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How Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Funeral May Affect Japan’s Current Administration: NPR

Japan held a rare state funeral for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated in July. It could have an impact on the administration of the country as it faces political and economic challenges.



JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Japan today held a rare state funeral for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated in July. The event sparked strong passions among Abe’s supporters and opponents on the streets of Tokyo. As NPR’s Anthony Kuhn reports from Japan’s capital, the funeral could have an impact on the country’s current administration, which is facing a series of political and economic challenges.

(SOUND SOUND OF MUSIC)

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Dressed in a black kimono, Shinzo Abe’s widow, Akie, carried her husband’s ashes to Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan Hall. They were placed on an altar in front of some 4,300 mourners. Among them, Vice President Kamala Harris, who led the US delegation. Japan’s current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and other politicians offered praise to Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Japanese).

KUHN: Outside the hall, some 23,000 people waited in long lines to lay flowers. Some 20,000 police officers were mobilized to provide the kind of security that could have prevented Abe from being shot to death while he was campaigning in the summer. One of those who paid their respects was Hideki Yuasa, who traveled from the city of Osaka. He suggested that Abe’s spirit could protect Japan.

HIDEKI YUASA: (Through an interpreter) I wanted to say thank you for your service for so long and please take care of us in the future as well.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Screams in Japanese).

KUHN: But thousands of protesters in front of the Budokan Hall and the parliament expressed their opposition to the state funeral. Some of them clashed with police and Abe supporters. Aki Yukawa spoke as the police surrounded his group of protesters.

AKI YUKAWA: (Speaking Japanese).

KUHN: “Polls show that 60% of Japanese people oppose the state funeral,” she says. “I came to make that number visible.” The poll she cites shows opponents of the state funeral outnumbered supporters about 2 to 1. Opponents don’t like that taxpayers have to spend $11.5 million on the event, and accuse the government of trying to use the funeral to cover up Abe’s legacy. Part of that legacy is his ties to the Unification Church, which has been sued in Japan for defrauding his followers. Abe’s alleged killer says he targeted the former prime minister because of those connections. Veteran journalist Hiroshi Izumi says that while Abe was alive, he was able to control the potential scandal, but his murder changed that.

HIROSHI IZUMI: (Through an interpreter) His death was a very sad thing and a great loss for Japan. But he has opened a Pandora’s box.

KUHN: The Japanese media has revealed that nearly half of all ruling party lawmakers have had ties to the church. Polls show that most Japanese do not believe Prime Minister Kishida’s assurances that he is dealing with the problem, and their approval ratings for him have plummeted. On the other hand, Izumi points out that Kishida doesn’t have to face the voters until the 2025 election, and he no longer has to give in to Abe, who remained a powerful boss even after resigning in 2020.

IZUMI: (Through an interpreter) Abe’s faction will disperse the moment the state funeral is over. Abe’s supporters want to lose power.

KUHN: And that, Izumi predicts, could free Kishida to finally step out of Abe’s long shadow and face Japan’s challenges in his own way. How he deals with those challenges, she adds, may determine whether he survives politically. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Tokyo.

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NPR transcripts are created by an NPR contractor on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authorized record of NPR programming is the audio record.

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