Japan’s former leader Shinzo Abe honoured at divisive state funeral

Japan’s former leader Shinzo Abe honoured at divisive state funeral
Akie Abe, widow of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, carries an urn containing his ashes at his state funeral (Franck Robichon/Pool/AP)

Japan’s assassinated former leader Shinzo Abe has been given a rare state funeral that was full of military pomp and surrounded by throngs of mourners as well as by widespread protests, with thousands taking to the streets in opposition.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the publicly financed ceremony was a well-deserved honour for Japan’s longest-serving modern political leader, but it has deeply split public opinion.

The event was attended by US vice president Kamala Harris, Japanese Crown Prince Akishino and other foreign and domestic dignitaries.

It began with Mr Abe’s widow, Akie Abe, in a black formal kimono, walking slowly behind Mr Kishida into the funeral venue, carrying an urn in a wooden box wrapped in a purple cloth with gold stripes.

Soldiers in white uniforms took Mr Abe’s ashes and placed them on a pedestal filled with white and yellow chrysanthemums and decorations.

Attendants stood while a military band played the Kimigayo national anthem, then observed a moment of silence before a video was shown praising the hawkish leader’s life in politics.

It included his 2006 parliamentary speech vowing to build a “beautiful Japan”, his visits to disaster-hit northern Japan after the March 2011 tsunami and his 2016 Super Mario impersonation in Rio de Janeiro to promote the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Akie Abe, widow of Shinzo Abe, bows at the altar (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Pool/AP)

Mr Kishida, in a 12-minute eulogy, praised Mr Abe as a politician with a clear vision for post-war economic growth who promoted national security, the development of Japan and the world and a “free and open Indo-Pacific” as a counter to China’s rise.

“You were a person who should have lived much longer,” Mr Kishida said as he looked up at a massive photo of Mr Abe. “I had a firm belief that you would contribute as a compass showing the future direction of Japan and the rest of the world for 10 or 20 more years.”

He said Mr Abe will be remembered not just as the nation’s longest-serving leader but for what he achieved, and pledged to carry on his policies for Japan and the region.

Mr Abe was cremated in July after a private funeral at a Tokyo temple days after he was assassinated while giving a campaign speech on a street in Nara in western Japan.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (Franck Robichon/AP)

Tokyo was under high security for the state funeral, especially near the venue, the Budokan martial arts hall.

At a protest in central Tokyo, thousands of people marched toward the hall, some banging drums and many shouting or holding banners and signs stating their opposition.

“Shinzo Abe has not done a single thing for regular people,” participant Kaoru Mano said.

Japan’s main political opposition parties boycotted the funeral, which critics say was a reminder of how pre-war imperialist governments used state funerals to fan nationalism.

People protest against the state funeral in Tokyo (Kyodo News/AP)

The government maintains that the ceremony was not meant to force anyone to honour Mr Abe, but the decision to give him the rare honour, which was made without parliamentary debate or approval, the high cost and other controversies have led to anger about the event.

Mr Kishida has also been criticized because of a widening controversy over decades of close ties between Mr Abe and the governing Liberal Democratic Party with the Unification Church, accused of raking in huge donations by brainwashing adherents.

The suspect in the assassination reportedly told police he killed Mr Abe because of his links to the church, which he said took large amounts of money from his mother, bankrupting his family and ruining his life.

Mr Abe’s grandfather, former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped the South Korean-based church take root in Japan and is now seen as a key figure in the scandal. Opponents say holding a state funeral for Mr Abe is equivalent to an endorsement of the governing party’s ties to the church.

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