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A stern enforcer who does 100 sit-ups daily: some facts about Japan's Suga

(Reuters) - Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday declared he would run for the leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), a race he is heavily favoured to win to become the next prime minister.

Yoshihide Suga, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary and ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker, speaks during a news conference to announce his candidacy for the party's leadership election, in Tokyo, Japan September 2, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Here are some facts about Suga:


A veteran politician, Suga’s years in Tokyo’s corridors of power have ensured a strong grip on the bureaucracy and a deep knowledge of Abe’s economic policies.

He played a major role in pushing through “Abenomics”, the prime minister’s signature policies that sought to spur growth with bold monetary easing, fiscal spending and structural reforms.

The 71-year-old Abe loyalist has held the key post of chief cabinet secretary since 2012. Like Abe, who became the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history last month, Suga has held his post for a record term.


Although he’s now one of the most powerful people in Japanese politics, Suga started out as an outsider. His rise is all the more notable in a country where top political office can run in families. Abe, for instance, is the grandson of a prime minister and the son of a foreign minister.

Suga, who came from a farm in the snowy, northwestern prefecture of Akita, got his start as a secretary to a lawmaker before launching his career as a city assembly member in Yokohama, outside Tokyo, which is still his home base.


Suga is hardly the most charismatic of politicians. He often appears stern and reads verbatim from prepared notes at his regular news conferences. He can be curt with reporters whose questions annoy him.

Still, he managed to go viral last year when he unveiled the name of the new imperial era “Reiwa”. Photos of him holding up a sign with the name of the era in two Chinese characters were widely shared on social media, earning Suga the nickname “Uncle Reiwa”.


Suga has repeatedly emphasised the need to bring back tourism to revitalise the economies of Japan’s hard-hit regions, which were suffering even before the novel coronavirus pandemic, thanks to an ageing, shrinking population.

In an interview with Reuters last week, he spoke of the need to revive local economies, sending a clear message that the emphasis was on spurring the economy over tightening restrictions to fight the pandemic.

As such, he said Japan would do “whatever it takes” to host the Tokyo Olympic Games next year after their postponement this year.


One gap in Suga’s resume is his relative lack of foreign policy experience. His parliamentary office in Tokyo features a photograph of him standing next to U.S. President Donald Trump and on Wednesday, when he announced his candidacy, he highlighted what he said was a good relationship with the Trump administration.

Also on display in his parliamentary office: a framed work of Japanese calligraphy that reads, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. That could speak to his discipline when it comes to exercise: he does 100 sit-ups every morning, an aide says.

Reporting by David Dolan and Linda Sieg; Editing by Robert Birsel