Naoto Kan

Prime Minister of Japan

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Official Stats

  • Official Title: Prime Minister
  • Government: Well-established democracy
  • Years Left in Office: Indefinite; no term limits
  • Political Classification: Center-left
  • Education: BS
  • Age: 77 (born October 10, 1946)

Naoto Kan Facts and Information

The Rundown

Dōmo arigatō Mr. Kan-ato!  Naoto Kan that is! Naoto Kan is Japan’s fifth prime minister in less than four years, an embarrassing statistic for the world’s third-largest economy…no one can handle the job for more than a few months! And Kan appears to be no exception to this rule! Given Japan’s stagnant economy, political in-fighting, decreasing role on the Asian and world stages, and a massively destructive natural disaster coupled with a nuclear disaster, I suppose its a miracle this guy is still in office at all! But, Kan is a reformer, an awesome grassroots campaigner, a man of the people, a politician known for a short temper and sharp debating skills, and a manic mahjong player…who is this Kan guy anyway?

Pre-Gaming for the Prime
Born in Ube City (Yamaguchi Prefecture) Naoto was the son of Hisao Kan, a top executive at a glass manufacture company.  In 1970, Kan graduated from the Tokyo Institute of Technology and the following year he became a licensed benrishi (patent agent/attorney)….wow, that sounds like a exciting career! Not!  But he made up for it in his extracurricular hobbies like playing go, shogi and mahjong. Kan is a mad Mahjong playa’! Following his devotion for mahjong, Kan built a machine to calculate the complicated mahjong point system and applied for a patent in 1973. That is a dedicated player.

Now, Naoto may not seem like a outgoing guy so far, but let me assure you that he has always been an outspoken individual.  During his time at Tokyo Institute of Technology, Kan participated in the student protests the occurred at the university.  He was part of Fusae Ichikawa’s election staff (Fusae is a famous a women’s rights activist.)  After helping Ichikawa, Kan made a run for political office himself during the late 1970s but would not find victory until 1980 when he finally got into the lower house as a member of the Socialist Democratic Federation.  Since his early days in politics, Kan has been a huge supporter of the grassroots campaigns and his top policy pledge has been to shift power from bureaucrats and politicians to ordinary citizens at the grassroots level.  Dudes! That is a radical proposal in the old-school, tightly-knit Japanese political system!

Kan’s rise to fame came in 1996 when he was serving as Minister of Health and Welfare : Naoto publicly revealed secret documents held by ministry officials that clearly showed their culpability in the HIV-tainted blood product scandal during the 1980s.  This move had huge impact in Japan as many of the individuals who were in involved in the scandal were finally brought to justice…and got Kan serious street cred with the peoples who saw him as a whistle-blowing hero.

Kan also was a cofounder of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) that formed in 1998 by a merger of several opposition parties to the Liberal Democratic Party and he has been president of the party six times, often running unopposed. He had to step down a couple of times over allegations of an affair with a television broadcaster, and later on corruption charges…but he returned to power as the president of the DPJ after both muck-raking incidents and became the “face” of the DPJ during the general elections that were held in 2003, a position he would hold onto even despite the scandals and the election losses…until the DPJ finally won the top slots of power for the first time ever in Japanese history!

The DPJ would defeat the LDP in 2009,  putting Kan into positions of power that he never had before.  In 2010, Kan was appointed Minister of Finance and deputy prime minister by then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.Kan played key roles in policy-making as deputy prime minister, national strategy minister and finance minister….and here is how. Naoto diverged from his predecessor on three key points: his preferences for a weak yen, tax increases and his tighter focus on fiscal discipline. He vowed to cap spending and borrowing and lower sales taxes in an effort to rein in public debt already twice the size of Japan’s $5 trillion economy, which is one of the reasons their economy has slumped for over a decade…

As a finance guy, Kan was all about stimulating growth, increasing consumer spending, and moetarily giving exporters as edge…but then fate stepped in! Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama resigned, becoming the 4th PM to do so in less than 3 years.  The DPJ-led parliament voted him into the office of Prime Minister and Emperor Akihito would approve of his election on June 8th 2010. Prime spot game on.

As Prime Minister
Naoto Kan has faced a lot of opposition as Prime Minister, especially from his own party.  Even at the onset of his time at the top slot, he was opposed for the position from within his own DPJ by Ichirō Ozawa in In the later part of 2010, but Kan would emerge victorious by the skin of his teeth. Kan later proposed tax increases, which sent many in the DPJ into an uproar.  Kan has spent a large part of his prime minister year angering his own party, the same party he built, been chased out of, came back to lead, chased out of again, and came back to lead again with the span of ten years. 

Kan has been working hard to improve Japan’s ties with its Asian neighbors.  He apologized to South Korea on the 100th year anniversary of the Japan–Korea Annexation Treaty.  He would side with South Korea during the bombardment of Yeonpyeong in late 2010.  However, it has been during his tenure that Japan/Chinese relations have hit an all-time low: Following the fisherman boat incident in the contested waters of the Senkaku Islands, China threatened several economic and political actions against Japan. Kan’s leadership was weakened by this dispute, as he was seen as a doormat to many opposition leaders and party members who trashed him for being to spineless in dealing with the Chinese…even many of his own party members beat him down.  But of course all that pales in comparison to what happened next….

Following the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, Kan has spent a majority of his time repairing Japan during its darkest hour since World War II. And how has he done? Eh. Not terrible, but not fantstic either. To his credit, it has been extraordinary circumstances that not many could have dealt with much better. The on-going nuclear disaster associated with all this mess of course had become a global debate over the use of nuclear power in the future, and Japan has yet to sort out its own opinion on the matter yet…

All this calamity, chaos, and energy indecisiveness has caused confidence n Kan to crash. Many in the parliament believe that he has been slow in getting Japan back on its feet, and this came to a head when a vote of no-confidence was initiated by a combination of opposition parties…Naoto Kan survived the vote by a large majority, but he has already promised to step down as Prime Minister here in 2011, so one way or the other, Naoto is not-o the leader of Japan for much longer. Yet another PM will bite the dust in this extraordinary string of short-term stints of leadership that has kept Japan off-kilter for over 5 years now. Who has the stones to take his place? We shall shee shoon enough my sushi loving friends!

But at least now you know a bit more about the leader of the 3rd largest economy, major Asian player, and huge ally of the United States that has major impacts on global affairs….and is still recovering from major catastrophes of earlier this year. Hang in their Kan! And hang tough Japan!

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