Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (front L) and first lady Akie Abe disembark from a plane at the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, October 8, 2006.
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 plane.
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 achicgrey suit over a black shirt, her hair cut fashionably short, Akietwined hands withher 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 1987.
"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 Monday.