TOKYO

JANUARY 20 2009 10:53h

Japan PM Faces Reading Test As Popularity Sags

Japan`s Prime Minister Taro Aso

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Aso, his ratings below 20 percent after a spate of gaffes and policy flip-flops, has been berated by media for misreading kanji.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso faced a rare challenge from an opposition lawmaker in parliament on Tuesday -- a reading test.

Aso, his ratings below 20 percent after a spate of gaffes and policy flip-flops, has been berated by media for misreading kanji, the characters used in Japanese writing.

Diverting debate from an extra budget aimed at boosting the recession-hit economy, opposition Democratic Party member Hajime Ishii held up a white board with 12 combinations of kanji suggesting they might be too hard for Aso to pronounce properly.

Aso did not take the bait, but responded when asked if he himself had written a long essay that appeared under his name in a magazine late last year.

"I hate to disappoint you, but I wrote it myself," a smiling Aso replied, before debate returned to more serious topics.

Japan's ruling party tapped Aso, a fan of manga comics, in hopes he could lead it to victory in an election that must be held this year, but his popularity is in tatters and the party is in danger of losing the election.

Aso's bloopers in reading kanji when giving speeches or formal replies in parliament have prompted Internet bloggers to give him the nickname "KY Aso" -- a play on a slang expression used by teenagers meaning "Kuuki Yomenai" or "out of touch".

Some bloggers even call Aso "Triple KY" because besides his mistakes in reading characters kanji, he has been wary of dissolving the lower house (kaisan) for an election and unable to revive the economy (keiki).