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Who is Shinzo Abe’s wife Akie Abe?

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Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has died in hospital after being shot at a campaign speech, is survived by his wife Akie, a progressive socialite and former radio DJ who broke with convention by carving out a role for herself on the world stage.

The daughter of a wealthy businessman, Akie, 60, was a university graduate working at an advertising agency when her boss introduced her to a rising political aide named Shinzo Abe. 

The couple wed in 1987 and, despite undergoing fertility treatment early in their relationship, never welcomed children. 

During her husband’s two stints in office, the first from 2006 to 2007 and the second from 2012 to 2020, Mrs Abe broke the stereotype of a silent and supportive prime minister’s wife and adopted an American approach to the role of ‘first lady’, much to the reported disappointment of her mother-in-law.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has died in hospital after being shot at a campaign speech, is survived by his wife Akie, a progressive socialite and former radio DJ who broke with convention by carving out a role for herself on the world stage. Pictured, the couple on their wedding day in June 1987

The daughter of a wealthy businessman, Akie, 60, was a university graduate working at an advertising agency when her boss introduced her to a rising political aide named Shinzo Abe. Pictured, the couple on a visit to Belgium in a photo shared on Akie's Instagram account

The daughter of a wealthy businessman, Akie, 60, was a university graduate working at an advertising agency when her boss introduced her to a rising political aide named Shinzo Abe. Pictured, the couple on a visit to Belgium in a photo shared on Akie’s Instagram account

The couple wed in 1987 and, despite undergoing fertility treatment early in their relationship, never welcomed children. Pictured, celebrating their 32nd wedding anniversary

The couple wed in 1987 and, despite undergoing fertility treatment early in their relationship, never welcomed children. Pictured, celebrating their 32nd wedding anniversary

During her husband's two stints in office, Mrs Abe broke the stereotype of a silent and supportive prime minister's wife and adopted an American approach to the role of 'first lady'. Pictured, with Michelle Obama in 2015

During her husband’s two stints in office, Mrs Abe broke the stereotype of a silent and supportive prime minister’s wife and adopted an American approach to the role of ‘first lady’. Pictured, with Michelle Obama in 2015

‘Her ideas and those of other wives of prime ministers are different,’ a former associate once noted. ‘Rather than being a woman who is “useful” within a male-dominated society, she wants to interact… as an autonomous person.’

Local newspaper the Japan Times wrote in 2014: ‘Japan has never had a First Lady like this. Whoever even knew who the First Lady was?’

Mrs Abe’s support of progressive causes – she has marched in an LGBT rights parade and spoken out in favour of legalising marijuana for medical use – sometimes put her at odds with her more conservative husband, earning her the nickname ‘domestic opposition’ in the press.

She has also found herself under fire over a controversial land deal involving a Japanese school operator and prompted an international frenzy when she apparently ‘snubbed’ President Trump at a 2017 dinner.  

Yet despite some ideological differences, the Abes appeared to enjoy a happy and fulfilling marriage, with Mrs Abe frequently sharing photos of their romantic dinners and day trips on Instagram. 

Mr Abe – Japan’s longest-serving and former prime minister – died on Friday after being shot in the neck and heart as he made a campaign speech in the southern city of Nara.

Despite some ideological differences, the Abes appeared to enjoy a happy and fulfilling marriage, with Mrs Abe frequently sharing photos of their romantic dinners and day trips on Instagram. Pictured, Mr and Mrs Abe with George W. Bush and Laura Bush in April 2007

Despite some ideological differences, the Abes appeared to enjoy a happy and fulfilling marriage, with Mrs Abe frequently sharing photos of their romantic dinners and day trips on Instagram. Pictured, Mr and Mrs Abe with George W. Bush and Laura Bush in April 2007

Mrs Abe looked perfectly at ease on the world stage, joining Michelle Obama, Cherie Blair, Brigitte Macron, Ivanka Trump and Jill Biden for high profile engagements. Pictured, the Japanese couple meeting the Queen in May 2016

Mrs Abe looked perfectly at ease on the world stage, joining Michelle Obama, Cherie Blair, Brigitte Macron, Ivanka Trump and Jill Biden for high profile engagements. Pictured, the Japanese couple meeting the Queen in May 2016

Mrs Abe carried out several engagements with Ivanka Trump when she was First Lady. Pictured, the politicians' wives in November 2017

Mrs Abe carried out several engagements with Ivanka Trump when she was First Lady. Pictured, the politicians’ wives in November 2017

Mrs Abe (right) at the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France, in August 2019 with (pictured from left) Adele Malpass, wife of World Bank President David Malpass, Ivanka Trump, Jenny Morrison, wife of Australia's then Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Brigitte Macron, Malgorzata Tusk, wife of European Council President Donald Tusk

Mrs Abe (right) at the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France, in August 2019 with (pictured from left) Adele Malpass, wife of World Bank President David Malpass, Ivanka Trump, Jenny Morrison, wife of Australia’s then Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Brigitte Macron, Malgorzata Tusk, wife of European Council President Donald Tusk

The 67-year-old was gunned down at around 11.30am as he rallied support for his party’s local candidate ahead of elections on Sunday. 

His death was announced by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) six hours later, shortly after Akie arrived at his bedside.

The family has yet to release a statement on his death. 

Akie, whose father is the former president of Morinaga & Co., one of Japan’s largest confectionery companies, was educated at a Catholic private school in Tokyo before graduating from a vocational college. 

