Shinzo Abe shot dead in Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a press conference in Makati City, the Philippines, July 27, 2013. (Rouelle Umali/Xinhua/Redux)

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe died after being shot during a campaign speech in Nara on Friday. He was 67 years old.

Abe served two separate terms as Japan’s right-wing leader Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) – first from 2006 to 2007, then from 2012 to 2020. His second term was the longest consecutive term for a Japanese head of government.

He comes from a family of Japanese prime ministers

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.

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.

He continued to be an influential leader after leaving office

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, son of the late former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, at a memorial ceremony April 15, 1993 in Tokyo.
Abe, son of the late former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, at a memorial ceremony April 15, 1993 in Tokyo. (Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images)

Abe redefined Japan’s diplomatic and military policy

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.

He attempted to strike up a personal relationship with former US President Donald Trump. As Washington’s relationship with Pyongyang shifted toward diplomacy, with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in holding historic summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Abe said he was “committed” to meeting with Kim. 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.


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.

After a strong start, it faltered and in 2015 Abe fired “three new arrows” intended to boost gross domestic product. Any hopes that they could possibly achieve their goal were dashed when Covid-19 swept the country in 2020, tipping Japan into recession.

One of Abe’s major domestic achievements was securing the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. 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 to 2021.

Abe during a televised press conference on the Covid-19, April 7, 2020 in Tokyo.
Abe during a televised press conference on the Covid-19, April 7, 2020 in Tokyo. (Viola Kam/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Abe declared a state of emergency months after the first cases were detected. 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.

Abe is survived by his wife Akie Abe, née Matsuzaki, whom he married in 1987. The couple had no children.

Learn more about his legacy here and see his life in photos here.