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Akie Abe's social media silence creates questions

Akie Abe's Facebook page. (Mainichi)

The fancy-free wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Akie Abe, has entered a period of silence. For about two weeks now, Japan's first lady -- or "Akki" as she is nicknamed -- has refrained from posting any status updates on her Facebook page -- an activity she used to do almost every day. But it is now, more than ever, that the people want to hear the truth from Akie Abe, in "her own words, in an Akki-esque manner."

Akie Abe's most recent Facebook post was on March 23 -- the same day that the then head of nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, Yasunori Kagoike, gave a sworn testimony in the Diet on issues including an alleged donation by Akie Abe of 1 million yen to Kagoike. In response to the claim by Kagoike, Akie responded through a Facebook post, stating, "I did not give Mr. Kagoike a 1 million yen donation, and I have not received speaking fees from him (for a speech at Moritomo Gakuen's kindergarten)."

However, the style of this particular Facebook post is not "Akki-esque." Until that point, the nation's first lady tended to update without any spaces before the start of sentences, making use of the western calendar, and use numbers on half-width setting. Conversely, on this occasion, the post was written with spaces before the start of sentences, the Japanese era name, and with numbers on full-width setting. This has led to speculation that the post may have been written by someone else, such as a government bureaucrat.

The sociologist Ryosuke Nishida, an associate professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology who met with Akie Abe in 2016, states, "There are no quaint imperfections in the Facebook post. At the very least, it appears that she received advice from a specialist on how to write it."

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie are seen after a ceremony at the Imperial Palace on April 5, 2017, to welcome Spain's King Felipe VI. (Pool photo)

Akie Abe has more than 130,000 followers on Facebook. Before her period of "silence," she would regularly release posts on her Facebook page -- almost on a daily basis -- about people she had met and places she had visited. Nishida explains that she is "the first ever first lady in Japan to use social networking services actively."

In the summer of 2016, she posted a photograph on the photo-sharing app Instagram in which she appears with a man holding a placard that is clearly against Shinzo Abe's policies. However, somewhat ironically, posts such as these have had the effect of increasing Akie and Shinzo Abe's popularity. As one of her fans explains, "After watching Akie Abe, I began to think that maybe Shinzo Abe is probably not such a bad guy after all."

Describing herself as providing "at-home opposition" to her husband, Akie Abe has also been popular within liberal circles with her anti-nuclear power plant stance and her position on coastal levees.

So, what, exactly is the meaning of her "silence" with her Facebook posts coming to a halt, for the time being at least.

In Nishida's mind, he believes that the first lady was pressured into silence rather than choosing to do so herself: "Until recently, Akie Abe's social media activities generated a positive effect on Prime Minister Abe, and even enhanced the image of his administration. However, (taking into account recent developments concerning issues such as the Moritomo Gakuen scandal), it seems that her posts could have the effect of shaking up the government. Therefore, it would seem that she was probably stopped and told to be "silent."

Nishida continues by saying, "This situation arose as a result of Akie Abe not being aware of her own political clout. She should be held to account, though, because it was her who met people and made all those social media posts as the wife of the prime minister of Japan."

Journalist Shoko Egawa adds, "It's inappropriate that Akie Abe has been sought after as the key person to reveal the truth to the people." Egawa adds, "The whole beauty of social media is that individuals are able to express themselves freely. If she cannot post any message without being screened by her husband and government bureaucrats, then surely her messages will become meaningless."

Egawa continues: "If Akie Abe is to explain the truth (concerning the Moritomo Gakuen scandal) in her own words, it would help clarify whether government bureaucrats went overboard in surmising (the prime minister's intentions behind the questionable sale of a state-owned land lot to the school operator). If her social media activities are suddenly stopped, then wouldn't this damage the image of Prime Minister Abe 'having respect for his wife's freedom'?"

As Akie Abe's period of silence continues, the people begin to wonder what will happen to those "Akki-esque" comments that -- until recently -- used to be so common.

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