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Reforming Aging Japan: 3 Young Politicians to Watch

It's clear that Japan needs radical social reform in the face of its aging population. These three up-and-coming politicians are banding together to do something about it.

By 7 min read

Last month I introduced some badass female politicians in Japan. This month, I’d like to present the young guns of Japan’s most prominent political party, the Liberal Democratic Party. This past November they banded together to form a subcommittee in the Diet’s House of Representatives to reform social security in the face of an aging population.

An old government

The average age of a Japanese Diet member is 55 years old. They’re closer to retirement than the oldest of the young guns I’m introducing, who’s 37, so it’s natural that these older politicians would propose and pass laws that benefit the elderly. It also makes sense that they would do this because the majority of their constituents are older.

Calling bulls*t

In 2015, the government upped the monthly pension payment to 30,000 yen a month. Yet the Cabinet and Prime Minister continue to turn a blind eye to the hardships the younger generation are facing, citing a lack of funds.

Representative Shinjiro Koizumi replied to this by saying: “You’re willing to spend up to four million yen to provide a bigger monthly pension to the elderly, and then you say there’s no money for the young people? There’s something wrong with this picture.”

“You’re willing to spend up to four million yen to provide a bigger monthly pension to the elderly, and then you say there’s no money for the young people? There’s something wrong with this picture.”

He and a handful of other LDP reps repeated their concerns at several Diet meetings. As a result, they were tasked with coming up with a better solution. Here’s a quick rundown of what ideas they have so far:

  • “A World Where 100 Years Old is the Norm” is the focus for how to reform social security
  • Full-time and contract employees should receive the same benefits
  • Raising the pension benefit age to 70, or even 75
  • Implementing a “Golden Health Plan:” those who qualify (go to regular check-ups, stay healthy, don’t smoke, etc.) will have a portion of their medical costs lowered. Medicines that are considered “voluntary” or “unnecessary” won’t be paid through the national insurance, and instead, medicines that are considered “life-saving” or “too expensive” will be covered.

In Koizumi’s own words, “We’re trying to rebuild our society from step one. So we’re going to discuss the problems and possible solutions from all angles.”

So who are the young guns? Let’s delve into the backgrounds of the men spearheading this social reform effort.

Shinjiro Koizumi: The Legacy

The second son of ex-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, Shinjiro Koizumi has a lot to live up to. His father was an extremely popular and progressive leader. Current Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike credits Junichiro Koizumi with molding her into the powerhouse politician she is today.

However, a quick look at Shinjiro Koizumi’s resume proves he’s risen to the occasion. Currently representing his home prefecture of Kanagawa as a member of the House of Representatives, he’s also heading the Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Koizumi sports an impressive educational background, including a master’s degree from Colombia University in the United States. He’s taken over for his father in representing his home district by being successfully re-elected three times since 2009. Despite his rather recent rise to political power, Koizumi’s got the popularity and savvy of a political veteran.

In regards to his new subcommittee project Koizumi says, “We noticed a lot of other Diet members acknowledging a problem with the system but not doing anything about it. So we got together to try to find a solution.” He makes it sound easy. And it might be easy for a veteran politician to get backing to form a subcommittee, but a relatively young politician without a lot of experience under his belt should have a much more difficult time getting support. However, when it came time to present their findings, he said, “Typically there’s some back and forth, some arguing. But the assembled members just nodded along and accepted our findings. We totally convinced them.”

It looks like this “legacy” will have no problem winning over more fellow politicians and the public. Maybe in the next 10 or 15 years he’ll be a contender for the prime minister’s position? Whatever comes next, Shinjiro Koizumi is one young gun to look out for.

Fumiaki Kobayashi: The “Greenest” of the Green

If you thought Shinjiro Koizumi was a young but pretty savvy politician, you haven’t heard about Fumiaki Kobayashi. Hailing from Hiroshima, Kobayashi only decided to become a politician in the last five years! A former telecommunications employee, Kobayashi is passionate about technology and updating Japanese society. He’s recently been working with universities to help revamp the Japanese education system. His official website says: “With globalization and fast-paced technological advancements, it’s necessary for Japan to help students go from ‘generalists’ to ‘specialists.’”

He’s also concerned with cyber security. “Japan’s cyber security laws need to be updated,” his website states. “France has 400 members in its Cyber Security Council. Japan only has 100.” To express his concerns, last year he held a hearing at the Diet, explaining the types of cyber attacks that could occur. As a result, he established the SOC: Security Operations Center.

What makes Kobayashi so appealing as a politician? The fact that he’s teamed up with Koizumi on a special subcommittee project despite his lack of experience proves that he’s not just “playing” politician. He’s already been elected as representative of his home district in Hiroshima twice and has worked with Diet committees on telecommunications, youth, and administrative reform.

He is clearly striving towards an updated Japan, as his slogan says, “To a more forward-looking Japan.” Well, he’s definitely joined forces with one of the brightest stars in the future of Japanese politics. Let’s see if he can keep up.

Hideki Murai: The Whole Package

The oldest of the “young guns” in this article at 36 years old is Hideki Murai.  He’s represented Saitama Prefecture for the past two terms in the House of Representatives. Unlike Kobayashi, who came from an everyday citizen’s background, Murai has spent his whole career as a politician. He started off as a public servant in the Ministry of Finance after getting his master’s at Harvard University. Then in 2011, he seriously began pursuing a political career and was successfully elected to the House of Representatives in 2012.

As a Representative, he’s a part of multiple committees, even spearheading the Youth Voting Rights Committee, and is acting chair of the Economic and Industrial Committee. With recent work-related suicides making headlines in Japan, Murai has helped create a plan to reform the way Japan works. In December of last year, he submitted his proposal to PM Abe and his Cabinet. Hopefully, he receives positive feedback.

With interests in economics, finance, and social reform, he seems to be the perfect person to round out these young guns.

Final Thoughts

Alongside the rest of Japan, the young guns are looking towards 2020 as their goal to come up with a new social security system. However, Koizumi says 2020 isn’t the end goal. “We have to look past 2020. It’s not good if the system isn’t built to last,” he says. Koizumi, Kobayashi, and Murai all have something to give to this effort.

I’d go as far as to say they’re the avant-gardes in terms of thinking about Japan’s future. They’re taking it upon themselves to challenge the status quo and address problems the older politicians don’t want to acknowledge, like death by overwork, child-rearing hardships, a declining population, a broken social security system…the list goes on. These politicians are Japan’s hope for the future, and they’re definitely taking their responsibilities seriously.

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