Extra US$10 million for Shinzo Abe state funeral amid growing opposition from Japan’s taxpayers
- Last month, PM Fumio Kishida said US$1.7 million would be spent on the funeral of the former leader fatally shot during an election campaign speech in July
- Growing opposition, given Abe’s divisive political stances and various scandals, is prompting fears the outlay could trigger a strong backlash from the public
The Japanese government said on Tuesday that it will allocate an additional 1.4 billion yen (US$9.97 million) for the state funeral of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to cover costs for security and welcome foreign dignitaries, bringing the total price tag to over 1.6 billion yen (US$11.3 million).
With opposition to the slain former leader’s state funeral growing, given his divisive political stances and various scandals, the vastly larger outlays that draw on taxpayers’ money may trigger a strong backlash from the public, observers said.
Late last month, the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said it would spend 249 million yen (US$1.7 million) on the September 27 funeral for Abe, who a lone gunman fatally shot during an election campaign speech in early July.
Kishida said at the time that the total cost would be publicised after the funeral as it would vary depending on the number of foreign guests joining the event, but the government apparently felt forced to announce the figure in advance in consideration of intense public debate over the event.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press conference Tuesday that 800 million yen (US$5.6 million) will be used for security and 600 million (US$4.2 million) for arrangements to welcome foreign dignitaries expected to travel to Tokyo from around 50 countries.
Jun Azumi, Diet affairs chief of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, criticised the government, telling reporters that the funeral costs have “swelled” by more than six times the originally stated figure.
Kishida has said he is ready to appear in parliamentary sessions slated to be held later this week to explain holding only the second state funeral for a former prime minister in post-war Japan.
Earlier this month, a Tokyo-based company successfully bid to organise the funeral. The company had been involved in much-criticised cherry blossom viewing parties that Abe hosted while he was premier.
Amid scepticism that the Kishida Cabinet may have given preferential treatment to the firm in the selection process, Matsuno said Monday that the company was the only bidder, making its selection automatic.
On Tuesday, the government also unveiled the schedule of the state funeral. Former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Abe’s immediate successor, will make a speech on behalf of Abe’s friends, in addition to the heads of all three branches of government.
The Self-Defence Forces will fire a funeral salute on the day, but Kishida has pledged not to press individual citizens to make a public display of mourning for Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.
Abe, who died at 67, was prime minister for around one year from 2006 and from 2012 to 2020. Suga served as Abe’s right-hand man for nearly eight years as chief Cabinet secretary before taking the reins from him in September 2020.
Meanwhile, some opposition parties, including the Japanese Communist Party, have expressed their intention to boycott the funeral, claiming it is unconstitutional.
Japan last held a state funeral in 1967 for former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida. He led Japan’s recovery from the ashes of World War II.
Kishida’s government has seen its approval ratings slide recently against a backdrop of the decision to hold the state funeral and the public’s wariness about the ruling party’s links to a controversial religious group that became apparent after Abe’s murder.
The premier has required lawmakers of his Liberal Democratic Party to sever ties with the Unification Church. The group has drawn scrutiny over “spiritual sales,” in which people are coerced into buying jars and other items for exorbitant prices.
Abe was targeted due to his perceived links to the Unification Church, with the assailant, Tetsuya Yamagami, telling investigators after his arrest that his mother’s substantial donations to the church ruined his family’s finances.
In September 2021, Abe appeared in a video message aired at an event held by a Unification Church-affiliated group.
At a party executive committee meeting on Tuesday, Kishida called for all-out efforts to investigate relations between LDP lawmakers and the Unification Church, founded by a staunch anti-communist and known for its mass weddings, according to a participant of the meeting.
The ruling party is expected to publish the results of the investigation by the end of this week.
After Kishida reshuffled his Cabinet and party executive line-ups in August, it was revealed that many of those involved have some ties with the Unification Church, now officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
The revelations add to evidence of what could be a densely intertwined network of contact between LDP lawmakers and the Unification Church, established in South Korea in 1954 by the late Sun Myung Moon and labelled a cult by critics.