“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.