|Less than a year after taking office, Taro Aso is fighting to keep his party in power [Reuters]
The son of a prominent industrialist family, Taro Aso's political career has spanned almost three decades, culminating in his accession to the post of prime minister in September 2008.
Less than a year later he finds himself burdened by plunging popularity ratings and opinion polls predicting he will lead his party to defeat in Sunday's elections.
Aso's family roots place him among the blue-bloods of Japanese politics.
He is the grandson of Shigeru Yoshida, one of Japan's most influential prime ministers who led the rebuilding of Japan following its defeat in the second world war.
He is also married to the daughter of another former premier.
Aso's early years though were somewhat less than conventional.
Educated at university in California, the young Aso then spent two years trading diamonds in Sierra Leone before joining the Japanese Olympic team at the 1976 Montreal games as a clay pigeon shooter.
Three years later he was elected to parliament, rising through the ranks of the ruling Liberal Democratic party (LDP) and serving as foreign minister under two different prime ministers.
The cigar-smoking 68-year-old Roman Catholic has long sought to portray himself as a tough, streetwise operator.
He has highlighted his foreign policy experience as one of his strengths and is a self-declared hawk on security issues, lambasting the opposition for soft policies he says will sell out the country's interests.
But his gruff manner and propensity for verbal gaffes has alienated him from voters, many of whom see him as aloof and out of touch.
"Since I was a child, I have hardly made efforts to be liked by other people, and I was hardly liked," Aso told a parliamentary committee in March when asked about his low support ratings.
Perhaps illustrating his point, he made few friends among Japan's elderly – a key sector of the voting population – when he questioned why he should have to pay taxes to support those who "just eat and drink and make no effort".