hamada54_Kiyoshi Ota - PoolGetty Images_shinzo abe Kiyoshi Ota - Pool/Getty Images

Mourning the Real Abe Shinzō

Though the slain former Japanese prime minister belonged to the hawkish wing of his party, he was not the unbending nationalist conservative that many foreigners deemed him to be. His long tenure in office showed that he was serious about worker welfare, in addition to emphasizing national and regional security.

TOKYO – At former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzō’s funeral in July, the streets were lined with people carrying flowers. Even now, the shock of Abe’s assassination is still fresh. Whereas the United States loses thousands of lives every year to gun violence (owing to an absence of gun-safety laws), Japan’s annual toll of gun deaths tends to be in the single digits.

Many of those present to mourn Abe would have been young workers who got their first jobs because of his economic program, dubbed Abenomics. During Abe’s long second term – from the end of 2012 to September 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic – Japan added approximately five million net new jobs.

When I first met Abe in 2001, he was serving as deputy chief cabinet secretary under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who was planning to visit North Korea. Among Koizumi’s staff and advisers, Abe stood out for his defiant stance against that country, which had been responsible for several abductions of Japanese young people. Abe’s anger was palpable, and I could tell that it was born of sincere humanitarian concerns.

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