Atsushi Onita, ex-wrestler and member of Japan’s Upper House of parliament (Liberal Democratic Party, Proportional Representation) has publicly encouraged Taro Akebono, Sumo wrestling’s first non-Japanese Yokozuna, to make a run for a seat in next year’s Upper House election. Since retiring from Sumo entirely in 2003 to take up a career as a professional wrestler/kickboxer, Akebono (born Chad Rowan and raised in Hawaii) has seen his respectability drop quite a bit, not least because he keeps losing his big matches. However, it’s certainly possible that enough people will vote LDP to make him the first American Diet member. Daily Sports reports:
Akebono: Run in the Election!
Onita Calls on Akebono to Run in Next Year’s Upper House Election at LDP Headquarters in Nagata-cho
“Let’s light a fire under Nagata-cho!” (NOTE: Nagata-cho = Japan’s version of Capitol Hill) — Atsushi Onita (48), LDP Upper House member and self-described professional wrestling/fighting sport analyst, held an emergency press conference in Tokyo on Feb. 14 at the LDP Headquarters in Tokyo to make a “love call” for Akebono (36), the former Sumo Yokozuna and [naturalized] Japanese citizen, to run in the Upper House election next July. Onita elevated Akebono to the level of “the savior of professional wrestling” and even unilaterally offered to initiate him with a no-rope barbed-wire electric-explosive death match (Onita’s trademark). A national crisis may arise if a grand battle unfolds in a Diet-floor-turned-wrestling ring.
Onita, at a press conference the same day announcing the release of his new single, “FIRE!!” (released Feb. 15), started off, “The savior of professional wrestling is Akebono. I would like to hand over the catch phrase ‘FIRE’ that the pro wrestling world gave birth to and have him become the momentum for wrestling’s development and revival.” (NOTE: Listen to Onita’s band here by clicking the music note. “FIRE!!” does not seem to be up on the site yet. His music is surprisingly mellow for a guy who made a living throwing people into exploding barbwire!)
Certainly expectations are high for Akebono, who is taking the major wrestling groups All-Japan Pro Wrestling, NOAH, and New Japan Pro Wrestling by storm, but by “momentum for development and revitalization” Onita is referring to entering politics.
Onita (who is known as “the charisma of tears“) explained, “While enlisting the aid of politics, I would like him to carry out ambitious reform of professional wrestling. If Onita, Hiroshi Hase (Lower House, Ishikawa 1st District, another wrestler-cum-LDP Dietman), and Akebono come together then [we could put our heads together]” He then bluntly stated, “I want him to run in next year’s Upper House election. Only through overcoming that battle can he become the savior.”
The retired wrestler had scathing remarks for Akebono’s wrestling partner, Riki Choshu, “He’s training him normally, but normal just isn’t good enough. I want to initiate him with an Onita-Akebono no-rope barbed-wire electric-explosive death match,” proposing a subversive method of training.
Onita expressed full confidence in the recommendation, saying, “It’s OK, I don’t select people the way Takebe does,” referring to the controversy over LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe’s strong endorsement of (now reviled) Takafumi Horie in the 2005 election. Onita says he wants to take Akebono to the Diet member meeting house to negotiate as early as next week.
Go for it, Akebono! I’ll get Mrs. Adamu to vote LDP if you run. Or better yet, run on a DPJ ticket!
Japan has something of a tradition of professional wrestlers, actors, authors, athletes, and so on, in politics. Wrestling legend Antonio Inoki (who once fought Muhammad Ali and got knocked out and hospitalized by Hulk Hogan) formed the Sports & Peace Party in 1989 and became the first wrestler Diet member (PR). Recently, the Great Sasuke (JT, reg. req’d) made international headlines when he ran (and won) a seat in the Iwate prefectural assembly despite refusing to take off his wrestling mask.
Though the “Koizumi Children” (complete list in Japanese with helpful guide to their policy leanings here) including the “female assassins” happy homemaker Makiko Fujino (LDP, PR), high-flying economist Yukari Sato, and noted scholar and former UN delegate Kuniko Inoguchi (and who could forget assassin wannabe Horie?), that were elected in last year’s election may be fresh in our minds, the trend of celebrity Diet members has been strong in Japan far before that. Aside from wrestling, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara was a sensation in the 1960s with his book and movie “Season of the Sun” depicting bad boys in Tokyo. Environment Minister Yuriko Koike (LDP, Hyogo 6th District) was a TV announcer, and current Upper House President Chiharu Ogi (LDP, PR) was an actress in the Takarazuka Revue. A few more are listed in this post at Japundit.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Former celebrities make up a relatively small percentage of total Diet members, and I in no way wish to imply that they cannot make effective politicians. Koike, you may remember, was responsible for the Cool Biz campaign! Inoki, though he eventually lost a reelection bid in 1995, is well-known as a wheeler and dealer as the founder of NJPW. He also gained notoriety during his tenure in the Diet by successfully negotiating the release of Japanese hostages in Baghdad at the outset of the first Gulf War.
Anyway, Diet members are generally bound by party discipline in their voting activity, so there’s little chance of a truly ineffective member doing too much damage. Sure, there is a chance that a celebrity politician will end up being a complete disaster (take Governor Ishihara — please!). But I’d say the chances of that happening are just as great among the much larger number of “dynasty” Diet members (sons of famous politicians). Two words: Taro Aso – need I say more?