By Andrew Ross
"Koizumimania" may not have the same ring to it as "Trudeaumania," but the phenomenon is the same. Japan’s new Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, has won the hearts of his people in the same way that the late great Canadian PM won the hearts of Canadians in the 1970s.
Koizumi is anything but a typical Japanese politician. The youthful 59-year-old has a wavy mop of hair and buys his suits off the rack. He is a bachelor, has countless young women catcalling at his public appearances, his fan club’s Web site is very popular and there are over four million people who subscribe to his weekly e-mail newsletter. Although his approval ratings are down 15 per cent from when he first took office, he is still at a whopping 70 per cent, very high for politically-splintered Japan.
While he may not have pirouetted behind the Emperor (yet) he is definitely a reform-minded individual. News reports have gone as far as saying his new mandate gives him "free reign to reshape Japanese society according to his vision."
Indeed, Japanese society, more specifically, the Japanese economy, is long overdue for some reshaping. The Nikkei, Japan’s stock index, is at a 16-year low, unemployment is consistently high at 4.9 per cent, and industrial production is down. While Jun-chan, as Koizumi is affectionately known, has yet to release the specifics of his economic plans, his program has been called the most dramatic reworking of the Japanese economy since the end of World War II. Despite the fact that his reforms are predicted to make things worse before they get better, the Japanese public’s continued support for Koizumi indicates that after an 11-year economic slowdown, they are ready to take their medicine–no matter how unpleasant it is.
And that’s not all. Koizumi is also promising extensive reforms within the government which, if successful, will help curb the extensive corruption and control of the government by business interests. These reforms would put Junichiro Koizumi in the same league as Mexican President Vincente Fox in terms of electoral reform, while making Japan a transparent and accountable democracy.
But wait, there’s more. Koizumi is also moving the government away from the "old boys’ club" mentality which has long typified patriarchal Japanese society. His cabinet includes not only women, but goes even further, including minority groups, more often referred to simply as "gaijin" or "foreigners."
With a charismatic and radical new leader, it is clear that Japan is on a road to change.