Shinzo Abe appeared to be in a good mood at Yokohama Arena on the night of Dec. 28. Dressed in a casual gray sweater and black trousers, the 60-year-old prime minister and his wife, Akie, were taking in a performance by the Southern All Stars, a legendary pop rock band led by vocalist Keisuke Kuwata.
Abe was waving and clapping in time to the music. But his mood appeared to turn sour when Kuwata suddenly changed the lyrics to the politically sarcastic song “Bakusho Airando” (“Island that Draws a Belly Laugh”), which the band originally released in 1998.
“(A politician) talking nonsense like dissolving the Diet!” Kuwata shouted in a clear swipe at Abe, who had dissolved the Lower House earlier that month and won a landslide victory in the snap election that followed, thanks in part to opposition parties who were unprepared to campaign effectively.
Abe was apparently stunned by the changed lyrics and leaned backward, according to a reporter who was observing him during the concert.
Kuwata has been one of Japan’s most influential rock vocalists and songwriters for decades. He has recently drawn much attention by inserting what seems to be covert criticism of Abe in his live performances.
When the Southern All Stars appeared last week on “NHK Kohaku Utagassen” (“Red and White Song Contest”), the venerable New Year’s Eve music show, for the first time in 31 years, Kuwata wore a fake Hitler mustache when he sang a song called “Peace and Hi-Lite.”
The song, from summer 2013, includes the lines: “It’s insane a naked king, who advocates a convenient cause and creates struggle, is ruling the world.”
Many people thought Kuwata was trying to satirize Abe, as he remains in full control of the Diet and, through the snap election, has begun his third term as prime minister, which could last as long as four years.
“Kohaku Utagassen” is one of Japan’s most popular and prestigious music shows. The latest version had a 47.5 percent viewership rate in the Kanto region, meaning nearly half of all the households in the Tokyo area watched the program, according to Video Research Ltd.
Kuwata’s performance sparked a wide range of responses online. Some praised his courage in taking a political stand in public, while others who support Abe were furious or disappointed with the rock icon.
Most of Kuwata’s songs are not political. He is known as a pioneering songwriter who sets Japanese lyrics to the rhythm and beat of Western rock music.
In recent years, he has released some songs that touch on the preciousness of peace and that criticize politicians, though he has stopped short of singling out any particular political figure.