Taro Aso was a shit prime minister, but in incidental things that count—shooting guns, collecting comics, and booze— Taro Aso excels. This week, he was named Japan's official anime envoy to China.
Cut off from Japanese pop culture for decades, China is getting into anime like Gundam in a big way. From June 8 to June 13, the Chinese and Japanese governments are hosting a festival for Japanese movies, television and anime.
The festival will hopefully strengthen cultural ties between to the two nations—cultural ties which have been traditionally strained. Taro Aso is going as the official government rep., and Japan couldn't have made a better selection. Or could it? Aso's family past is not how Japan would like to be viewed by the world.
Aso served as Japanese Prime Minister from September 2008 to September 2009; he didn't display the political prowess of, say, former Prime Minister Junichi Koizumi, and ended up being one of the recent revolving-door leaders of Japan.
What makes Aso stand out is how colorful he is. His family is in the mining industry, and as a young man, the Stanford-educated Aso lived in Sierra Leone and Brazil. While many prime ministers can barely speak English, Aso speaks fluent English and Portuguese. He even competed in the 1976 Summer Olympics as a member of Japan's shooting team.
Aso is a religious minority in Japan—a member of the Catholic church—and proof that Japan does separate state and religion (the same can't be said about other countries).
For nerds, Aso became an otaku icon of sorts. He's a life long manga reader, and was spotted at the airport leafing through Rozen Maiden.He also established a manga award for non-Japanese manga artists.
While in office, Aso was a walking gaffe machine, making controversial, boneheaded and simply stupid statements like Japan was one culture and one people, which disregards the country's indigenous people— yet this was small potatoes compared to what his family did during World War II. The Aso family company forced over 300 Allied prisoners of war to work in its mines, something that Aso has denied, saying he was only four or five years old at the time. Conditions were brutal, with beatings, not food, being regularly dished out. Two Australian prisoners of war died while working in Aso's mine.
In 2009, three former Australian POWs who worked at Aso's family mines wrote to Aso, demanding an apology and paid compensation for their labor. One former POW, Joe Coombs, traveled to Japan, but Aso would not meet with him. No war crimes were brought against Aso's family. His wife is the daughter of a former prime minister, and his sister married into the Japanese royal family.
And this summer, Taro Aso will be in Beijing, talking up Japanese anime.