Inside The Outsider

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Koizumi's appeal isn't just about cleaning up politics and fixing the economy. He is also tapping into nationalistic sentiment. He advocates tinkering with the U.S. security pact and the Constitution to give Japan's military more flexibility. Last month he visited Yasukuni, the controversial Shinto war shrine where Japan's war dead, including war criminals, are honored. "You can't overestimate how much patriotism drives his thinking," say Jesper Koll, chief economist with Merrill Lynch in Japan and a Koizumi fan.

This combination of political score settling, commitment to reform and nationalism has so far proved to be political gold. Few of those who worked with a younger Koizumi would ever have predicted such popularity for him. At 35, he was still unmarried, a major drawback for an ambitious politician. A matchmaker was consulted, and Koizumi picked out a photo of a kimono-clad university student 14 years his junior. He proposed the day after their first date, and in 1978 Koizumi and Kayoko Miyamoto were wed before 2,500 guests. The marriage didn't last, and in 1982, after having two sons, they divorced. His right-hand man says the whole matter was pure politics. Miyamoto wasn't cutting it as a political wife, says longtime aide Isao Iijima. He told Koizumi, "Choose between your family and your political career." Divorce Japan-style means a permanent severing of ties. Koizumi kept the sons, and Miyamoto has not seen her boys or spoken with them since. "I desperately wanted to, but the Koizumi family decided otherwise," she says.

Miyamoto was pregnant at the time of the divorce, and a third son, Yoshinaga, now 18, was raised by her and has never met his father. One day this summer, Yoshinaga visited L.D.P. headquarters, where a giant picture of Koizumi was plastered on a billboard six stories high. Yoshinaga made his way to the gift shop in the lobby, bought a poster of his father, took it home and hung it on his bedroom wall. "I hope after he is Prime Minister, we can both see him again," Miyamoto says. "My son understands. He says, 'It is my father's time to serve the country.'"

And like the son longing for his father's attention, Japan is desperately pinning its hopes on the strangest politician the country has ever seen.

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