Why The Long Face Abe-san?

Shinzo AbeIt has been almost two weeks since Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suddenly resigned from office. A press conference was called suddenly, and everyone left the room more confused than when they went in. Abe was silent for over a week, and has only just come out earlier this week, saying effectively that his timing to step down was rubbish, and he for the first time apologised deeply to the nation. In the week after he quit, Abe admitted to hospital for extreme stress and fatigue. But what were the real reasons for his sudden and irresponsible departure, and what happened over his last couple of weeks?

Abe was known is Japanese political circles to be a good guy, with good intentions and a pure heart, the type who will always look after his friends. Coming from a well-known political family, hopes for Abe, the youngest PM for over 60 years, were high when he started the job just over a year ago. However in swift fashion his popularity sunk to (almost) Bush-esque lows, at just 29% the day before he resigned, and he was facing calls from his peers of being immature and incapable of leading the country. Unfortunately it is both Abe’s family history, and his misdemeanours from the past which appear to have come back to haunt him and contributed to his demise.

The first scandal to come to light were reports of a 20 year long relationship the married Abe had with a women in Fukuoka. Abe’s wife read scathing reports about his unfaithfulness, and Abe’s child to this woman through the media, which deepened the rift between a marriage already gone cold. Similarly, this news broke after one of Abe’s most trusted aides drank too much and was showing off to a hostess in a Ginza club, giving away all of Abe’s personal secrets. Even before this however, the Abe family marriage was already in difficult times, and husband and wife would go through long periods of complete silence, having to put in special effort to hold hands for the cameras when getting off the Prime Ministerial jet.

It is also now being reported that Abe was facing severe issues with the Japanese tax office over tax evasion. This is a complicated and dark tale around the whereabouts of assets which Abe inherited from father Shintaro Abe totalling over $100 million in cash and long-term bonds. This is wrapped into a complicated historical story where in the late 1950’s, large pools of money were grouped for political purposes exploiting loopholes around declaration, leading to confusion as to exactly where the funds and the responsibility for them now lies. Shintaro Abe’s long-term friend and closest political ally Shin Kanemaru, known at the time as “the Don of Japanese politics”, was arrested in 1993 for not declaring a large number of long-term bonds he held. The police subsequently raided his house, and found $10s of millions of further assets, including blocks of pure gold believed to have been a gift from Kim Il-Sung, the last dictator of North Korea. Kanemaru stated that these funds were to create a new political party, no doubt with his mate Shintaro Abe. The rumour-mill says that PM Abe had been sent a list of specific questions regarding these funds, and that if he did not answer them before 2pm on September 12, he would face the consequences. Abe resigned at that time.

A guard looks at the vacant chamber of the lower house of the National Diet in Tokyo, 12 September 2007A week before he resigned, Abe attended the APEC conference in Sydney. According to his aides, Abe was also having various health issues and had difficulties on the trip. Around this time, Abe’s mother Yoko Kishi, who was the daughter of Nobusuke Kishi, PM of Japan from 1957 to 1960, was also admitted into hospital. This increased Abe’s despair, and he was hardly eating by this stage. After returning to Japan, he was taking various medicines, and despite taking sleeping pills, was not able to sleep at all. He would be seen pacing around the PM’s residence at all hours of the night. In the ensuing session in the Diet on the Anti-Terrorism bill, he was said to look “like a dead fish”, and to his opponents long speeches, he would only reply lifelessly for around 15 seconds before sitting down again. His remaining supporters were by this time very worried, and said that he looked even worse than after he took the recent beating from DPJ. The leader of the DPJ Ozawa commented, “I have been in the political world for almost 40 years, and I’ve never seen a politician who has resigned like this.”

His personal, health, and possible tax problems were surely hurting him, his counterparts in the Diet, such as Aso and Mori, were gathering troops and support away from the “Abe-Family”, which Aso himself had helped to create near the beginning of Abe’s reign. Unfortunately by this stage, Abe’s aides were extremely concerned as he just didn’t seem to care about his increasing irrelevance. Not only after he announced his surprise resignation.

What really happened with Abe? Did he really just suffer from 機能性胃腸症、or was it in fact 気のせい胃腸症? And is Japan better off with Fukuda in charge? (There is a great overview on Fukuda’s positions courtesy of Japan Inc here.)

8 thoughts on “Why The Long Face Abe-san?”

  1. So he gave in to blackmail before he could get busted?? Sounds like he didn’t have enough bulldogs to beat down the dirt-mongers and ran out of fall guys as they’d knocked themselves off already.

    There is an orchestrated attack on this administration, some changes were going too deep for the old guard. Clinton used a cigar in and did dodgy deals the whole time and he still survived! Take a lesson from the Yanks boys!

  2. The downfall of Abe is not good news for the Hawks.
    If Japan is to regain the Northern Territories and Takeshima, it will need a real military to do so. I doubt it will ever happen with the present defense-only military policy and Article 9. It seems so ironic that after 50 years in power, with only the one short interlude, the right wing LDP is still stuck with left wing policies. However, I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

  3. Azuma, that’s got to be one of the weirdest comments ever. So are you suggesting that Japan should take an agressive stance and possibly take back what are mostly uninhabitable rocks by force or intimidation? I doubt that would work with Korea, and certain Russia would just laugh at the prospect (their military is still quite formidable). These islands are pet projects of nationalists, but they aren’t that valuable in real terms. If Japanese nationalists think that Japan should build up it’s military and go to war over some rocks, I hope that events continue to conspire against them. These disputes should be settled through international arbitration or diplomacy.

    I think Abe made a few mistakes, the one I’ve heard of was stocking his cabinet with friends (and apparently untrustworthy ones, considering all the scandals). That said, I think he’s just not hard enough/cynical enough to hold on to that position, and events conspired against him as well. It seems that he had a sort of nervous breakdown – I think if you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I can forgive you for resigning suddenly.

  4. Adamatari, for me, its not about the rocks. It’s about the seafood… er sealife in the water around the rocks.
    mmmmm. kaniiii. And I wonder why I have put on nearly 20kg in the last 10 years…

    Back to Abe though, right from the word go, I thought he was weak and directionless. Most of his popularity was through the whole kidnapping thing which hasn’t really been resolved and has probably gone backwards since he gained power. He really seemed clueless trying to adopt a line that respected Koizumi’s reforms (which were pretty mangled by the time they were implemented anyway) while appeasing the old guard.
    Personally I hope the DPJ can win a couple more elections on the trot to make the LDP realize its free ride is over and hopefully make politics a little more meaningful in Japan.

  5. Equally as interesting is the Prime minister-hopeful Aso’s history, especially about his family’s forced labour factories and his denial of this, even when Australian veterans who worked at that factory were in Japan at the time of his denials!

  6. Ahhh yes!!!! Yamashita’s Gold rearing it’s ugly head again. The 100’s of millions of dollars backed by gold bullion that fueled the “amazing” and “surprising” rapid recovery of the Japanese economy in the 1950’s. Meanwhile when confronted by the evidence of Allied POWs being used in slave labor factories during WWII, Japan Inc hides behind the Peace accords in San Fran, CA. I sometimes think that our Japan friends make it too easy for us to counter their claims that they are a peaceful, and passive nation. Anytime they criticize a western country’s aggressive behavior, there is always an unresolved issue from WWII that one can hang over their heads.

  7. doesn’t surprize me about the relationship with his wife. I remember seeing an interview with her on a wide-show about the day before he resigned. She was so scathing of him and criticizing everything about the way he lead his life. Normally, you don’t allow the first lady to say stuff like that.

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