DON MORRISON Editor, TIME Asia
Japanese Prime Ministers come in a variety of colors, all of them gray. Except perhaps for Keizo Obuchi. Yes, that Obuchi--the one whose charisma quotient was so low when he took office last year that an American analyst memorably dismissed him as cold pizza. Well, I can attest that Obuchi is anything but dull. When my colleagues and I showed up at his official residence in Tokyo for the that accompanies , we brought along--you guessed it--a rapidly cooling Domino's pizza. Obuchi good naturedly agreed to pose for photographer holding that Italian gustatory icon. He also changed into a formal kimono for more pictures, introduced us to his wife Chizuko, took up brush and ink and penned kanji greetings for us in his firm calligraphic hand. Most memorably of all, he told us this story:My relationship with TIME magazine goes a long way back. My first visit to the U.S. was in 1963. I was a college student traveling around the world. On Independence Day, July 4, I found myself in Washington, D.C. I was a great admirer of Robert F. Kennedy, who was then U.S. Attorney General. I managed to find a way to see him. I had with me a copy of TIME. The Cuban missile crisis had recently occurred, and there was his picture on the cover. I asked him to sign it for me, and he did. So you see, it is thanks to TIME that I found my way to Robert Kennedy and got him to sign the cover. He greatly impressed me. As a result, I decided to take up politics and eventually rose in office. So it is thanks to TIME that I became Prime Minister.
A gracious overstatement, but we're flattered nonetheless. Besides, Obuchi is probably not the first young person whose encounter with TIME led to a career in public service, or at least a lifelong interest in current affairs. And he's certainly not the first world leader whose destiny was shaped by an early brush with a Kennedy. Witness that now-famous picture of a young Bill Clinton shaking hands with President John F. Kennedy at a 1963 youth conference. I told my Kennedy story to President Clinton when he came to Tokyo last year, said Obuchi. Later on, he sent me a book that Bobby Kennedy had given him. It was signed, 'To Bill Clinton, from Robert Kennedy.' And I still have my copy of TIME with his autograph. I will cherish them forever.