National / Politics

Abe shows uncharacteristic openness in burasagari interviews, as looming year-end adds to pressure over recent scandals

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

Since reshuffling his Cabinet in September, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has seen two ministers resign in close succession amid scandal, the thwarting of an educational reform plan at the Diet, and debate about a referendum law key to constitutional revision grind to a halt.

To make things worse, in recent weeks he has found himself in hot water, after news that he’d invited supporters to a publicly funded cherry blossom-viewing party sparked accusations he was using the gathering for his own benefit.

With the year drawing to a close, and the end of his own term as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party nearing, his effort now appears fully invested into managing the issues that have plagued his premiership in the past few months.

That focus seems most apparent in his willingness to step in front of the camera for brief interviews when leaving or arriving at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Called burasagari in Japanese, the custom itself is not unusual. The prime minister conducts short interviews with reporters who cover him, usually accepting about two questions before setting off for his next scheduled meeting.

However, what has been unusual recently is the length and frequency with which the prime minister has agreed to answer questions in this way.

Burasagari are usually one-off, brief interviews conducted when incidents of note occur, such as the recent missile launches by North Korea and the decision by South Korea to exit from the General Security of Military Information Agreement, an intelligence-sharing pact.

Yet during recent coverage amid allegations over the cherry blossom-viewing party, Abe agreed to burasagari interviews three times in three days. One interview spanned twenty minutes, effectively turning into a short news conference.

Reporters have requested further burasagari since, although the prime minister has declined these requests, saying that he has already answered questions at the Diet or at previous burasagari sessions.

Former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who served from 2001 to 2006, was known to conduct burasagari interviews twice a day. His political acumen, on-screen presence and way with words meant that his burasagari proved a hit with news media and helped boost his popularity.

However, the custom of daily interviews died out as successors struggled to match Koizumi’s flair, instead flip-flopping on their answers or becoming increasingly irritated with reporters’ questions.