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Japan grapples with the killing of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Japan's former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated this morning at a campaign rally in the Japanese city of Nara. The suspected shooter used a handmade gun in a country where this sort of violence is incredibly rare. Motoko Rich is Tokyo bureau chief for The New York Times, and she joins us now. Welcome.

MOTOKO RICH: Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: Do we know anything yet about who the suspected gunman is and what may have motivated him?

RICH: Right now, we know very little. We know his name. His name is Tetsuya Yamagami. He's 41 years old. He lived in the neighborhood. He has said that he held a grudge against an organization that he believed was connected to Prime Minister Abe or former Prime Minister Abe and that he did go to the site intending to kill him. But we don't really understand what he meant by that and what his motive is. But we're hoping that we'll find out more as the investigation unfurls.

SUMMERS: I mentioned that gun violence is incredibly rare in Japan. Can you talk a little bit more about that or how unusual of an assassination this is?

RICH: It's exceedingly rare. I mean, the last time there was a political assassination was in 1960, and it was carried out with knives. I mean, the other sad connection to Prime Minister Abe is that his grandfather, who was also a prime minister, was attacked by a would-be assassin. But he was stabbed six times, and he survived that attack.

But gun violence is extremely rare overall in Japan. I mean, they're just - it's very difficult to buy a gun. It's not a matter of political debate as it is in the United States. The assailant in this case or the assassin in this case used a homemade gun. So overall, it's just extremely rare. And everyone in Japan is shocked. I mean, we've talked to lots of people today who say, you know, this is so un-Japanese. We couldn't believe this could happen here. It's really shattered a sense of safety that people have here.

SUMMERS: You've mentioned that people have been shattered and horrified. I wonder, how are people remembering Abe? What do you think will stand out as his legacy?

RICH: First and foremost, I think people will remember that he had immense longevity. He was the longest-serving prime minister in Japan's history. He ushered in an era that he dubbed Abenomics. He pushed through some laws in 2015, which allowed Japanese soldiers to participate in overseas combat missions if they were fighting alongside allies. He pushed Japan to increase defense spending. He pushed Japan onto the world stage in efforts to make Japan a leader in the region as a defense against a rising China. He curried favor with world leaders, including Donald Trump.

But he also did not do what he set out to do, which was to revise the constitution. The constitution was written by American occupiers in the postwar era and has a pacifist clause in it. And he wanted to revise that, and he never managed to accomplish that.

SUMMERS: I know you've done a good deal of reporting on Abe's record with women. On that count, how do you think he'll be remembered?

RICH: Well, I think on the one hand, he kind of put the issue of women's empowerment on the table. He coined the term or he took up the term womenomics and talked about the importance of leveraging this sort of a massive labor pool among 50% of the country, well-educated people who could contribute to the economy. And he was right about that. And he often was very proud of having presided over a period in which Japan's labor force participation among women rose. What he sometimes failed to mention was that a lot of those women were working in contract jobs without benefits, low-paying jobs, part-time jobs, and that they also carried an enormous burden at home, which was not alleviated by Japan's work culture.

And over his watch, although he promised to make certain targets, like increasing the proportion of women who served in government, including in his party and in business, none of those targets were reached while he was prime minister. So there was criticism of that, the fact that he made a lot of promises and didn't deliver. On the other hand, one has to give credit where credit is due. He kind of put it on the map as an issue. And now in this upcoming upper house election, more women are standing as candidates than ever before in a Japanese national election.

SUMMERS: That was Motoko Rich, the Tokyo bureau chief for The New York Times. Thank you so much.

RICH: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.