The Prime Minister of Japan Wants You to Know He's Not Afraid of Ghosts

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
May 24 2013 3:04 PM

The Prime Minister of Japan Wants Everyone to Know He's Not Afraid of Ghosts

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe waves as he arrives with his wife at Yangon International Airport in Yangon on May 24, 2013.

Photo by Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images

Here's a story you don't see every day about the leader of a major global power, via the AFP:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet on Friday formally denied months-long rumours that the premier had not moved into his official residence over fears the mansion is haunted. The conservative leader took office in December but has yet to move into the 11-room brick home in central Tokyo, the longest holdout among any of his predecessors, according to local media. ... Abe’s cabinet issued a terse written statement on Friday, saying: “We do not assent to what was asked.”

The prime minister's official declaration wasn't completely unprompted, but that doesn't necessarily make the whole thing any less bizarre. The statement came in response to a letter sent to Abe's Cabinet from opposition lawmaker Ken Kagaya, who asked: "There are rumors 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 rumors?"

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According to the Global Post, Abe currently lives in his home in Tokyo and commutes daily via motorcade to his official office, located conveniently only a few minutes' walk from the official residence that he's so far opted against moving into. Kagaya and co. used that fact as the public rationale for their request—their thought being that the roughly 15-minute commute would slow Abe's response time in the event of a late-night national emergency—although I'm sure they're more than OK with the implication that somehow the leader of their opposition is afraid of things that go bump in the night.

The ghost stories have been bouncing around for decades, and likely stem from a pair of major coup d’etat attempts back in the 1930s that took place in the compound and resulted in more than a few assassinations of government officials, including then-Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai in 1932. The Wall Street Journal wrote about the paranormal speculation last year, explaining that one former prime minister "is said to have heard footsteps of what sounded like men in boots approaching his bedroom in the middle of the night, only to open the door and find an empty hallway," while others "have said they’ve see spirits of men in uniform roaming about the compounds."

While acknowledging that he's heard the paranormal rumors like everyone else, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that his boss' decision is simply an issue of comfort. "The prime ministership is an extremely busy post with pressing work," Suga said. "So I think (Abe) should be allowed to work in what he considers the best environment."

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

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