Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

Junichiro Koizumi

Junichiro KoizumiJunichiro Koizumi was elected Prime Minister of Japan in April 2001. Nicknamed “Lionheart”, he was chosen for his dynamism and ambition. An outspoken campaigner for economic reform, it was hoped he would drag Japan out of its economic slump.

After this honeymoon period, Koizumi’s popularity waned. Rather than delivering the painful restructuring he promised, he was frustrated by resistance within his own party, the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party).


His popularity took another blow after he sacked his foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka. The daughter of a former Prime Minister, she had made critical remarks about Koizumi, and was forced out of the LDP.

He has also drawn criticism from Japan’s neighbors. Since becoming Prime Minister, he has made many official visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. This is the resting place of thousands of Japanese soldiers killed between 1853 and 1945, including war criminals responsible for unprovoked massacres in Asia. People in China and other East Asian countries see these visits as supportive of Japan’s WWII atrocities.

Controversially, he approved the expansion of Japan’s SDF (Self Defense Force). In 2003, he sent Japanese troops to join the coalition in Iraq, an act many in Japan and abroad saw as contrary to Japan’s pacifist constitution.

By the conservative standards of Japanese politics, Koizumi has a colorful personal life. He was married in 1978, but divorced in 1982. This divorce seems to have been highly acrimonious, and he has sworn never to marry again. He raised 2 of his 3 sons alone, and won’t allow them to see their mother. He refuses to see his ex-wife or his youngest son, who she took with her.

Rape Claims

In 2004, the Prime Minister faced rape accusations from a Japanese tabloid magazine. According to the story, Koizumi sexually assaulted a fellow student when he was studying at Tokyo’s prestigious Keio University, and when she threatened him with charges, his wealthy family paid her off and moved Junichiro to study in Europe.

This story raised rumours of another rape, that of a schoolgirl, while Koizumi was a junior minister. Neither accusation seems to have much credibility, and Koizumi’s vigorous denial of the charges in parliament seems to have closed the issue.

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