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 was the 59th Prime Minister of Japan serving from September 2008 to September 2009, and was defeated in the August 2009 election.


He has served in the House of Representatives since 1979. He was Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2005 to 2007, and was Secretary-General of the LDP briefly in 2007 and in 2008. He was President of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) from 2008 to 2009. His successor, Yukio Hatoyama, was chosen 28 September 2009.

Early life

Aso, a Roman Catholic, was born in Iizuka, Fukuoka on September 20, 1940. His father, Takakichi Aso, was the chairman of the Aso Cement Company and a close associate of Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka; his mother Kazuko Aso was Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida's daughter. Taro is also a great-great-grandson of Toshimichi Okubo, and his current wife, Chikako is the third daughter of Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki. His younger sister, Nobuko, is the wife of Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, a first cousin of the Emperor Akihito.

Aso first graduated from the Faculty of Politics and Economics at Gakushuin University. He then studied in the United Statesmarker at Stanford Universitymarker, but was cut off by his family, who feared he was becoming too Americanized . After making his way back to Japan on a ship, he left once more to study at the London School of Economicsmarker.

Aso spent two years working for a diamond mining operation in Sierra Leonemarker before civil war forced him to return to Japan.

Aso joined his father's company in 1966, and served as president of the Asō Mining Company from 1973 to 1979. Working for the company, he lived in Brazilmarker during the 1960s; Aso speaks Portuguese fluently.

He was also a member of the Japanese shooting team at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montrealmarker and President of the Japan Junior Chamber in 1978.

Political career

Aso was elected as a member of the House of Representatives in October 1979, and has since been re-elected eight times. In 1988, he became Parliamentary Vice Minister for Education.

He joined the Cabinet of Junichiro Koizumi in 2003 as Minister of Internal Affairs, Posts and Communications. On October 31, 2005, he became Minister for Foreign Affairs. There has been some speculation that his position in the Cabinet was due to his membership in the Kono Group, an LDP caucus led by pro-Chinese lawmaker Yohei Kono: by appointing Aso as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Koizumi may have been attempting to "rein in" Kono's statements critical of Japanese foreign policy.

Aso was one of the final candidates to replace Koizumi as prime minister in 2006, but lost the internal party election to Shinzo Abe by a wide margin. Both Abe and Asō are conservative on foreign policy issues and have taken confrontational stances towards some East Asian nations, particularly North Koreamarker and, to a lesser extent, the People's Republic of Chinamarker. Abe was considered a more "moderate" politician than the more "hard-line" Aso, and led Aso in opinion polling within Japan. Aso's views on multilateralism are suggested in a 2006 speech, "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity: Japan's Expanding Diplomatic Horizons."

On September 14, 2007, shortly after Abe announced his resignation, Aso announced his candidacy to replace Abe as Prime Minister. Aso was initially considered to be a leading candidate for the position but was soon eclipsed by Yasuo Fukuda, a more "dovish" politician supported by Nobutaka Machimura, Fukushiro Nukaga, and reportedly by Koizumi as well. Aso acknowledged that he would most likely lose to Fukuda, but said that he wanted to run so that there would be an open election, saying that otherwise LDP would face criticism for making its choice "through back-room deals". In the President election, held on September 23, Fukuda defeated Aso, receiving 330 votes against 197 votes for Aso.

On August 1, 2008, Fukuda appointed Aso as Secretary-General of LDP, a move that solidified Aso's position as the number two man in the party.

Suddenly and unexpectedly on September 1, 2008, Fukuda announced his resignation as Prime Minister. Five LDP members including Aso ran for new party President to succeed Fukuda. On September 21, one day before votes of Diet party members, Aso reportedly told a crowd of supporters outside Tokyo: "The greatest concern right now is the economy." "America is facing a financial crisis ... we must not allow that to bring us down as well." Finally on September 22, Aso did win. Aso was elected as President of LDP with 351 of 525 votes (217 from 384 Diet party members, 134 from 47 prefecture branches); Kaoru Yosano, Yuriko Koike, Nobuteru Ishihara, Shigeru Ishiba got 66, 46, 37, 25 votes respectively.

Two days later on September 24, Aso was designated by the Diet as Prime Minister, and was formally appointed to the office by the Emperor on that night. In the House of Representatives (lower house), Aso garnered 337 out of 478 votes cast; in the House of Councillors (upper house), Ichiro Ozawa, President of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, was named through two times of ballots. Because no agreement was reached at a joint committee of both Houses, the resolution of the House of Representatives became the resolution of the Diet, as is stipulated in the Constitution. Aso reportedly said, "If you look at the current period, it's not a stable one." and "These are turbulent times with the financial situation and everything else."

