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Last Updated: Monday, 22 September, 2003, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Profile: Japan's economic champions
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has reshuffled his cabinet, with the state of the battered economy very much in mind.

In the coming months, much of the focus will be on the two young ministers charged with pushing through unpalatable - but, it is thought, unavoidable - reforms to the recession-mired economy.

BBC News Online profiles the men who face this unenviable task.


Many expected Heizo Takenaka to be given a bloody nose in this reshuffle.

The seeds of structural reform are at last starting to bud. My job is to help turn the buds into trees
Heizo Takenaka

According to rumours on the Tokyo market, he would lose at least one of the two ministerial portfolios - economics and financial services - that make him the country's most influential policy maker by far.

The fact that he was kept on almost completely eclipsed the arrival of a completely new finance minister, a job that in most countries would be the second or third-biggest cabinet post.

Fresh air...

One of Mr Takenaka's chief virtues, in the eyes of Mr Koizumi, is that he is no politician.

An unelected 52-year-old technocrat - he has been a banker, and more recently economics professor at Tokyo's Keio University - he was appointed in 2001 to shake up Japan's cosy economic establishment.

With sweeping political power at his disposal, he has focused on trying to rework the structure of the stagnant Japanese economy, in particular trying to mend indebted banks and rehabilitate technically insolvent companies.

If Japan's banking system is healed, he believes, lending can grow, entrepreneurial activity can revive, and there may be a broad-based improvement in the economic climate.

... or hot air?

Not everyone is convinced.
Reshuffle aims to give Japan's cabinet a younger, keener look

Many in the old guard of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have been offended by Mr Takenaka's abrupt methods and lack of the painstaking finesse that characterises Japanese politics.

An angry cabal of his opponents was reportedly trying to have him ousted in this reshuffle, and failed to unseat Mr Koizumi himself only this weekend.

Many financial experts, too, do not buy into his methods: senior bankers have warned that he may do the system more harm than good by his proposed reforms.

And among foreign investors, he has been criticised for his tendency to talk big and act small, and for his focus on structural reform, rather than more achievable stimuli such as weakening the yen.

Mr Takenaka has another chance to prove himself, but his time will not last indefinitely.


Sadakazu Tanigaki is obviously suited to his new role of finance minister: he launched his tenure with an impeccably undemonstrative press conference.

In the big picture, the basic policy is unchanged
Sadakazu Tanigaki

He stressed that foreign-exchange policy - the main issue he takes charge of - would remain unaltered, admitting only that the level of the yen should be dictated by "fundamentals".

What precisely this means is open to question, since his predecessor, Masajuro Shiokawa, was keen on interfering with fundamentals by intervening in the foreign-exchange markets.

But being Delphic is the most important part of the job for Japanese finance ministers, who have to be hugely careful about the effect their words have on the skittish yen.

The value of the yen, which has been rising steadily for more than a year, is a hot issue both inside Japan and out.

Japanese exporters, which account for the bulk of the country's sluggish output, want the currency to be far weaker, in order to bolster their competitiveness on world markets.

Reformer in moderate's clothing

Whether Mr Tanigaki will give in to such demands is tricky to say: despite his extensive political experience, he has spent most of his career keeping his opinions to himself.

He rises to the finance ministry from the National Public Safety Commission, a ministerial-level body, but most of his career has been in and around finance.

He has been deputy finance minister, and headed the body that is now known as the Financial Services Agency.

Despite his relative youth - he is 58 to his predecessor's 81 - he has also served in the post and telecoms ministry, the defence ministry and the Science and Technology Agency.

This year begins his third decade as a member of parliament, which he entered by the impeccably orthodox route of Tokyo University, the legal profession and inheriting a seat from his father, a former education minister.

According to his fans, however, his intellectual, administrative and political talents enable him to transcend his apparently standard upbringing; he is, they say, a reformer in moderate's clothing.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jonathan Head
"This largely younger cabinet was also meant to be a crowd pleaser"



SEE ALSO:
Japan reshuffle targets economy
22 Sep 03  |  Business
Koizumi defeats party rivals
20 Sep 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Japanese firms 'beat bankruptcy'
12 Sep 03  |  Business
Growth surges in Japan
10 Sep 03  |  Business
Japan's party leadership vote
08 Sep 03  |  Asia-Pacific
More jobs at last for Japan
29 Jul 03  |  Business
Upturn hope for Japanese economy
27 Jun 03  |  Business


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