First lady kicks off off week of welcomes

Posted at 1:45 PM, Nov 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-05 13:45:41-05

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have arrived in Tokyo. Leaving little down time to adjust to the 14-hour time difference from Washington, the first lady is hitting the ground running with a packed schedule of events with her husband and on her own.

With the first lady’s multi-stop tour of Asia comes the tradition of meeting her counterparts; this week, she will be hosted by Akie Abe, wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, South Korean first lady Kim Jung-sook, wife of President Moon Jae-in, and Madame Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump has hosted each woman in the United States, and now it’s her turn to be welcomed.

Trump was “very much looking forward” to seeing Mrs. Abe again, the first lady’s communications director, Stephanie Grisham, told CNN.

The two women visited visit to Mikimoto Ginza Main Store in Tokyo, a luxury brand with a deep history steeped in Japanese culture. The two greeted each other warmly and then headed to a small room where they had a private tea.

Following their tea, Trump and Abe participated in a “pearl seminar,” viewing the different stages of pearl production, learning about the process from two Mikimoto pearl divers. Kokichi Mikimoto was the first person in the world to culture a semi-spherical pearl in 1893 on the island of Ojima, now known as Mikimoto Pearl Island, according to Mikimoto’s website.

Following the seminar, the two women participated in a photo in front of a staircase in what appeared to be the main lobby area of the store. They were then joined for a group photo with Mikimoto senior staff and the two divers, who were clad in what appeared to be an all-white dive suit with a red face mask.

On Monday, the two will tour an elementary school together and have lunch before a state dinner in the evening with their husbands.

Abe-Trump friendship

Abe was the first spouse of a foreign leader to visit the United States during the Trump administration. But with Melania Trump living in New York City during the first months of her husband’s presidency, Abe rolled solo while she was in Washington in February, making stops at Gallaudet University and a National Cherry Blossom Festival committee meeting at the Japanese embassy.

“The first lady was very much looking forward to welcoming Mrs. Abe to the White House upon her arrival in Washington; however, she was informed that Mrs. Abe had previous commitments during her stay in DC,” a statement from the first lady’s office said at the time.

But that weekend, the two got together, traveling to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, with their husbands.

They dined alongside their husbands and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft during their first night in town. The next day, Trump brought Abe to the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in nearby Delray Beach, her first public solo event as first lady. The two toured the gardens while their husbands played golf, something the two leaders are also expected to do during this trip.

It was clear the women were beginning to build a warm rapport during their visit, feeding koi fish at the garden’s pond and laughing delightedly together before returning to Mar-a-Lago for a private lunch together.

That evening, they dressed up for a dinner with their husbands, who, following that meal, delivered statements at a hastily convened joint news conference on North Korea’s ballistic missile launch.

‘I live my own life’

Abe shared a warm relationship with former first lady Michelle Obama, who traveled to Tokyo to roll out her “Let Girls Learn” initiative in 2015, calling Abe a “dear friend.”

Former first lady Laura Bush was also a hostess to Abe, the two visiting George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Virginia.

Abe, once a disc jockey, is the daughter of a chocolate executive and now owns her own organic izakaya restaurant. She is known in Japan for having a mind of her own, sometimes publicly contradicting her husband.

Abe is “popularly known as kateinai yatō (at-home opposition party)” and has openly disagreed with the Prime Minister on issues such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, nuclear power, and the construction of seawalls on part of Japan’s coast, according to the Japan Times. Her 2007 book was called “Watashi wo Ikiru” — translation, according to the Japan Times, “I live my own life.”

While Trump’s views on controversial issues may be more mysterious, she has also made an effort to separate herself from her husband. Trump has defined combating school bullying as a key aspect of her platform as first lady, which has prompted criticism over the President’s Twitter behavior.

Asked by CNN if the first lady feels the need to reconcile that irony with what she’s trying to accomplish, East Wing spokeswoman Grisham said flatly, “no.”

“Mrs. Trump is independent and acts independently from her husband,” Grisham told CNN at the time. “She does what she feels is right and knows that she has a real opportunity through her role as first lady to have a positive impact on the lives of children. Her only focus is to effect change within our next generation.”