Shotaro Kishida (R), son of Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida
This photo taken on May 15, 2023 shows Shotaro Kishida (R), son of Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (L), attending a meeting at the prime minister's office. Image Credit: AFP

Tokyo: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida removed his oldest son, Shotaro, as a government aide after a Japanese magazine published photos of Shotaro and relatives posing in the prime minister’s official residence at an end-of-year party, in a move that has rekindled debate about the mixing of political and familial ties in the country.

The prime minister said Monday that his 32-year-old son would be replaced after the Shukan Bunshun magazine published the images, which were taken in December, last week. One photo showed an attendee lying across grand red-carpeted stairs, while another showed two people posing behind an official dais with the prime minister’s seal, with one person making a peace sign.

In one other image, the son and about 10 other people are depicted standing on a wide staircase in a style “reminiscent of the commemorative photos taken by new Cabinet members at the time of the formation of the Cabinet,” the magazine wrote. It did not disclose how it obtained the images, though it said details about the party came from an acquaintance of Shotaro Kishida.

“His actions last year in a public space were inappropriate and I decided to replace him to have him take responsibility,” the prime minister said. “Of course, the responsibility for his appointment lies with me and I take the issue seriously.” The government has also said his son will give up severance pay and bonuses.

The residence is a public building designated for official business and state functions as well as a home. But many Japanese voters appear to be opposed to the Kishida family hosting year-end parties for their relatives there, according to a poll by the centre-left Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

Fumio Kishida, a conservative leader whose poll numbers have been relatively buoyant until the latest incident, was accused by opposition lawmakers of nepotism in October when he appointed his son as a policy secretary. He told a parliamentary session the appointment was about “putting the right person in the right place.”

In January, he defended his son against allegations he had used an official car to go sightseeing and shopping while travelling abroad with the prime minister. He told lawmakers that his son was buying official gifts and souvenirs.

It is not uncommon in Japan for political leaders to appoint members of their family to government positions.

Fumio Kishida’s father and grandfather were lawmakers for the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which Kishida now leads.

Shinzo Abe - Japan’s longest-serving prime minister - was a son of a prominent lawmaker and grandson of former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, who was in power from 1957 to 1960. Abe worked as a secretary for his father before following him into the House of Representatives. Abe’s deputy, Taro Aso - who served a brief stint in the top position between 2008 and 2009 - was also the grandson of a prime minister.

Kenta Izumi, head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, said in a news conference Monday that the “resignation is only natural.”

“The appointment itself had a strong sense of mixing public and private interests,” he added.

Takayoshi Yamamoto, who served as political secretary during the prime minister’s first year in office, will take over the position vacated by Shotaro.