SHINZO ABE: HIS LIFE, WIFE AND SECOND STINT AS PRIME MINISTER OF JAPAN

SHINZO ABE BECOMES PRIME MINISTER OF JAPAN AGAIN


Abe on the Cover of Time

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) President Shinzo Abe was elected prime minister in the Diet on December 26, 2012, ten days after his party’s landslide victory, becoming the country's 96th prime minister, and the second post-World War II leader to serve two nonconsecutive terms. Shigeru Yoshida was the first. Abe served as prime minister in 2006-2007.

After the LDP election victory,Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times: “The victorious Liberal Democrats take over a nation that faces deepening problems, including a ballooning national debt, a growing trade deficit and a rapidly aging population. Upon declaring victory, Mr. Abe quickly vowed to help the faltering economy by quickly passing a huge new stimulus spending bill, and called ending deflation his top priority. He also vowed to give relief to the nation’s beleaguered export sector with more aggressive steps to drive down the yen to make Japanese products cheaper abroad. [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, December 16, 2012]

Another challenge will be energy policy, with all but two of Japan’s 50 functional nuclear reactors shut down after the meltdown at the Fukushima complex early last year. Mr. Abe’s pro-nuclear party will likely try to restart more of those idled reactors, and scrap the incumbents’ plans to shut down most of the nation’s nuclear plants by the 2030s. Indeed, recent polls have shown only limited support for Mr. Abe. Voters said one worry was whether he would quit again if things got tough, as he is perceived as having done the last time he was prime minister, in 2007, when he complained of an intestinal ailment soon after his party was defeated in upper house elections. “Abe-san threw the job away once already,” said Yukako Sakamoto, 41, an office clerk who also voted in Kawagoe. “Will he just run away again if the going gets rough in the Senkakus?”

See Separate Article on Abenomics

Shinzo Abe’s Life


Abe in 1956

The grandson of former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi and the son of a foreign minister, Abe was born in 1954. His childhood tutor described him as an---ordinary kid who often enjoyed reading cartoons.” He “listened to me seriously and was easy to teach.” His family was not rich. His tutor said he wore patched clothes at home.

Abe attended primary, middle and high schools associated with Seikei University and then attended Seikei University. Friends at university said he was determined from his first year to be a politician and never missed any classes. He was a member of the archery club but did not participate in competitions. He also enjoyed playing golf and tennis, his friends said, and was a very serious mah-jongg player,

Abe was first elected to the lower house in 1993, taking over his father’s seat. He served five terms and was promoted as one of the architects of Koizumi’s reforms.

Abe has said he was fond of Italian gelato and relaxed with game of golf or a few shots from his archery bow. He didn’t drink. Perhaps his greatest asset was his wife Akie. The daughter of the president of one Japan’s largest chocolate and candy manufacturers, she is pretty, dances flamenco, enjoys drinking, loves Korean soap operas, once worked as a radio DJ and drew a lot of attention when she traveled outside of Japan. She was 44 when Abe took office but could easily pass for someone ten years younger than that. Abe and his wife don’t have any children.

Abe on Lessons Learned from His Father and Grandfather


Abe's maternal grandfather Nobusuke Kishi

On lessons learned from his father, former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, Abe told Time: “I have learned that being a politician is not an easy job. My father was trying to make progress in the peace treaty with the Soviet Union. At that time he was suffering from last-stage cancer, but he visited Moscow in the bitter cold. I learned from my father that you may have to risk your own life to make such a historic accomplishment.” [Source: Hannah Beech, Nancy Gibbs, Time, April 17, 2014 <^>]

On his maternal grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, a member of Japan’s wartime Cabinet who was locked up (but never charged) by the Allied powers and later became Prime Minister: “If I try to make it correct, my grandfather was arrested but not prosecuted. [As Prime Minister], my grandfather amended the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. He faced severe criticism. He passed the treaty and resigned as Prime Minister at the same time. Those who were against [revamping the treaty] are now overwhelmingly for [it]. Unfortunately, politicians don’t get applause.” <^>

On his paternal grandfather Kan Abe, a wartime legislator: “He was one of the few Diet members who was against [wartime leader Hideki] Tojo’s Cabinet and Japan going to war with [the] U.S. I have learned from each family member that politicians sometimes have to make decisions all alone.” <^>

