The last time Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Washington, in February 2013, he was marking his triumphant — and unexpected — return to the premiership after five years in the political wilderness. In a speech at a D.C. think tank, Abe laid out a bold, confident vision for how Japan could overcome economic stagnation, strengthen its armed forces, and provide assertive leadership regionally and globally. The vision, Abe implied, began with him, and would spread out to the country as a whole. “I am back,” he said, “and so shall Japan be.”
This current visit is a celebration of Abe’s top-down leadership and of what he’s accomplished in the U.S.-Japan relationship since taking office in December 2012. For eight days beginning on April 26, Abe will travel the United States, with stops in Boston, Washington, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In Washington, President Barack Obama will host Abe for the first official visit by a Japanese prime minister in nine years. And on April 29, Abe will deliver the first ever address by a Japanese prime minister to a joint meeting of Congress.
But after a week of speeches and toasts celebrating Japan’s resurgence and its importance as a U.S. ally, Abe will return to a people anxious about Abe’s plans for his country, and an economy that continues to face serious obstacles to growth. Though many Japanese share Abe’s concerns about the rise of China and the risks of further economic stagnation, they are reluctant to endorse changes that would put the country’s armed forces in harm’s way, or that would expose the nation’s workers and retirees to new risks.