She is thought to have met Abe while in her early 30s and working for Dentsu International, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. 

Akie, whose father is the former president of Morinaga & Co., one of Japan's largest confectionery companies, was educated at a Catholic private school in Tokyo before graduating from a vocational college. Pictured, with Shinzo Abe in a photo shared on Instagram

Akie, whose father is the former president of Morinaga & Co., one of Japan’s largest confectionery companies, was educated at a Catholic private school in Tokyo before graduating from a vocational college. Pictured, with Shinzo Abe in a photo shared on Instagram

The first prime minister's wife to use social media, Mrs Abe regularly shared Facebook updates on public engagements and private life. Pictured, in one of her Instagram photos

The first prime minister’s wife to use social media, Mrs Abe regularly shared Facebook updates on public engagements and private life. Pictured, in one of her Instagram photos

In the early years of their marriage, Mrs Abe worked as a radio DJ in her husband’s hometown of Shimonoseki, broadcasting under the nickname ‘Akky’. At the time Mr Abe, the son of a prominent political family, was in the early stages of his glittering career. 

In 1993, Mr Abe was elected to the House of Representatives for the first time and went on to hold a number of senior positions in the cabinets of prime ministers Yoshiro Mori and Junichiro Koizumi, after which he was appointed Secretary-General of the LDP.

Abe was chief negotiator for the Japanese government on behalf of the families of Japanese abductees taken to North Korea. As a part of the effort, he accompanied then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to meet Kim Jong‑il in 2002. 

He gained national popularity when he demanded that Japanese abductees visiting Japan remain in the country, in defiance of North Korea. 

In September 2006 Mr Abe, then 52, was elected as prime minister, becoming the youngest person to hold the position since the Second World War. 

However a series of scandals – including the government’s loss of pension records, affecting about 50 million claims – hit his administration hard. 

It was followed by a heavy loss for his political party in elections in July 2007, and in September of that year he resigned due to ulcerative colitis.

Her husband apparently cast out in the political wilderness, Akie set about forging a new career and set up an izakaya – a type of informal Japanese bar that serves alcoholic drinks and snacks.

Mrs Abe beams during a visit to Hong Kong, in a photo that typifies the highly personal and upbeat photos shared on Instagram

Mrs Abe beams during a visit to Hong Kong, in a photo that typifies the highly personal and upbeat photos shared on Instagram

The Tokyo restaurant, which served only organic food, opened in the autumn of 2012, just as her husband’s political comeback was gaining steam. 

The move was reportedly vehemently opposed by her mother-in-law, Yoko Abe, who took against Akie’s public profile. She is said to have insisted Akie not be actively involved in the business.

Her daughter-in-law agreed, although she continued to dine at the restaurant with friends.   

In December 2012, Mr Abe was re-elected and Mrs Abe wasted no time in embracing her role as ‘first lady’. 

Within his first few years in office, she made headlines by joining the gay pride parade in Tokyo and promoted the revival of cannabis culture in Japan. 

The first prime minister’s wife to use social media, Mrs Abe regularly shared Facebook updates on public engagements and private life. 

She also spoke often on the importance of creating more opportunities for women in Japan. 

‘Abe frequently speaks out about the paradox that Japanese women are among the best educated in the world yet often struggle to work their way up the career ladder,’ noted Foreign Policy magazine in 2018.

‘She is a leading proponent of “Womenomics” that holds that encouraging more women to stay and rise in the workplace is essential to Japan’s economy. 

‘Abe uses her relationship with her husband as an example of equality and how men have an important part to play in providing women with the flexibility they need to shine. 

Down-to-earth Mrs Abe to work on causes close to her heart, including efforts to rehome Ukrainian refugees and the promotion of organic farming. Pictured, after falling in a rice paddy field

Down-to-earth Mrs Abe to work on causes close to her heart, including efforts to rehome Ukrainian refugees and the promotion of organic farming. Pictured, after falling in a rice paddy field

Mrs Abe recently adopted a Dachshund named Ron, pictured, who she shows off on Instagram

Mrs Abe recently adopted a Dachshund named Ron, pictured, who she shows off on Instagram

‘Her husband, the prime minister of Japan, still has to do his share of the household chores and take out the trash.’

Mrs Abe looked perfectly at ease on the world stage, joining Michelle Obama, Cherie Blair, Brigitte Macron, Ivanka Trump and Jill Biden for high profile engagements.

However her time as ‘first lady’ was not without its controversies. 

In 2018 she found herself in the hot seat after opposition parties demanded she testify in parliament about her ties to a nationalist school operator whose deeply discounted purchase of state-owned land was at the heart of a suspected cronyism scandal.

Mr Abe denied he or his wife intervened in the sale or that he ordered a cover-up.

The Japanese first lady also made headlines in 2017 when it emerged she didn’t speak to then President Donald Trump during an intimate dinner. 

The president said Mrs Abe spoke ‘zero’ English, which journalists picked up on as being a lie and led some to question whether she had deliberately snubbed Mr Trump.

It was broadly agreed that while Mrs Abe speaks some English, she conducts all of her interviews in Japanese and perhaps did not feel confident enough to converse over dinner.

Mr Abe resigned as prime minister in 2020, citing a significant resurgence of his ulcerative colitis. 

Down-to-earth Mrs Abe to work on causes close to her heart, including efforts to rehome Ukrainian refugees and the promotion of organic farming. 

She also recently adopted a Dachshund named Ron. 

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