Japan bid farewell to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in an elaborate state funeral on Tuesday, despite a public outcry over the cost of the event as the country grapples with its late leader’s legacy.
Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Shot dead during a campaign speech in Nara in July, surprising a nation where gun violence is extremely rare.
More than 4,300 guests are expected to attend the service at the Nippon Budokan Arena in Tokyo, including foreign dignitaries such as US Vice President Kamala Harris and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Abe’s casket was carried to the venue, where the government played a video tribute honoring his life and career. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida later gave a memorial speech, praising Abe’s “courage” and dedication.
Other government figures, including former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga – who was Abe’s right-hand man for many years – also made remarks, before those in attendance laid floral offerings and bowed.
Other ceremonial rites of passage include a guard of honor, gun salute and musical performance before the official reception for visiting foreign dignitaries.
Police have increased security Public broadcaster NHK Around 20,000 police officers will be deployed to maintain peace. But there were still clashes between police and protesters outside the funeral venue.
On Tuesday morning, crowds of people lined up outside designated memorial sites to lay flowers and pay their last respects to Abe, who has dominated Japanese politics.
But as he mourned, more than 1,000 people took to the streets in anti-funeral protests, showing deep public divisions on the occasion, Japan’s first state funeral for a Japanese leader since 1967.
The crowd chanted slogans as they marched near the cremation site, carrying some banners calling for a halt to the action. Protest leaders rallied the crowd through loudspeakers and a van drove past, blasting music from a boom box.
The protests turned tense at times, with several loud clashes and scuffles between protesters and the police.
Since Abe’s assassination, the country has faced soaring inflation, and half of Japan’s ruling party has ties to him. Controversial Unification Church, which has faced a backlash over fundraising practices – prompting the church to promise reforms to ensure donations are “not excessive”.
Some critics have pointed to Abe’s unpopular policies One reason for the discontent, and at a time of severe financial stress – questioned why so much taxpayer money was going to state funerals – which would cost about $12 million (1.66 billion yen).
“It was a tragedy that Abe lost his life by being shot, but we should not make him a hero out of this tragedy,” protester Shinsaku Nohira told CNN at a recent anti-state funeral protest outside Japan’s parliament.
“At least half of Japan’s population is against this state funeral, so I don’t want to get the government’s message out there, I want people there to know that there are citizens in Japan who are against this event.”
An opinion poll by NHK in early September showed that 57% of respondents opposed state funerals, compared to 32% – and the rest who said they did not know or declined to answer.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has tried to calm the public, saying Abe’s state funeral was “appropriate” given his achievements as a former leader. The ceremony was not meant to “force people to mourn” or become a “political issue”, he said in August.
Abe served two separate terms, during which he changed Japan’s security posture, questioned the country’s status as a pacifist nation, and passed a major security law in 2015 that expanded what Japan could do militarily to support the US.
He was a prominent figure on the global stage, cultivating strong ties with Washington and seeking better relations with Beijing — as well as seeking to unite Pacific allies to counter China’s expansion in the region.
One of his final achievements in office was securing the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – although the Covid-19 pandemic forced the event to be postponed until 2021.
After stepping down in 2020, due to health reasons, Abe remained active in politics, often campaigning for his party – which he was doing at the time of his assassination.
NHK reported in July that the suspected shooter, Tetsuya Yamagami, The former prime minister was targeted because he believed that Abe’s grandfather – another former Japanese leader – had helped expand a religious group that held grudges against him.
CNN could not independently confirm which group Yamagami was referring to or the ties between Abe and any of the suspected hate groups.
– Source: CNN
Controversial church under microscope after murder
But the killing sparked a backlash against the Unification Church, which said Yamagami’s mother was a member who attended church events, although Yamagami herself was never a member.
It also said an event organized by the church had received a message of support from Abe, but the former prime minister was not a registered church member nor did he sit on its advisory board.
Abe’s death sent shockwaves through Japan and the international community Thousands of mourners gathered in Tokyo in July for his private funeral.