SNA (Tokyo) – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may be comforted by public support in the 50%-60% range, depending on which poll you believe, but he definitely stepped into rather uncomfortable territory when he appeared yesterday at Rengo’s annual May Day rally in Yoyogi Park.
Although the prime minister was warmly greeted by Rengo President Nobuaki Koga, the introductory speech was a calculated warning aimed at his esteemed guest. Koga warned of the importance of maintaining protections for workers and noted that human beings are not commodities to be bought and sold by big business.
The surprising moment came when Prime Minister Abe himself came to the microphone. Just as he began speaking, loud heckling arose from the center of the crowd. It sounded like about 20-30 people who were likely a single group that had planned ahead to begin heckling in unison.
For most of the audience, it was so loud that it drowned out what the prime minister was saying. The heckling went on for about one minute before the main group fell silent, apparently scolded by other audience members around them. Still, throughout Abe’s speech, various shouts of protest could be heard from other parts of the audience. The latter yells often sounded as if they came from female critics of the Japanese leader.
During the loud initial minute of heckling, Prime Minister Abe began his speech as if nothing was amiss and showed no obvious reaction. The Japanese television media also ignored the protest and was focused entirely on Abe’s speech, many of them not even turning their heads to look.
One man, who seemed to be a print reporter, shouted back at the protesters urging them to shut up, as he couldn’t hear what the prime minister was saying. Apparently, he felt that his job as a journalist was only to record Abe’s words, not to report comprehensively on the events that suddenly confronted him at the rally.
But that print reporter seems to have known his job well, as not one of the Japanese television or print accounts of the event even mentioned the heckling, nor quoted anyone at the event rather than the officials who were on the main stage. For the mainstream Japanese media, it was a non-event.
It had been thirteen years since an LDP prime minister appeared at Rengo’s annual May Day event. Considering the open disapproval that Abe faced at this year’s event, one wonders how long it will be until the next such appearance.
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