News this week that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will resign has sent his ruling Liberal Democratic Party into a state of confusion, and taken most Japanese by surprise.
Abe's tenure has been wracked by scandal and by the controversy over the country's support of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Abe is now hospitalized, suffering from exhaustion, one day after announcing his resignation.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party will hold an election to choose Abe's successor Sept. 23.
Surprise at Abe's Alma Mater
The debate over Abe's rise and fall has spread to every corner of the country. On the campus of Tokyo's Keisei University, where Abe went to school, the news spread like wildfire.
Seventeen-year-old Akiyo Omori heard the news in her classroom. "Our class teacher delivered the news," said Omori. "We were so surprised. I watched the news on TV and read reports on the Internet. I do not understand why he left at this point," Omori said. "It looks like he is running away from responsibilities, which does not look cool."
The campus buzzed, but remained calm as students heard the news about their distinguished graduate's abrupt departure from the prime minister's office.
"Some students were talking about him today," said Kaori Kubo, a 21-year-old who studies Japanese literature. "We were all excited when he became prime minister," Kubo said. "I am disappointed that he left in that manner and at this time without important business taken care of. Mr. Abe does not seem like a bad person but he seems little too fragile."
Twenty-two-year-old literature major Eri Kashioka shared the sentiment. "He seems like a nice person but I am not sure if he had the tenacity to do the job," said Kashioka. "I think people bullied him too much -- everyone from his party to the opposition party to the public. He was pushed to the point where he got sick. That is enough."
Atsuki Ono, a 22-year-old engineering major, was more sympathetic. He said Abe was someone nice who was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and that many of the scandals that plagued his administration were not his doing. "There were problems... which were out of his control," Ono said. "Those problems existed before he took office."
On the Streets of Tokyo, Abe Is the Talk of the Town
Jun Yajima, a 35-year-old office worker, said all the nit-picking on Abe and his administration must have drained him emotionally. "It happens in a workplace as well," said Yajima. "I understand his frustration but he is certainly not the only one in the world to experience that. Once you are at the top, you need to consider a lot of things other than yourself before you step down. You cannot just call it quits."
A 41-year-old officer worker Kazumi Tanaka said Abe should have timed his departure better. "I think he should have resigned after his party lost in the last election," said Tanaka. "It was the obvious time to step down but he somehow chose not to. Then he has a responsibility as a leader to carry out his business at least for a while."
Yumi Suzuki, a 39-year-old stay-at-home mother who voted for Abe's Liberal Democratic Party in the last election, said Abe seemed like a "delicate and serious" person when she saw him during the election campaign. "He did not seem like he had good support from his staff and ministers," said Suzuki, who sympathizes with Abe and still plans on voting for the LDP. "I feel bad for him but I do not understand why he did what he did when he did it. That does not make sense to me."
Nori Mano felt for Abe. "He was a little too young and a little too fragile but what happened is not entirely his fault," said the 71-year-old housewife. "People need to let politicians do their job without applying a magnifying glass to worry about little details. No one is perfect. If you keep nit-picking like that, no one decent will become a politician."
Mano said Abe should rest and think of what he wants to do. "If he wants to run for the office, I think he may have another chance," said Mano. "But he needs to learn to grow thick skin, very thick skin, if he wants to become a good politician. Being nice is just not enough."
"Old-school politicians would not have left the office for health reasons," said Kuniichi Nakano, an 82-year-old retired office worker. "I am not saying he should work till he dies but he cannot quit such an important job just at the snap of his fingers," said Nakano. "You need physical and emotional strength to be a good politician. He should have known that better since he was born into a family with strong political connections."
A 26-year-old office worker, Yuka Otsuka, made a detour after lunch to purchase Japanese sweets named after Abe at a Tokyo souvenir store. "I wanted to get this before they sell out," said Otsuka. "Something to remember Mr. Abe by." Otsuka said she wanted to see the first prime minister born after the war to hang out a little longer. "I wanted to see a little more resilience in him," said Otsuka. "I am part of the postwar generation, too. Mr. Abe might not have had the strength of the prewar generation but I wanted him to at least try to stick around."
At candy maker Daito Co. Ltd., the company that makes the Abe candy, owner Toshio Okubo said he has been flooded with orders for more of the "Shin-chan manju," a traditional Japanese steamed cake with bean paste inside and a likeness of Abe's face imprinted on the outside.
Okubo said certain principles remain the same whether running a business or running the government. "Determining the timing of departure is critical for leaders," said the 59-year-old businessman. "You need to preserve the trust and reputation of your organization. You need to create an environment before you go so that people around you will be ready. You cannot leave abruptly."
Abe was the second straight prime minister Okubo honored with a line of candy. He is not sure whether he will create a new line of sweets in honor of the next prime minister.