21 July 2017

Was Japan’s First Lady really snubbing US President?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his wife Akie, pictured with US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania at Mar a Lago, Florida, in February. Picture: The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

IT was the Donald Trump interview which spawned a life of its own.

But claims Japan’s First Lady pretended not to speak English for an hour to avoid small talk with the Trumps during dinner aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

In an interview with New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman this week, Mr Trump claimed Japan’s First Lady Akie Abe couldn’t speak English.

Referring to the dinner event at the G20 earlier this month, Mr Trump revealed how he was seated next to the Mrs Abe and her husband Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Calling her a “terrific woman” Mr Trump said the 1 hour and 45 minute dinner was a little awkward because she doesn’t speak English.

When Haberman asked if she spoke any at all, Mr Trump replied: “Like, not “hello.”

But it wasn’t long before the internet unearthed a YouTube video of Mrs Abe giving a 15-minute keynote address in English during a 2014 symposium in New York, the Washington Post revealed.

The revelation led some media and Twitter users to declare it a snub.

However the Post reveals the real reason for her not speaking English was probably more down to her limited ability and a desire not to misspeak.

The Post also notes that Mrs Abe has almost always used a translator during her previous trips to Washington including during a joint visit to a school with Michelle Obama in 2015 where she spoke entirely in Japanese.

She also didn’t use English during a 2014 interview with the Washington Post.

Sources also told the paper they have never heard her speak English and speculated she wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so.

“I have only heard her speak in Japanese,” said one expert said.

“In international meetings, she speaks through an interpreter. I expect she may be able to have a courtesy-type conversation, but you should not assume more than that.”

The Japanese Prime Minister and his wife also spent a weekend with the Trumps during a visit to Florida in February.

However Mrs Abe did not make any public remarks.

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