As the TV show Waratte iitomo! (“It’s OK to laugh!”) draws to a close, producers had decided to invite Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to guest on the variety show last Friday. The appearance was a first for an active prime minister on the show, which has spanned for 32 years.
While Abe was in good spirits arriving at the studio, protesters opposed to his policies lined the rear entrance of the studio. Demonstrators were holding placards that read, “It’s OK to quit!” while shouting angrily, “Is this really the time to be appearing on a variety show?!” He waved to the people upon arriving with heavy security, but he lost the jovial expression when he was welcomed with calls to “resign.”
The show was introduced to Abe by ex-premier Junichiro Koizumi. He appeared on the ‘Telephone Shocking” segment, where the show gives a surprise phone call to a celebrity. Speaking to the 68-year old Tamori, who hosts the show, Abe asked for his secret in holding his role as a host for such a lengthy time, after the former proposed a drink soon. Tamori also tried to keep the mood light, joking about flowers delivered “on behalf of the LDP Youth Bureau” and describing the security police “as really something!” Many speculate that the move to guest on a variety show was to give an image of a Prime Minister that is approachable given the imminent tax increase on April 1. Political commentator Asagawa Hirotada noted that while “it is usually unthinkable for a Prime Minister to appear on a variety show” it seemed that it was done to raise a “slumping approval rating” before the change.