Akie Abe not afraid to speak her mind

TOKYO —

“Women who can’t speak their minds grow depressed,” observed a woman who sympathizes with, but obviously doesn’t share, the problem. Her name is Akie Abe. Her nickname is “the domestic opposition party.” Her voice resounds more powerfully lately than those of the political opposition parties.

Her husband, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, wants Japan’s idled nuclear power plants restarted. Akie does not. Abe’s government pushed through a consumption tax hike – over Akie’s vocal opposition. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party plans a giant sea wall to protect the Tohoku coast from tsunami like the one that devastated it in March 2011. Bad idea, declared Akie after meeting with local citizens critical of the structure.

Japan has never had a First Lady like this. Whoever even knew who the First Lady was? What magazine ever thought of profiling one, as Shukan Shincho (Dec 26) profiles “Akki”?

It’s all grimly distasteful to at least one political daughter, wife and mother – Yoko Abe, said to be watching her daughter-in-law’s growing public presence with strong, if so far silent, disapproval. Yoko, 85, is the daughter of former Prime Minister (1957-1960) Nobusuke Kishi. Her silence does not arise from timidity (she’s not called “the godmother” for nothing). Her first toughening experience came after World War Two, when Kishi spent three years in Sugamo Prison as an unindicted Class A war criminal. Her husband, Shintaro Abe, was foreign minister from 1982 to 1986. Her son Shinzo won his first Diet seat in 1993. Yoko knows the ropes, knows what a political wife can, should and (perhaps especially) should not do.

Akie probably knows too. But she has her own ideas.

She was born in 1962. Her father was president of the Morinaga chocolate firm. A socialite and a former radio disc jockey, she married Abe in 1987. This is her second stint as First Lady. During Abe’s first prime ministership in 2006-7, Akie met her American counterpart, Laura Bush, and found in her much to admire. Laura Bush was an active anti-AIDS campaigner. She spoke out against human rights violations in Myanmar. When her husband, President George Bush, committed the verbal gaffes for which he was famous, she told him, often in front of reporters, to keep quiet.

Here was a role model Akie could warm to. She made up her mind that Japan’s long tradition of relegating women to the shadows, particularly the wives of prominent men – let alone the prime minister – would not keep her quiet when she had something to say.

She has a lot to say – and a lot to do too. When her husband resigned in disgrace in 2007, his political career seemed over and Akie cast about for a new role. She would open an izakaya pub, she decided. She laid out her plans. It would be called Uzu and serve only organic food. Yoko, reportedly, was aghast.

The pub got off the ground in the fall of 2012, just as Abe was preparing a rousing comeback. Akie must fall in line. Yoko surely would have. But Akie didn’t, and the pub, in Tokyo’s Kanda district, duly opened. Shukan Shincho says Yoko imposed one condition – that Akie not be active on the premises. She is not, though she dines there fairly regularly with friends.

How the prime minister feels about all this, Shukan Shincho does not say. While his second term was soaring on the wings of his much-touted Abenomics, nothing surfaced publicly. With his approval ratings sagging now under the weight of the unpopular secrecy law, there might be more pressure on Akie to keep a low profile. It wouldn’t do, the magazine hears from a political analyst, for a revitalized opposition to be able to fling at Abe that he can’t even control his own wife.

  • 14

    TrevorPeace1

    I love a woman with balls! And I have a feeling she should be prime minister. Or maybe she is, already? Gotta love it when a plan comes together.

  • 3

    Justin Lacy

    Very impressed with the outspoken women of the repressed kitchens of Japan, and she does have a point big wall in the sea, A more ecological and architectural approach would be more suited.

  • 1

    warispeace

    Her speaking out is just a strategy to win over more women for her husband. They may find it easier to support Abe believing this neoliberal, neo-nationalist hawk might take counsel from someone with a little more compassion.

  • 11

    Maria

    What on earth has Abe Yoko got to do with this article? If she has not said anything against Abe Akie (as this article suggests), then why on earth has the author brought up the topic of any supposed disapproval by A.Y. early in paragraph 4 ahead of an actual description of A.A.'s profile? This article is chock full of filler, guesswork and idle speculation against very few facts. A shame - the woman deserves better press.

  • 11

    cleo

    Yoko imposed one condition – that Akie not be active on the premises.

    What business is it of Yoko's what her dil does with her time and money?

    It wouldn’t do, the magazine hears from a political analyst, for a revitalized opposition to be able to fling at Abe that he can’t even control his own wife.

    More damaging I would have thought for the opposition (or anyone else) to be able to fling at Abe that he allows his mother to control his wife, or that he keeps his wife quiet with an iron fist.

  • -9

    555Book

    Oh good, the PM's wife, I read from WSJ that they do not have children, and is there a chance that maybe the PM is treating political goals as a substitution for children? Sometimes people to do things to make up for what they don't have, it is a good thing to treat political and national goals as something very dear, but there is always a chance that he might get too sentimental don't you think?

  • 0

    avigator

    Reminds me of Mu Lan who could speak her mind.

  • 3

    smithinjapan

    Yoko is quite a throwback, and sounds like an awful woman. Good on Akie for sticking to her guns and not simply sitting on the sidelines while her husband helps destroy the nation like Yoko's husband did.

