IN MEMORY OF SHINZO ABE (PART II)
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was rich in emotions. He was genuinely infuriated when he got angry.
I am sure many of us still remember Abe angrily responding to groundless attacks by opposition members during Diet deliberations, including when his wife Akie was slandered in 2018 in connection with a discount government land sale to a private school in Osaka. During the conversations we had at the height of the much-publicized “Moritomo/Kakei” school scandals, Abe repeatedly used words like “absolutely disrespectful” and “extremely rude” as he expressed his frustration.
Despite his deep anger, which was perfectly understandable, Abe didn’t say anything beyond that each time we spoke. Even when he was with his close friends and happened to criticize someone absent, I never once heard him use abusive language. Abe was a gentleman.
In the political jockeying among politicians at Nagata-cho, Abe was double-crossed more than a few times. Among the politicians who have tearfully shown their grief and anger at Abe’s assassination, there are some who had betrayed him but still now occupy cozy positions in the political world. Abe once talked to me in detail about these politicians.
Abe told me who they were, what facial expressions they wore when they came to ask him a favor, and what manner of speech they resorted to. He said each of these politicians asked to be close to him and spoke in whispers after they asked him to clear his room of his staff for maximum privacy. I could see his anger as spoke to me, but Abe refrained from using abusive words, his emotions well restrained. Put simply, Abe was a discreet person.
But I think Abe is angry from the bottom of his heart now. More than ten days after his assassination, increasingly more information has become available about the assailant, who posted on social media that, while he had long-held hatred against the Unification Church, he held no grudges against the former prime minister. Why, then, did he murder Abe? Why, why? My own anger will never abate.
Abe must be saying to himself, “How could the assassin do such a thing to me!?” Even under such circumstances, however, he would not resort to abusive language. He simply wasn’t that type of person. Since childhood, he must have learned from his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, a postwar prime minister, that a politician must know when and how to control his anger. Abe must have studied how his grandfather put up with his life at Sugamo Prison, where he was held as a “suspected war criminal” following Japan’s defeat in the Greater East Asian War; he must have also learned from how Kishi as prime minister, addressed the riots against the revision of the security treaty in the early 1960s.
I am sure the assassin can hardly imagine it, but Abe as prime minister was sincerely wishing for the happiness of all Japanese. As social systems and individual lifestyles diversify with the values of the world undergoing a sea change, Abe devoted himself to figuring out what type of society and state Japan should create in the future. While being fully aware of the importance of embracing a diverse way of living, Abe was of the opinion that Japanese should strive to create a mature and stable state with its social foundation based on the lifestyle of a majority of the people and their values.
We would often exchange ideas and opinions on such topics as LGBT and family matters such as single mothers and single or joint custody. Against such a backdrop, Abe said to me on Monday, May 16:
“Wouldn’t you like to read this book? It explains how families have evolved, and how the relationship between the state and families has been formed.”
Abe showed an old copy of a Japanese translation of Friedrich Engels’ 1884 classic “The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State.” Abe told me:
“A friend happened to recommend it to me and I bought this copy second-hand. I’ve just started reading it, and find it easy to understand, as somebody has underlined pertinent points here and there throughout the book.”
He smiled somewhat bashfully. It was translated in 1965 by Shiro Tohara, who also commented on its background and significance. Tohara explains that the book in fact is not entirely of Engels’ own but also represents the opinions of Karl Marx, whose close collaborator Engels was. Looking back over human history, the author explains that families were not created first before tribes; that the tribe was the primitive and spontaneous form of human society; and that families centering on patriarchy came into being as private property was formed, with the maternal clan system gradually disintegrating. This is how I interpreted the book’s outline.
“I think Prince Charles Was Lonesome”
Very sadly, I failed to have the chance to discuss the book further with Abe, and it is impossible now to know what he thought of it and what new light he would have shed on the ongoing discussions about how Japanese families should function. One thing I can say about Abe for sure is that he was very fond of books and well-read.
But he was far from a “book worm.” He liked talking jovially about movies and dramas much more than music, although he liked playing the piano. One day, he told said of the blue:
“You should watch this new drama about the British Royal Family on Netflix. The title is ‘The Crown.’”
His words prompted me to start watching dramas and movies on Netflix. “The Crown” is said to have been produced by Sony Pictures at the whopping cost of more than ￥10 billion (US$72.5 million), and has enjoyed world-wide fame.
When I saw Abe again some time later, he again asked me:
“Have you watched ‘The Crown’ yet?”
“Yes, I have,” I said, “but I wonder if a personal story can be revealed that openly around the world. I am a bit concerned for the British Royal Family.”
“I guess you are right,” Abe responded, “but I marvel at the British people for their resolve to depict the Royal Family that factually. How much have you watched?”
Abe was both curious and sometimes impetuous. “The Crown,” watched by tens of millions of people across the globe, has been a long-lived hit released after being produced over many years. The story of the Royal Palace is based on actual incidents, its portrayal of the duties performed by members of the family from Queen Elizabeth down said to be done nearly perfectly.
