While her husband was entertaining an audience in Brazil dressed as the video game character Super Mario, Japanese First Lady Akie Abe was paying respects to the American soldiers killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Japanese officials are calling it a “personal” visit, but some suggest the move could be testing the waters for the nation’s Prime Minister to visit the site following President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima.
Akie Abe posted photos of her visit on Facebook, which reportedly occurred at the time of the attack, 7:55 AM, with a simple caption identifying the photos as a visit to the site. In the photos, she is seen bowing at the wall of the fallen during the Pearl Harbor attack and leaving flowers at multiple monuments.
She is also posing in one of the photos with U.S. Army veteran Herb Weatherwax, a 99-year-old survivor of the Pearl Harbor attacks who volunteers as a guide at the site, re-telling his story to visitors. Weatherwax has attributed his longevity to volunteering four times a week at the site.
In an article about the visit on Ismedia, which Abe links to in her Facebook post, she is quoted as saying that she “wanted to dedicate a prayer to the deceased.”
“I offered my condolences to the victims and gave my prayer of gratitude for the peace that we have enjoyed and to establish the peace going forward,” she added. “I understand that there are various debates and stances on Pearl Harbor, but I think that we have to pass on the memory to the next generation, transcending the feelings of hate and anger.”
The visit is notable as no Japanese Prime Minister has ever been to the site, and Abe’s stances in favor of emboldening Japan’s self-defense forces and heightening its military capabilities have established him as a Japanese nationalist. Abe is in favor of expanding the ability of the Japanese military to act in the interest of “collective self-defense,” which would allow strikes without a preemptive attack on Japan itself. He has additionally upset neighboring China and South Korea with a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. Dedicated to Japan’s war veterans, the shrine also honors a number of Japanese military officials found guilty of war crimes during World War II. Abe only visited the shrine once but has since sent offerings on important war observance days.
Akie Abe has made a name for herself as a free thinker with public objections to many of Abe’s key policies, however, including his economic proposals and the development of more nuclear energy facilities, inclining many to see her trip to Pearl Harbor as yet another solitary act of objection against Abe’s policies.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry has stated that Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor was done in a completely private capacity and should not be taken as a sign that her husband will soon follow. “Her visit there was a personal one, and the government won’t comment on this,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Monday.
The Japan Times nonetheless notes that many observers believe Abe may be preparing a visit to Pearl Harbor himself. Reuters finds names to add to that list of observers. “This is certainly a balloon test to see what the public reaction will be,” Woodrow Wilson Center associate Shihoko Goto tells Reuters.
President Obama laid flowers at the site of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima earlier this year alongside Abe, the first American president to visit the site. At the time, many speculated that the move may result in Abe choosing to make a similar visit to Pearl Harbor, though the Japanese government denied any such plans.