Yukio Hatoyama, the Japanese Kennedy

A discreet man who hails from a political dynasty, Yukio Hatoyama is favourite to win the legislative elections on August 30. FRANCE 24 takes a closer look at the man who could put an end to 50 years of conservative rule in Japan.


In a country where the business of politics is a family affair, Yukio Hatoyama is no exception. Heir to a rich and powerful dynasty that the Japanese sometimes compare to America’s Kennedy family, the head of the centrist Japanese opposition is faithful to his pedigree. Hatoyama’s grandfather, Ichirô, was a former prime minister (1952-1954), his father served as foreign minister and his little brother, Kunio, was a member of Prime Minister Taro Aso’s cabinet until last June. On the business side, his maternal grandmother was none other than the founder of the multinational company Bridgestone. So it may come as no surprise that the Hatoyama family has a museum dedicated to itself in Tokyo.


But the man favoured to win August 30’s legislative elections is a political animal in his own right, and has spent the last 10 years building the main opposition force in Japan.


The family penchant for politics caught up with Hatoyama following his studies at the University of Tokyo and Stanford in California. A onetime professor of management, Hatoyama was first elected in 1986 to the House of Representatives as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Japan’s ruling conservatives and the party that he will challenge in the upcoming vote.


Sixteen years in the opposition


In 1993, Hatoyama left the conservatives and joined a fragile anti-LDP that survived for less than a year.


He then began a political transformation that would carry him to the head of Japan’s centrist opposition movement. Assembling other dissatisfied members of Japan’s political establishment around him and allying with his younger brother Kunio, Hatoyama joined the fledgling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), a party that absorbed a multitude of smaller movements to become the main opposition by 1998. That same year, it won a majority in the upper house of parliament.


From 1996 to 2005, Hatoyama refined his political plans and proved his talents as a leader. Although liberal, he advocated the concept of a “third way”, moving his party toward the centre in a shrewd move that won the DPJ increasing levels of public support.


Nevertheless, the centrist party that united so many political hopes was trounced in the 2005 legislative elections, when the Japanese voted en masse for the Liberal Democratic Party led by the immensely popular then prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi (2001-2006).


From political scandal to resurgent popularity


Hatoyama left the top spot in the DPJ later that year but returned in 2009 when the party found itself embroiled in a political scandal. Faced with bribery allegations, party leader Ichiro Ozawa resigned.


As the Japanese public rediscovered this familiar opposition figure, surveys, such as a July 23 poll in the economic daily “Nikkei”, soon credited Hatoyama with a 40 percent approval rating. Hatoyama rode the wave of this newfound popularity, speaking of his “historical mission” to “construct a fraternal society founded on a policy of love” toward families, the unemployed and pensioners. His programme of “service to the life of the people” – encoded in the party’s manifest – envisages family benefits, government-subsidised education and limitations on offering non-permanent work contracts.


But more so than the policies and the visions, it is the personalities of their prime ministers that galvanise the Japanese. Notably, it was his leonine hairstyle and his passion for Elvis Presley that won former premier Koizumi his widespread popularity. As for current Prime Minister Taro Aso, he is known for his passion for manga comics and his raucous, almost aggressive, voice.


Hatoyama also confesses to diverse interests in his curriculum vitae. An avid karaoke performer and an amateur player at Japan’s national sport, baseball, he also likes classical music and, more surprisingly, is a Russophile. His wife, former stage actress Miyuki Hashimoto, is an author and popular culinary critic. This is unusual, as Japan’s political wives traditionally remain in the background.


The Japanese seem to appreciate Hatoyama for being a tough political official, faithful to his anti-corruption pledges, a stranger to scandal – apart from an admitted infidelity revealed in 1996 – and ready to display a sense of humour. Knowing that he is nicknamed “E.T.” because of his bulbous eyes, he once had stickers printed caricaturing himself as the famed extraterrestrial.

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