Abe was pronounced dead by doctors at Nara Medical University Hospital in central Japan at 5:03 p.m. local time. He was admitted to hospital in cardiac arrest and medical staff were unable to stop the excessive bleeding, doctors said at a press conference on Friday.
Abe served two separate terms as Japan’s right-wing leader LDP – first from 2006 to 2007, then again from 2012 to 2020. His second term was the longest consecutive term for a Japanese head of government.
Abe will be remembered for increasing defense spending and pushing through the most dramatic shift in Japanese military policy in 70 years. In 2015, his government adopted a reinterpretation of Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution, allowing Japanese troops to engage in overseas combat – with conditions – for the first time since World War II.
Abe argued the change was necessary to respond to a tougher security environment, a nod to a more assertive China and frequent missile testing in North Korea.
During his tenure, Abe sought to improve relations with Beijing and held a historic phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2018. At the same time, he attempted to counter Chinese expansion in the region by uniting Pacific allies.
After leaving office, Abe remained at the helm of the largest ruling LDP faction and remained influential within the party. He has continued to campaign for a stronger security policy and last year angered China by calling for greater commitment from allies to defend democracy in Taiwan. In response, Beijing summoned the Japanese ambassador and accused Abe of openly challenging China’s sovereignty.
Abe was born on September 21, 1954 in Tokyo, into a prominent political family. His grandfather and great-uncle both served as prime minister, and his father was a former LDP general secretary.
He studied politics at Seiki University in Tokyo and the University of Southern California, but first dabbled in business, taking a job with Kobe Steel in 1979. Three years later, he was became assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Abe was first elected to the Japanese House of Representatives in 1993, at the age of 38. He held several positions in the cabinet throughout the 2000s and in 2003 became secretary general of the LDP. Four years later, he was named party chairman and became prime minister of Japan.
His first term was marred by controversy and deteriorating health, and he resigned as party leader and prime minister in 2007. The end of Abe’s first term opened a revolving door in which five men different served as Prime Minister in five years until his re-election in 2012. He resigned in 2020 citing health issues.
Abe was a prominent figure on the world stage. He cultivated close ties with Washington – Tokyo’s traditional ally – and attempted to forge a personal relationship with former US President Donald Trump, traveling to New York to meet the newly elected Republican President as the former President Barack Obama was still in office.
But as Washington’s relationship with Pyongyang tilted toward diplomacy, with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in holding historic summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Abe appeared to be sidelined.
No meeting was scheduled between Abe and Kim, and in September 2019, the Japanese leader said he was still “determined” to meet him. Abe wanted to normalize relations with North Korea and ease tensions on the Korean peninsula, but his first priority was to terminate the families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
During his tenure, Japan’s relations with South Korea deteriorated. The two countries were embroiled in a major dispute in which trade and military intelligence agreements were scrapped, in part due to the legacy of World War II and Japan’s brutal colonization of the Korean peninsula.
Olympic successes and setbacks of “Super Mario”
Abe came to power during a period of economic turmoil and quickly set about reviving the Japanese economy after decades of stagnation. Shortly after being re-elected Prime Minister in 2012, he launched a grand experiment known as “Abenomics”.
It included three so-called arrows – massive monetary stimulus, increased government spending and structural reforms.
One of Abe’s major national achievements was securing the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Abe thrilled video game fans around the world when he dressed up as Japanese icon Super Mario at the ceremony. closing ceremony of the Rio Games in 2016, to present Tokyo as the next host city.
In an instantly memorable segment, Abe, wearing an oversized red cap, was shown emerging from a green pipe, as the sounds of the Super Mario video game echoed around the Maracanã Stadium.
But the success of the highly anticipated Tokyo Games was ultimately wiped out by the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced the competition to be postponed until 2021.
Initial reluctance to delay the Games was partly attributed to Japan’s slow response to the coronavirus pandemic, which hit the country in early 2020. Abe declared a state of emergency months after detection of the first cases. His administration has also been criticized for low testing rates and an early lack of specialized medical equipment to treat the growing number of patients.
More successful was Abe’s handling of the abdication of Emperor Akihito, the first Japanese monarch to step down in two centuries. He was succeeded by his son, Emperor Naruhito, in October 2019, beginning the Reiwa era.
“As the plum blossoms bloom proudly in spring after the cold winter, we wish for the Japanese people to bloom like individual flowers with the (promise of) the future. With such a wish for Japan, we decided to ‘ Reiwa’,” Abe said as she announced the new era.
Abe is survived by his wife Akie Abe, née Matsuzaki, whom he married in 1987. The couple had no children.