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Moritomo Gakuen chief testimony puts spotlight on PM's wife as liability

Akie Abe, wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is proving to be a liability for the Abe administration, as the sworn testimony by the chairman of a scandal-hit school operator before the House of Councillors Budget Committee underscored their close relationship.

Government agencies now worry that Akie, 54, is a major "Abenorisk," or "Abe's risk," a play on the nickname for the prime minister's economic policy, "Abenomics."

Born to the former president of Morinaga & Co., a major confectionery company based in Tokyo, Akie worked at advertising giant Dentsu Inc. for a few years after attending Sacred Heart Professional Training College. She married Shinzo Abe in 1987.

Her "reckless behavior," as characterized by the prime minister's close aides, began to stand out after the collapse of the first Abe administration in 2007. In a past interview, Akie said, "For me, a turning point was going to graduate school after my husband resigned from the post of prime minister. I realized that until then, I hadn't really been thinking about things on my own."

In October 2012, shortly before the launch of the second Abe administration, Akie opened a Japanese-style pub called Uzu in Tokyo's Kanda district that sells itself on dishes made with Japan-made ingredients and pesticide-free produce. It is said that the prime minister instructed Akie not to drink alcohol when she was at the restaurant.

When she became the first lady for the second time in December 2012, Akie called herself the "in-home opposition" to her husband, and rubbed elbows with those critical of his administration. In July 2016 she met with Yohei Miyake, a musician who ran in the House of Councillors election earlier that month, who -- although he ultimately lost -- garnered support by calling for the elimination of nuclear power and criticizing the Abe administration. She called her husband on her cell phone, and got him to speak with Miyake. Akie described the encounter in a post on her Facebook page, which has over 100,000 followers, and added, "This may be the start of something."

That August, she made a controversial visit to Okinawa Prefecture to see residents and their supporters protesting the construction of U.S. Marine Corps Osprey helipads, and explained in a Facebook post, "It was a first step on my part to change conflict and disunion to a world of love and harmony."

In a past magazine interview, Akie stated, "I am now interested in marijuana" apparently for medical -- not recreational -- use. However, the head of a hemp farm in the Tottori Prefecture town of Chizu with whom she was acquainted was arrested in October last year for being in possession of marijuana at home.

On the one hand, Akie has emphasized her liberal attitude and her inclination toward a naturalistic lifestyle. On the other hand, she promotes Shinto and tradition, and has expressed her affinity toward Tsukamoto Kindergarten, run by the scandal-hit school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which teaches its pupils to recite the 19th century Imperial Rescript on Education, which is linked to militaristic education in prewar Japan. Thus, the principles behind Akie's actions are difficult to understand.

"I didn't get the sense that she had a certain ideology or philosophy, but she seemed to rely on her gut instincts and was a mysterious person with a great affinity for spirituality, subcultures and the occult," says Ryosuke Nishida, an associate professor of sociology at Tokyo Institute of Technology who was asked by Akie to interview her in the past. "She probably doesn't act out of malice, and is just living her life as she sees fit. But considering she has a certain level of political influence, her actions have been ill-advised."

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