Japan's prime minister consults pitching coach for his U.S. trip


TOKYO -- Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi prepared yesterday for a meeting with President Clinton, working on his economic policy and on his pitching arm.

Obuchi, who is to leave today for the first official visit by a Japanese prime minister to the United States in 12 years, is expected to throw out the first ball at a Cubs game at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Saturday.

Obuchi, 61, who said he last threw a pitch about 50 years ago, spent part of the afternoon in his back yard with a baseball glove and a former pro pitcher.

"I'm really worried whether the ball will reach home plate or not," Obuchi said.

Judging from the practice session, which Obuchi good-naturedly allowed reporters to watch, he has good form but not much consistency.

All in all, he seems to have a strong chance of getting the ball to home plate -- at least by the third bounce.

Other prime ministers have made working trips to Washington, but this is a more formal official visit and includes stays in Los Angeles tonight and in Chicago tomorrow and Saturday.

Then Obuchi is to travel to Washington for talks Monday with Clinton and a White House dinner that evening.

This is a time of relative harmony in U.S.-Japanese relations, and officials say the main purpose of the summit meeting is to reaffirm and strengthen the relationship.

The Group of Seven major industrial nations issued a communique Monday calling on Japan to "implement stimulus measures until growth is restored, using all available tools."

He said there are some areas where the government can help, such as promoting the housing industry and deregulating the economy. But he gave no indication that he was planning any dramatic program.

Obuchi and Clinton are also to discuss U.S. military bases on Okinawa, which has traditionally aroused strong local opposition.

This week, the 61-year-old Obuchi won a major victory when parliament's powerful lower house endorsed a set of bills deepening military ties with the United States. Thanks to growing fears about a security threat from North Korea, the bills are virtually guaranteed passage in the upper house next month.

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