Japan’s First Lady Shaking Up The Country’s Politics

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe wave as Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko depart for Vietnam from the Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe wave as Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko depart for Vietnam from the Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. Shizuo Kambayashi / AP Photo
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe wave as Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko depart for Vietnam from the Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe wave as Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko depart for Vietnam from the Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. Shizuo Kambayashi / AP Photo

Japan’s First Lady Shaking Up The Country’s Politics

First ladies have never played a prominent role in Japan. But under Akie Abe, things have changed.

The wife of Japan’s longest-serving prime minister grabbed headlines by embracing socially liberal views like LGBT rights and opposition to nuclear power, softening Shinzo Abe’s image. However, Akie Abe is now in the center of a political scandal that involves possible corruption over a land deal and ties to a ultra-nationalist school.

For critics of Shinzo Abe’s ‘womenomics,’ designed to pull more women into the Japanese workforce, Akie Abe’s role in this scandal exposes the underlying suspicion that the Abes harbor far right tendencies, providing leverage for the Japanese opposition party and further damaging his reputation domestically and internationally.

We discuss Akie Abe’s role, the scandal as well as the history of Japan’s first ladies with Linda Hasunuma, an assistant professor of government at Franklin and Marshall College.