What fond mother isn’t convinced her son married beneath him, and her? It’s the stuff of comedy, stale and funny at the same time. It’s stale because it’s old, enduring because it’s true to life, and funny as long as it’s someone else’s problem. When it’s yours, it’s not funny. Ask Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
He’s not laughing, says Shukan Gendai (April 8). “My mother’s furious,” the magazine reports him confiding to an unnamed “close acquaintance.” “I don’t know what to do. Ever since this business started, my wife and I can hardly walk into the house.”
“This business,” of course, is the snowballing scandal whose core is Moritomo Gakuen, an Osaka-based purveyor of hyper-patriotic education at the nursery school level. Its projected development of a private elementary school whose honorary principal was to have been Abe’s wife Akie is in suspension. Suddenly this once obscure business concern found itself dominating the national news. Who enabled it to purchase government land so cheaply? How closely linked is it to the prime minister (the elementary school’s name was originally to have borne his name), to Akie (who allegedly donated 1 million yen to the enterprise in her husband’s name), and to other leading political figures as well, including Defense Minister Tomomi Inada?
And what was it teaching its 3- and 4-year-old charges? Children hardly old enough to know what they were saying raising fervid chants of “Go, Prime Minister Abe!” “China, South Korea, change your hearts, don’t teach lying history!” and so on struck mainstream opinion as eerie, if not positively threatening to elementary democratic values.
The house Mr and Mrs Abe find so painful to enter lately is their private residence in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward. It’s a three-story residence in a quiet Shibuya neighborhood. Abe and Akie occupy the second floor, Abe’s mother Yoko the third.
Tensions between Yoko and Akie are old news. Yoko is a political blueblood – prime minister’s daughter, foreign minister’s wife, prime minister’s mother. Akie is from the private sector – wealthy enough, daughter of the president of Morinaga, one of Japan’s largest confectionery companies, but, in Yoko’s eyes, flighty, conspicuously lacking in the gravitas she herself embodies so unflinchingly.
The Moritomo Gakuen affair, and Akie’s role in it, seem to confirm Yoko’s worst fears. There Akie was, in photographs too clear to brook denial, shedding tears of emotion as Moritomo Gakuen kids chorused, “Prime Minister Abe is the man who protects Japan!” The alleged million-yen donation Akie does deny, but the prime minister’s support ratings continue to dip regardless.
An unnamed “Liberal Democratic Party veteran Diet member” tells Shukan Gendai that Akie has spoken to friends of being “afraid of my mother-in-law’s scoldings,” to the point that “going home is depressing.” The prime minister, caught most uncomfortably between his wife and mother, seems to recognize his wife’s shortcomings. He is quoted as saying privately, “Akie doesn’t listen to people. Even with this (Moritomo Gakuen) business, she’s still out making public appearances. You’d think she’d learn a bit from experience.”
No sign of that so far, or of awareness that she is a key figure in a scandal that could paralyze her husband’s administration. Shukan Gendai concludes with a warning: At this rate, “it won’t be only Yoko who considers Akie unworthy of being the prime minister’s wife. It’ll be the nation as a whole.”© Japan Today