Traditionally summer is a time for ghost stories in Japan. As temperatures soar and the air becomes thick and muggy, people tell each other chilling tales of the unexplained, hoping that the shivers running down their spines will provide some welcome relief from the heat. However, it seems that Japanese politicians have been getting a little carried away with their tales this summer, to the extent that the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been forced to officially deny that he is too frightened by resident spooks to move into the ministerial house of residence.
Granted, this is a house that comes with a history that would unnerve any buyer. Built in 1929 by noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the the Prime Minister’s Residential Quarters (Sori Daijin Kotei) was the setting for a bloody coup d’état which led to the deaths of several individuals inside the building. It has also seen occupations and assassination attempts, and former occupants have reported ghostly soldiers and footsteps in the nights. The land that the house stands on is also mentioned in a traditional bakeneko (monster cat) story. According to legend, these demonic cats can stand, walk, or dance on their hind legs and have the power to bless or curse anyone who comes into their paths.
One former Prime Minister’s wife wrote in her memoirs that during her time in the house, which is said to still contain bullets lodged within the walls, “I felt – shall I say – chills running through the house. It was like something feeling around your chest. The atmosphere was very odd.”
Traditionally summer is a time for ghost stories in Japan. As temperatures soar and the air becomes thick and muggy, people tell each other chilling tales of the unexplained
Several other first ladies have refused to move into the property however Abe is the only PM to resist relocating. Although he was voted into power in December 2012, he has yet to move into the residence, leading to rampant media speculation that he is leery of encountering the house’s unofficial occupants. Abe previously stayed in the house during his one year tenure as Prime Minister between 2006 and 2007, leading to gossip that something spooked him away from returning.
The issue was brought to a head when an opposition member of parliament wrote a letter to the cabinet asking, “There are rumours that the official residence is haunted by ghosts. Is it true? Does Prime Minister Abe refuse to move to the official residence because of the rumours?” The official residence is next to Abe’s executive office, and there are concerns that his current distance from the location could impede his ability to respond swiftly to emergency situations. In response, the cabinet retorted, “We do not assent to what was asked.”
A more prosaic truth may be that Abe is simply waiting for the outcome of Upper House elections in July, which could guarantee a longer tenure than his last time in power. Whilst Chief Cabinet Secretary Kan has denied that Abe is afraid of things that go bump in the night in the house, he admitted that, “whenever we hold meetings there, the topic usually comes up.” When asked if he believed that paranormal happenings were afoot, he told press that, “We simply don’t know,” providing ample fodder for midnight storytellers across the land.