As the world has become more accustomed to the lifestyle that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about, surprising news within Japan has also drawn great attention in the past few weeks. Shinzo Abe, widely known as the longest-serving Prime Minister in Japanese history, resigned from his role and Yoshihide Suga officially succeeded him on September 16.
One may most clearly remember Suga as the “Reiwa Ojisan,” who revealed the new imperial era name (Reiwa) two years ago. However, he is also a very successful hard-working politician, which contradicts the Japanese Prime Ministers of the past.
Yoshihide Suga was born on December 6, 1948, in a small village in Akita Prefecture, where he grew up as a son of a strawberry farmer. As a young teen, he dreamt of leaving his hometown to live in Tokyo. Therefore, after graduating high school, he went to Tokyo, where he worked as a cardboard factory employee and a security guard, in order to earn sufficient amounts of money to apply for a university. After graduating from Hosei University, he became an LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) politician and joined Abe’s first Cabinet as the Minister of Communications. Moreover, due to his devotion to Abe, he was promoted to the role of chief Cabinet secretary, known to be the second most powerful position in the government. He is the longest-ever person to serve this role for eight consecutive years in history and in recent years, he has been known by many citizens and reporters as Abe’s “fixer, the backroom guy who gets stuff done.”
Despite most Japanese politicians coming from a family with a political ancestry, Suga does not. Shinzo Abe is one noteworthy example: while his grandfather served as the former Prime Minister of Japan from 1957 to 1960 and his father as the Foreign Minister in the 1980s, his younger brother is the current Minister of Defense. Due to Japan’s well-known hereditary politics, only three Prime Ministers in post-war Japan do not have any political background, making Suga the fourth. Nisei (second-generation) is prevalent in Japan’s hereditary political structure, due to their inherited power over the “three bans:” jiban (support base), kanban (name recognition), and kaban (financial support). Surprisingly, this concept has not correlated with “bad politics,” hence receiving close to no concern from the citizens. Although some may argue that Suga is a diligent man with a respectable story, others will contend otherwise. In reality, many journalists and political analysts say that this acts as Suga’s major weakness as Prime Minister due to the lack of a “power base,” where he can receive support from other political leaders.
Nevertheless, many think highly of Suga for a variety of reasons. Not only is he known to be fierce and has a conscientious reputation due to how he “stonewalls” the media at press conferences, but he is largely advocated by women, as he strives to create a society where “women can bear and raise children with peace of mind” while being active economically. Moreover, a Nikkei/TV Tokyo poll shows a 74% public support for him, being the third-highest result in history.
As the 99th Prime Minister of Japan, Suga is expected to prove his abilities to its citizens and the world. He stated in his first press conference as the Prime Minister that his visions for Japan include promoting sustainability, increasing tourism, providing better working environments, improving relations with other nations, reducing mobile phone rates, and resolving the issue of the North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens. His goals are very similar to Abe’s, as they both have right-wing ideologies as LDP members. Pressing socio-economic issues that he must tackle include the dealing with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and the postponed 2020 Olympics. Suga’s handling of these urgent issues is what will shape his popularity from the public.
Scartozzi, Cesare M. "Hereditary Politics in Japan: A Family Business." Thediplomat.com. 14 Feb. 2017. Web. 10 Oct. 2020. <https://thediplomat.com/2017/02/hereditary-politics-in-japan-a-family-business/>
The Japan Times. "Formidable challenges ahead as Suga era begins." The Japan Times. 17 Sept. 2020. Web. 17 Sept. 2020. <https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2020/09/17/editorials/formidable-challenges-ahead-suga-era-begins/>
The Asahi Shimbun. "Suga already being tested on his willingness to empower women: The Asahi Shimbun." The Asahi Shimbun. 18 Sept. 2020. Web. 10 Oct. 2020 <http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/13739790>
Wingfield-hayes, Rupert. BBC News, Tokyo. "The unexpected rise of Japan's new prime minister." BBC News. 16 Sept. 2020. Web. 17 Sept. 2020. <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-54172722>
Craig Mark. "What’s the story with Yoshihide Suga, the next prime minister of Japan?." MarketWatch. 15 Sept. 2020. Web. 4 Oct. 2020. <https://www.marketwatch.com/story/whats-the-story-with-yoshihide-suga-the-next-prime-minister-of-japan-11600192540>