As he grapples with mounting challenges both at home and abroad, it has become increasingly uncommon to see Prime Minister Shinzo Abe crack a smile in public.
A picture that surfaced online Wednesday, however, offers a rare glimpse of Abe’s relaxed grin as he dined and confabulated with his predecessors during a recent getaway to a villa at the foot of Mount Fuji.
According to daily logs of Abe’s activity kept by Kyodo News, the photo is from his trip on the night of Aug. 15 to a cottage owned by Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation. Along with Sasakawa, former prime ministers Yoshiro Mori, Junichiro Koizumi and Taro Aso accompanied Abe on the trip.
Abe spent a three-day summer holiday, from the evening of Aug. 15, at his cottage in Narusawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, where Sasakawa’s villa is also located. Abe returned to Tokyo on Aug. 18 to meet with new U.S. Ambassador William Hagerty.
In a blog post dated Wednesday, Sasakawa uploaded a picture of the four political heavyweights dressed casually, dining on sushi and having a good laugh. In the photo, Koizumi appears barely able to sit upright as he guffaws. Although more restrained, Abe was also captured with a big smile.
“For Prime Minister Abe, playing golf is the best way to kill stress. But unfortunately, I’ve heard he hasn’t been able to play this summer, because he had to refrain in order to deal with issues of North Korea,” Sasakawa wrote in the blog post. “I’m truly glad I invited them on this trip.”
Pyongyang’s saber-rattling is not Abe’s only headache.
Over the past few months, he has struggled to regain the trust of an electorate increasingly frustrated with a string of ministerial gaffes and scandals involving Abe and lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Just weeks before starting his summer break, Abe reshuffled his Cabinet in a bid to spruce up its tainted image. The move saw his approval rating edge up by a few percentage points from the previous month to 39 percent, according to public broadcaster NHK.