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Demonstrators hold placards during a protest against the planned state funeral for slain former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo last week. Photo: Bloomberg

Japan ups security for Shinzo Abe’s state funeral amid protests over US$20 million cost

  • Police out in force for Tuesday’s event, after elderly man set fire to himself in protest against government’s decision to grant Abe a state funeral
  • Some members of imperial family to attend, with US Vice-President Kamala Harris and French President Emmanuel Macron among over 190 foreign dignitaries invited
Security is being dramatically stepped up in Japan in the days leading up to the state funeral of slain former prime minister Shinzo Abe, even as debate over whether a leader who divided public opinion deserves such an honour continues to rage.

The funeral and a memorial service for Abe, who was prime minister for a record eight years and 267 days over two spells before stepping down in September 2020, is expected to take place on Tuesday at the Nippon Budokan hall, close to Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo.

Police are already out in force at the primary venues for the event as well as at train stations and other key locations across the city.

Authorities’ concerns are warranted. On Wednesday morning, an elderly man set fire to himself close to the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo. He left a note indicating he intended to kill himself to protest against the decision to grant Abe a state funeral. The fire was extinguished and the man was later taken to a nearby hospital.

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The government is nevertheless pushing ahead with plans for the ceremony, with more than 700 guests expected. US Vice-President Kamala Harris and French President Emmanuel Macron are among the more than 190 foreign dignitaries invited.

Seven members of the imperial family will be present, although neither the emperor nor empress will attend.

In total, around 6,000 people will pay their respects at the Nippon Budokan. Many more are expected to say their farewells outside the hall and at venues around the country, where security will also be tightened.

“Abe made major contributions to every part of Japanese life, but particularly in the area of international diplomacy. I think this was reflected in the fact that the US Senate passed a unanimous motion expressing their shared sorrow at his death,” said Yoichi Shimada, a professor at Fukui Prefectural University who advised Abe on international relations while he was in power.

“It is quite natural to pay my respects to a former leader and an internationally recognised statesman – and I find it difficult to comprehend why opposition politicians and members of the public are opposed to a state funeral,” said Shimada, adding he would pay his respects at a ceremony in Fukui City.


State funeral for former Japanese leader Shinzo Abe faces growing public backlash

State funeral for former Japanese leader Shinzo Abe faces growing public backlash

Public opposition has primarily focused on the cost of the funeral, which has risen from just 250 million yen (US$1.73 million) in the government’s original estimate to 2.86 billion yen (US$20 million), with security and hosting foreign dignitaries factored into the total figure.

Opposition politicians have also condemned Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for insisting that it go ahead at a time when the nation’s finances are stretched due to rising prices at home and the worsening global situation.

Members of the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party, Reiwa Shinsengumi and the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan will not take part in the ceremony, with some claiming they felt they were being “forced” to mourn Abe’s death by the government’s decision.

Courts have also dismissed a number of legal challenges brought by citizens’ groups against the government.

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Abe’s death has shone a light on the close ties that the Unification Church – formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification – has forged with Japanese politicians.

Abe, who previously led the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), was shot on July 8 in Nara as he campaigned for the Upper House election and died later the same day in hospital.

Police have charged Tetsuya Yamagami with shooting Abe with a home-made gun. Yamagami reportedly said he acted in protest against the church’s growing influence over Japanese politicians, including Abe.

In an internal report, the LDP confirmed that 179 of 379 senior members of the party, including a number of cabinet ministers, have had some form of connection with the church or its affiliated groups.

Those revelations have triggered public concern that the church was able to influence government decision-making, with Kishida’s support rate declining as a result of the admissions.

People gather at Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park on September 19 to protest against the planned state funeral of Shinzo Abe. Photo: Kyodo

A poll on September 19 by the centrist Mainichi newspaper put the prime minister’s approval rating at just 29 per cent – a plunge from the 60 per cent he enjoyed at the turn of the year – while a survey by the conservative Yomiuri paper on September 5 showed just 38 per cent of people in favour of a state funeral for Abe, with 56 per cent opposed.

Hiromi Murakami, a professor of political science at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, said the Unification Church affair had shaken public trust in elected leaders.

“The general public had no idea of the depth of the ties between the church and the LDP and this has only been revealed by the killing of Abe,” she said.

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“The fact that those ties were hidden, that the government investigation has revealed the number of politicians with links to the church – and more is coming out every day, it seems – has really shocked people.

“Yes, the question of the state funeral has been controversial, but long-standing LDP supporters that I know are now telling me they are seriously thinking of not voting for them in the next election,” she said.

“This problem has really embedded itself in people’s minds. The next election is three years away … but people will never forget.”