Who is Taro Kono - Politician Who Could Become Japan's Next Prime Minister?

Japan's popular minister of administrative affairs, Taro Kono, formally announced his candidacy to lead the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and become the next prime minister.
September 13, 2021 | 12:11
Who is Taro Kono - Politician Who Could Become Japan's Next Prime Minister?
Taro Kono (Photo: Japan Times)

Early life of Taro Kono

Taro Kono was born on 10 January 1963, in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa, the oldest of the three children of Yohei Kono, a former President of the Liberal Democratic Party and Speaker of the House of Representatives. He was born into a family of politicians: his father, his grandfather, and his great-uncle were all active in Japanese politics.

In 1982, he went to the United States, where he attended Georgetown University. In 1983, he worked for Senator Alan Cranston in his campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. He also worked for then-Representative Richard Shelby of Alabama (at the time a Democrat) for two years.

Kono graduated from Georgetown University in 1985 with a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service and the following year he joined Fuji Xerox. He moved to Fuji Xerox Asia Pacific in Singapore in 1991. In 1993, he joined Nippon Tanshi, a supplier of electric components for Toyota, General Motors, Matsushita, and other companies.

Who is Taro Kono - Politician Who Could Become Japan's Next Prime Minister?
Taro Kono, left, with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. (Photo: Kyodo)

Taro Kono's family

Like many prominent Japanese politicians, Kono comes from a family steeped in politics. His father, Yohei Kono, rose to the chief cabinet secretary and was once head of the LDP - but was never prime minister.

The elder Kono, now retired, is best known as the author of a landmark 1993 apology to "comfort women", a euphemism for women from Korea and other places forced to work in wartime military brothels. Yohei Kono is one of only two LDP presidents who failed to be premier during brief spells when the party was out of power.

Kono is married to Kaori, who had studied in Australia. The couple has a son, Ippei, born in 2002.

Who is Taro Kono - Politician Who Could Become Japan's Next Prime Minister?
Photo: Nippon

Political career

Oct. 2015

National Public Safety Commission Chairman

Minister on Administrative Reform and National Public Service System Reform

State Minister in Charge of Consumer Affairs, Food Safety, Regulatory Reform and Disaster Management (The reshuffled 3rd Abe Cabinet)

Dec. 2014

Reelected to the House of Representatives in the 47th House of Representatives election (The 15th electoral district of Kanagawa Prefecture) (seventh term)

Dec. 2012

Reelected to the House of Representatives in the 46th House of Representatives election (The 15th electoral district of Kanagawa Prefecture) (sixth term)

Aug. 2009

Reelected to the House of Representatives in the 45th House of Representatives election (The 15th electoral district of Kanagawa Prefecture) (fifth term)

Sep. 2008

Served as Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives

Nov. 2005

Served as Senior Vice Minister of Justice

Sep. 2005

Reelected to the House of Representatives in the 44th House of Representatives election (The 15th electoral district of Kanagawa Prefecture) (fourth term)

Oct. 2004

Served as the 9th Prefectural Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party in Kanagawa Prefecture

Nov. 2003

Reelected to the House of Representatives in the 43nd House of Representatives election (The 15th electoral district of Kanagawa Prefecture) (third term)

Jan. 2002

Served as Parliamentary Secretary for Public Management

Jun. 2000

Reelected to the House of Representatives in the 42nd House of Representatives election (The 15th electoral district of Kanagawa Prefecture) (second term)

Oct. 1996

First entered the Diet by winning a seat in the 41st House of Representatives election (The 15th electoral district of Kanagawa Prefecture)

Jan. 1993

Joined Nippon Tanshi Co., Ltd.

Feb. 1986

Joined Fuji Xerox Co., Ltd.

Who is Taro Kono - Politician Who Could Become Japan's Next Prime Minister?
Photo: Arab News

Taro Kono's social media reputation

Kono’s social media savvy has also given him a boost, especially among young LDP members and the wider population. At 2.3 million followers, his Twitter account has more followers than any other Japanese politician including Shinzo Abe, who served as Japan’s Prime Minister from 2012 to 2020.

According to Reuters, the key to Kono's popularity is his ability to engage directly with voters through social media, a rarity in a country where leading politicians often appear aloof and rarely deviate from their scripts.

By contrast, Kono regularly uses Twitter to publish videos on the vaccine roll-out, address media reports and respond directly to followers - some 2.4 million on his Japanese account and 49,000 on his English one. He reposts memes, or photos of his lunch, often displaying a dry sense of humor in his posts.

According to a poll by Kyodo News on September 5, Kono’s popularity among the public was the highest, with the support of 31.9 percent of respondents in the nationwide telephone survey. Former Defense Minister Ishiba Shigeru came in second with 26.6 percent support, and former Foreign Minister Kishida Fumio was third with 18.8 percent.

Who is Taro Kono - Politician Who Could Become Japan's Next Prime Minister?
Photo: IAEA

What to expect if Taro Kono becomes Japan's next prime minister?

According to The Diplomat, Kono has held several ministerial and cabinet positions, such as defense minister, foreign minister, chairman of the national public safety commission (minister in charge of the national police organization), minister for administrative reform, minister for civil service reform, minister for regulatory reform, minister in charge of consumer affairs and food safety, minister in charge of disaster management, parliamentary secretary for public management, and senior vice minister of justice. Currently, Kono has played a significant role in curbing the coronavirus spread as regulatory reform minister as well as minister in charge of the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out in the Suga administration.

If elected as Japan’s top leader, Kono is expected to take concrete measures against the Covid-19 pandemic, defend Japan’s territorial integrity based on the Japan-U.S. alliance, and make a diplomatic contribution to international reconciliation with neighboring countries based on the spirit of the Kono Statement.

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