July 20, 2022

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A widow as role model

The assassination of Japanese former Prime Minister Abe, continues to deserve air time on international media. The legacy that Abe left behind remains a subject of discussion. The man was Prime Minister twice, from 2006 to 2007, and again, when he made a comeback in 2012, to remain in office up to 2020. He resigned in September 2020 for health reasons.

Abe will be remembered for his nationalist position. This particular stance turned off most Japanese liberals who felt his desire to rejuvenate the Japanese armed forces would be a return to Japan’s long history of aggression and war with neighbors. The resuscitation of the Japanese self-defense forces would have required the amendment of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution which the United States forced on Japan at the end of World War II when Japan surrendered.

Abe had set a deadline of 2020 to revise the Constitution and legitimize the Japan Self Defense Forces. Article 9 outlawed war as a means of settling international disputes. Abe did not stay long enough to help rebuild the military which naturally alarmed China, East Asia’s military power.

Aside from the regeneration of Japan’s military forces into a key component of restoring Japan’s reputation and stature, Abe had Tokyo bid for the 2020 Olympics which he had hoped would help jumpstart an economy which had entered a period of deflation. The deflation discouraged the production of goods by manufacturers who did not see the wisdom in producing goods that were sold at low prices or were not being bought at all. Abe did not live long enough to see the effects of his policies on the Japanese economy and politics. Fumio Kishida, present prime minister, and regarded as Abe’s protégé and member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), is expected to pursue Abe’s initiatives and policies.

The assassination of Abe triggered the customary investigation on the circumstances behind the killing in broad daylight in a country not known for political violence and with strict gun controls. Abe’s death raised serious questions about the personal security of Japanese politicians and former public officials.

Mari Yamaguchi of the Associated Press (AP) reports that a top police official “has acknowledged possible security lapses that allowed an assassin to fire his gun into Japanese former Prime Minister while he was addressing a campaign rally” for a Liberal Democratic Party candidate in Nara City. Police arrested the attacker, ex-Navy man Tetsuya Yamagami, 41.

Police said, the assassin killed Abe because “he believed rumors that Abe was connected to an organization that he resents.” According to Yamaguchi, Japanese media reported that Yamagami developed a hatred toward a religious group that his mother was obsessed about and that caused his family financial problems.

The AP story stated that Nara prefectural chief Tomoaki Onizuka said Abe’s assassination was his “greatest regret” in a 27-year career. Onizuka said, “I cannot deny there were problems with our security. Whether it was a setup, emergency response, or ability of individuals, we still have to find out. Over-all, there was a problem and we will review it from every perspective.”

Observers who watched videos of the attack that went viral noted a lack of attention to the open space behind Abe. This obvious gap did not go unnoticed, calling the lapse so “un-Japanese” who are noted for paying meticulous attention to detail, especially in matters involving security and protection of so-called very important persons. AP reported that a former Kyoto prefectural police investigator, Fumikazu Higuchi said the footage suggested security was sparse at the event and insufficient for a former prime minister.

Other experts wondered why Abe was speaking from a street level island and not from a platform which would have made it more difficult for an assassin to execute his plan. In addition, there was “too much focus frontward” without giving attention to what was behind Abe.

The death of Japan’s longest serving prime minister left behind a nation and the many who admired Abe, in grief and mourning. Shinzo Abe also left behind a 60-year-old widow, Akie Abe. CNN’s Nectar Gan and Emiko Juka wrote that Akie “set a new mold for Japanese first ladies.”

And here’s why.

Gan and Juka report that when Akie Matsuzaki married Shinzo Abe, then a rising political aide in 1987, she followed a path well-trodden by Japanese wives and gave up her job at the country’s largest advertising agency, Dentsu.

Over the years, including the nine that she was First Lady, Akie proved to be an unconventional Japanese wife and certainly an unconventional political wife.

According to CNN, “Akie is best known in Japan for her outspoken and progressive views.

“Unlike her predecessors, she refused to stay in the shadow of her husband. Instead, the socialite carved out a public role for herself in a style akin to American first ladies.”

When word reached her on Friday, July 8, of the fatal attack on her husband, she took an hour-long journey by train to be beside her husband at the Nara hospital. Abe failed to survive the attack suffering from massive blood loss from wounds in his left arm, collar bone and other parts of his body.

The next day, Akie was bringing her husband’s body back to Tokyo by car. Two days later she mourned alongside relatives and guests at a private wake.

In life, Akie “refused to stay in the shadow of her husband.” She spoke her mind and took different positions on issues often enough to be referred to by Japanese media as Abe’s “domestic opposition” But this time, all throughout the funeral services and wake for her husband, she remained, per CNN, outwardly composed and quiet when appearing in public. She was thrust into public view two years after she faded from the same public view when her husband resigned in 2020. Japan now looks at her again, this time, as it mourns its fallen former leader.

Gan and Jozuka report that Tobias Harris, a senior fellow for Asia at the Center for American Progress, states that Akie’s support for progressive causes, freewheeling ways, and cheerful confidence endeared her to the Japanese public.

She took positions at variance with her husband’s policies, from Abe’s push for nuclear power, to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, to meeting with protesters against the expansion of a US Marine Corps base in Okinawa, which Shinzo Abe supported.

In explaining to Bloomberg in 2016 her outspoken stance on issues, Akie was quoted to have said, “I want to pick up and pass on the views that don’t get through to my husband or his circle.”

CNN reports that she has been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights, joining a gay pride parade in Tokyo in 2014. She also supports the use of medical marijuana, having posed for photos in a sprawling cannabis field in 2016.

Despite their opposing views on a number of issues, the couple had a loving relationship as reported by Gan and Jozuka: Akie and Abe did not shy from letting the public know about their genuine affection for each other. The couple did not hesitate to hold hands when disembarking from a plane during official trips — a public display of attention rarely seen in Japanese political circles. On their 30th wedding anniversary, Akie posted a wedding picture of them dressed in kimonos. On their 32nd anniversary — the last they would have together — they celebrated with cherry cream cake and wine.

Perhaps a lot of Akie’s pleasing personality and cheerful confidence can be traced simply to good and unpretentious breeding. A daughter of a confectionery magnate, Akie grew up in a wealthy and privileged family in Tokyo. She was educated at a private Catholic school and a women-only vocational school and speaks fluent English.

Abe and Akie had no children. The couple sought fertility treatment but to no avail. The man is gone leaving behind a widow who is a role model — and probably a successor.

 

Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.