Tsurunen Marutei

(Finland, 1940- )

Tsurunen Marutei It took four tries and the resignation of a sitting Diet member to get there, but Finnish-born Tsurunen Marutei finally won his place in Japanese political history. When Upper House member and former TV host Ohashi Kyosen dramatically announced that he had had enough of murky political shenanigans, his fellow Minshuto (Democratic Party) member Tsurunen became his automatic successor. Having finished runner-up in four national elections, the naturalized Japanese was on the verge of giving up his political dreams when the surprise announcement was made. He became the first Western-born Diet member and called himself the "blue-eyed Dietman", a title he later removed from his meishi (name card).

Born Martti Turunen in Finland in 1940, he was one of the few survivors of a Soviet attack on his village at the age of four. This event led to his pacifist thinking which, together with his ideas on ecology and the supply of fresh vegetables from his garden overlooking the Pacific keep this politician's lifestyle as clean as can be. He came to Japan in 1967 as a lay Lutheran missionary. He later divorced his Finnish wife and married a Japanese woman in 1974. He worked in education and translation for several years before taking up Japanese citizenship in 1979.

It would be quite a few more years before he entered politics in 1992, at the age of 52 becoming Japan's first Western city assembly member in the seaside resort town of Yugawaramachi, Kanagawa Prefecture. Over the next decade, he ran for the Upper House three times and the Lower House once. In his first attempt, he sought the backing of an opposition reform party but failed to win their support. Exasperated, he decided to take the populist approach rather than relying on a party or the block support of organisations.

With the help of hundreds of volunteers, he distributed leaflets and made numerous speeches on street corners in an attempt to appeal to the many unaffiliated voters fed up with party politics and the status quo. He garnered more support in each election but finished as runner-up each time. After again narrowly failing in the proportional representation section in the Uper House election of 2001, he and his supporters were on their last legs. The effort had left him financially in trouble and he and his wife Sachiko were considering their future when the fateful announcement came.

He stated his first priority as "environmental conservation in harmony with economic activities. And the second is to help promote mutual understanding among different cultures." Noble ideas, but he will have his work cut out for him trying to achieve anything as an outsider in the cliquey world of Japanese politics. The last Diet member who was not ethnically Japanese was a citizen of Korean origin who presented himself to the public as Japanese. Facing arrest in 1998 on an insider trading charge, he committed suicide.