Why is Shinzo Abe's state funeral so controversial in Japan?

TOKYO (AP) – A rare state funeral for Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister, who was assassinated in July, has split Japan.

The hawkish Abe was one of the nation’s most divisive postwar leaders, but the ruling party’s cozy ties with the ultraconservative Unification Church which ignited much of the opposition to the funeral.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has been grappling with near-constant political fallout from his handling of both church ties among his party’s lawmakers and the state funeral he says Abe deserves.

A look at some of the reasons why Tuesday’s state funeral is causing so much anger:

Read more: Remembering Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-reigning leader



The tradition has its roots in a ceremony performed by the emperor to honor those who have made outstanding contributions to the country.

Before World War II, the emperor was worshiped as a god, and public mourning for those honored with state funerals was mandatory. Most state funerals were for members of the imperial family, but political and military leaders were also honored, including Isoroku Yamamoto, who commanded the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and died in 1943.

The state burial law was repealed after the war. The only other state funeral in Japan for a political leader since then was held in 1967 for Shigeru Yoshida, who signed the Treaty of San Francisco ending the American occupation of Japan and restoring ties with the Allies.

Due to criticism that Yoshida’s funeral was held without any legal basis, subsequent governments scaled back such events.

“A state funeral goes against the spirit of democracy,” said Junichi Miyama, a historian at Chuo University.



Kishida says Abe deserves a state funeral because he was the longest-serving leader in Japan’s modern political history and because of his diplomatic, security and economic policies that raised Japan’s international standing. Kishida, noting Abe’s assassination on the campaign trail, said Japan must show its determination never to bow to “violence against democracy.”

Political observers say holding a state funeral for Abe is Kishida’s attempt to please ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers belonging to Abe’s conservative political faction to strengthen his own grip on power.

Koichi Nakano, a professor of international politics at Sofia University, said the funeral was an attempt to whitewash Abe’s legacy and cover up scandals involving the Unification Church. The church has been accused of inappropriate recruitment and business tactics, but denies the allegations.

Read more: Looking Back on TIME’s Shinzo Abe Report: “I’m a Patriot.”



Opponents say it is undemocratic, citing the lack of a clear legal basis and the Kishida cabinet’s unilateral decision to hold the funeral.

Abe’s opponents recall his attempts to whitewash Japan’s wartime atrocities, his push for more military spending, his reactionary view of gender roles and a leadership seen as autocratic and supportive of cronyism.

Protests against the funeral increased as more details emerged about Abe and LDP lawmakers’ connection to the Unification Church. The South Korea-based church has forged close ties with LDP lawmakers over shared interests in conservative causes.

Abe’s killer was reportedly angered by the ties between Abe, his party and the church, to which he says his mother gave all the family’s money.

Abe, whose grandfather and former leader Nobusuke Kishi helped the church take root in Japan, is now seen as a key figure in the scandal. Opponents say holding a state funeral for Abe is tantamount to endorsing party ties to the Unification Church.

A group of lawyers filed a lawsuit trying to stop the burial, but it was dismissed on Monday. And there was an old man self-immolated near the prime minister’s office in apparent protest against the funeral.



About ¥1.7 billion ($11.8 million) is needed for the venue, security, transportation and guest accommodation, the government said. Opponents say the tax money should be spent on more meaningful causes, such as addressing the growing economic disparity caused by Abe’s policies.



Kishida, who took office a year ago, has enjoyed solid public support, and his victory in July’s election appears to have given him a way to rule for up to three years.

But his approval rating has since fallen because of his handling of the state funeral and his ruling party’s ties to the South Korean church.

An LDP survey found that nearly half of its lawmakers have ties to the church. Kishida has promised to maintain all ties, but many Japanese want a further explanation of how the church may have influenced party politics.

Read more: Why Shinzo Abe will continue to lead Japan even after death



Guests will gather hours before the funeral at the Budokan martial arts arena in central Tokyo for security checks that have been tightened since Abe’s assassination. No food or drink is allowed inside, and the use of personal computers or cameras is restricted to the media. About 1,000 Japanese soldiers will line the streets around the site. The ceremony will begin with a 19-gun volley, as at Yoshida’s funeral.

Representatives of the government, parliament and judiciary, including Kishida, will give condolence speeches, followed by Abe’s widow, Akie Abe. A flower table will be set up outside the arena for the audience.

The government says the funeral is not intended to force anyone to honor Abe. But most of the country’s 47 prefecture governments will fly flags at half-mast and observe a minute’s silence, which could put pressure on public schools. Residents and offices near the site will be affected by traffic control and security checkpoints, and classes will be canceled at some neighborhood schools.

Opponents will hold rallies across the country.



US Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as the leaders of Australia, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore will be there. Kishida says the event will give him an opportunity to engage in “funeral diplomacy.”

Last week, the government said there were 4,300 attendees, including foreign dignitaries, Japanese lawmakers, municipal leaders and representatives of business, culture and other fields – fewer than the 6,000 invited.

Many members of the opposition, including the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party, boycotted the funeral. A former minister from the ruling party will also stay away.

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