First lady Michelle Obama, left, and Akie Abe, the wife of the prime minster of Japan, meet with students at Great Falls Elementary School in Virginia. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

Akie Abe, wife of the Japanese prime minister, confessed to being more than a little disappointed when her husband traveled to the U.S. without her a couple of years ago. Michelle Obama’s schedule was packed and could not accommodate a visit with Akie Abe.

Since then, the two women — who we’ll see side by side at tonight’s White House state dinner after a busy joint schedule in the D.C. area today — have been catching up on lost time. They met at the U.N. General Assembly last year and discussed their common interests. Both have food initiatives — Akie’s concern is food safety, Michelle’s is healthy eating. And they shared a mutual concern for girls’ education.

[The Japanese state dinner, where the behind-the-scenes choices will be closely watched]

Last month, Michelle travelled to Japan where she stood with Akie, who wrote her master’s thesis on education in Burma, to announce “Let Girls Learn.” Through the program, the two nations will partner to promote girls’ education worldwide and address the 62 million girls around the globe who are not in school.

[In Japan, Michelle Obama decries ‘injustice’ of barriers to girls’ schooling]


Obama, left, and Akie Abe pose together at Iikura Guest House in Tokyo on March 19. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

The connection between the two women goes beyond policy.

Like Michelle, Akie is a popular figure, known for being friendly and approachable. Akie enjoys sake. Michelle likes a good margarita. Both are active on social media. Akie has launched a Web cast where she talks about happiness. Michelle spreads her message of healthy eating with dancing videos and shares family photos on Twitter and Instagram. When Michelle was in Tokyo, Akie took her to a Japanese pub that she owns in central Tokyo, serving pesticide-free “Akie rice.” Michelle has said sushi is among her family’s favorite foods.

For Japan, Akie’s high profile is a shift. First ladies there have often remained in the background.

As a recent Washington Post profile of Akie noted: “Defying stereotypes of the submissive Japanese wife, [Akie] Abe publicly contradicts her husband’s policies. She’s anti-nuclear while he is adamant that it is needed for energy. She opposes his tsunami-protection levee plan and enjoys Korean culture while he battles with Seoul. The prime minister calls her the ‘domestic opposition party.’”

[Japan’s first lady loves sake and Facebook, and people love her for it]

The Obamas aren’t quite so public on their policy disagreements, though Michelle was said to have urged the president to state his support for same-sex marriage. Akie too has been a supporter of LGBT rights.

Following the state dinner tonight, an after-party between the Obamas and Abes could be a lot of fun. Akie Abe was once a radio DJ, whose jockey name was “Akky,” and everyone knows how much Michelle likes to dance.


First lady Michelle Obama, left, hugs Akie Abe, the wife of the prime minister of Japan, at an event in Virginia on April 28. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

 

In related state dinner news:

Interesting pairing: The Japanese state dinner will feature a menu by an Iron Chef and music from ‘Jersey Boys’

Who’s going to the state dinner? Chitose Abe of Sacai is on the guest list

For Japan state dinner, White House floral shop soldiers on without head florist

And the lady wore blue: At debut of new china service the first lady also flashes bold nail color

Too much East and not enough West? What’s on the menu for the upcoming Japan state dinner.