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Bold Picks for Japan Cabinet New Prime Minister, Shunning Tradition, Appoints Mavericks

By Doug Struck
THE WASHINGTON POST -- TOKYO

New Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi put a fresh face on the Japanese government Thursday by naming a cabinet of unprecedented diversity, including five women, an economics professor and two other outsiders.

The man who ran as a reformer sought to quickly deliver on his campaign promises by largely rejecting the traditional payoff appointments to win the support of other camps.

“This may lead to a great war,” Diet member Shigefumi Matsuzawa predicted of the reaction of factions in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party left out by Koizumi.

But Koizumi’s appointments were a certain crowd-pleaser to a Japanese public accustomed to the usual parade of bland, male, party loyalists who typically are rotated through the cabinet positions as a reward for their patronage.

“This is the most revolutionary cabinet Japan has seen in many years,” said political analyst Yukio Okamoto.

The most visible symbol of that was the appointment was of Makiko Tanaka to the post of foreign minister. Tanaka, 57, the daughter of a legendary party boss, is considered the most popular Japanese legislator for her outspokenness and her unabashed sense of humor. But she has long been barred from important positions in the government as being an unpredictable maverick.

“She will create a Makiko Whirlwind that will be felt around the world,” said Takayoshi Miyagawa, a political commentator. “Japanese diplomacy has always followed the footsteps of the big countries. She will lead.”

There was disappointment over Koizumi’s appointment of a 79-year-old campaign insider, Diet member Masajuro Shiokawa, to the job of Finance Minister. Koizumi’s proclaimed rejection of faction politics did not extend to his own faction, as he also rewarded another veteran of his political camp, Koji Omi, with the post of Science and Technology minister.

Shiokawa has little experience dealing with economic matters, but he was to leave immediately after his appointment Thursday to fly to Washington for a meeting of the finance ministers of the Group of Seven industrial nations.

“I don’t have any specific, professional experience in the area,” Shiokawa acknowledged. He said he will discuss what Japan might do to try to head off a global economic downturn.

“The discussion will include Japan’s role. But I regard the U.S. slump as serious, so I wish the U.S. would take action,” he said.