New Japanese Premier Not Exactly Groomed for Top Job : Politics: Little stands out about Murayama--except his eyebrows. The modest leader is not known for his policies or ambition, but is praised as a genial man.


When people here talk about Tomiichi Murayama, the Socialist Party chairman who stunned the world by winning election Wednesday as Japan’s new prime minister, it is not his political philosophy nor his leadership style that invariably merits a mention.

It is his enormous, shaggy eyebrows.

That facial hair is Murayama’s single most distinctive characteristic pretty much says it all about this modest, amiable fisherman’s son who never dreamed of becoming Japan’s top political leader and has repeatedly said he is unqualified for the job.

On that point, few argue otherwise. Murayama, 70, has never held a Cabinet post in 39 years of political life. He has never traveled widely in Asia or the United States, his staff says. At a time when the world is pressing Japan to reduce its trade surplus, open its markets and take a greater role in global affairs, Murayama’s specialty is domestic welfare issues; his most prominent book to date is titled “Your Pension.”


“Most people say he has no leadership and no knowledge about policy, and that is true,” said a Japanese journalist who has covered Murayama for the past two years. “And if a crucial moment occurs on economic or security matters, it is hopeless that Mr. Murayama can do anything.”

Murayama is essentially another titular head of another shaky political coalition--this time a shotgun marriage between erstwhile rivals, the liberal Socialists and the conservative Liberal Democrats.

Most analysts believe his administration will collapse in a matter of months and will be remembered merely as another stage in the recasting of Japan’s political landscape that began last year with the demise of the Liberal Democratic Party’s 38-year rule. “This is just another part of the power game; it will last for another one or two years,” the journalist said.

Murayama is a left-leaning Socialist, whose party has supported North Korea, opposed opening Japan’s agricultural markets, criticized nuclear energy and objected to the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.

Yet those policies are not likely to become the law of the land. The new ruling coalition has already announced that it will maintain previous government policies; few analysts think coalition leaders would dare renege on political reform or Japan’s commitment to open its markets under the so-called Uruguay Round accord. Legislation on both issues will be made final later this summer.

And despite the Socialists’ traditional distance from the United States, a party spokesman said that Murayama “has a lot to learn about international politics” and would basically leave foreign policy to the LDP. “The LDP has good connections to the U.S. and other countries, so on diplomatic policies, I suppose there will be no problem,” the spokesman said.


Some argue it doesn’t particularly matter who becomes prime minister in Japan because national policy is crafted and executed not by politicians but by bureaucrats.

Japan’s new prime minister is a native of a small fishing village in Oita prefecture in the southern island of Kyushu. Born March 3, 1924, he is the seventh of 11 children. He devoted himself to the labor movement after watching his mother struggle in poverty peddling fish after her husband died while Murayama was a junior high school student, according to Japanese press reports.

A graduate of a two-year program in politics and economics at Meiji University, Murayama has devoted his entire career to being a Socialist Party politician. He worked his way up from city councilman in 1955 to prefectural assemblyman in 1963 to the lower house of Parliament in 1972, where he is now serving his seventh term.

He was in the army in World War II but quickly joined the postwar democracy movement. He says the most moving moment of his life came shortly after the war, when he listened to a fiery speech by a writer, Hitoshi Yamakawa, who declared Japan was poised on the doorstep of great change toward becoming a democratic nation.

Since then, Murayama has been an avid opponent of moves to strengthen Japan’s military. He engineered the famous “cow walk” tactic a few years ago--in which opposition party members took an interminable time walking to the ballot box to try to block passage of a bill to dispatch Japanese Self-Defense Forces overseas to aid in U.N. peacekeeping activities. The maneuver failed, however.

He is most favorably known for his geniality and ability to bring people together across party lines. He honed that skill as the Socialist chairman of the parliamentary affairs committee from 1991, working closely with his LDP counterpart.


Murayama is also strikingly unambitious, a quality that has kept him from making enemies. He wanted to retire last July but ran again when his supporters begged him to. When he was tapped to become Socialist chairman last year, he said he had neither the desire nor ability for the job. And when he was approached to run for prime minister as the candidate of the LDP-Socialist-New Party Harbinger alliance, he was so shocked he asked, “What country are you talking about?”

In contrast to the glamorous Morihiro Hosokawa--who donned Armani ties, sported hair implants and carefully managed his media image as the first coalition government’s prime minister--Murayama is resolutely anti-chic. When asked why he doesn’t trim his bushy eyebrows, he told reporters: “I don’t care about my appearance. Natural is best.”

He told one Japanese journalist he did not want to move into the prime minister’s residence because he would no longer be able to cook for himself or wash his own socks. He performs such pedestrian chores while living alone in the small, two-bedroom apartment provided to Parliament members.

In keeping with the traditional role of the Japanese political spouse, Murayama’s wife, Yoshie, 71, stays behind in his Oita district. The couple has two daughters; Murayama says his life’s greatest pleasure is playing with his two grandchildren. He is often called the “good grandpa” in press reports.

Murayama’s resume lists reading and theater as his hobbies. But when queried, a staff member responded: “Well, he doesn’t really have any hobbies.” But he has a motto: “Always remain with the people and learn from them.”

Unlike other prime ministers, Murayama will almost certainly not be hounded from office over corruption charges. He lists no stock, no debt and total assets of $336,000.


Profile: Tomiichi Murayama

Title: Prime minister of Japan

Born: March 3, 1924, in Oita prefecture on Kyushu island.

Education: Meiji University, School of Political Science and Economics.

Career highlights: Served two terms, starting in 1955, in Oita City Assembly . . . Moved in 1963 to Oita Prefectural Assembly, where he served three terms . . . Became a member of the House of Representatives in 1972 and is now in his seventh term . . . Is a specialist in labor and welfare affairs.

Personal: Married (wife: Yoshie) with two daughters . . . Hobbies are reading, the theater . . . Trademark is his bushy eyebrows, which he says began growing long 10 years ago; he says he combs them every morning.