The Long-Haired Henjin Who Could

The Long-Haired Henjin Who Could

The Long-Haired Henjin Who Could

What the foreign papers are saying.
April 26 2001 9:00 PM

The Long-Haired Henjin Who Could

Junichiro Koizumi has been Japan's prime minister for just a couple of days, but the world press has already decided how to portray him. Almost every story about his unexpected victory in the Liberal Democratic Party leadership race described Koizumi as a "maverick," with "eccentric" (and its Japanese equivalent, "henjin,"), "heretic," "lone wolf," "Don Quixote," and even "weirdo" making appearances. Toronto's Globe and Mail said: "[H]e represents a less tradition-bound Japan than many other politicians. His long silvery locks and sharp ties set him apart from his staid ruling-party colleagues." A fan of the glam rock group X-Japan, he was involved in founding a memorial museum for the band's lead guitarist, who committed suicide in 1998. Japan's first unmarried prime minister since the 1950s, Koizumi raised his two sons as a single, divorced father. The Mainichi Daily News noted that he was the only one of the four candidates in the LDP leadership race without a Web page.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

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Despite these biographical distinctions, some papers were skeptical of Koizumi's self-styled image as a rebel. Britain's Guardian pointed out: "[H]is record is hardly that of a mould-breaker. The son of a defence minister, grandson of a parliamentary Speaker, and protégé of [a former prime minister, he] has been an MP for nearly 30 years and has held several ministerial posts." Japan's Daily Yomiuri suggested that, with popular support for the LDP declining, Koizumi cannily positioned himself a reformer in order to win over rank-and-file LDP voters: "[A] great majority of LDP members have harbored a sense of crisis and have thrown their support behind Koizumi as he ran in the party presidential race under the banner of 'change.' " It was his landslide success in the prefectural primaries—he won in all but six of the nation's 47 prefectures—that allowed Koizumi to overcome the traditional power of party factions in the Japanese parliament, the Diet.

Britain's Daily Telegraph noted, "He thus has a more popular mandate… [and] stands a chance of turning the tide, both for the Liberal Democrats and for the country as a whole." Still, the task before Koizumi is daunting. The Financial Times declared: "To succeed, Mr Koizumi must make radical changes on a scale that no LDP leader in the past has been willing or able to attempt. … Koizumi has a better chance of bringing real results than did earlier reformers in the 1990s, because popular opinion has since swung so sharply in favour of change." The Asahi Shimbun said that even LDP members who benefited from the party's traditional pork-barrel, patronage-dispensing policies must realize the need for change. "They may feel the pain if the party embarks upon reform. But the party will be ruined if it does not change." This sentiment was echoed in the Daily Yomiuri, which noted, "Sudden enthusiasm is easily cooled. If even Koizumi cannot change the party and show achievements on various issues, the backlash will be huge."

Although his early moves have been outside the economic sphere, Koizumi began his administration with a bang. According to the Daily Telegraph, just hours after winning the leadership race, he declared himself in favor of revising the clause in the Japanese Constitution that renounces the right to wage war. Although Japan's de facto military, the Self-Defense Forces, is one of the world's largest armed forces, the constitution, drawn up by Americans following World War II, stipulates that Japan should never maintain an army. Koizumi said, "It is unnatural to have a provision saying the SDF is not an army." Several papers noted that this stance could lead the Buddhist-backed New Komeito Party to abandon the ruling coalition. China and other regional powers were also angered by Koizumi's announcement that he would visit Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which venerates the 2.5 million Japanese lost in wars since the mid-19th century, including seven executed war criminals from World War II. Coming on the heels of Japan's controversial decision to grant a visa to former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui and protests over Japanese school textbooks that China and South Korea claim whitewash World War II atrocities, diplomatic affairs could provide Koizumi's first serious challenge.

The Potter principle: After 20 years of steady decline, British boarding schools are "on the brink of a revival," according to the Times of London. Although the statistical evidence is pretty underwhelming—this year the number of girl boarders rose by a mere 0.02 percent (representing six students!) and the number of boy boarders declined by 1 percent, admittedly the smallest dip since the 1980s—the Boarding Schools Association claims there is a "new mood of confidence," citing the new buildings under construction at several schools. The Independent reported that there are lots of first-generation boarders among the 68,336 pupils currently enrolled in independent boarding schools and that many are kids whose parents have split up. The most frequently offered explanation for the boarding boomlet is the popularity of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. An Independent editorial headlined "Welcome to Hogwarts" expressed mock shock that popular fiction could be so influential:

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Yes, there really are parents out there who are prepared to defy the stereotypical image of routine bullying, cold showers, inedible food and, ahem, "eccentric" masters. Perhaps more surprising still, there are children who relish the thought of exposing their buttocks to the near certainty of being splintered by the rough wooden benches of the rugger changing rooms.