Japan’s leaders began 2020 with grand ambitions to make it a historic year. Tokyo was set to welcome the world for the Summer Olympics, Japan’s first since 1964, and Abe Shinzō, the powerful prime minister, planned to realize his party’s 65-year-old dream: revising Japan’s never-amended, US-drafted 1947 constitution. By spring, however, it was clear that COVID-19 had other plans. Despite public health outcomes better than in any other G7 member, daily life was severely disrupted, and the domestic political and economic fallout for Japan was significant. By late summer, circumstances were improving, but both Abe’s popularity and his personal health had suffered. He resigned in September, ending the longest prime-ministership in Japanese history. Though COVID-19 and the end of the Abe Era were the major storylines of Japan in 2020, a subplot was, paradoxically, remarkable continuity in national politics and foreign affairs.

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