Race to the top: The 2018 LDP leadership contest / Koizumi — Eloquence honed from rakugo tips

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Shinjiro Koizumi in the Diet last month

The Yomiuri ShimbunThis is the sixth and final installment of a series

After the rain stopped on the evening of Jan. 31, a campaign rally was held in front of a supermarket for the mayoral race in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture. Liberal Democratic Party Chief Deputy Secretary General Shinjiro Koizumi took the microphone, and was soon surrounded by an audience of about 1,000 people.

“It’s not widely known in the country that soki soba originated in Nago. We should think of how to make that known,” he said.

Koizumi, 36, unleashed his specialty “local material” at the event for the closely contested election. The audience responded with applause and shouts of “That’s right!” Noting the way he drew people in like a magnet, a senior election campaign official said, “That’s an incredible reaction.” Koizumi returned to Nago the day before the election at the request of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, 69, and helped an LDP-backed rookie candidate win his first victory.

Where did Koizumi develop the eloquence to capture people’s hearts like this? Partly at rakugo comedy houses.

Around the time of his first election victory in 2009, Koizumi went to the Suzumoto Engeijo theater in Tokyo’s Ueno district to perfect his speaking rhythm and learn how to warm up a crowd. He was particularly interested in the human interest stories told by Yanagiya Sankyo, now 69, a rakugo comedian he respects.

When the newly elected Koizumi dropped by, Sankyo offered him a piece of rakugo wisdom: “It doesn’t matter if you’re skilled or not, you must fit in wherever you go.” In other words, one must understand what a local audience desires and what will make them happy. Koizumi’s style of speaking, in which he uses local material to draw closer to his audience, reflects this teaching. Sankyo has praised Koizumi, saying, “He soaks everything up like a sponge.”

Koizumi’s popularity has been a potent weapon for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, 63. Koizumi was a fixture on the campaign trail ahead of the House of Representatives election in October, becoming as much a “face of the party” as Abe himself.

When a nationwide Yomiuri Shimbun opinion poll in February asked who should be the next president of the LDP, Koizumi ranked second at 25 percent, after Abe with 32 percent.

That very popularity could lead to turbulence within the administration if left unchecked. Abe has kept a subtle distance from Koizumi.

Last May, Koizumi approached Abe with a proposal for “children’s insurance,” in which childcare support programs would be funded using new public insurance fees. Abe could not agree to a system that placed a financial burden on those without children, but answered vaguely at the time: “That’s an idea to keep in mind.”

Abe would later propose that extra revenue from tax hikes be diverted to childcare support, and urged companies to provide the remaining ¥300 billion needed for the initiative. He went over the heads of party members in making the decision, leading Koizumi to quip, “At this rate, he won’t even need the LDP.”

At the end of last year, Koizumi held a celebration of sorts in the room of a dormitory for Diet members in Tokyo’s Akasaka district. The children’s insurance had not become government policy, but he still raised a can of chuhai in a toast with Hideki Murai, 37, a Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary, and young representatives who supported the program, saying, “Thank you for fighting by my side.”

Koizumi has never held a cabinet position or one of the party’s three key posts — secretary general, general council chair and policy research council chair. Such experience is said to be necessary to become prime minister, but Koizumi says, “That kind of thinking doesn’t work anymore.” He watched up close as his father, Jun- ichiro Koizumi, now 76, became prime minister in 2001 without having served in any of the key posts. His personal philosophy is that “in the end, it comes down to one’s personal ability.”

Koizumi supported former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba, now 61, in the 2012 party leadership election, when Abe was reelected as LDP president. He has compared leadership elections and other struggles for political power to “wars fought without weapons.” Though he has yet to announce plans for the September contest, Koizumi is well aware that his own actions can become “weapons” to influence the outcome.

“There are no lower house or House of Councillors elections this year. Such quiet times are when you really don’t know what will happen.”



A man who gets the job done

Keiichiro Tachibana / LDP deputy secretary general

Only four new LDP members were elected to the lower house in 2009 when the party went into opposition, including Shin- jiro and myself. We formed a study group to encourage each other.

I’ll never forget working with him back then, handing out flyers opposing the Democratic Party of Japan’s bills. It’s hard to imagine now, but people would of course walk right past Shinjiro when he handed out flyers.

He always works hard in whatever position he’s assigned. In the subcommittee on economic and fiscal plans for 2020 and beyond, where he proposed the establishment of children’s insurance, he listened to opposing viewpoints and summarized everything nicely in the subcommittee’s statement. He’s also very studious; he’s always carrying a book around, and he diligently reads papers prepared by the government.

I’d love to see Shinjiro start a family and raise children. He’s at an age where he can experience that, and I’m sure it would benefit his political activities. I look forward to attending his wedding with the members of the study group.

Tachibana was elected to the lower house at the same time as Koizumi. Speech

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