Japan's first lady tours USS George Washington

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Akie Abe, wife of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, talks with sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington following a tour Feb. 12, 2015. (Erik Slavin/Stars and Stripes)
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Akie Abe, wife of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, talks with sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington following a tour Feb. 12, 2015. (Erik Slavin/Stars and Stripes)

Japan's first lady tours USS George Washington

by: Erik Slavin | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: February 13, 2015

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The USS George Washington played host Thursday to Japan’s first lady and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, completing one of its highest-profile ship tours before the aircraft carrier leaves Japan later this year.

Akie Abe, wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, spent a few hours aboard talking with sailors, checking out the flight line and purchasing some Navy gear in the ship store, among other activities.

The tour began with three of the approximately 500 women serving aboard the carrier sharing an overview of the ship’s firefighting capabilities.

“She seemed happy that there were women presenting this,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Monica Duran, of El Paso, Texas.

In recent years, Abe has been outspoken in her support for more women to be active in the job market, despite Japan’s male-dominated business culture.

Multiple sailors said they enjoyed talking with Abe, Kennedy and other dignitaries Thursday.

“I definitely don’t think I ever expected to do something like this,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Ariel Peterson, of Springfield, Mass.

The size of the 1,092-foot ship, often compared to a floating city, and its complement of about 5,500 sailors with its air wing embarked impressed the first lady.

“I’m very thankful to the young sailors and their great efforts to protect the security of Japan,” Abe said.

Abe’s husband is widely viewed as a staunch advocate for bolstering the U.S.-Japan security alliance.

The prime minister is spearheading legal changes that would, among things, allow Japan to attack an adversary engaged in a fight with U.S. forces, if not doing so would constitute a threat to Japan.

Shinzo Abe’s plans have met criticism from parties concerned that the move will lead Japan away from the pacifist role it has played since it adopted its U.S.-written constitution in 1947.

However, with tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program and multinational territorial disputes simmering in the region, Washington has been receptive to much of the Japanese government’s agenda.

Kennedy acknowledged Japan’s role in the alliance and welcomed further participation in security affairs.

“We’re thankful for Japan’s interest in taking on additional responsibilities,” Kennedy said.

The USS George Washington arrived in Japan in 2008 and will head back to the U.S. for a multiyear overhaul project. Most of the crew will return to Japan later this year aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, which will then be home ported at Yokosuka.

slavin.erik@stripes.com
Twitter: @eslavin_stripes

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