TOPTokyo LifeNews & Opinion10 Things To Know About Japan’s Prime Minister-Designate Fumio Kishida

10 Things To Know About Japan’s Prime Minister-Designate Fumio Kishida

Kishida will officially become PM on Monday after winning a runoff vote against the public's choice Taro Kono

By Matthew Hernon

Fumio Kishida this week won the race to be the new Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader, defeating public favorite Taro Kono. He will now formally be voted in as prime minister in an extraordinary Diet session on October 4. Before then, we thought we’d find out a little bit more about the sake-loving Hiroshima Toyo Carp fan who is set to succeed Yoshihide Suga to become the country’s 100th PM.

1. Kishida was racially abused in the US

At the age of six, Kishida moved to New York with his family due to his father’s work. He attended an elementary school in Queens where he was taunted for being Japanese. Kids would tut when he entered the bathroom and he was often the target of discriminatory remarks. Speaking on the show Abema Prime, Kishida said those experiences in America triggered a strong sense of justice inside him. He believes that was the starting point for him wanting to become a politician. Despite his difficulties in the States, Kishida was impressed by how open and free America was.

 2. He failed the Tokyo University entrance exams three times

After three years in the States, Kishida returned to Tokyo to study at Nagatacho Elementary School. He then went to Kojimachi Junior High School in Chiyoda Ward before enrolling at the prestigious Kaisei Academy. For the past 40 years, Kaisei has had the highest number of entrants to the University of Tokyo. Kishida, whose family has an extensive history at the university, took the entrance exam on three occasions. Each time he failed. He did, however, pass the Waseda and Keio University tests. He opted for the latter as it had a serious, non-pretentious atmosphere.

3. As with most Japanese prime ministers, Kishida comes from a family of politicians

Hereditary politics is common in Japan. The majority of prime ministers in the post-war era have come from a political dynasty and Kishida is no exception. Both his grandfather Masaki and father Fumitake were both lower house members. Fumio eventually followed in their paths after first working for the now defunct Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan. His political career began in 1987 as a secretary to his father who was a lawmaker of the lower house. Six years later, he was elected to the House of Representatives in his domicile of Hiroshima.

4. Kishida is a passionate advocate for nuclear disarmament

Though born in Tokyo, Kishida considers Hiroshima to be his hometown. As a child he listened intently to his grandmother’s stories about the atomic bomb that decimated the city. “To me, ‘hibakusha’ and ‘death from the nuclear bomb’ are very real,” he wrote in his book Toward A World Without Nuclear Weapons. Kishida believes the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is a “meaningful” step in the hope of realizing that kind of world. At the same time, however, he feels it’s difficult to achieve anything while nuclear powers continue to disregard attempts to achieve global disarmament.

5. He was instrumental in arranging President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima in 2016

In April 2016, Kishida hosted a meeting in Hiroshima for G7 foreign ministers. Among them was American Secretary of State John Kerry, who became the highest ranked government official from the US to visit the city. According to Kishida, long and delicate negotiations were required to arrange the meeting as the members had differences of opinion on nuclear weapons. In the end, all that effort was worth it for Kishida as he spoke to Kerry about the possibility of Barack Obama paying an official visit to Hiroshima. One month later, he received his wish.

6. Kishida was Japan’s longest serving foreign minister in postwar history

He held that position for four years and seven months, breaking the record set by Shintaro Abe, father of the then prime minister Shinzo Abe. As well as arranging Obama’s Hiroshima visit, Kishida was also responsible for reaching a landmark agreement with South Korea on the “comfort women” issue. The two countries agreed that the Japanese government would fund a foundation for women who worked in wartime brothels. “They’re not reparations,” insisted Kishida. Japan remained firm in its view that the issue had been resolved in the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea.

7. He is not particularly popular with the public

According to various opinion polls taken prior to the election, Taro Kono was the people’s choice to be PM. In a survey by the Mainichi Shimbun, 45 percent of respondents felt he was the best man for the job. Kishida was well back with just 18 percent. The Hiroshima-native doesn’t have as strong a connection with the public as Kono who regularly interacts with followers on Twitter. While campaigning for last year’s leadership election, Kishida thought he’d post a nice family picture on the same platform. Showing his wife serving him dinner in an apron, the photo was widely mocked and described as “anachronistic.”

8. A moderate liberal, Kishida has long been seen as a future PM

Despite the lack of public support, Kishida was seen as the safer option by LDP Diet members. Kono, the favorite among rank-and-file LDP members, was considered too much of a maverick by party heavyweights. They chose stability over change, knowing that Kishida would be more likely to toe the party line. A soft-spoken and self-effacing individual, he acknowledged during the campaign that some see him as boring. Within the party, though, he is highly respected and was long viewed as a future leader. In the past, he was even hand-picked as former Prime Minister Abe’s successor.

9. To recover from the pandemic, Kishida believes a new form of capitalism is necessary

Since the early 2000s, deregulation and structural reform have strengthened Japan’s economy and promoted growth. According to Kishida, however, they have also “created a gap between the rich and the poor, and those who possess and others who don’t.” The coronavirus pandemic has further exacerbated the disparity. “We have to turn around the economy in this situation and if we just do the same thing, the gaps will only grow and there will be no positive cycle. We will make a change,” added Kishida. He has pledged to spend tens of trillions of yen to stimulate the economy.

10. He enjoys baseball and drinking

“I love Hiroshima Carp. I love Hiroshima and sake (laughs). Other than that, I have some hobbies, but it’s not a big deal,” said Kishida while introducing himself on Abema Prime. The future prime minister is known to be a strong drinker. When he was foreign minister, he used to down vodkas and sake with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. The pair would compete to see how much they could drink while continuing their diplomatic conversations. Kishida is known for his good listening skills which he demonstrated while going on long drinking sessions with friends at university.