Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses the Jan. 20 opening of the ordinary session at the Lower House. (Shiro Nishihata)

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  • Photo/Illustraion
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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe trumpeted his achievements but made no mention of allegations that have dogged his administration during his opening address to this year's ordinary Diet session on Jan. 20.

His performance was in sharp contrast with his speech in January last year when he apologized for sloppy procedures in the government's monthly labor survey reports that had deprived millions of workers of their rightful benefits.

The current Diet session is scheduled for 150 days and wind up on June 17. Extending the session beyond that date is viewed as practically impossible as official campaigning for the Tokyo gubernatorial election, a hugely significant event, will start the following day.

A paltry 52 government sponsored bills, a record low, are scheduled to be submitted to the Diet for debate.

His administration has been been plagued by a spate of scandals. One that refuses to go away concerns an annual tax-funded cherry blossom viewing party in Tokyo that critics contend Abe used to advance his own personal interests, particularly supporters in his electoral constituency in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

The government recently acknowledged it mishandled official documents in connection with the occasion in violation of the public records management law.

The opposition camp is stepping up calls for Abe to come clean on a range of questions about the issue in this Diet session.

In addition, he is under pressure over a number of Cabinet appointments that proved to be disastrous.

Isshu Sugawara resigned as minister of the economy last October after only a month into office due to a gift-giving scandal.

Later that month, Katsuyuki Kawai stepped down as justice minister amid allegations his wife, Anri Kawai, an Upper House lawmaker, broke the law by overpaying her campaign staff beyond the statutory limit during the Upper House election last July.

In December, Tsukasa Akimoto, who formerly served as senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office in charge of casino-centered resort projects, was arrested on suspicion of taking bribes from a Chinese company that had sought to win a slice of the action.

Abe made no mention of any of these issues in his Diet address and instead focused on things he had done right since he took office in 2012.

Abe several times referred to the Tokyo Olympics that will open this summer, the first in the capital since 1964, labeling the sports extravaganza the beginning of a “new era.”

He spent time delving into prickly diplomatic issues and raised an old chestnut, state-sponsored abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s by North Korean agents.

Abe, who at the outset of his first administration vowed to resolve the abduction issue while in office, is also keen to conclude a peace treaty with Russia to formally end hostilities emanating from World War II. Such a pact could herald a breakthrough in a long-running territorial dispute between the two countries.

But his efforts to date in this regard have proved frustratingly elusive.

Ties with neighboring South Korea, which are at rock bottom over a number of issues, was another hot topic.

“I hope to build future-oriented bilateral relations while honoring promises made between the two countries,” Abe said during his address.

Bilateral relations plunged to a postwar low after South Korea's Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation to wartime Korean laborers.

Japan was very put out by the rulings, insisting that all wartime compensation issues were resolved in a 1965 treaty that restored diplomatic relations between the two countries.

At the end of his address, Abe asserted that it is his “historic mission” to amend the pacifist Constitution that took effect in 1947 and which has never been revised.

His aim is to specify the legal status of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.

In other developments, Sugawara made his first public appearance in three months when he turned up at the Diet building on Jan. 20.

He pledged to explain the circumstances behind the scandal at the appropriate time.

Anri Kawai, who has remained out of the public eye since the scandal surfaced, told reporters she intends to resume her Diet activities.