Later on the same day as his election as Prime Minister, Aso personally announced his new Cabinet (this is normally done by the Chief Cabinet Secretary). Aso's Cabinet was markedly different from the preceding Cabinet under Fukuda. Five of its members had never previously served in the Cabinet, and one of them, 34-year-old Yuko Obuchi, was the youngest member of the Cabinet in the post-war era.

Prime Minister Aso flew to Washington to meet with President Obama in February 2009. Aso was the first foreign leader to visit the Obama White House; however, reports suggested that the new administration was interested less in giving Aso a political boost than in sending a message that Japan continues to be an important ally and partner – a low-risk, high-payoff gesture for both Aso and Obama.

After Aso's election as prime minister he was expected to dissolve the lower house to clear the way for a general election. But he repeatedly stressed the need for a functioning government to face the economic crisis and ruled out an early election. Only after passage of the extra budget for fiscal 2009 in May and facing internal pressure from the LDP after a series of defeats in regional elections – most notably the Tokyo prefectural election on July 12 – Aso decided to announce a general election for August 30, 2009. He dissolved the House of Representatives on July 21, 2009. The LDP lost by a landslide to Minshuto, in the face of record levels of post-war unemployment.

Fight against terrorism



On the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, Prime Minister Aso publicly made a speech, stating: "This kind of terrorism is unforgivable, extremely despicable and vicious. I feel strong resentment and deeply condemn it. Japan is with the Indian people who are fighting against terrorism and we will cooperate with the Indian government."

Controversial statements

During a meeting of the Kono Group in 2001, Aso drew criticism when he said that "that burakumin can't become prime minister," referring to Hiromu Nonaka, a burakumin member of the Diet. Aso's office later attempted to clarify the statements by saying that they were misunderstood.

In 2001, as economics minister, he was quoted as saying he wanted to make Japan a country where "rich Jews" would like to live.

On October 15, 2005, during the opening ceremony of the Kyushu National Museum which also displays the Asian (Chinese/Korean etc) influenced Japanese cultural heritage, he praised Japan for having "one culture, one civilization, one language, and one ethnic group," and stated that it was the only such country in the world. Such statements conflict with the fact Japan has various indigenous ethnic groups such as the Ainu who are spread over its northern islands.

At a lecture in Nagasaki Prefecture, Aso referred to a Japanese peace initiative on the Middle East, stating, "The Japanese were trusted because they had never been involved in exploitation there, or been involved in fights or fired machine guns. Japan is doing what the Americans can't do. It would probably be no good to have blue eyes and blond hair. Luckily, we Japanese have yellow faces."

Kyodo News reported that he had said on February 4, 2006, "our predecessors did a good thing" regarding compulsory education implemented during Japan's colonization of Taiwanmarker.

On December 21, 2005, he said China was "a neighbour with one billion people equipped with nuclear bombs and has expanded its military outlays by double digits for 17 years in a row, and it is unclear as to what this is being used for. It is beginning to be a considerable threat." On January 28, 2006, he called for the emperor to visit the controversial Yasukunimarker shrine. He later backtracked on the comment, but stated that he hoped such a visit would be possible in the future.

Mainichi Daily News reported that on March 9, 2006 he referred to Taiwanmarker as a "law-abiding country", which drew strong protest from Beijing, which considers the island a part of Chinamarker.

On September 23, 2008, Akahata, the daily newspaper published by Japanese Communist Party released a compiled list of these and other statements as the front page article criticizing Aso. This compilation as well as similar lists of blunders have been frequently cited in the Japanese media.

Yahoo News reported that he had said on January 9, 2009, "To work is good. It's completely different thinking from the Old Testament."

Aso Mining forced labor controversy

mid-2008 Aso conceded that his family's coal mine, Aso Mining Company, was alleged to have forced Allied prisoners of war to work in the mines in 1945 without pay. Western media had reported that 300 prisoners, including 197 Australians, 101 Britishmarker, and two Dutchmarker, worked in the mine. Two of the Australians, John Watson and Leslie Edgar George Wilkie, died while working in the Aso mine. In addition, 10,000 Korean conscripts worked in the mine between 1939 and 1945 under severe, brutal conditions in which many of them died or were injured while receiving little pay. The company, now known as the Aso Group, is currently run by Aso's younger brother. Aso's wife serves on its board of directors. Aso headed the company in the 1970s before going into politics.

