A year ago, we already noted a strange attribute that accompanies the Japanese Prime Minister’s political career. There’s little doubt that Shinzo Abe is among the most successful Japanese politicians of recent decades and, undoubtedly, he’s the most charismatic among the Japanese political elites, yet he’s been fatally unlucky with female colleagues who often place him in all sorts of peculiar positions. This was the matter in his first term in office, and it remains so still. Yet, this time around a new scandal that is flaring up in Japan wasn’t provoked by a colleague, instead it was triggered by the woman closest to the sitting Prime Minister – his wife, Akie Abe.
The scandal erupted last month, when Japanese media sources started noticing that a strip of land in Osaka was sold to a private buyer for a price six to seven times lower that one would normally expect, with the buyer later established as Moritomo Gakuen, a company that provides private primary education.
This information first appeared on February 10, when Japan’s Prime Minister was on an official trip to the US, along with his wife. Therefore, the largest Japanese media sources apparently decided they would not cast a shadow upon the Japanese head of state during such an important event.
But as soon as Abe’s plane took off in the US to head back to Japan, all leading Japanese newspapers began publicly discussing the Osaka deal. Is should be noted that this local case of corruption landed on the first pages of national media sources due to a number of factors. First, Akie Abe was expected to become the “honorary director” of the primary school that was to be built on this strip of land in question. A number of questions arose in the media after this fact was revealed such as: was she aware of the questionable deal? And if she was, was the Prime Minister told any details about this matter?
The second no less significant circumstance is an entirely political matter. In general, Moritomo Gakuen is considered to represent the extreme right wing of the political spectrum of Japan, since its initial education program is based on the pre-WWII educational system of Japan.
It should be recalled that after the end of World War II a new “anti-militaristic and anti-nationalist” education law was adopted, as a private entity, Moritomo Gakuen is ignoring it. For instance, Japan’s media sources have been reporting that the private school was sending out booklets to the parents of its kindergartens that contained insulting nicknames for Chinese and Koreans.
The case took a serious turn once opposition paties started to study all aspects of the growing scandal. The most popular word among journalists when describing the actions of Abe’s foes was “toasting”, that is, the gradual introduction of new facts to the scandal in order to keep it going.
According to one of the deputies, the Prime Minister himself was somehow involved in the construction of the future school, but Abe replied that he has never heard anything about the school before the scandal broke out. At parliamentary hearings, he stated that he was ready to resign if the allegations made against him and his wife were to be confirmed.
Meanwhile, the scandal is miles away from fading out, as there’s new contradictory details being brought to the public’s attention. Earlier, Moritomo Gakuen management claimed that it was not engaged in any sorts of “trading” with representatives of local authorities and that they paid what they demanded them to pay. However, in early March, it was announced that a member of the upper house of parliament from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the head of Moritomo Gakuen brought this topic up at least 15 times during the period of 2013-2016.
In general, everything looks rather grim for the sitting Prime Minister, since opposition forces are definitely planning to exploit every little detail of this matter. Meanwhile, the price of this scandal has suddenly become extremely high. Abe remains one of the most influential politicians of modern Japan, and he had intentions of electoral triumphs in 2018, by getting reelected as the leader of the ruling party in order to bring it to victory in upcoming parliamentary elections . A month ago, this goal seemed perfectly attainable for Abe.
However, the ruling party is closing ranks around Abe, while showing no trace of panic. On March 5, Liberal Democratic Party leaders decided to allow Abe to furn for president of the party for the third time in September 2018.
In addition, it doesn’t seem likely that such a scandal could be the end of Abe’s political career. There can be no doubt that his faithful spouse will attempt to take all the blame for this scandal, since she was the reason that the name Abe was even mentioned in this local case.
This will contribute to the image of Akie Abe as an active political figure who has repeatedly shown her skills in public relations. She adheres to much more right-wing views than her powerful spouse, presenting a “home opposition” to him. So a regular reader will buy a narrative about the absolute ignorance of the Prime Minister in this case, with the case being transformed into a private affair between his wife and Moritomo Gakuen management.
And why not? After all, we’re living in the era of gender equality.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”