A rare and controversial state funeral for assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe began Tuesday in Japan, where the event for one of the country’s most controversial leaders deeply divided public opinion.
Abe’s widow, Akie Abe, wearing a formal black kimono, slowly entered the Budokan compound carrying an urn containing her husband’s ashes, placed in a wooden box and wrapped in purple striped cloth. Defense soldiers in white uniforms took Abe’s ashes and placed them on a pedestal filled with flowers and decorations of white and yellow chrysanthemums.
The USA. United States Vice President Kamala Harris sat in the third row alongside dozens of foreign dignitaries and 4,300 in attendance, along with Rahm Emanuel, the United States Ambassador to Japan.
Abe was cremated in July after a private funeral at a Tokyo temple days after his assassination while delivering a campaign speech on a street in Nara, a city in western Japan.
Kishida says Japan’s longest-serving post-war political leader deserves a state funeral. But the undemocratic decision to give him the rare honor with imperial ties, the expense and controversy over his and the ruling party’s ties to the ultra-conservative Unification Church have fueled controversy over the event.
Masayuki Aoki, a 70-year-old business owner, recalls his “fist bump” with Abe when he came to fight near his home in Yokohama just days before his death. “I am emotionally connected to him and have also supported the PLD,” he said. “I had to come to offer her flowers.”
Masae Kurokawa, 64, who also gave flowers to Abe, praised him as “a great figure who has brought Japan back to the international level.”
The government claims that the ceremony should not compel anyone to honor Abe. Japan’s main political opposition parties will not attend the event, which critics say is reminiscent of how pre-war imperialist governments used state funerals to foment nationalism.
Some see this as an attempt to further justify Abe’s honor, Kishida has held meetings with foreign leaders this week, which he describes as “funeral diplomacy.” The talks are expected to strengthen ties as Japan grapples with regional and global challenges, including threats from China, Russia, and North Korea. He was due to meet about 40 foreign leaders by Wednesday, but no Group of Seven leaders will attend.
Kishida has been criticized for urging the costly event and the widespread controversy over Abe and the ruling party’s decades-long close association with the ultra-conservative Unification Church, accused of raising huge funds through brainwashers. Abe’s alleged killer reportedly told police he killed the politician because of his connections to the Church; said his mother ruined his life by giving away family money to the church.
“The fact that the close ties between the LDP and the Unification Church may have affected the policy of the formulation process, is seen by the Japanese to pose a greater threat to democracy than Abe’s assassination,” wrote Jiro Yamaguchi, a professor of political science at Hosei University, in a recent article.