On the need to revise the postwar pacifist constitution, which was written by the Americans and precludes Japan from possessing a normal military: “It has been believed for a long time in Japan that things such as the constitution can never be changed. I say we should change our constitution now. The U.S. has amended its constitution six times, but Japan has done it zero times.” <^>

Abe's Resignation in 2007

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Abe resignation in 2007
In mid September 2007, Abe suddenly resigned as Prime Minister just days after calling himself a “fighting politician." He cited his failure to win support for the MSDF refueling missions and said he suffered from health problems but most saw the move as an inevitable consequence of the humiliating election defeat for the LDP in July 2007. Still everyone was shocked by the suddenness and abruptness of his decision, especially his supporters and people associated with his pet issues, particularly the North Korean abduction issue.

Abe spent only a year in office---a tough year marred by scandals, struggles and disappointments. Many people saw Abe as a wimp who couldn't handle the stress, struggles and wear and tear that went with his office. Abe said he was suffering from poor health and checked into the hospital just one day after he quit. Koichi Nakasone, a political scientist at Sofia University, said, “Since the feudal era, generals have feigned sickness when in fact they just lost it."

Abe said he suffered from a longstanding bowel illness; Abe was diagnosed with functional gastrointestinal disorder and was spent about a week in the hospital recovering after he resigned. In a news conference Abe's doctor said the prime minister was “extremely weak” and had lost five kilograms over the past few months. His symptoms included stomach irritations, pain, poor appetite. Endoscope examinations found nothing abnormal in his stomach or intestines.

While in the hospital Abe apologized for his abrupt resignation, “I announced by resignation at the worst time---at the beginning of the Diet session and shortly after making a policy speech." He said resigned because health made him unable to carry the responsibilities of his job. Many believe he suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, a stress-related intestinal affliction characterized by feelings of indigestion in the upper abdomen and stomach, diarrhea and trouble with bowel movements with no ulcer, cancer or other obvious reason to explain the disorder.

Abe was roundly criticized for his resignation. Opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa said it was the first time in his political career of 40 years that he had witnesses a prime minister quit within days of delivering a policy speech, “To tell you he truth I've no idea what was going through Prime Minister Abe's mind before he made his announcement." Members of his own party were equally upset and perplexed. One said, “I’m disappointed in him as he's tossed out his administration." Another said, “How does he see the responsibilities of a prime minister?

Akie Abe


Akie Abe

Akie Abe, the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was born in Tokyo in 1962. Chikara Shima wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: Akie Abe “is the eldest daughter of Akio Matsuzaki, former president of Morinaga & Co. When her future husband was serving as a secretary to his father, former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, she met him through an acquaintance. They got married in 1987. Akie, nicknamed “Akkie,” has actively supported women’s advancement in society, while also engaging in a wide range of social activities, including in the fields of agriculture and social welfare. She has a master’s degree from Rikkyo University. [Source: Chikara Shima, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 20, 2014 |~|]

Akie Abe has been active not only as first lady, but also in promoting pesticide-free agriculture and running an izakaya restaurant, where women gather to discuss feminist issues. She told the Yomiuri Shimbun: “I don’t think there should be a mold for politicians’ wives or for women in general. It would make me happy if other women are encouraged to take a step forward after seeing me breaking the mold as wife of the prime minister.” |~|

In July 2014, Akie Abe established “UZU no Gakko,” a school that organizes panel discussions among experts and other activities to support women who want to make advancements in various fields. Akie Abie said: “The government has been addressing the issue of gender equality for many years. Rather than leaving it to the government to take measures, it is important for women themselves to have strong awareness about the issue. Using my position as the prime minister’s wife, I would like to rally support for as many of the women making efforts as possible.” |~|

She also said: “An increase in the number of women—by even a small number—in managerial positions at major corporations and important government posts will substantially change the social landscape. The top echelons of major companies were made to think about this issue after the prime minister said he would aim to crate a “society where women shine.” There has been a growing sense in women that they might be able to shine. It shows that the public mood can change when a top leader offers direction. If the leadership promoting creation of a society where women shine is occupied entirely by men, such a society will reflect only men’s perspectives. So in this regard also, it is an urgent task to appoint women to key positions. |~|

