Abe on the way home from getting his health checked. I can’t say for sure why they published this almost totally un-newsworthy photo, but it goes to show how doggedly the press in Japan is hounding the Prime Minister no matter where he goes. Why would he wave to the camera? My guess is in response to the reporters’ catcalling. The caption? “‘This is my regular checkup. There were no problems at all, so I can work at ease again.’ Will the embattled prime minister now be refreshed to mount an attack to reverse his fortunes?”
The constant media hounding is nothing new, but here’s one possible reason this otherwise unremarkable photo made the news: People miss Koizumi’s consummate newsworthiness. As the right-leaning policy monthly Shokun! (Hey You!) has pointed out, at least Koizumi had hobbies (even though they were lame ones like opera). Abe hasn’t been seen doing much besides his job, except for when he’s very obviously posing for the cameras (such as when he was seen holding hands with his wife or when he made a trip to buy dictionaries). So these bored reporters might have been desparate to capture the prime minister doing anything.
There have been reports comparing the Abe and Koizumi styles of leadership ever since Koizumi left office. TV commentator Terry Ito puts it bluntly: “Koizumi spoke to the people, Abe speaks to Nagatacho.” But ever since the K-man made a well-received campaign appearance during lower house by-elections in October, reports of rumors/hopes started bubbling up that Koizumi might try and take back the premiership. The above-mentioned Shokun! article outlines one wild scenario:
The Abe cabinet will hit a dead end over the nonstop scandals and dissolve the lower house. The DPJ, internally divided as it is, will win the general election as it rides this wave of dissatisfaction in a “marriage of convenience.” Part of the disjointed LDP will break off and join the DPJ. Ozawa will step down for health reasons and leave the DPJ leadership to either Yukio Hatoyama or Naoto Kan, forming a coalition government with the Socialist Democratic Party. It will, of course, immediately falter. People will then start calling for a “strong leader” amid the fluid political conditions. This is a prediction for 2, 3 years into the future, but it could well be that Junichiro Koizumi is quietly waiting for that day to come.
The “Koizumi comeback” storyline (always proffered by unnamed sources, of course) picked up momentum after Abe’s administration started to stumble in December. All the while, Koizumi himself has been indirectly quoted as saying he has no interest whatsoever in running the government again.
But the idea has picked up such steam by now that Koizumi’s longtime personal assistant Isao Iijima came out and flatly stated at an appearance in his native Nagano that there would be “100% no comeback” for Koizumi.
The coverage of Iijima’s comments may have been due to the fact that Iijima himself has become a part of the “Koizumi comeback” story, partly for his reputation as a shady manipulator of media coverage (he’s been called “Japan’s Karl Rove”; read a 2001 profile here). This report in January 15 edition of news weekly AERA, quotes unnamed political insiders and a passage critical of the Abe administration’s use of special advisors to explain that Iijima is disappointed with the Abe administration. The article goes on to speculate that Iijima harbors a “wild ambition” to put Koizumi back in power. Amid this coverage, Koizumi has been indirectly quoted as saying he isn’t interested.
Even though Iijima has denied that Koizumi is making a comeback, the very fact that Koizumi’s personal secretary is out making speeches makes me suspect something’s up. His comments were somewhat cryptic: “Koizumi has been keeping silent for the time being. I see that as the best support for Abe,” referring to the fact that Koizumi has largely managed to stay out of the press, at least directly, after leaving office. But this conspicuous absence only seems to make Japanese reporters’ hearts grow fonder.