Anger reached a new level in Japan on Wednesday September 21. A stone’s throw from the Prime Minister’s office in Tokyo, a man set himself on fire. Near him, a letter was found: the 70-year-old man explains that he “strongly opposes” the national funeral scheduled for September 27 for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, assassinated last July.
For several weeks, protest movements have been increasing in anticipation of these national funerals. If his assassination during a political meeting on July 8 was and remains unanimously condemned, the political exception granted to Shinzo Abe is highly criticized, while funerals of this type have become extremely rare in Japan since the post-war period. . According to several national opinion polls, nearly 56% of the population is against it. Demonstrations – rather rare in the country – bringing together several thousand people were organized and around fifteen legal actions were filed. An online petition has also been signed by nearly 400,000 people. The points of tension remain around the cost of this national tribute, considered exorbitant, and especially the organization of such a ceremony for the controversial personality that was Shinzo Abe within Japanese society.
In early September, the government, led since 2021 by Fumio Kishida, announced the cost of the funeral: around 1.7 billion yen (12 million euros). An amount well above the 250 million yen initially announced. In question, the substantial costs of security and reception of the many foreign dignitaries expected, including the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. These had not been estimated the first time, justified the government. Representatives of 190 countries, including fifty heads of state, are expected to attend the event. The government spokesman thus explained at the beginning of September that 600 million yen are intended for their reception, and 800 million for their security.
According to the newspaper JapanTimesthe dispute could still rise on this side: the organizer of the funeral is an event company, Murayama, linked to scandals which broke out under the mandate of Shinzo Abe himself, in particular concerning expenses for evenings of watching cherry blossoms.
Supposed links with the Moon sect
And it’s not just the bill that doesn’t go through. Shinzo Abe was a contested personality in Japan. His assassination by a man who accused him of his links with the Unification Church, better known as the “Moon sect”, has rekindled controversy around this organization. The former Japanese Prime Minister was not a member or adviser of this Church, but was one of political figures, sometimes from all over the world, invited to conferences organized by entities close to this religious organization.
Since his death, numerous revelations have shed light on the links of the religious organization with Japanese parliamentarians, especially with those of the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD), for a time led by Shinzo Abe. An internal PLD investigation has also shown that half of its 379 elected parliamentarians have relations with the Unification Church, accused of exerting financial pressure on its faithful, which has already earned it numerous lawsuits. and convictions.
A mixed political record
The current Prime Minister, Fumio Kishidan also justified the holding of a state funeral by the record longevity of his predecessor in power (Shinzo Abe was Prime Minister from 2006 to 2007, then from 2012 to 2020) and the importance of his economic and diplomatic legacy.
But the policy he pursued was not unanimously accepted. “The international wave of tributes to Shinzo Abe fed the idea and the illusion that he enjoyed immense popularity”, explains to The cross political scientist Koichi Nakano, teacher at the famous Jesuit University of Sophia, in Tokyo. While in Japan, the elections of 2012, 2014 and 2017 were, according to him, marked by massive abstention. Many disputed the ultra-liberal and nationalist position of the former leader, and his desire to revise the pacifist Japanese Constitution was frowned upon.
A misunderstood exception
Another point of tension: in Japan, national funerals hardly exist anymore. The last time such an event took place was in 1967, for the death of Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, in a post-war context and under American occupation. “The current democratic regime does not provide for state funerals, there is no legal basis for this“, explains political scientist Koichi Nakano.
According to the opposition, Fumio Kishida thus exceeded his powers by deciding to organize such a funeral. The current prime minister “thought the government had the right to decide what kind of events it holds. But there is no formal system in Japan for defining a state funeral. So the opposition argues that his government would have at least had to seek the authorization of the Parliament after debates”, explained, Wednesday to AFP, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, professor emeritus in international politics at the University of Tokyo.