Finance ministers are not often recognized for their fashion sense. But Japanese finance minister Taro Aso set Twitter ablaze Friday with his gangster-style attire as he was leaving Japan for the weekend’s G-20 meeting in Moscow. (Or was it a meeting of the heads of the Five Families?)The 72-year-old Mr. Aso, who is also a former Japanese prime minister, is known to be a natty dresser. Local media once reported that he even stitched lead weights in the hem of his trousers, so his pants can rest just so.
In the month and a half since Shinzo Abe became prime minister, Mr. Aso has already emerged as one of the cabinet’s more colorful figures. His stylish wardrobe is matched by a quick wit and an outspoken manner that periodically veers into gaffes.Mr. Aso’s OG (original gangster) outfit Friday started trending on Twitter with “Mafia” and “Aso-san” popping up on the top trends list in Japan. He even got a thumbs-up from a Vogue Japan editor Mayumi Nakamura who called his travel gear “super cool.”
The spending habits of Italians are the latest topic to be addressed by Japan’s colorful finance minister Taro Aso.After a busy weekend successfully defending Tokyo’s monetary policy at a G-20 meeting and a memorable fashion statement featuring a jauntily angled fedora on the eve of the Moscow meet, Mr. Aso decided Monday to weigh in on Italian national character traits.Never one to shy away from a headline-making quip, Mr. Aso described the saving habits of Japanese as a national tendency that contrasted with the free-spending ways of Italians.
“Italians’ way of thinking is that it’s good to have no savings at all when you die,” Mr. Aso said during a budget committee session televised by national broadcaster NHK. “I think Italians would probably go along with that. In fact, I’m sure they would.”The remarks were greeted with laughter from fellow lawmakers, who have come to expect a mixture of quick wit and attention-grabbing repartee from the former prime minister, spiced up with the occasional gaffe.“If I say this, a lot of people will probably want to call it discrimination against Italy,” Mr. Aso added. “But if I ask my (Italian) friends about this, I’m sure they’ll say, ‘What are you saving your money for?’”Mr. Aso is a veteran ruling-camp lawmaker who has emerged as one of the most notable figures in the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since its formation about two months ago.Numbering among the favorite topics of Mr. Aso are the habits of senior citizens.Last month Mr. Aso, himself a 72-year old, said he would rather die without making use of expensive life-sustaining treatment funded by taxpayers, a remark that initially sparked controversy as many took it to be a prescription for senior citizens in general rather than the finance minister’s stance on his own life.Mr. Aso’s remarks on Italians came as an opposition lawmaker said Japan’s aging population was partly responsible for the nation’s lackluster financial market. The lawmaker argued that a large part of the ¥1.4 quadrillion in financial assets held by Japanese households belongs to those aged 55 or older and that they are simply parking that money in Japanese government debt.The finance minister said Japan’s government is trying to encourage a transfer of assets to younger generations through tax incentives, but admitted he was stumped by the nation’s propensity to save.“We don’t have a complete analysis of people’s sentiment–whether it’s a case that there’s nothing they want to spend their money on or whether it reflects concern about their future,” Mr. Aso said.But Japanese tend to feel that “their lives have been happy if their savings peak when they die,” Mr. Aso said. “To some extent I think we have to consider this national character–the fact they have a completely different way of thinking” when formulating policy, Mr. Aso added.Italians might take issue with Mr. Aso’s comments, however.While Rome’s once-famously high savings level has been in decline for a decade, Italians are hardly binge spenders in retirement.Two-thirds of private wealth consists of residential real estate, and the low use of mortgages attests to the local custom of passing on such property through inheritance.A third of Italians’ gross salaries go to the nation’s mandatory social security scheme, leaving that as the main source of retirement cash. Successive governments have chosen to eliminate inheritance taxes and top up smaller state pensions rather than promote reverse mortgage schemes to boost spending while people are alive.