Media watch: Kishida’s kid not cut out for Nagatacho

Shotaro Kishida

If you have access to Japanese Twitter you may have noticed some Tweets about a certain female reporter who works for Fuji TV. The posts invariably link to tabloid news articles that describe the woman as being involved in some kind of “honey trap” scheme related to the Kishida administration, specifically Fumio Kishida’s eldest son, Shotaro, who also happens to be the prime minister’s executive secretary. The mainstream press has mostly avoided the scandal, so if you were at all interested you’d have to read the weeklies or tabloids to find out what’s going on. Since we’re presently working on a story about nepotism in politics, usually shorthanded as seshu, we are very much interested, and the scandal turns out to be quite illustrative of the current premier’s problems with both the press and his party.

Our own source is an article that appeared on Nikkan Gendai Digital Dec. 23, which itself was based on an article that appeared in the monthly magazine Facta that reported on a news item rumored to have been leaked by Shotaro back in October and which caused the Cabinet office some embarrassment. Facta claims that a certain “commercial TV station,” which other tabloid media have identified as Fuji TV, ran a “scoop” on Oct. 24 saying that then Economic Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa was set to resign over his ties to the Unification Church, which had been dominating news cycles since July after the murder of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, whose alleged killer held a grudge against the religious organization. Yamagiwa’s resignation had not been announced yet on Oct. 24, and his plan to quit was supposedly only known by a handful of people in the Cabinet office. Obviously, this intelligence had been leaked to Fuji TV, and various other media tried to find the source of the leak. The most likely was then believed to be Shotaro, who had somehow revealed Yamagiwa’s pending resignation to a female reporter in her her 20s working for Fuji TV. Gendai followed up on Facta’s story by calling Fuji TV, which denied that such a thing happened. The Cabinet office said the same thing when Gendai called their press representative. In fact, the Cabinet office lodged a complaint with Facta, and politicians in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party got on board by saying that the media was being irresponsible for spreading rumors that were unfounded and that Shotaro himself didn’t know what they were talking about.

It’s difficult to corroborate such rumors, and the weeklies and tabloids are famous for not even bothering, but Shotaro was already a minor fixture of tabloid reporting. The weekly Bunshun once ran a story that said Shotaro was overly fond of attending matchmaking events (gokon) just to pick up girls with whom he went drinking. In fact, Bunshun even quoted an anonymous source who said that Shotaro was always asking friends and acquaintances to introduce him to female announcers, which automatically pegged him as the kind of individual who used his seshu status to his advantage. (Female announcers are today’s generic “desirable romantic partner” in much the same way that flight attendants were to an earlier generation of Japanese men.) In terms of resume, Shotaro didn’t necessarily need to look that hard. He is a graduate of prestigious Keio University and secured a good job with Mitsui Bussan trading company before being appointed his father secretary when the elder Kishida was just a normal Diet lawmaker, the idea being, according to a Gendai source in Nagatacho, that Shotaro would eventually “take over his father’s position” as the Diet representative of his Hiroshima district. That’s just normal Japanese politics, wherein constituencies are considered family heirlooms to be passed on from one generation to another. As secretary, Shotaro’s job was essentially to learn as much as he could about the work of an LDP Diet member.

However, seemingly unexpectedly, Kishida Sr. rose suddenly to the prime minister’s office, and Shotaro’s work became more fraught with responsibility. In particular, secretaries for prime ministers have to coordinate their bosses’ schedules, which takes a lot of maneuvering and glad-handing. Gendai points out that the longest administrations of recent years—Junichiro Koizumi’s and Shinzo Abe’s—were possible because the two premiers’ respective secretaries were hardcore insiders who knew the workings of government down to the minutest detail—and, more significantly, how to wield power. Abe’s, former METI official Takaya Imai, was even said to have formulated policy for Abe. Koizumi’s aide, Isao Iijima, was the very model of a professional secretary and pretty mush provided the mold for everyone who came after him. Shotaro has no such experience, knowledge, or, for that matter, ambition. His appointment as executive secretary to Kishida was mostly a matter of desperation. Kishida has never had very extensive connections in the government or, for that matter, in the LDP, where his faction is still one of the smallest and least influential. Shotaro was the only person he could trust.

With regard to this particular scandal, another central task for prime minister’s secretaries is to cultivate the media in such a way as to produce good publicity—Abe’s stick-versus-carrot approach was especially effective. Reversibly, the media knows that it has to work through the secretary to get to the prime minister, and each outlet tries to manipulate the relationship in order to get scoops. That seems to have been Fuji TV’s strategy, and the use of the young female reporter to appeal to Shotaro’s crudest impulses worked—if the rumors are to be believed.

Even if they aren’t true—and does it really matter?—Shotaro is already considered an issue in the Cabinet office since he didn’t properly keep his father on the ball during the recent extraordinary Diet session, and as a result the opposition parties controlled the pace and the schedule. It seems obvious that if Kishida wants his administration to last he should dump his son and get someone more capable, but then who’s going to take over the family business?

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