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President Donald Trump and Japanese first lady Akie Abe. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

Lost in translation

Did Japan’s first lady pretend she doesn’t speak English to avoid talking to Trump?

July 20, 2017

Theories swirled around the internet on Thursday that Akie Abe, the first lady of Japan, pretended she doesn’t know how to speak English to avoid having to talk with President Trump at the G20 Summit in Germany last week. The speculation stems from a passage in a wildly explosive interview the president gave to The New York Times. In addition to lambasting Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of his earliest supporters, taking shots at former FBI Director James Comey and issuing veiled threats at Special Counselor Robert Mueller, who’s leading the Russia probe, Trump also made an interesting claim about Akie Abe, whom he was seated next to during a dinner for world leaders and their significant others at the G20.

A screen shot of the relevant passage is below and the entire transcript of the interview can be read here. Essentially, Trump told Times political reporter Maggie Haberman that it was awkward being seated next to Akie Abe for nearly two hours because she doesn’t know how to speak English.

Only, she clearly does know how to speak at least some English. As Sam Thielman, a writer for Talking Points Memo, pointed out on Twitter, there is video of Akie Abe delivering a keynote address at a Ford Foundation event in 2014. Watch it here.

Feminist writer Jessica Valenti then suggested that the first lady had been faking it to avoid having to converse with Trump, and the theory was off to the races.

But does Trump really think Akie Abe is unable to utter even a word of English — “like, not ‘hello'”? It’s highly suspect that Trump isn’t aware that the Japanese first lady is able to speak some English. Remember, the president and first lady hosted Shinzo and Akie Abe at their Mar-a-Lago resort in February.

Look! Here’s a photo of Akie Abe seated right next to Trump and apparently involved in the dinner conversation. Are we to believe she did not utter a single word to him throughout that entire evening?

President Donald Trump dines with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, center, their spouses Melania Trump and Akie Abe, and Robert Kraft, the New England Patriots owner, at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., Feb. 10, 2017. Kraft’s NFL franchise won the Super Bowl on Sunday. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

And look here! Below is a video of Melania Trump and Akie Abe touring a Japanese garden in Delray Beach during that same visit. At points of the video, there is what appears to be an interpreter joining the two first ladies. But at approximately the 27-second mark of the video, Akie Abe and Melania Trump can be seen standing together on a bridge, alone with no interpreter in sight. As the camera zooms in, the two can be seen exchanging at least some words, presumably in English since Japanese is not one of the five languages Melania Trump is able to speak.

So, while the evidence is plentiful that Akie Abe can in fact speak English, the question must be asked: How could the president not know this? Or does he in fact know she is able to speak some English and is he saying otherwise for some other reason? And what are we to make of their apparent lack of dinner conversation at the G20? Perhaps, Akie Abe, who has stuck a feminist tone in the past, just simply didn’t want to speak to a guy like Trump, who routinely disrespects women.


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