Japan Defends Abe After His Virus Video On Twitter Sparks Backlash
Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, wearing a protective mask, attends a plenary session at the upper house of parliament in Tokyo, Japan. (Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg)

Japan Defends Abe After His Virus Video On Twitter Sparks Backlash

(Bloomberg) -- Japan’s government defended Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after his attempt to use social media to get more people to stay home during the pandemic drew accusations that he’s out of touch with the struggles citizens are facing.

Abe uploaded a video on his Twitter Sunday taking part in a trend where users overlay their videos on those of singer Gen Hoshino, as he performs a song supporting social distancing that can be translated as “Dance at Home.” Pop stars have shared the screen to harmonize and families have uploaded clips of themselves bopping in the cramped spaces of their homes in postings aimed at boosting spirits.

Abe’s minute-long version depicts a somewhat saturnine-looking prime minister at his residence holding his dog, drinking tea and channel surfing. The hashtag “Who do you think you are?” trended after the video was released, with users attacking Abe for being tone-deaf for seeming to be relaxing at home during a virus emergency he declared.

The government’s chief spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters Monday that Abe sympathized with the feelings in Hoshino’s video, which is why he posted. “Social media is very effective to communicate to young people that they should stay at home. As far as can we confirm on Twitter, this post got a large reaction and received a record 350,000 likes,” Suga said.

Even though Japan has had the fewest confirmed coronavirus infections among Group of Seven leading democracies, Abe has seen his support rate slipping in polls this month with many criticizing his government for being slow in its response. A Kyodo News poll on Monday showed the support rate dropping 5.1 percentage points from late March to hit 40.4%.

The slip doesn’t bode well for Abe as he looks to set a date for elections that must be held by the autumn of 2021. Global leaders will likely be measured by how they responded to the crisis. In neighboring South Korea, President Moon Jae-in has seen his support surge to 56% due to an aggressive response that has won international praise, giving his beleaguered progressive party a boost as the country holds parliamentary elections on Wednesday.

For more on Japan’s fight against the virus:

Abe’s message seemed intended to support those who can’t meet with friends or go out for food and drinks, something he referenced at his news conference last week announcing the state of emergency. For many, it seemed out of touch.

“That’s the only hardship caused by coronavirus that he can think of,” a person with the Twitter handle of @mcym163 wrote. Japan’s biggest cities including Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka have been under a state of emergency since last week where people are urged to stay home and many businesses to cut hours.

“Is the leader of this country an aristocrat?” fumed another user, @fujitatakanori, in a tweet that was picked up on the front page of Nikkan Sports, a leading tabloid.

Hoshino for his part moved quickly to distance himself from the prime minister. “Regarding the video uploaded by Shinzo Abe, just like the other videos uploaded by you all, there was no contact with myself or my office regarding it, including afterwards,” he said on Instagram.

The video is the latest misstep in Abe’s start-stop campaign against the virus. Abrupt plans to distribute millions of cloth face masks to households met with derision on Twitter after it was announced before details of the stimulus package to stem the economic hit from the virus.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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