Acting on a request from Yukihisa Fujita, the Foreign Ministrymarker investigated and announced on December 18, 2008 that Aso Mining had, in fact, used 300 Allied POWs at its mine during World War II. The ministry confirmed that two Australians had died while working at the mine, but declined to release their names or causes of deaths for "privacy reasons." Said Fujita, "Prisoner policy is important in many ways for diplomacy, and it is a major problem that the issue has been neglected for so long." Aso has not responded to requests from former laborers to apologize for the way they were treated by his family's company.

Reading mistakes

The Japanese media noted in November 2008 that Aso often mispronounced or incorrectly read kanji words written in his speeches, even though many of the words are commonly used in Japanese. Aso spoke of the speaking errors to reporters on November 12, 2008 saying, "Those were just reading errors, just mistakes." Aso's tendency for malapropisms has led comparisons to George W. Bush, and the use of his name, "Taro" as a schoolyard taunt for unintelligent children.

An anatomy professor from the University of Tokyomarker, Takeshi Yoro, speculated that Aso could possibly suffer from dyslexia.

Nonaka incident

In 2001, Aso, along with Hiromu Nonaka, was among the LDP's chief candidates to succeed Yoshiro Mori as prime minister of Japan. During a meeting of LDP leaders at which Nonaka was not present, Aso reportedly told the assembled group, "We are not going to let someone from the buraku become the prime minister, are we?". Aso's remark was apparently a reference to Nonaka's Burakumin, a social minority group in Japan, heritage.

Nonaka subsequently withdrew as a candidate. Aso eventually lost the appointment to Junichiro Koizumi. Aso's comment about Nonaka's heritage was revealed in 2005. Aso denied that he had made the statement, but Hisaoki Kamei, who was present at the 2001 meeting, stated in January 2009 that he had heard Aso say something, "to that effect." Nonaka said that he would "never forgive" Aso for the comment and went on to state that Aso was a "misery" to Japan.

Personal life

Fondness for fine dining

In October 2008, the Japanese media reported that Aso dined-out or drank in restaurants and bars in luxury hotels almost nightly. When asked about it, Aso stated, "I won't change my style. Luckily I have my money and can afford it." Aso added that if he went anywhere else, he would have to be accompanied by security guards which would cause trouble.

According to the Asahi Shimbun Aso dined-out or drank at bars 32 times in September 2008, mainly at exclusive hotels. Aso's predecessor, Yasuo Fukuda, dined-out only seven times in his first month in office. Both of the LDP's opposition parties have called Aso's frequent outings inappropriate. Aso's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Jun Matsumoto, commented on the issue by saying that Aso's frequent trips to restaurants, "is his lifestyle and philosophy, and I am not in a position to express my opinion. If only there were more appropriate places when considering security issues and not causing trouble for other customers."

Manga fan

Aso argues that embracing Japanese pop culture can be an important step to cultivating ties with other countries, hoping that manga will act as a bridge to the world. He is referred to as an Otaku.

Aso has been a fan of manga since childhood. He had his family send manga magazines from Japan while he was studying at Stanford University. In 2003, he described reading about 10 or 20 manga magazines every week (making up only part of Aso's voracious reading) and talked about his impression of various manga extemporaneously. In 2007, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, he established the International Manga Award for non-Japanese manga artists.

It was reported that Aso was seen reading the manga "Rozen Maiden" in Tokyo International Airportmarker, which earned him the sobriquet "His Excellency Rozen". He admitted in an interview that he had read the manga; however, he said he did not remember whether he had read it in an airport.

Aso's candidacy for the position of Japanese Prime Minister actually caused share-value to rise among some manga publishers and companies related to the manga industry.

Religion

As a Roman Catholic, Aso belongs to the small minority of Japanese Christians; but he has not emphasized his religiosity. While Christians only account for around 1% of the Japanese, Aso is the seventh Christian prime minister of Japan, after Hara Kei, Takahashi Korekiyo, Masayoshi Ōhira, Ichirō Hatoyama, Tetsu Katayama, his own grandfather Shigeru Yoshida, and his succesor, Yukio Hatoyama.

On occasion of his 2009 new year visit to the Shinto Ise Shrinemarker, Aso has publicly performed the hand-clapping in front of the shrine, stating later that he had "prayed for the good of the Japanese people".

Family tree

References

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  2. "Japanese foreign minister to announce bid to replace Koizumi", Forbes, 2006-08-20.
  3. Article on O Estado de São Paulo, September 26, 2008.
  4. Hideo Hamada, "The Diet Now: Containment and Division", janjan.jp, 2005-11-01.
  5. "Hardline Hawk or Unapologetic Bigot?", ComingAnarchy.com, 2005-11-01.
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  46. ;
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  48. NHK evening news, 2009-1-4, 7 pm


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