Fueling a considerable amount of speculation, Akie Abe surprised visitors to the memorial to sailors and soldiers who died at Pearl Harbor. Abe is the wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. At the solemn marble monument marking the wreck of the USS Arizona, Mrs. Abe prayed silently and then recorded the gesture on her Facebook page. Her August 21 visit has raised the question as to whether her husband may follow suit with a similarly unprecedented gesture of solidarity with the victims of a war unleashed by Japan on December 7, 1941.
 
The first lady of Japan stayed for two hours at the USS Arizona Memorial on Oahu Island, bowing and clasping her hands together in prayer. She also laid flower to the memory of the fallen. Mrs. Abe also posted photographs, including one that depicted her shaking hands with a war veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor. Abe visited the site at 7:55 a.m., the exact time that the attack took place in 1941.
 
It was on a clear day on December 7, 1941 that Japanese fighter planes and dive bombers made a similarly surprise visit albeit deadly. In the attack, the USS Arizona was bombed and thereby killed hundreds of American sailors. In the days afterward, the United States declared war on the empire of Japan and soon afterward Germany and Italy followed suit by declaring war on the United States. The remains of hundreds of American sailors are entombed within the wreckage of the Arizona.
 
Yesterday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Akie Abe acted as a private citizen just before attending a forum on maritime environmental issues. Suga said her visit does not mean that her husband, the Japanese premier, has any plans to also visit the memorial. Suga said, “Her visit there was a personal one, and the government won’t comment on this.”
 
Nevertheless, speculation is rife that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may indeed visit Pearl Harbor later this year to mark the anniversary of the surprise attack that led to war. The Nikkei financial paper of Japan reported in May that Prime Minister Abe will indeed visit the memorial as a way of reciprocating a similar gesture President Barack Obama made to Hiroshima, where an American plane dropped an atomic bomb in 1945, killing thousands and destroying the city.
 
However, even while the Obama White House said this year that such a visit by the prime minister would be welcome, Abe said at a joint press conference in May before the Group of Seven summit that no such plans are in the work. 
 
Akie Abe’s intentions remain hidden. However, when she spoke to the Gendai Ismedia online media outlet, she said she hopes Japan may remain at peace. “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 said.
 
Akie Abe referred to Obama’s visit and gesture at Hiroshima and said that it provided an opportunity for the world to reflect on the war. “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,” she said.
Differences within the Abe household are rife. While Prime Minister Abe is an advocate of nuclear energy, and of a consumption tax, Mrs. Abe is vocally opposed.
 
However, Mrs. Abe has visited the famed Yakusuni shrine last year. It is a monument to more than 2 million people and animals that died in the military service of the various Japanese regimes. More than one thousand of the people commemorated there are considered to be war criminals. Japan has not apologized for its crimes against prisoners of war, for instance, nor for the horrors of the invasion or 'Rape' of Nanking, in which women and girls were serially raped and murdered by Japanese troops in 1939. Revered by adherents of Shinto – Japan’s militaristic national cult – visits by Abe and other politicians to Yakusuni are fiercely condemned by China and South Korea even while it pleases Japanese nationalists.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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