On December 26, 2013, exactly one year after the start of his second term as Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe meditated at the Yasukuni Shinto shrine in Tokyo, a symbolic place hated by China and South Korea because it glorified the Japanese militarism that the two countries suffered in the first half of the 20th century.
Since 2006, successive Japanese heads of government had carefully avoided Yasukuni. Nationalist wishing to revise the pacifist Japanese Constitution, Mr. Abe had however assured that his gesture was intended to send a message of peace.
But instead he provoked a resounding diplomatic scandal, drawing the wrath of China and South Korea and even remonstrances from the United States, Japan’s greatest ally.
Unlike parliamentarians from his Liberal Democratic Party (PLD) and sometimes members of his government, Mr. Abe avoided going to Yasukuni for the rest of his term, contenting himself with sending ritual offerings there.
Hiroshima et Pearl Harbor
On May 27, 2016, Shinzo Abe welcomes Barack Obama to Hiroshima, an unprecedented visit by an American president in office to the first city to be martyred by the atomic bomb.
This historic visit, where Mr. Obama notably hugged a survivor of Hiroshima and called for building a world without atomic weapons, was a diplomatic success of which Mr. Abe took great pride.
At the end of 2016, still with Barack Obama and in the same spirit of reconciliation, Mr. Abe went to Pearl Harbor (Hawaii), the site of the Japanese attack on the United States on December 7, 1941 which had precipitated the entry Americans in World War II.
Golf with Trump
On November 17, 2016, nine days after Donald Trump won the US presidential election, Shinzo Abe rushed to New York to meet him, becoming the first foreign leader to be received by the president-elect but not yet invested.
Shinzo Abe’s strategy of camaraderie with the unpredictable Republican billionaire to secure the alliance between Japan and the United States has generally paid off.
Despite recurring subjects of anger, such as the chronic trade deficit of the United States vis-à-vis Japan, the two heads of state quickly forged friendly ties, regularly embellishing their meetings with golf games, a common passion.
Super Mario in Rio
On August 21, 2016 at the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics, Shinzo Abe, as the representative of the host country of the next Summer Olympics, appeared disguised as Mario, the mustachioed plumber star of the Japanese video game giant Nintendo.
The surprise works wonders. “I wanted to show the world the influence of Japan with the help of a Japanese character,” Mr. Abe later explained. “I wasn’t sure how the audience would react but I got so much applause.”
Alas, the Tokyo-2020 Games, which Mr. Abe imagined as the apotheosis of his mandate, were finally held in 2021 and almost behind closed doors because of the pandemic, almost a year after his departure from power.
Banzai for the Emperor
On October 22, 2019, the new Emperor of Japan Naruhito solemnly proclaimed his enthronement, during a sumptuous ceremony marked by immemorial rites at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
As Prime Minister of Japan at that time, it was therefore up to Mr. Abe to take on an almost once-in-a-generation role: congratulating the new emperor on behalf of the entire nation.
After his speech, Shinzo Abe shouted “Banzai!” three times. raising his arms to the sky: a famous Japanese exclamation literally meaning “10,000 years” to wish long life to the new sovereign.