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Japan's new first lady draws attention

Miyuki Hatoyama is a free spirit who likes to 'eat the sun' and says she's been to Venus. Oh, and she met Tom Cruise in a former life -- he was Japanese.

September 05, 2009|John M. Glionna

SEOUL — She's a quasi political player, an eccentric former entertainer whose intense spirituality is ripe for tabloid fodder. She claims she knew actor Tom Cruise in a former life and once visited the planet Venus in a triangular spaceship.

Miyuki Hatoyama, the wife of newly elected Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, is a free-spirited woman whose views are drawing Western attention since her husband's Democratic Party of Japan swept into power in a historic leadership change last weekend.

The 66-year-old Hatoyama, a former singer-dancer in an all-female theatrical troupe and the ex-wife of a Japanese restaurateur in California, met the new prime minister, now 62, while he was studying engineering at Stanford University.

In Japan, she established herself as a "life composer," or lifestyle consultant, who makes her own clothes, including a dress fashioned from hemp coffee bags. On the campaign trail, she demonstrated a passable Michael Jackson moonwalk.

Despite her recent high profile, few Japanese know much about her. Still, she has been busy.

She has written several books, including "Top of Form Bottom of Form Miyuki Hatoyama's Spiritual Food" and "Miyuki Hatoyama's Have a Nice Time."

And there was a collection of celebrity interviews titled "Amazing Events I Have Encountered" in which Hatoyama discussed an extraterrestrial jaunt she says she took during her first marriage.

"While my body was sleeping, I think my spirit flew on a triangular-shaped UFO to Venus," she said. "It was an extremely beautiful place and was very green."

Her book editor, Shunsuke Tsuchiya, said in an interview with The Times that Hatoyama was misunderstood. He said the incident "happened while she was sleeping. It was just a vivid dream."

Tsuchiya described Hatoyama as a very social and straightforward woman with a wide range of interests, including spirituality.

"She does tend to like spiritual topics. She says things like, 'If you're with me, it won't rain.' She can be misunderstood. When you see what she has said in writing, it might be surprising."

As a guest once on a late-night Japanese TV show, she talked of a desire to make a movie with Tom Cruise, who starred in the 2003 film "The Last Samurai."

"In my former life, I know he was Japanese. I knew him. So when he sees me, I think he'll say, 'It's been a long time.' "

Warning viewers that others might consider them "weird," she advised them to energize themselves each day by pretending to "eat the sun." Closing her eyes, she grasped and ate imaginary pieces from the sky. "Yum, yum, yum," she said. "I get energy from it. My husband also does this."

Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo, said people here are used to free-spirited celebrities. "There were some rumors about her eccentric behavior, and she does seem a little unusual for a Japanese woman her age," he said. "I don't think any of this matters as long as it stays clear of issues regarding public policy."

Another Japanese cultural scholar was offended by Western news reports on the new first lady.

"The foreign press always seems to reinforce stereotypes about Japanese women and culture, focusing on extreme examples that are on the periphery," said Kumiko Fujimura-Fanselow, a professor of education and women's studies at Toyo Eiwa Women's University in Tokyo and an author on Japanese feminism.

"We know little about her in Japan other than she's a bit older than her husband. I don't think people here care very much about what political wives are like."

She said the Japanese certainly did not invent eccentricity among celebrities. "Didn't Nancy Reagan do seances? Nobody cared about that."

Editor Tsuchiya said that Hatoyama's tenure as first lady won't be boring.

"It'll be fun," he said. "Out of all the prime ministers' wives, she may be the most social one."

In an interview with the Kyodo News, Hatoyama said she felt a kindred spirit with Michelle Obama.

"I think she is so natural and has a kind of sensibility similar to mine," said Hatoyama, who speaks English. "If I can have the chance to meet her, I would look forward to it."

Hatoyama told the Kyodo News that she would know how to keep her husband going as he struggles with a slumping economy and a record unemployment rate.

"I always try to cheer him up by saying, 'It's going to be all right,' " she said.

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john.glionna@latimes.com

Special correspondent Yuriko Nagano in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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