NEW YORK: Japan’s First Lady Akie Abe, taking on a rare public role overseas, told a US audience on Wednesday about her deep unhappiness after her husband’s first stint in power.
Akie Abe — who has softened the Japanese leader’s hawkish image through outspoken statements that have at times openly contradicted him — scheduled a series of speaking engagements during Prime Minister Abe’s visit to the United Nations, in what was billed as a first for a Japanese first lady on a foreign trip.
At a breakfast with businesspeople on Wednesday, she described how she went to the hospital in 2007 when Abe resigned as prime minister. Abe, whose party had lost an upper house election, later explained that he quit because of a longstanding bowel illness; the conservative leader returned to power in late 2012.
Abe said she was crying and did not want to face waiting media, but noticed well-wishers across the street who were smiling.
“It’s true that your smile makes other people happy, but at other times, when you’re really hurt, sometimes you don’t want to see people smiling,” she said.
Abe, a prolific user of social media, also explained how she faced down calls from politicians to delete hostile messages on her Facebook account.
“I never want to block those people. That is my rule,” she said.
Akie Abe has raised eyebrows — and endeared herself to parts of the Japanese public — by calling for the abolition of nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, a stance starkly at odds with her husband’s.
She has also actively campaigned for gay rights in Japan, where there is little political debate about allowing same-sex marriage.
Akie Abe’s speeches in the United States are mostly aimed at supporting her husband’s push to expand women’s role in the workforce. Japan lags behind most developed nations in female empowerment, with many women expected to marry early and quit their jobs.
She said that women had “a motherly instinct, kindness and creativity” that would help the Japanese economy if they worked in greater numbers.