  • -8

    555Book

    I don't mean to pry into other people's personal lives but I feel that having children can help people experience a more diverse form of love and kindred spirit and it is important for politicians. Japan's recent aggressive stance in international politics got many overseas audience like myself a bit concerned, we are trying to understand the government's point of view, motivation or problems from different angles.

  • 1

    Lowly

    I agree, poorly written article w/ the sudden unclear Yoko bits.

    Call me cynical, but I suspect the whole Aki Abe thing is if not being done on purpose w/ her cooperation, then it is being manipulated to control ppl. Nothing like an "opposition" that puts on a good show but really just ends up strengthening the party line! Friendly safe wife of the boss running about opposing this and that little policiy change creating a stir, and keeping eyes off of much more important structural problems. Give her a win once in awhile when it's no skin off anyone's back, and it will look like she is ganbatteiru and accomplishing something "little by little".

  • 1

    tmarie

    What couldn't been a great article is nothing but poorly written speculation. MIL sounds like a cow, hubby is clearly in idiot. Akie Abe seems to be a beckon of light this government and country needs. A shame that she was thrown under the bus by such a poor article.

  • 5

    Serrano

    "her nickname is "the domestic opposition party"

    You go, girl! I agree with Akie's views on nuclear power and the consumption tax hike.

  • 3

    zichi

    Her husband, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, wants Japan’s idled nuclear power plants restarted. Akie does not.

    Well the NRA seems to agree with her too.

    The Nuclear Regulation Authority says no nukes will be restarted in the near future. The NRA has held 65 meetings to study the first nine restart applications submitted last year and decided none of the operators have “appropriately renewed their estimations of the scale of possible earthquakes”. The NRA’s Chair Shunichi Tanaka says he has no idea how long the screening process will take after this new finding.

  • -4

    Cos

    Whoever even knew who the First Lady was?

    Michiko-sama is the First Lady of Japan. The wife of a Japanese politician is nothing. So it's an article about some random J-housewife.

    Japan has never had a **** like this.

    There was a PM's wife that had met Tom Cruise in a former life... Funnier.

    the pub,.. that Akie not be active on the premises.

    My uncle bar owner says that's the first rule for such businesses.

    a chance that he might get too sentimental don't you think?

    No. Or you call a nervous breakdown being sentimental ? It seems Abe has been there the first time he was PM. As you can see, he's back anyway. Having a Mum like Yoko is the secret.

  • 0

    serendipitous

    Much better this time round!

  • 1

    tmtmsnb

    She is into Japanese food—pure and good food. I believe she has something to do with recent exposure about famous establishments faking foods. Way to go, Lady, self-cleansing paves the way for future expansion and development, covering up will do the opposite. By the way while you are at it why not suggest making “Nutrition Facts” label on food products compulsory. Japan is the only country allowing food industry to feed you something without telling you what they are, allowing consumers (mostly fellow Japanese) to eat them without knowing what they are eating. (What kind of fat, saturated? trans? palm? Recycled ? - - how many calories?)

  • 6

    Reckless

    Though she may be outspoken, based on Mr. Abe's recent actions, she is having little effect.

  • 2

    globalwatcher

    Strong men love strong women like her with balls.

    She reminds me Betty Ford of US who was very outspoken and often disagreed with her husband President Gerald Ford. They are smart and intelligent. They are not afraid to speak up as they are in full confidence. They believe life is passion. They are genuine.

    It is too bad it was not well written by Kuchikomi reporter. This article has suggested to me that bureaucrats are really in charge of J. Politics, not her husband Abe. They are a sore spot in J. politics.

  • 7

    FightingViking

    Akie for Prime Minister !

  • 2

    stuarto

    Get her in!

  • 1

    kaimycahl

    Seems like Akie launched her business around the same time her husband popularity grew Lol if she was a lady who spoke her mind she would promote more womens rights in Japan but just as the article said Akie knows what to say and what not to say it also implies she know what to do and what not to do or else she would end up in prison just like Yoko . In other words shut up be quiet you have a good life don't complain don't stir up the masses of other women just play your role remember you have a priviledge life not a typical salaryman housewife life..

  • -1

    Drdolittle2

    Most women..be it Japanese or non..be it Akie or anyone...usually speak their mind...but speaking their mind is one thing but do they make any sense is another...as far as i know and all the women I have met...most do speak their mind off most of the time, then it should be that most women should not be depressed at all but i don't see it that way with all the women i meet...cheers

  • 2

    kurisupisu

    Mrs Abe will soon find herself in prison for speaking her mind as that is soon to be a crime in Japan.

  • 1

    tmtmsnb

    Unless you are a Chinese, a North Korean, or a Fidel Castro, you should know that her husband (with one integrated her) is the very first non-predator Japanese ruler since daiohs (great kings, 4th century) followed by emperors (before WWII), lords, shoguns, daimyos---every bit a carbon copy of great China---all sufferers of Antisocial Personality Disorder.

    (Predator---using people as tools for achieving personal desires, ambitions; Non-predator---people’s welfare is the only purpose, with a prefrontal cortex so good it’s brimming with love, gentleness, sympathy, empathy, insight, foresight - - and other goodies.)

  • 0

    toshiko

    She was used to speak up in a media in Shimonoseki. So, she telsl what she want to tell. At least she did not make her husband house husband, Women before her generations studied abroad in USA with their family money tended to train their husbands as house husbands. She went the same presiageous girls college as Empress Michiko. Different time.

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