One evening last month during a news conference at the Prime Minister’s Office, Yoshihide Suga, the government's top spokesman, closed his eyes tight, clasped his hands on his thighs, tilted his head forward and barely moved — looking as if he was falling asleep.

Roughly 15 meters to the right of the chief Cabinet secretary, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was fielding questions from journalists about the coronavirus and constitutional revision. In contrast to the animated prime minister, who was gesturing and visibly displaying a range of emotions, Suga hardly flinched, even when a reporter mentioned his name among potential successors to Abe as the country’s next leader.

The stark contrast seen on the night of June 18 was a perfect visual representation of the rumors echoing in Japan’s halls of power that the tight-knit bond between Abe and Suga was unraveling.