/

Abe pushes ‘openness’ by inviting kids to tour his office, residence

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to demonstrate the “openness” of his government and to this end has invited schoolchildren on a guided tour of his office and official residence Saturday.

In a historic first for the general public, people will be allowed to enter the official residence, whose origins date to 1929. A new complex incorporating both the prime minister’s office and residence debuted in 2002.

About 40 children from Tokyo’s Kojimachi Elementary School and an equal number from its junior high have been invited to the two buildings in the Nagata-cho compound, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

This summer, the government will invite more children, possibly from across the country, to visit certain sections of the two structures, including the press conference room and the main stairs where new Cabinet members line up for their first photo session.

The 1929 structure was the scene of various historic events, including the 226 Incident of 1936, a failed coup d’etat by young army officers that resulted in boosting the political power of the military and steering Japan into an era of militarism.

“We’d like to give children a study opportunity by touring the prime minister’s office and residence,” Suga said.

“This (decision) was based on an instruction by the prime minister, who wants to narrow the distance with the people as much as possible,” he said.

Abe, however, may not be as open to the public as Suga seems to suggest.

He has refused to respond to repeated media requests to have a daily question-and-answer session, although he held such rounds when he was the prime minister from 2006 to 2007.

Other prime ministers, including Junichiro Koizumi, Yasuo Fukuda, Taro Aso and Yukio Hatoyama, held such sessions with reporters every weekday.

After the March 2011 megaquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters hit, then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan stopped holding daily press sessions. His successor, Yoshihiko Noda, followed suit, but held a news conference every month.