuchi became only the second LDP candidate not to win the support of the upper house. However, the Constitution of Japan stipulates that if the two chambers cannot agree on a choice for Prime Minister, the choice of the House of Representatives is deemed to be that of the Diet. With the LDP's large majority in the lower house, Obuchi was formally appointed Prime Minister on 30 July.

During his term, he was focused on two major issues: signing a peace treaty with Russia, and reviving the Japanese economy. His solution to the latter was to increase public spending and lowering income taxes, which briefly slowed the recession but ultimately did very little to turn it around. One of his government actions was to give shopping coupons to 35 million citizens in the hope it would spark a consumer boom. His Russia policy also eluded implementation before his death.

Obuchi's fiscal policy focused on strengthening the core capital requirements for financial institutions while issuing more Japanese government bonds to finance public infrastructure, which boosted the rising Japanese public debt.

Obuchi was known to have regularly enjoyed playing squash at the courts in the Canadian Embassy, in Tokyo`s Azabu. Squash players tend to be very fit, as it is excellent cardio-vascular exercise. This is not compatible with the media creation in Japan of gakeppuchi Obuchi "Obuchi on the brink," which construed his physical health mirrored the precarious state of Japan's economy.

Obuchi suffered a stroke on 1 April 2000 and slipped into a coma at Tokyo's Juntendo University Hospital. When it became apparent he would never regain consciousness, he was replaced by Yoshirō Mori on 5 April. Obuchi died on 14 May at the age of 62; a state funeral was held in his honor at the Nippon Budokan on 8 June, and was attended by many foreign dignitaries.

The way in which the government avoided commenting on Obuchi's medical condition brought negative criticism on the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The media continually replayed a now-famous clip of an interview of Obuchi just hours before his stroke; in it, Obuchi eerily froze for ten full seconds after being asked a routine question by a reporter, seemingly unable to bring himself to answer.

Obuchi married environmental essayist Chizuko Ono in 1967. They were introduced by Tomisaburo Hashimoto, a Diet member and relative of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. They had one son and two daughters. Their younger daughter, Yūko Obuchi, ran for and was elected to the former prime minister's Diet seat in the 2000 elections. Obuchi was a great fan of the works of the late historical novelist Ryōtarō Shiba, and a particular admirer of Sakamoto Ryōma, a key figure in the events leading to the Meiji Restoration.

Obuchi also had the unusual hobby of collecting figures of oxen. It relates to the fact that he was born in the Year of the Ox, the second year of Chinese zodiac. He started collecting the figures following his initial election to the Diet in 1963, and after three and a half decades, the collection numbered in the thousands. He was also devoted to aikido, and enjoyed golf as well.

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