“Although women’s advancement in society is consistent with the times, I don’t think all women should be like men. Women are better at taking care of babies, while doing housework, than men are. Of course, if they go out to work, their husbands must share the housework with them. Men have to change their mindsets. Working women have restrictions inherent to women. Once they leave work after marriage, childbirth and child rearing, they often find no jobs befitting their capabilities even if they want to return to work. I want the power of women be allowed to be used for the benefit of society. I want society to be a place where both men and women acknowledge what each can offer, and I hope they will all do well. |~|

Akie Abe Contradicts Husband and Discusses Strains of Political Life


Shinzo and Akie Abe

During a trip to the United States in 2014, Akie Abe, talked openly about her deep unhappiness after her husband’s first stint as prime minister. in power. AFP reported: At a breakfast with businesspeople, she described how she went to the hospital in 2007 when Abe resigned as prime minister. Abe said she was crying and did not want to face waiting media, but noticed well-wishers across the street who were smiling. “It’s true that your smile makes other people happy, but at other times, when you’re really hurt, sometimes you don’t want to see people smiling,” she said. [Source: AFP, September 25, 2014 /*/]

“Akie Abe has softened her husband’s hawkish image through outspoken statements that have at times openly contradicted him. She has raised eyebrows and endeared herself to parts of the Japanese public by calling for the abolition of nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, a stance starkly at odds with her husband’s. She has also actively campaigned for gay rights in Japan, where there is little political debate about allowing same-sex marriage. /*/

“Abe, a prolific user of social media, also explained how she faced down calls from politicians to delete hostile messages on her Facebook account. “I never want to block those people. That is my rule,” she said. Akie Abe’s speeches in the United States are mostly aimed at supporting her husband’s push to expand women’s role in the workforce. Japan lags behind most developed nations in female empowerment, with many women expected to marry early and quit their jobs. She said that women had “a motherly instinct, kindness and creativity” that would help the Japanese economy if they worked in greater numbers. /*/

Abe Reluctant to Move into “Haunted” Prime Minister’s House

In May 2013, Danielle Demetriou wrote in The Telegraph, “Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, was forced to take the unusual step of issuing a formal statement denying persistent rumours that he has not yet moved into his official residence because he is scared it is haunted. Rumours have been swirling for months in the local media in relation to the reasons behind the fact that Mr Abe and his wife Akie have not yet moved into the property, despite being in power since December last year. It is not the first time that the 11-room red brick house in central Tokyo – known as the Kotei – has been at the centre of a high profile flurry of supernatural speculation. [Source: Danielle Demetriou, The Telegraph, May 24, 2013 **]


Residence of Japan's Prime Minister

“A number of former prime ministers have reportedly experienced unusual phenomena while living at the property, which was the setting for revolts, rebel occupations and politician murders – including one prime minister – in the 1930s. Several Japanese first ladies have also refused to move into the house. However, the conservative leader Mr Abe is reportedly the longest prime minister to hold out and resist living there. **

“The issue was brought into the open by an opposition member of parliament who questioned whether Mr Abe would be able to respond swiftly to emergencies if he was not residing in the official residence, which is next door to his executive office. In a letter to the cabinet, he asked: "There are rumours that the official residence is haunted by ghosts. Is it true? Does Prime Minister Abe refuse to move to the official residence because of the rumours?" The response issued by Mr Abe's cabinet was succinct: "We do not assent to what was asked." **

“Mr Abe previously resided in the residence with his wife during his first brief one-year tenure as prime minister between 2006 and 2007. The fact that he has not yet moved into the residence five months after coming to power for the second time has prompted speculation that the prime minister and wife may not have enjoyed their first stay in the property. However, a more realistic reason for the delay in moving may be because he is simply awaiting the outcome of crucial Upper House elections in July, with a victory likely to guarantee a longer tenure than his previous stint as PM. **

“It was in May 1932 that a revolt within the same property led by naval officers resulted in the murder of Tsuyoshi Inukai, the then prime minister, before the captors surrendered to the military police. The same official residence was occupied by rebel troops for four days in 1936 after 1,400 of them stormed Tokyo's government district, resulting in the death of several political leaders. An earlier prime minister who has been forced to comment about the ghost issue was Junichiro Koizumi, who told reporters during his tenure: "I've never encountered any ghosts, although I want to see them." **

