One of the few positive things the Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) can hold on to in a very disappointing result to the recently concluded elections is that Antonio Inoki – whose real name is Kanji Inoki – has been declared one of the early winners for a seat in the Japanese Upper House. Indeed, it looks to be a gloomy time for the party co-led by controversial Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and outspoken former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, who were targeting 10 seats in the upper house for the JRP but are now destined to have only as many as 7 or 8. Inoki’s win is the lone bright spot, with the 70-year-old former professional wrestler determined to show his worth as a politician.
Inoki has led a colorful public life until now. A lot of people consider him the father of professional wrestling in Japan, even coming face to face with Muhammad Ali in a famous promotional match when he was still a wrestler. He was first elected to parliament in 1989 with the now non-existent Sports and Peace Party. A lot of Japanese citizens will probably have good memories of Inoki, as he met Saddam Hussein face to face in 1990 and successfully negotiated the release of Japanese hostages in Iraq during the Gulf War. He subsequently lost his parliamentary seat in 1995. Inoki is also a frequent traveler to North Korea, even with the tensions growing in the region.
Donning his favorite red muffler, Inoki faced the media after his election win and said “I will show my energy and build a healthy Japan.” Inoki said that he would most likely focus his efforts as a lawmaker on diplomatic issues. “I would like to thank everyone who gave me energy as I rushed around sweating for this,” Inoki told the media last night. “I would like to focus on diplomatic issues,” he added.
Party co-leader Ishihara had earlier commended Inoki’s feisty nature, saying last month that “Antonio Inoki is here to give us (the party) new life, and help us fight through this trying time.” The party had come under fire for a series of controversial comments made by co-leader Hashimoto in May regarding World War II “comfort women” – women forced to serve as prostitutes for Japan’s imperial army – where he said that this system of forced sex slavery was “necessary”. This, according to government analysts, is one of the big reasons why the Japan Restoration Party will only get 7 seats in the Upper House, according to data from the exit polls.