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Noah Smith

Abe Defied Expectations to Build a Better Japan

He leaves behind a country that is both economically stronger and more socially liberal than the one he inherited.  

Outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images AsiaPac

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister, is resigning due to ulcerative colitis. He leaves behind a Japan that is both economically stronger and more socially liberal than the one he inherited.  

When Shinzo Abe took over Japan’s leadership in late 2012, I was extremely skeptical. After a short and unimpressive tenure in office in the mid-2000s, Abe seemed unlikely to rise to the challenge of Japan’s faltering economy and unequal society. And the fact he emerged from a right-wing political bloc seemed to portend a less liberal Japan.