Akie Abe, wife of Japan's Prime Minister, makes surprise Pearl Harbor visit

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Story highlights

  • Japan's first lady makes a surprise visit to Pearl Harbor
  • Rumors that her husband may follow suit refuted by top Japanese official

(CNN)The wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made a surprise visit to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, where Japanese planes launched an attack on a US naval base in 1941.

The visit by Akie Abe Sunday quickly sparked rumors that her husband may follow suit later this year in what would be a landmark move that could strengthen ties between Japan and the US.
    These claims, however, were denied Monday by Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshide Suga who asserted that Akie Abe stopped by Pearl Harbor for a personal visit, before attending a forum on maritime environment in Hawaii.
    The Japanese first lady posted 11 photographs from her visit on her public Facebook page Monday that showed her praying, laying flowers on a memorial and shaking hands with a veteran during her two-hour visit to the USS Arizona Memorial on Oahu Island, where 1,177 military personnel were killed.
    Jeffrey Kingston, the director of Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo, predicted that Aki Abe's visit to Pearl Harbor would be well received in the US.
    "She prayed and made a gesture of contrition," Kingston said.
    Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 severely damaged the US Pacific fleet and pulled the United States into World War II.
    Internationally, Japan's first lady is known for her outspoken and flamboyant manner.
    She actively supports LGBT affairs and has attended a rally to denounce hate speech against ethnic Koreans in Japan, according to Kingston.
    She is not associated with her husband's hardline revisionist stance on history and opposes his support for nuclear power, he added.
    Her Facebook page boasts over 97,000 followers.

    'Gesture of contrition'

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    In May 2015, Abe said he had no firm plans to reciprocate President Barack Obama's visit to Hiroshima in May 2016 by visiting Pearl Harbor.
    "When Obama made his gesture of contrition at Hiroshima, he was showing Abe that the path forwards stems from recognizing the past," said Kingston.
    Brad Williams, a professor of Asian history and international studies at City University in Hong Kong corroborated this view.
    He said that a future visit by Abe to Pearl Harbor would strengthen diplomatic ties between the US and Japan.
    Kingston said, however, that a future Abe visit to Pearl Harbor might not be welcomed by everyone.
    "He represents a historical viewpoint that downplays Japanese misdeeds and that might not down well with certain groups in the US," he said.