TOKYO Comic-turned-governor Hideo Higashikokubaru has some idea of his worth to the Miyazaki Prefecture.
With a straight face, Higashikokubaru told reporters last week that his recent TV appearances were worth ¥15.5 billion ($137.5 million) to the prefecture in free publicity.
Higashikokubaru was shown on 182 TV programs in his first week after taking office on Jan. 23, mostly chomping on chicken raised in Miyazaki, whose poultry farms have been hit by repeated outbreaks of bird flu.
The comedian claimed his one-man PR campaign to salvage the prefecture’s reputation for safe processed poultry was equivalent to $137.5 million in paid ads. Higashikokubaru modestly added that his “personal involvement” to the damage control campaign was a factor in its success.
Prior to his election as governor of Miyazaki, a prefecture on Japan’s southernmost main island of Kyushu, Higashikokubaru was a comic apprentice to Takeshi Kitano, appearing frequently on Kitano’s shows, including the internationally distribbed “Takeshi’s Castle.”
Better known in Japan by his stage name of Sonomama Higashi, the comedian stirred up media waves by entering elite Waseda U.’s School of Letters, Arts and Sciences evening course in 2000 at the comparatively crusty age of 42. He subsequently entered Waseda’s School of Political Science and Economics, but did not graduate.
A dedicated marathoner and handball player, Higashikokubaru has published a self-help book titled “How to Reach the Peak of Life at 60.” He has also appeared in several pics, including Kitano’s 1995 comedy “Getting Any?”
Higashikokubaru was elected Miyazaki governor on Jan. 21 after positioning himself as a reformer who would work for the people while disdaining the usual trappings of office. He benefited from a wave of local revulsion over the corrupt shenanigans of former Gov. Tadahiro Ando, who was arrested on election-rigging charges in December and resigned from office.