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How do I describe Akie? Let me count the ways

Published on Apr 28, 2014 7:59 PM
 

She may not be as dominant on the global stage as US First Lady Michelle Obama or Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan but equally mesmerising in her own way is Ms Akie Matsuzaki, the wife of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. She most recently made the headlines on Sunday when she joined Tokyo's annual gay parade, gamely standing on a float with a drag queen. Mrs Abe later wrote in her Facebook page: "I want to help build a society where anyone can conduct happy, enriched lives without facing discrimination.  

"I had the pleasure of spending a fun time filled with smiles. Thank you."

Mrs Abe's liberal inclinations, a stark contrast from her conservative husband, are well-known. Unlike other Japanese political wives, she is fearless in speaking her mind and embracing passions, often resonating with modern Japan - so much so that she is reportedly more popular than her spouse and one reason why his approval ratings remain decent.

How else would we describe her?

Strong political views tempered with compassion

In a speech, Mrs Abe once proclaimed herself to be "the opposition in the household". The 51-year-old has no qualms announcing to the world that she shares opposing political views from PM Abe.

She has been fierce in her disapproval of nuclear energy, even taking and uploading onto Facebook a photograph of a carcass of a cow abandoned in the evacuation zone. "I don't know well enough about nuclear safety and whether the radiation levels in Fukushima are dangerous. But what's very clear is once we have an accident, damage is huge. We only need to see that a lot of people are still very scared of the harm of radiation. There are so many places where people can't live anymore. There are a lot of people whose businesses are still hurt.... We still have a lot of mothers who are worried about the safety of their children," she once told The Wall Street Journal.

In the same interview, she stated that she was not in favour of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as "I don't want agriculture to be treated like industrial products".

The First Lady also voiced her opposition against the recent consumption tax hike, the first since 1997. The government pushed it through anyway.

Mad about the Korean Wave

One of the traits that endear Mrs Abe to her fans is her love for Korean television dramas - just like many other Japanese women. PM Abe has said several times that his wife is a huge fan of Bae Yong-joon and Park Yong-ha, the stars of Winter Sonata, the series that is credited to have set the Korean Wave rolling.

Mrs Abe reportedly once requested her husband to book into the same hotel where Bae was staying at, during one of the actor's visits to Tokyo, just so she could catch a glimpse of him in person.

Asked by CNN about her fascination with Korean pop culture, she said, "I think Korean dramas and movies are straightforward, which are reminiscent of Japanese dramas and movies some time ago.

"And I sense, this is perhaps my own feeling, that Korean male stars seem to be more manly than Japanese men."

Fond of alcohol

She enjoys her sake and wine but she is by no means an alcoholic. In an interview with the Financial Times during her husband's first run as PM, she disclosed: "When we moved to Yamaguchi, I didn't have relations or friends, so alcohol played a big role in getting me closer to supporters by relaxing the atmosphere. I find alcohol to be an effective tool."

Affectionate

She is not afraid to holds hands with her husband in public. While this may not seem like a big deal, in traditional Japanese political culture, this is tantamount to overt public displays of affection in Singapore, hence the media attention the gesture drew. That was back in 2007. And her reason for doing so? Mrs Abe explained to CNN that she saw Mr Bill Clinton hold his wife's hand during his inauguration and thought it was "pretty cool".

Since then, the First Couple has been seen holding hands on other occasions.

Frank

The inability to have children is a vulnerable spot among even the most ordinary people. Imagine what the pressure to bear children must be like for a woman whose husband is a third-generation politician, who once pledged to encourage Japanese to have more children.

Yet, instead of shying away from the issue, Mrs Abe revealed to Japanese monthly magazine Bungei Shunju, openly and with equanimity, how she went for fertility treatment to ultimately, accepting her childlessness. She also said that she considered adoption - a rarity in Japan except for within extended families - but admitted that "I wasn't able to go through with it mentally and I didn't have the confidence to raise a child, so it didn't become a reality".

Socialite

Born into a wealthy family connected with Morinaga & Co., one of Japan's leading confectioneries, where her father was once its president, Mrs Abe is a graduate of Tokyo's University of the Sacred Heart. After university, she did a stint at Dentsu, Japan's top advertising firm at the time, before marrying Mr Abe in 1987. She was also a FM radio DJ for a short while in the late 1990s, in her husband's hometown of Shimonoseki. She went by the name Akky, and was apparently popular.

Entrepreneur-cum-farmer

Uzu is a tiny izakaya pub in the back streets of a Tokyo commercial neighbourhood. It serves organic rice lovingly planted, weeded and harvested by the pub's owner. The owner, when not running the outlet, carries out official duties as the wife of Japan's prime minister.

The pub opened in October 2012, shortly before Mr Abe was re-elected into power.

In Mrs Abe's book, I Want To Deliver Good-Tasting Things From Japan, she wrote that she had promised her husband to close the shop if it didn't make a profit within the first year. It did - but barely, she candidly told The Wall Street Journal.

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