Japan honours assassinated Abe at controversial funeral

Published September 28, 2022
Akie Abe, wife of Sinzo Abe, bows to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as she arrives at the state funeral of her husband on Tuesday.—Reuters
Akie Abe, wife of Sinzo Abe, bows to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as she arrives at the state funeral of her husband on Tuesday.—Reuters

TOKYO: With flowers, prayers and a 19-gun salute, Japan honoured slain former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday at the first state funeral for a former premier in 55 years — a ceremony that has become as controversial as he was in life.

The ceremony started at 2pm, with Abe’s ashes carried into the Nippon Budokan Hall in central Tokyo by his widow, Akie, to music from a military band and the booms of the honour-guard salute, which echoed inside the hall.

Thousands of mourners flooded to designated spots near the venue from early morning to pay their last respects.

Within hours, about 10,000 people had laid flowers, television showed, with more waiting in three-hour long queues. “I know it’s divisive and there are a lot of people against this, but there were so many people lined up to offer flowers,” said Yoshiko Kojima, a 63-year-old Tokyo housewife. “I felt that now the funeral is actually taking place, many people have come out to pray for him.” Abe’s killing at a July 8 campaign rally set off a flood of revelations about ties between lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) he once ran and the Unification Church, which critics call a cult, sparking a backlash against current premier Fumio Kishida.

With his support ratings dragged to their lowest ever by the controversy, Kishida has apologised and vowed to cut party ties to the church.

But opposition to honouring Abe with a state funeral, the first such event since 1967, has persisted, fed by an $11.5-million price tag to be borne by the state at a time of economic pain for ordinary citizens.

In one part of downtown Tokyo, protesters waved signs and chanted “No state funeral” to the tune of a guitar.

Inside the Budokan, better known as a concert venue, a large portrait of Abe draped with black ribbon hung over a bank of green, white and yellow flowers.

Nearby, a wall of photos showed Abe strolling with G7 leaders, holding hands with children and visiting disaster areas.

A moment of silence was followed by a retrospective of Abe’s political life and speeches by leading ruling party figures, including Kishida and Yoshihide Suga, Abe’s successor and Kishida’s predecessor as prime minister. Suga noted that many people in their 20s and 30s had showed up to offer flowers.

“You always said you wanted to make Japan better, that you wanted young people to have hope and pride,” Suga said, his voice trembling.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2022

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