With hair that sometimes reveals a shock of white, sometimes goes all black, Miyuki Hatoyama, 66, is striking enough in person. That she is visible at all is a surprise. In Japan, the wives of politicians are often neither seen nor heard. But Miyuki Hatoyama has become something of an international media phenomenon because of remarks in a book she once wrote and, oh yes, because her husband, Yukio Hatoyama, 62, is assuming the office of Prime Minister after what many are calling one of the most important elections in post-war Japanese history.
After his Democratic Party of Japan displaced the Liberal Democrats from more than half-a-century in power, her words in a 2008 book entitled Most Bizarre Things I've Encountered made it around the world and momentarily overshadowed his victory. In the book, she claimed that in her sleep aliens took her soul to the planet Venus, which she described as being very green. The headlines around the world were shocked, shocked, in a predictable way, with bad puns from London to New York, and even in neighboring South Korea, China and Taiwan.
But the Japanese weren't surprised. They know her as a regular contributor to Mu Magazine, a publication that explores such subjects as UFOs, the possibility that the world may end in 2012 and the esoteric mysteries of the giant heads of Easter Island and the lost sun-worshipping civilizations of South America. (She speaks openly of "eating" the morning sun for energy.)She is sometimes referred to as "Mrs. Occult," because she wrote a monthly spiritual column in Mu,. Never shy about her opinions, she propagates them with gusto on television, discussing everything from religion to cooking, with the authority of a lifestyle guru or "life composer," as she describes herself. One day, she has said, she would like to direct an Oscar-award winning film starring Tom Cruise, whom she claims to have known in a previous life, when the actor was Japanese.
Her husband approaches her beliefs with support and measured skepticism. "I can understand to a degree [ the existence of UFOs]," the incoming Prime Minister has said, according to a Japanese blog. "But being told by your wife 'I've gone and returned from Venus,' still bewilders me." But he is clearly devoted and has also said in interviews how much he is invigorated by being with her (allowing her, it is said, to style his hair, which, with its pompadour-like height, defies the slicked-down look Japanese politicians are used to sporting.)
Already unconventional with her outspokenness, Miyuki Hatoyama can claim a background uncommon for most Japanese women: she was born abroad and has lived overseas for more than 10 years in her adulthood, she has had more than one career, and she is in her second marriage. Born in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, she returned when she was one year old and grew up in Kobe. By 18, under the name Miyuki Waka, she was acting with the all-female Takarazuka Theater troupe, a traditional Japanese revue with a style somewhere between a glitzy Las Vegas spectacle and a Pyongyang parade to celebrate Kim Jong Il's birthday.
After moving to the U.S. with her first marriage, she was working in a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco when she met Yukio Hatoyama, who is a veritable Japanese Kennedy (his grandfather, Ichiro Hatoyama, was Prime Minister and his father served as Foreign Minister). At the time, Hatoyama was getting his graduate degree in engineering at Stanford University. In a recent interview in the weekly Japanese magazine Aera, Miyuki said Hatoyama was surprised by his own passionate side when he met her; she said that he stayed on in America to do his Ph D. because of her. After she divorced her first husband, the two married in San Francisco in 1975. They have a son, Kiichiro.
In her interview with Aera, she recalled the time when Hatoyama first won public office, in 1986 to represent a constituency in the northern island of Hokkaido: "People seemed surprised to see flashy clothes and shoes, but I don't like to change myself." Indeed, she has her own flair when it comes to fashion: from a jacket made with her husband's old ties cut and sewn at the cuffs and hemline; to a hemp sackskirt of her own design. When she and her husband cast their votes on Aug. 26, he wore a suit, she wore jeans.
Meanwhile, Japanese reaction to her burst of global fame has been overwhelmingly positive, if low-key. (There had already been one unofficial fan site for her even before the UFO quote got out.) And, in the afterglow of her husband's epoch-ending victory, there is talk about how her honesty and outspokenness are symbolic of what many hope will be a new, less constricting era. She certainly believes his ascension to power is a sign of change in Japan, one that she is happy to be a part of. "I think he will be a completely new style of leader..." she told Aera. "I think that the time has arrived and that his ideas are understood."
As they await his formal assumption of office, the Hatoyamas live in the affluent Denenchofu neighborhood in western Tokyo, appears idyllic. The two are often seen taking walks together. In the Aera interview, she says that her husband always dons rubber gloves and washes the dishes after dinner. "No matter how busy he is," she says. "He says 'I feel bad if you make something and you also have to wash the dishes.'" She indicates she will still watch over his style and appearance, perhaps dressing him a little more conservatively dressed than before. She told the magazine that she won't make him wear what the Japanese call "cool biz," a casual summer look that she finds inappropriate for the role of Prime Minister. Nevertheless, when she becomes Japan's next first lady, she has said that nothing much else will change about how she goes about her life. "I'll take trains just like I used to." She may refrain, however, from mentioning any future voyages on UFOs.
With reporting by Yuki Oda