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It takes teamwork to confront the threats posed by North Korea. Japan is among America's most reliable allies in Asia. Lately though, Japan is feeling increasingly left out. The country's prime minister is set to meet with President Trump in-person tomorrow at Mar-a-Lago. NPR's Elise Hu reports on the strained ties.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: Just before Shinzo Abe headed to the U.S., typically tame protesters in Tokyo made an unusual show of defiance.
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HU: Hundreds of demonstrators broke through police barricades to get closer to Japan's Parliament, the Diet, all to protest the Prime Minister's leadership. In cities around the country, tens of thousands took part in demonstrations calling on Abe to resign. Their posters read, Abe, you're a liar.
YUKINO BABA: (Through interpreter) I don't trust them - the whole system - because they've lied time and time again, and this is not the only time that's happened.
HU: Twenty-one-year-old Yukino Baba is a college student who says she's furious over cronyism scandals involving sweetheart land deals and evidence top Japanese officials doctored public documents to cover it up. Abe has denied involvement.
BABA: (Through interpreter) I do think that he wants to shift the attention of the people from the domestic scandals to the international affairs and also appeal to the masses that he's doing his job properly.
HU: A Nippon TV poll last week showed support of Abe and his cabinet has fallen to 26 percent - the lowest in his current go-around as Japanese premier. Jeff Kingston, who is Asia Studies Director at Tokyo's Temple University, says the rising domestic anger is happening just as Abe is trying to remain relevant internationally.
JEFF KINGSTON: He's got these two cronyism scandals brewing in the Diet. Suddenly, he gets whacked by Trump. You know, it's been a bad couple of months for Prime Minister Abe.
HU: Whacked both economically and diplomatically. Unlike other allies, Japan isn't exempted from U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum. Its regulators got accused by the president, inexplicably, of dropping bowling balls on American cars. Fact check - not true. And Japan got left out in fast-moving diplomacy brokered by South Korea that led to a potential U.S.-North Korea summit.
KINGSTON: For Abe, the big risk is that these talks will be inconclusive. They'll be dragging on. And in a way, they'll normalize North Korea's having nuclear capability.
HU: Abe attempted to build a rapport with President Trump by being the first foreign leader to visit him after the 2016 election. He hosted Trump for golf and lavish meals during his trip to Asia last year. But the diplomacy seems to have yielded little in return. Now the prime minister is trying to make sure Japan's interests aren't forgotten.
KINGSTON: I think that this is going to be a difficult trip for Abe. But on the upside, how much worse can it get?
HU: As Abe labors to keep the alliance with the U.S. from wavering, Kingston recalls a scene captured via helicopter cameras from November's golf game with Trump. At one point, Abe hit his ball into a bunker. While he was down in the sand trap, he tumbled backwards as he tried to climb out.
KINGSTON: But the whole image was showing Trump striding down the fairway oblivious of Abe's problems, Abe all alone.
HU: He says, lately, that image has become a metaphor. Elise Hu, NPR News, Tokyo.
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