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 was a Japanesemarker politician who served in the House of Representatives for twelve terms, and ultimately as the 84th Prime Minister of Japan from July 30, 1998 to April 5, 2000. His political career ended when he suffered a serious and ultimately fatal stroke.

Early life

He was born in Nakanojōmarker, Gunma Prefecturemarker. At the age of 13, he transferred to a private middle school in Tokyomarker, and lived in the city for the rest of his life. In 1958, he enrolled at Waseda Universitymarker 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.

Political career

That November, inspired by his talk with Kennedy, he ran for the House of Representatives and was elected to a seat representing Gunma Prefecturemarker, 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 Okinawamarker 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, who formally announced the death of Emperor Showa, and 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 Russiamarker over Japanese claims in the Kuril Islandsmarker, as well as negotiations over the unification of Koreamarker.

In 1998, Obuchi's time came: he became prime minister in the LDP's election. 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 was known in Japan as gakeppuchi Obuchi (崖っぷち小渕) "Obuchi on the brink," because of the precarious state of Japan's economy.

Obuchi suffered a stroke on April 1, 2000 and slipped into a coma at Tokyo's Juntendo University Hospital. He was replaced by Yoshirō Mori on April 5, and died on May 14 at the age of 62; a state funeral was held in his honor at the Nippon Budokanmarker on June 8, and was attended by many foreign dignitaries.

The way in which the government avoided commenting honestly on Obuchi's serious medical condition, and for political reasons presented the situation as one in which Obuchi was still in control, brought negative criticism on the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Heightening the effect, news 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. Commentators speculated that the stroke was already in progress.

Personal life

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, Yuko 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.He was also devoted to aikido, and enjoyed golf as well.

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.

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