BY SATOSHI SUGIYAMA STAFF WRITER
First lady Akie Abe went on a private trip to Oita Prefecture and participated in a group tour in mid-March despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe having warned the nation to stay vigilant over the global coronavirus pandemic the day before, a weekly magazine reported Thursday.
According to the Shukan Bunshun magazine, the first lady visited Usa Shrine in Oita Prefecture on March 15 along with about 50 people and took part in a Shinto ritual service.
An organizer of the tour, Dr. Tadashi Matsuhisa, told the magazine that she joined the group after she had contacted him and said, “I was thinking about going somewhere because coronavirus has cleared out my schedule.” She did not entirely take part in the tour and only joined it when the group visited the shrine, he said.
Her reported activity took place a day after her husband addressed a news conference in which he sounded the alarm over the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in the country.
Even though her trip was before the state of emergency declared this month, critics say Akie Abe’s conduct yet again demonstrates an obliviousness regarding the crisis and reveals her as being out-of-touch with reality.
“She is notorious for a lack of sense of crisis and thoughtless behavior,” tweeted journalist Nobuhiro Saito.
This is the second time her private activity has come under scrutiny for being tone-deaf.
She first came under fire when the Shukan Post magazine published a group photograph of the first lady standing in front of a cherry blossom tree last month at a time when the Tokyo Metropolitan Government was urging people to refrain from outdoor gatherings for blossom-viewing parties.
At that time, the prime minister defended her, saying that she did not participate in a cherry blossom-viewing party. He added she was meeting up with her acquaintances in a restaurant and took the photo outside.
The government has warned people to avoid areas with what it calls “the Three Cs” — closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings where person-to-person virus transmission tends to happen at a higher frequency.
Similar criticism over a perceived out-of-touch attitude has also been directed at her husband. The prime minister was rebuked — and widely mocked over social media — when his administration announced it would distribute two face masks per household nationwide.
He explained the policy is to make up for a chronic shortage of masks across the country, but critics assert the cost associated with the distribution should have been earmarked for something else.
His video calling for people to stay at home posted on Twitter on Sunday was also exposed to severe criticism and mockery.
Footage of Abe sipping a drink from a teacup and petting a dog on the sofa at his home was juxtaposed with a video clip that showed popular musician Gen Hoshino singing a song about dancing indoors. Critical voices on social media gathered steam, labeling Abe’s attitude as demonstrating indifference toward those who are struggling to make a living due to the coronavirus pandemic.