Demonstrators marched on Japan’s parliament on Tuesday to protest against the state funeral of Shinzo Abe, while tens of thousands of supporters queued nearby to honour one of the country’s most powerful and divisive leaders since the second world war.
After an initial period of shock and public grief that followed Abe’s assassination in early July, the government’s decision to hold a ¥1.6bn ($11mn) funeral sparked a public outcry and a sharp fall in popularity for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
In a ceremony held at Tokyo’s Budokan arena, Kishida spoke in front of more than 4,000 guests including world leaders, Japanese politicians, business figures and members of the imperial family.
Among the foreign dignitaries in attendance were US vice-president Kamala Harris, Indian prime minister Narenda Modi, Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese and UK foreign secretary James Cleverly.
“Mr Abe, you were a person who should have lived much, much longer. I was certain that you would serve as a compass for the future of Japan and the world for the next 10 to 20 years,” Kishida said in front of a large photo of Abe surrounded by white chrysanthemums.
Following a short stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2007, Abe became Japan’s longest-serving leader during his second term in office between 2012 and 2020.
He was known for his stimulus programme dubbed Abenomics and hawkish opinions on reforming the country’s pacifist constitution to expand the military’s role in response to an increasingly aggressive China.
Abe’s murder at the age of 67 prompted intense public scrutiny of the close ties between the ruling Liberal Democratic party and South Korea’s Unification Church.
The suspect in Abe’s killing said he was seeking revenge for the financial ruin that his mother allegedly suffered because of her involvement with the religious group.
Abe and his family had a longstanding association with the church, which is known formally as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification and commonly as the “Moonies”. An internal investigation by the LDP found that nearly half of the party’s 379 parliamentarians had some connection with the Moonies.
One retired school teacher, who gave her name as Sakurada, had travelled with her sister and friends from Chiba prefecture, a suburb of Tokyo, to join hundreds marching on the parliament building. They were protesting against both the cost of the funeral and honouring a leader they regard as tainted by scandal and nationalism.
“He was not a good example to anyone. We want fewer politicians like Abe in the future. We came here today because Japan became less safe in his time as prime minister,” said Sakurada.
In another part of Tokyo, Aoi Doi, a 20-year-old student, said: “I have never been very interested in politics but Abe has been prime minister since my earliest memory as a child. The shocking killing of Abe made me want to commemorate him.”
Japan last held a state funeral in 1967 for Shigeru Yoshida, one of the country’s most important postwar leaders.