Abe Involved in Car Accident, Escapes Injury

In April 2103, AFP reported: “A limousine carrying Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been involved in a five-car pile-up at a toll gate in Tokyo but he escaped without injury. Two guards in a police car accompanying Abe's official vehicle suffered slight injuries to the face, a Metropolitan Police Department spokesman said. The police car made a sudden stop at the toll gate, which led to Abe's vehicle bumping into it from behind. [Source: Anne Sewell, Digital Journal, April 27, 2013 :::]

“Two other police cars and a saloon carrying reporters, which were trailing Abe's limousine, were also involved in the collision, said the official. Abe, known for his nationalist views, was on his way to a park in central Tokyo to attend a rally calling on North Korea to return Japanese nationals kidnapped by the communist state during the Cold War, local media said.” :::

Abe Cabinet’s Approval Rating 72.8 Percent in February 2013


Abe on the cover of the Asian edition of Time

In February 2013, Kyodo reported: “The approval rating for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet has risen 6.1 percentage points to 72.8 percent, exceeding the 70 percent threshold for the first time since the failed Democratic Party of Japan administration was launched in September 2009, a survey showed. The Cabinet’s disapproval rating came to just 16.2 percent, according to its findings. [Source: Kyodo, February 25, 2013 \=\]

Meanwhile, the survey showed that 34.2 percent of those who supported the Abe Cabinet also believed its drastic economic policies are necessary. By party, Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party was backed by 46.9 percent of the respondents, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) by 8.3 percent, New Komeito — the LDP’s junior partner in the ruling coalition — by 5.5 percent, Your Party by 3.0 percent, the Japanese Communist Party by 2.2 percent, the Social Democratic Party by 1.0 percent and Seikatsu no To (Lifestyle Party) by 0.8 percent. The support rate for the Democratic Party of Japan, whose three-year term in office came to an abrupt end in the Dec. 16 Lower House election, stood at a mere 6.0 percent, the lowest level since the party’s launch in 1998. Around 25.1 percent of those canvassed said they do not support a specific party. \=\

Abe’s approval rating reached 74 percent in April 2013.

Abe Makes the Cover of Time Magazine

Abe made the cover of Time magazine in April 2014. In an interview Abe takled about Japan’s territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku islands, Japan’s remorse over its ‘brutal wartime record’, “comfort women” issues, Abenomics, lessons he learnt from his father and grandfathers, and his desire to increase equality for women, saying, ‘Hillary Clinton says if Japan were to utilise women’s power more, Japan’s GDP would increase by 16 percent. We have decided that at least 30 percent of all new hires by our government should be female.’ [Source: timeout.jp, April 23, 2014]


Abe on Time after his resignation in 2007

According to Time in 2014: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has a rare electoral mandate in a nation that has churned through six Premiers in just as many years.” He has been called “a brazen nationalist by some and a brave change agent by others.[Source: Hannah Beech, Nancy Gibbs, Time, April 17, 2014 <^>]

Abe told Time: “I am a patriot. I would think there are no politicians who are not patriots. Since I am a politician, I often get criticized, as I try to exercise what I believe to be right. However, if you mind such criticism, I think you can’t protect people’s lives...When I came to office, in terms of diplomacy and national security, as well as the economy, Japan was in a very severe situation...The economic policy that I am implementing now is a growth strategy, which includes radical financial relaxation, flexible monetary policy and encouragement of private investment. For a long time, we have been suffering from deflation. We haven’t overcome deflation yet, but the confidence of small and medium businesses has turned to positive after 21 years and 10 months.” <^>

On the role of women in Japan Abe told Time: “I often say to entrepreneurs: ‘If Lehman Brothers were Lehman Brothers & Sisters, it wouldn’t have gone into bankruptcy.’ Hillary Clinton says if Japan were to utilize women’s power more, Japan’s GDP would increase by 16 percent. We have decided that at least 30 percent of all new hires by our government should be female. We have requested at least one female board member in first-tier listed companies. She doesn’t have to be Japanese but could be a foreigner.” <^>

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Time magazine, Kantei, Office of the Japanese Prime Minister

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Japan Times, Mainichi Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated September 2016

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