Shinzo Abe, The Melon Pan of Politicians: A Life Well Lived, and A Very Public Death

Shinzo Abe was assassinated yesterday in Nara, Japan, by 41 year old Nara resident and ex-Japan Self Defense Force member Tetsuya Yamagami. Yamagami is said to have made his own gun and bullets, and shot Abe twice, once in the left upper back in the heart area and again in the right side of his neck. Japan has very strict gun laws, and is ordinarily a very safe country. This is a shocking and rare occurrence. Usually the only shootings are between rival members of Yakuza gangs, and even these are rare. In fact Japan has the lowest rate of gun violence in the world, thanks to its very strict gun laws which make owning a gun almost impossible, even for hunting or sports purposes.

When I saw yesterday that Abe had been shot and was in ‘cardiopulmonary arrest’, which is Japanese for ‘dead but not announcing it yet’ I was stunned. Abe had been the solid political backdrop to many of the years I was in Japan. Koizumi might have had flair, but Abe had staying power, and a paternalistic approach to running the country that never intruded on daily life. The best thing I can say about any politician is that they don’t do anything truly remarkable, or upset the harmony – the ‘wa’. Abe was a harmonizer, an enthusiast of peace, Japanese traditional culture and being quietly popular.

Abe was the melon bread, the melon ‘pan’ (pan is Japanese for bread) of politics – not particularly flavorsome, but sweet, and everyone likes melon pan. Melon bread has a crunchy exterior which protects a fluffy soft sweet inside. The sometimes tough exterior of Abe, the career politician who protected Japan above all else, whilst also protecting the gentle honne – the true man inside. Being a melon pan politician takes talent and not just skill: popular without playing to the cheap seats and the extremists, traditional without being stuffy, and gentle without being weak.

The photos of Abe and Obama sharing sushi at what is inarguably the best sushi restaurant in the world, Sukiyabashi Jiro, prepared by living treasure, Jiro himself, show two charismatic and popular leaders, eating, drinking and being genuinely merry. Jiro, like Obama was a man not afraid to let his real self show, and as a result was very much loved and admired. People wanted to follow Abe because they liked him. Jiro was only one out of three living treasures in the room at that time. Jiro brings people together out of love and dedication to his craft and feeding people, and both Abe and Obama brought together the people of their respective countries and led with solid and calm temperaments and steady hands.

Abe only left office when forced to retire due to ill health and no leader has quite managed to fill the gap he left ever since. His successor Suga lasted only a year and a month, and was universally disliked. He tried to be popular and engage the people, but the Japanese were in no mood to be babied and demanded more serious leadership. Abe struck the right balance, that Suga failed to find. Kishida, the current Premier, is decent enough, yet does not have the cachet or gravitas that Abe managed to summon, but then again, truly great leaders only occur very rarely, as America knows to its huge cost.

I really cannot think of any motive anyone would have to assassinate Abe, other than notoriety and twisted fame. Once men get the idea that their useless boring lives can mean something if they kill, we have see what devastating consequences this can have. The Patriarchy is imploding in spasms of violence. Perhaps men are conditioned to need a good war now and again to thin the ranks and assuage the blood lust.

Japanese police have said that Yamagami stated that he believed Abe was a member of a ‘particular organization’ that he was ‘opposed to’. I presume this is not the Liberal Democratic Party, but instead some kind of insidious conspiracy theory that Yamagami embraced due to either mental illness or deficiencies in his own day to day life and lack of achievements. I suppose we will just have to wait and see what shakes loose after Yamagami has been questioned, before I create a conspiracy theory of my own. (EDIT: Reading Japanese media – my Japanese is ok, but not fantastic, apparently Yamagami had a grudge against the Unified Church, which Abe was a member of. The church is popular in Korea and this was also unacceptable to Yamagami. According to Japanese media he shot Abe because he was a member of the Unified Church. This inability of people to simply agree to disagree and accept nothing other than a total conformity of views is a world wide problem. Killing someone because they believe in something different to your beliefs is not new in human history but the totalitarian demands of the majority for others to conform to their opinion, whether religion, abortion or gender politics has reached terrifying and deadly levels. Enough killing and violence! We need to combat this drift towards totalitarianism. We need to remember how to agree to disagree. If you don’t like a politician, don’t vote for them. )

However gruesome and shocking the assassination of Abe was, however lurid and public his final suffering became, however vile and depraved his murderer clearly is, Abe’s career and service should be at the forefront of people’s thoughts.

Death should be a private thing, and Abe was denied this basic human right. In a wider sense, the media dwelling on the circus and drama around the act of his public murder, only serves to prove to other inadequate and failing men that they can get a measure of fame by doing something heinous, and to these men any fame, any meaning in their life, however grotesque and negative it is, is better than fading away in decent obscurity. They do not create anything except suffering and fear and that is good enough for these failures of society, and to the horror and detriment of the rest of us.

Abe was the longest serving Japanese Prime Minister of all time. He was a husband and a politician, with a wife who made the role of Japanese First Lady into a meaningful job of public service. He didn’t have children, instead devoting himself to Japan and serving his country. Abe lived life well and altruistically, only retiring due to ill health, and died on the campaign trail, aged only 67, murdered in cold blood by a man who had never done anything much with his life to be proud of. Abe came from a political family, his father served in the House of Representatives from 1958 to 1991. Abe grew up knowing what service to his country meant and embraced it with his whole heart, whilst remaining a sympathetic and mostly liked figure.

Abe was effective, his Abenomics economic policy pulled Japan out of a terrible economic slump. He managed to curb North Korea, which is a very real problem in Japan, with many abductions taking place of Japanese citizens over to the hermit state. Abe never put a foot wrong diplomatically and even was able to get along with Trump and get the best deal for Japan. He even dressed up as Mario, the much loved character from Super Mario Brothers, in an exhibition of his ability to be a good sport and make people smile.

Whatever the highs and lows of political life was for Abe, he remained resolute under attack. I truly believe he always did what he considered best for Japan, and as such was an exemplary politician and leader.

(Masanori Takei/Kyodo News via AP)

Today is a dark day for politics, for the world at large, and for a Japan, waking up to a future where they are no longer mostly immune from the violence that is currently plaguing the world. These are dark days. Abe saw Japan through some of the best of times, I just hope Kishida will rise to the challenge and steer Japan safely through what is to come.

(Postscript) The fact the NPR described Abe as a “divisive arch-conservative” just moments after his death, is absolutely unforgivable, and an act of partisan political opinion that is poisoning world politics. Setting up every single issue as a point scoring exercise of ‘us vs them’ means that everything is viewed through a lens of bias and hatred. Abe was a friend to the USA, and a decent human being, and labelling him negatively because of his political affiliations, which are not transferrable to American politics is beyond the pale, and in addition to that short sighted, crass and shows a lack of real understanding that not everywhere is America.

A conservative member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan does not equal Republican, and besides Japan tends to elect far more on the individual, instead of the party. The LDP is basically the only party in Japan that ever has a chance of winning anything, it is the person they elect, not the package of views. America is almost monolithic, viewing everything through a lens of American politics, mores and culture. It is a self centered giant. Seeing Abe through the lens of American Republicanism does him a huge disservice.

Abe: Politician and thoroughly nice guy on the campaign trail. The video was posted two days ago.


  1. clcouch123

    I’m glad I didn’t hear anything from NPR before reading your work. I knew little of Abe except as a politician in Japan might be known here. I appreciate and frankly am grateful for your review of Abe. I can remember him well.

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