The drama makes a strong impression on the viewer. The husband of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Phillip, born in Greece in 1921 and descended from Queen Victoria, had four sisters in Germany, each of whom had close connections with the Third Reich through marriage. Abe told me:
“In 1930, when he was 9, Prince Phillip was sent to a boarding school in Scotland. He later had to grapple with his family’s links to the Nazis through his sisters, a dark family history that would not be forgiven by the rest of Europe.
At school, Phillip was bullied. He managed to put up with his hardships, but was hurt deeply physically and mentally. After he married Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and Prince Charles was born, however, Phillip sent his son to the same boarding school in Scotland, eagerly wanting him to become a strong man by overcoming the same hardships he experienced in his own teens. But the drama vividly portrays Charles’ failure to keep up with his classmates.
When we met another day, we again talked about “The Crown.” Abe said:
“Have you watched the episode on Diana? I must say Charles had only himself to blame.”
He also remarked:
“But when he was little, his parents apparently were too busy to spend much time with him. I think Charles was a lonesome prince. He may have wanted a mature woman who would accept him.”
It was not his habit to fix the blame on one party alone, as he always tried to be fair in his judgment. With a look of pleasure, Abe then shared a little anecdote with me concerning Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “When I met with Johnson last time, I asked him if what is depicted in ‘The Crown’ was legitimate.”
His face beaming, he added:
“Johnson thought awhile and then replied that, as prime minister of Great Britain, he couldn’t answer my question. However, he said he would make sure to inform Her Majesty the Queen that the prime minister of Japan was watching ‘The Crown.’”
Family of Crown Prince Akishino
Obviously, Abe and Johnson enjoyed a relationship that enabled them to have a heart-to-heart talk of this nature. I suspect Abe must have been comparing the situation surrounding the British Royal Family with its Japanese counterpart, the Imperial Household, as he watched the drama. “The Crown” tirelessly reveals scandals involving members of the Royal Family and I believe the two leaders, entrusted with protecting the royal and imperial traditions of their nations, must have shared common concerns.
In fact, Abe often expressed his grave dissatisfaction with the Japanese media endlessly reporting critically on matters concerning the Akishino family of Crown Prince Fumihito, the father of Prince Hisahito. (Fumihito is the younger brother of Emperor Naruhito.) The elder daughter of the Akishinos made headlines earlier this year by abandoning her imperial status to marry a commoner.
“Denigrating the Akishino family will unavoidably lead to denigrating the entire Imperial Household,” Abe asserted. “Also, denigrating the dignity of the Imperial Household, I believe, is synonymous with denigrating the dignity of our nation.”
Abe more than anybody else was particularly concerned that heaping excessive abuse on the Akishino family would impair the traditional ties between the Imperial Household and the people of Japan, which he feared would inevitably weaken Japan’s national power itself.
In the fall of 2011, Abe recommended that I read Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet by James Mann (Penguin Books; September 2004). I read it in Japanese translation.
Vulcan is the name of the god of fire and forging in Roman mythology. Mann names five men and a woman as the Vulcans who formed the core of the Bush administration (2001-2009)—Richard Armitage, Dick Cheney, Collin Powel, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz.
These “Vulcans,” firmly convinced that the US was the strongest nation in the world, were determined to spread across the world America’s democratic values and ideals. They were absolutely committed to this goal as the only way for America to forge ahead. Parting from the Clinton administration’s policies, which gave heavy weight to economic policies, the US ushered in an age of military power by bolstering its already formidable armed forces. They were convinced that this course met America’s national interests and was at the same time good for the whole world. How did they reach that conclusion? Mann provided clues to this major question in American studies by vividly depicting the words and deeds of the six “Vulcans.”
“Actually, this book was recommended to me by an American friend,” Abe told me. “It was very interesting, and I found myself agreeing with much of what it had to say.” I also found the book enlightening. Coincidentally, the so-called liberal forces under Japan’s then Democratic administration (2009-11) raised many questions about the book.
The Bush administration’s policy to rule the Middle East by force ended in failure, but how should we deal with the world that has emerged in its wake? Japan, which lacks a basic line of geopolitical thinking, unfortunately is incapable of providing the answer.
And now we are faced with an imminent threat from China, which is going all out to supersede the US as the world’s leading power. Recognizing the Chinese threat as one of historic consequences, Abe declared that an attack on Taiwan would be synonymous with an attack on Japan. The destinies of Taiwan and Japan closely overlap with each other as the danger of a Chinese attack looms.
It is crucial for all of us in Japan to keenly understand this imminent threat Abe felt, and brace ourselves for what is coming. The administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida must have an unflinching resolve to implement a revision of our constitution at an early date. That is how Abe’s legacy can best be honored.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,009 in the July 28, 2022 issue of The Weekly Shincho)