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Manga Fan Asō Chosen to Be Japan's Next Prime Minister

posted on 2008-09-22 05:53 EDT
Former foreign minister known for manga reading, controversial statements

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has selected Tarō Asō, a former foreign minister and a self-professed manga fan, as its 23rd party president on Monday afternoon — and therefore he is all but certain to be the country's next prime minister. 68-year-old Asō won 351 of the 527 votes that the party's parliamentary members casted during a meeting at the LDP's Tokyo headquarters. (Despite the English name of the party, the LDP is the main conservative party in Japan.) Economics minister Kaoru Yosano, Aso's closest rival out of the four other candidates, garnered only 66 votes. Asō is expected to be formally designated the next prime minister on September 24, and the new leader will form his cabinet that same day.

The next prime minister will be the fourth one in the last two years; the most recent prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, announced his resignation at the beginning of this month. Asō campaigned against Fukuda for Japan's top post in 2006 and 2007 with rallies in the Akihabara otaku cultural shopping district.

In addition to openly talking about his manga-reading habit ("about 10 to 20 [manga magazines] a week"), Asō announced the first International Manga Awards last year as Abe's former foreign minister. His former vice foreign minister, Katsuhito Asano, met with the finalists of the International Cosplay Summit last year. Also last year, Asō posted a Japanese essay about how manga has spread internationally and how the term "manga" has entered the vocabularies of other languages, similar to how "sushi," "tsunami," and "karaoke" have.

When Asō was foreign minister, his ministry increasingly used manga to communicate its message, particularly through specially commissioned Detective Conan manga pamphlets and complimentary copies of the Barefoot Gen manga at a nuclear non-proliferation meeting. He also called upon former French presidential candidate Segolene Royal to "read a little bit more" manga after Royal criticized manga for a perceived high degree of tolerance for expressions of violence and pornography.

Asō's 2007 candidacy for Japan's top post gave anime and manga companies like Mandarake, Broccoli, and GDH a stocks price boost. Stocks related to anime and manga also rose after Fukuda's resignation announcement this month. A store in Akihabara devoted a corner to Fukuda sweets and snacks after his resignation, while another pitched Asō as a "Cool Old Dude" in English letters. Meanwhile, the Daily Yomiuri newspaper noted that Asō is not necessarily a fan of all anime and manga, nor he will necessarily accommodate the views of all otaku.

Asō is known for his history of controversial comments. Just this month, he responded to a comment about LDP's shifting fortunes by upper house speaker Satsuki Eda of the opposition Democratic Party (DP) by saying, ""If you look at history, you will see that as a result of the people moving away from the party of government, regimes like the Nazis have come into power." DP Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama demanded an apology which Asō has not given. Asō did say, "I don't want to think that the speaker disclosed [my comment] on purpose, and I don't have any intention of comparing the Democrats to the Nazis." An anonymous Asō staffer added, "He was saying that the fact that debate has not been progressing in parliament is a serious problem and that the Nazi regime arose from a similar situation." Coincidentally, Hatoyama is another parliamentary member linked to otaku.

In 2001, then Economics Minister Asō said he wanted to make Japan a place where "rich Jews" would want to live. While he served as foreign minister in 2006 and 2007, he also implied that Japan's 20th-century colonization of Korea and Taiwan was good for both countries. He has claimed last year that allegations that Japan held sex slaves from Korea and China during World War II "lacked objective evidence." Also last year, he said that Americans could not solve the Middle East crisis because they have blond hair and blue eyes and added, "Japanese are trusted. Luckily we have yellow faces."

Japan's new prime minister will have to deal with a stagnating economy in Japan and a slowing economy worldwide. He will face general elections no later than September 2009, when the LDP's current four-year mandate expires.

Sources: J-Cast News, BBC, Reuters, The Independent


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