Abe was a transformational figure in Japan.

Abe was a transformational figure in Japan.

In his record-breaking run as prime minister, Shinzo Abe never achieved his goal of revising Japan’s Constitution to transform his country into what the Japanese call a “normal nation,” able to employ its military to back up its national interests like any other.

Nor did he restore Japan’s technological edge and economic prowess to the fearsome levels of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Japan was regarded as China is today — as the world’s No. 2 economy that, with organization and cunning and central planning, could soon be No. 1.

But his assassination in the city of Nara on Friday was a reminder that he managed, nonetheless, to become perhaps the most transformational politician in Japan’s post-World War II history, even as he spoke in the maddeningly bland terms that Japanese politicians regard as a survival skill.

After failing to resolve longstanding disputes with Russia and China, he edged the country closer to the United States and most of its Pacific allies (except South Korea, where old animosities ruled).

He created Japan’s first national security council and reinterpreted — almost by fiat — the constitutional restrictions he could not rewrite, so that for the first time Japan was committed to the “collective defense” of its allies. He spent more on defense than most Japanese politicians thought wise.

“We didn’t know what we were going to get when Abe came to office with this hard nationalist reputation,” said Richard Samuels, the director of the Center for International Studies at M.I.T. and the author of books on Japan’s military and intelligence capabilities. “What we got was a pragmatic realist who understood the limits of Japan’s power, and who knew it wasn’t going to be able to balance China’s rise on its own. So he designed a new system.”

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