Japanese Kishida builds network around alma mater and party allies

TOKYO – Who will Fumio Kishida turn to for expertise as he tries to form a government capable of achieving his political goals?

The elite Tokyo boys school that Kishida attended will likely prove to be an asset in her quest for talent. Kishida is expected to form a cabinet on Monday after being elected prime minister at a special Diet session.

Kaisei High School, which annually sends more than 100 graduates to the University of Tokyo, has trained hundreds of bureaucrats and lawmakers over the years. But Kishida is the first former student to reach the country’s highest political office.

He’s already enlisted a Kaisei graduate to serve as his closest collaborator. Takashi Shimada, Kishida’s choice for the executive secretary in charge of political affairs, served as deputy minister of economy, trade and industry until 2019. It is extremely unusual for a former senior official to occupy this post.

Shimada joined the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry the same year as Takaya Imai, who was Shinzo Abe’s executive secretary when he was prime minister. Given Imai’s central role in Abe’s office, many METI officials expect Shimada to become an equally important figure in Kishida’s new government.

Meanwhile, Kishida’s brother-in-law Tetsuo Kabe served as a commissioner at the National Tax Authority until July. Kabe also served as head of the finance office and deputy deputy minister for planning and policy coordination in the finance ministry.

“Mr. Kabe is likely to give his advice at critical times,” said a senior Kishida faction official.

Kishida would also have to rely on lawmakers from his own faction. Seiji Kihara and Hideki Murai, now in their fourth and third terms in the lower house, played a key role in shaping Kishida’s campaign pledge for a “new form of capitalism”. Kihara will be appointed deputy chief secretary to the cabinet.

Kihara and Murai worked for the Ministry of Finance and are familiar with financial policy. They held hands-on debates and talks with Kishida during the LDP leadership race. They also read books by rival candidates Taro Kono and Sanae Takaichi to create a strong response to their platforms.

Former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera provided the supporting argument when Kishida argued earlier this year that Japan should consider acquiring the capability to strike enemy missile bases.

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