Japan holds controversial state funeral for assassinated Shinzo Abe

  • 27 Sep 2022

Thousands of Japanese have offered flowers and prayers in honour of Abe, even as the decision to hold a state funeral has provoked opposition and protests.

Abe was Japan's longest-serving prime minister and one of the country's most recognisable political figures, known for cultivating international alliances and his "Abenomics" economic strategy. ( AA )

Japan has held a controversial state funeral for assassinated former prime minister Shinzo Abe, with his widow Akie carrying his ashes into a Tokyo hall where thousands of mourners gathered.

Dressed in a black kimono, Akie carried the ashes in a box covered with a decorative fabric into the Budokan venue as a 19-gun salute sounded in honour of the slain ex-premier on Tuesday.

Thousands of Japanese offered flowers and prayers in honour of Abe ahead of the state funeral attended by hundreds of foreign dignitaries.

Abe was Japan's longest-serving prime minister and one of the country's most recognisable political figures, known for cultivating international alliances and his "Abenomics" economic strategy.

He resigned in 2020 over recurring health problems, but remained a key political voice and was campaigning for his ruling party when a lone gunman killed him on July 8.

The shooting sent shock waves through a country with famously low gun crime and prompted international condemnation.

But the decision to give him a state funeral — only the second for a former premier in the post-war period — has provoked opposition, with around 60 percent of Japanese against the event in recent polls.

READ MORE: Protesters hit the streets in Japan to demand cancellation of Abe's funeral

Protests and opposition

Abe's accused killer targeted the former leader believing he had ties to the Unification Church, which he resented over massive donations his mother had made to the sect.

The assassination prompted fresh scrutiny of the church and its fundraising, and uncomfortable questions for Japan's political establishment, with the ruling party admitting around half its lawmakers had links to the religious organisation.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged the party will sever all ties with the church, but the scandal helped fuel discontent over the state funeral.

Thousands have protested the ceremony and a man set himself on fire last week near the prime minister's office, leaving notes reportedly expressing his objection to the event.

Some lawmakers from opposition parties are also boycotting the funeral altogether.

The controversy has various causes, with some accusing Kishida of unilaterally approving the funeral instead of consulting parliament, and others resentful of a nearly $12 million price tag.

It is also the legacy of Abe's controversial tenure, marked by persistent allegations of cronyism and opposition to his nationalism as well as plans to reform the pacifist constitution.

READ MORE: Japanese man sets himself on fire near PM Kishida's office

Final goodbye 

Despite the controversy, so many people lined up to offer flowers in Tokyo that officials opened the tent half an hour earlier than planned.

The crowd, some dressed smartly in black but others wearing casual clothes, spanned age groups, and mourners placed mostly white bouquets before a photo of Abe with black ribbons draped across its top corners.

Kishida's government may be hoping the solemnity of the event, attended by an estimated 4,300 people including 700 foreign invitees, will drown out the controversy.

US Vice President Kamala Harris and world leaders, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian premier Anthony Albanese, attended the ceremony.

Abe worked to cultivate close ties with Washington to bolster the key US-Japanese alliance, and also courted a stronger "Quad" grouping Japan, the United States, India and Australia.

READ MORE: Japan police chief resigns over 'shortcomings' in Abe's security plans