Japan is heading for a trade showdown with America

Eel is a delicacy enjoyed all over Japan

Eel is a delicacy enjoyed all over Japan

That said, alarmist moods are expressed in Japan, in particular by the well-known political scientist Watanabe, that Pyongyang, making steps towards Seoul and Washington, but ignoring Tokyo, aims to damage the tripartite relations of the United States, South Korea and Japan. Abe is now seeking a summit with Kim for himself, rather than be further left out of North Asia's rapidly changing political situation.

Tokyo and Beijing discussed shared concerns, including the imposition of high USA tariffs on imported steel, a measure that would affect Chinese and Japanese producers.

Out of consideration for voters in farming states, President Trump reaffirmed last week that the U.S. could return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - the ambitious free trade agreement of the Pacific Rim countries negotiated by President Barack Obama's administration - if there was a "substantial improvement" for the US.

Both are embroiled in controversies surrounding dodgy financial deals but, while Trump's poll numbers are holding up, Abe's have plummeted to record lows.

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Abe had wanted a third term to tend to unfinished business: namely, revising the pacifist constitution for the first time since it was imposed on Japan by its American occupiers after World War II.

"Obviously, the president has got a great relationship there", said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders looking forward to meetings this Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Abe appears unable to shake off the scandals", said Graham, though he pointed out "there was a time when serving Japanese Prime Ministers would be lucky to register more than 20% popularity ratings". One scandal has it that a rightist kindergarten was given a discounted rate in a government land deal. Neither of these cases has produced evidence of direct involvement by Abe, but both have exposed corrupt practices by bureaucrats trying to court favor with the prime minister's staff.

Abe last week denied again that he had intervened to ensure preferential treatment for educational institution Kake Gakuen, run by his friend Kotaro Kake, to set up a veterinary school. The prime minister has repeatedly stated that he will take full responsibility should it be proven that his office was involved. Coinciding with the release of former FBI Director James Comey's new book and the President's Twitter response to it, the summit will likely be overshadowed by Trump's distractions at home.

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There are other levers Washington could also seek to use.

The Abe government is also in a spot of bother over the allegations against Junichi Fukuda, the country's vice finance minister, that he had been sexually harassing women reporters often.

The second could be harder to attain: a statement from Trump that there will be no relaxation of pressure on North Korea, or any change in the USA -led military readiness or exercises, until Pyongyang takes verifiable steps to denuclearize.

Once again, the golf course beckons. At stake are Mr Abe's personal credibility and Japan's long-term security. "If he meets directly with Kim Jong Un, he might say something he shouldn't, or something spontaneously". President Trump too might like a bit of positive news.

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Flirting with the idea of returning to the TPP could be part of Trump's efforts to pressure Japan into bilateral talks.

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