A man sits on his comfortable couch, sipping a hot drink while occasionally looking up the ceiling as if pondering the meaning of life. The man then cuddles his dog, reads a bit, then turns to the TV for a casual channel browse. The man is at home, wearing casual clothes and looking relaxed, following Japan’s recently declared partial state of emergency. Nothing wrong so far, you’d think. And yet, the man has managed to anger thousands on Japan’s social media — and all it took was a less than a minute-long video.
Meet Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the latest Twitter sensation in Japan.
Well-intended, poorly executed
Posted on Sunday on his official Twitter account (and later on Instagram), just days after his government declared a state of emergency in seven prefectures in Japan amid the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak, Abe’s tweet was intended to encourage young people to stay indoors. Part of the “#DanceOnTheInside” (#UchiDeOdoro) online initiative launched by musician Gen Hoshino, in which a number of Japanese celebrities have taken part to encourage people to stay indoors, Abe’s attempt to reach out to Japan’s younger population, was, surely, well-intended.
But, perhaps, not quite well executed.
“Can’t meet your friends. Can’t go out drinking. But (thanks to) your actions of staying at home, lives are being saved. Your actions also help relieve the strain on healthcare professionals who are battling (to save lives) in extremely challenging circumstances. Thank you from the heart for your cooperation,” Abe’s post read, displaying a video of him chilling at home next to a video of Hoshino singing and playing the guitar.
— 安倍晋三 (@AbeShinzo) April 12, 2020
The tweet set social media on fire immediately after it was posted, gathering over 30,000 comments within a day. While Abe’s supporters rushed to praise him for setting up a precedent for staying at home, thousands took to Twitter to ask the prime minister a simple question: “Who do you think you are?” The hashtag (#NaniSamaNoTsumori in Japanese) quickly earned a leading spot among Twitter’s most trending topics of the week, along with other variations, including “PM Abe’s Video”（#AbeShushoDoga), “Louis XVI” (#Louis16Sei), “Poor Gen Hoshino” (#HoshinoGenKawaiso) and “Abe’s Dog” (#AbeNoInu).
From “Louis XVI” to “Abe’s Dog”
While Abe declared a state of emergency in seven Japanese prefectures on April 7, leading to an increased self-isolation in the country’s largest cities, he is yet to provide clear guidance to how businesses (and individuals) shaken by the pandemic can claim financial compensation from the government. Unlike many countries abroad that are living through a complete lockdown but have social welfare systems that secure at least a certain percentage of their monthly salaries, in Japan, the talk is mostly about providing some financial compensations later on — or sending two washable cloth masks to every households (Oh, wait, Abe did this, too!). With no imminent security for their income, many Japanese are still forced to commute to work.
Many of the critical comments on social media reflected on this.
“The people working behind the scenes while (others are having) a luxurious day off.”
— 犬川猫吉 (@SIB1632) April 13, 2020
“Both (Prime Minister) Abe and (Financial Minister) Aso are hereditary politician brats. They have no idea what it’s like not to have a job, not being able to pay your rent or phone bills, or not having anything to eat. This country (Japan) is led by Louis XVI.”
— クラウド (@mysongblog) April 13, 2020
“That’s not how a prime minister should act in such times. A prime minister should provide a system that encourages people to stay at home without worrying (about anything). A prime minister should provide a good compensation system. I’ve seen many country leaders release various statements online, but it’s only Japan that’s showing such a lousy leader.”
“Can’t meet friends. Can’t go out for a drink. But there are still many people who have to get on packed trains and go to work. But it’s probably useless telling this to PM Abe, isn’t it?”
“Dear Prime Minister Abe, people don’t need this kind of collaboration. What people hope for is a ‘self-isolation and assurance’ collaboration.
“Some are backing Abe up for posting this video. But think — what if your boss was like that? Telling you that your bonuses and salaries will be cut while he’s living a life of luxury. What would working people think?”
— suke3 (@suke397765425) April 13, 2020
“I sincerely hope that Gen Hoshino will continue singing without suffering the consequences of being used for political purposes by PM Abe and without blaming himself.”
— Michikusa Qoo (@Michiku01134892) April 12, 2020
Last but not least, some chose to get extra creative.
“It looks perfect after adding the opening scene of ‘Day of the Dead’ (1979). Apologies (director George) Romero!”
— koki (@ore_here) April 12, 2020
Sorry, not sorry
So, what was Abe’s reaction to the criticism? And did he say anything in his defense? Not as of present. On Monday, however, LDP’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga held a press conference, in which he told reporters that the prime minister’s tweet had a “great response.” The tweet itself received more than 350,000 likes, Suga further said, though his facial impression hinted that the video most likely didn’t earn his like.
“It inspired a heated debate online and attracted so much criticism. And yet, here they are talking about ‘the good response’ and ‘a record-high 350,000 likes. They’re just making fools of all of us,” a Twitter user said.
— ルールル（森警備員） (@HUNTER4499) April 13, 2020
Gen Hoshino, meanwhile, rushed to issue a statement on his Instagram account, telling his followers that Prime Minister Abe hadn’t contacted him or his agency in advance to inform him of his participation in the initiative. Well, none of the other dozens of musicians who took part in it asked either, but Hoshino has never released a similar statement so far.
All things considered, at least Hoshino’s fans can relax knowing that their idol wasn’t involved in an uncalled-for political collaboration.
What did you think of Prime Minister Abe’s tweet? Do you see it as a good example for people to stay at home or a poor taste? Let us know in the comments.