Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces such a constant stream of stumbles and irritants, it’s hard to identify which of them is causing his biggest headache.
Certainly, keeping “Abenomics” a viable proposition would rank at the top. But the media have also given heavy coverage to the noisy public opposition to the proposed Japan-U.S. defense guidelines and local opposition to the transfer of a U.S. military base to Henoko in northern Okinawa, not to mention delays in deciding on a design for the new National Stadium, and numerous others.
Perhaps sensing that Abe’s days at the top might be nearing their end, the September issue of Shincho 45 magazine devoted eight articles totalling 36 pages to a special section on the theme of “Abe-kirai” o kangaeru (considering “the disliking of Abe”). Rather than attacking Abe per se, the section examined various aspects to explain his unpopularity, beginning with commentator Keishi Saeki, who raises the flaws in Abe’s logic of an equitable defense relationship he’s been using to pitch the new defense guidelines.
Under the title “A sheltered rich boy with no sense of humor,” Yo Takeuchi looks at Abe’s lack of a funny bone. Shigeharu Aoyama, operator of a private think tank, asks, “What kind of person is Japan’s prime minister?” Economic pundit Tatsuhiko Yoshizaki examines the paradoxical situation of “chasing after two rabbits” — in this case revision of the defense guidelines and still abiding by the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution. In an article titled “The disease called ‘anti-Abe,'” Tsunehira Furuya suggests that Abe’s unwillingness to recognize the support from voters on the lower rungs of society will be his undoing.
Finally, technical writer Takashi Odajima writes an essay with the intriguing title, “Justification of the anti-Abe bots (robots).” Odajima explains that in this case, “bots” mean computer agents that perform automated tasks, and by extension, humans who only seem to be able to mouth fixed ideas.
Based on the surprisingly large number of responses to the few times Odajima has posted remarks about Abe on Twitter, he concludes that Abe the politician has a way about him that arouses strong emotions.
But the above may all be moot if current rumors circulating about the 61-year-old prime minister’s health prove true.
In February 2007, only four months into his first term as prime minister, several weekly magazines ran stories about Abe’s struggle with inflammatory bowel disease — a chronic, autoimmune condition first diagnosed when he was age 17 — and seven months later he stepped down.
Abe’s “miraculous” physical recovery — said to be thanks to the drug Mesalazine (aka Asacol) — gave him the renewed vigor to regain the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party in September 2012, and he’s now approaching the third year of his current term.
On Aug. 10, bold headlines on the afternoon tabloid Nikkan Gendai’s front page read, “Abe vomits: Physical condition worsens.” Two days later, the same publication’s front page read, “Talk of Abe’s worsening physical condition.” The accompanying article discussed the prospects for possible rival candidates in the LDP’s upcoming presidential election, expected to take place in late September.
Then on Aug. 19, the same tabloid’s headlines read, “Vomiting blood: Talk that Abe’s nearing his limits.”
Nikkan Gendai’s article dovetailed with a longer and considerably more detailed article that went on sale the same day in Shukan Bunshun (Aug. 27). On Thursday, however, the prime minister’s office issued an indignant letter of protest to the weekly for falsely reporting that Abe vomited blood.
Bunshun’s article noted that during Abe’s previous stint as prime minister a secretary confided to Bunshun that a bedroom had been set up behind the prime minister’s office and a physician (clad in plain clothes) made daily calls to administer an intravenous drip. Abe made frequent dashes to the toilet and his weight loss became pronounced.
Bunshun cites an unnamed source in the government as saying that on the evening of June 30, while at a private dinner at the Tokyo Station Hotel, Abe suddenly began showing signs of discomfort and dashed into the toilet, where he vomited blood. He was moved to a room in the hotel and a physician was summoned from Keio University Hospital to attend to him, the magazine said.
The magazine claims the government subsequently issued a gag order, and when questioned about what occurred, those present have downplayed the incident.
The next day, while returning home from an exhibition at the National Art Museum in Ueno, the magazine reported that Abe complained of abdominal pains; but rather than have him seen rushing into a convenience store lavatory, he was urged to hang on until he returned to his residence in Shibuya Ward. A source is quoted as saying that traffic lights along the route were set to green to expedite his trip home.
“Diarrhea is common for patients with ulcerative colitis, but it’s hard to imagine (it causing) vomiting of blood,” a gastrointestinal specialist tells the magazine. A government insider speculates that Abe may be ingesting more steroids to cope with side-effects from a different medication said to be stronger than Asacol.
Admittedly over his head when it comes to medical terminology, this writer asked his brother, a New York-based physician, about the magazine’s report.
“I can’t see inflammatory bowel disease bringing down a politician in this day and age,” he replied via e-mail, suggesting the stories were probably no more than “wishful thinking by Abe’s opponents.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misquoted the New York-based physician. He was referring to inflammatory bowel disease.
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