Japan Is Back

A Conversation With Shinzo Abe

After serving a brief, undistinguished term as Japan’s prime minister in 2006–7, Shinzo Abe seemed destined for the political sidelines. Then, last December, he surged back into the limelight, retaking office in a landslide victory. The return to power of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) -- which has run Japan for 54 of the last 58 years, including most of the last two “lost decades” -- initially worried investors and pundits. But Abe immediately embarked on an ambitious campaign to revive Japan’s economy, and, some six months later, his efforts seem to be paying off. On the foreign policy front, however, Abe -- known in opposition as a conservative nationalist -- has sparked controversy by seeming to question Japan’s wartime record. In mid-May, as tensions were rising with Japan’s powerful neighbors, he spoke with Foreign Affairs managing editor Jonathan Tepperman in Tokyo.

This is your second tenure as prime minister. Your first was not so successful, but this time, everything seems different: your approval rating is over 70 percent, and the stock market is at a five-year high. What lessons did you learn from your past mistakes, and what are you doing differently this time?
When I served as prime minister last time, I failed to prioritize my agenda. I was eager to complete everything at once, and ended my administration in failure.

After resigning, for six years I traveled across the nation simply to listen. Everywhere, I heard people suffering from having lost jobs due to lingering deflation and currency appreciation. Some had no hope for the future. So it followed naturally that my second administration should prioritize getting rid of deflation and turning around the Japanese economy.

Let’s say that I have set the priorities right this time to reflect the concerns of the people, and the results are increasingly noticeable, which may explain the high approval ratings.

I have also started to use social media networks like Facebook. Oftentimes, the legacy media only partially quote what politicians say. This has prevented the public from understanding my true intentions. So I am now sending messages through Facebook and other networks directly to the public.

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