As new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe flew out
on Sunday for visits to China and South Korea, his wife didn't just
accompany him -- the two held hands going up the steps of the government
Young, stylish and a student of the Korean language, Akie Abe, 44, is
not only Japan's first "first lady" in more than five years, she may be a
new type of prime minister's wife altogether.
She has already attracted an unusual amount of media attention in
Japan, where the wives of most prime ministers have kept such low profiles
that few people even knew their names. Abe's predecessor, Junichiro
Koizumi, was divorced.
Now there is speculation that Akie, a former DJ and fan of South Korean
television dramas who is known to take an occasional drink, may help
soften her husband's conservative image overseas.
Dressed in a chic grey suit
over a black shirt, her hair cut fashionably short, Akie twined hands with her husband -- at
52, Japan's youngest prime minister since World War Two -- as they boarded
the plane for Beijing.
Wives of previous prime ministers, if they travelled with their
husbands at all, tended to walk slightly behind.
Akie was rather cool to the idea when an acquaintance offered to
introduce her to Abe and showed up late for the meeting, the story goes.
Abe, immediately smitten, wooed her with flowers, and they married in
"I consult with her about many things," Abe said shortly before
becoming prime minister. "She's the person who understands me the best."
Akie is now popular in Abe's district, where her fondness for an
occasional drink -- in contrast to her husband, who prefers sweets -- has
made her a hit with his supporters.
Her sense of style is one factor behind his image as a snappy dresser,
prompting him to say she should have been given the "Best Dressed" award
he won in 2002.
Like many Japanese women, she is a fan of the South Korean television
dramas. She even began learning Korean.
It is a skill she might have put to good use in South Korea on