Why is Japan divided over Abe’s state funeral?

TOKYO – A rare state funeral for Shinzo Abe, The former prime minister who was assassinated in July has divided Japan.

The hawkish Abe was one of the most divisive leaders of the postwar period, but it is the ruling party’s close ties with the ultraconservatives Unification Church that fueled a lot of that opposition to the funeral.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is struggling with a near-perpetual political fallout as he addresses both the church ties among his party’s lawmakers and the state funeral that Abe believes he deserves.

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

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WHO GETS A STATE FUNERAL IN JAPAN?

The tradition has its roots in a ceremony performed by the Emperor to honor those who have rendered exceptional service to the country.

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

The state burial law was abolished after the war. Japan’s only ever state funeral for a political leader was in 1967 for Shigeru Yoshida, who signed the Treaty of San Francisco, which ended the US occupation of Japan and restored ties with the Allies.

Following criticism that Yoshida’s funeral was illegally held, subsequent governments scaled back such events.

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

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WHY IS ABE GETTING A STATE FUNERAL?

Kishida says Abe deserves a state funeral because he was the longest-serving leader in modern Japanese political history and because of his diplomatic, security and economic policies that enhanced Japan’s international standing. Noting the killing of Abe during an election campaign, Kishida says Japan must show its determination never to bow to “violence against democracy.”

Political observers say that holding a state funeral for Abe is Kishida’s attempt to please the ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers, who belong to Abe’s conservative political faction, to bolster his own claim to power.

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

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WHY IS IT CONTROVERSIAL?

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 cronyism.

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

Abe’s assassin was reportedly furious at the ties between Abe, his party and the church, which he said his mother had given all of the family’s money to.

Abe, whose grandfather and former leader Nobusuke Kishi helped the church gain a foothold in Japan, is now considered a key figure in the scandal. Opponents say that holding a state funeral for Abe is tantamount to confirming party ties to the Unification Church.

A group of lawyers filed a lawsuit trying to stop the funeral, but it was reportedly dismissed on Monday. And an older man had self lit near the Prime Minister’s office in an apparent protest at the funeral.

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HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

About 1.7 billion yen ($11.8 million) will be needed for the venue, security, transportation and guest accommodation, the government said. Opponents say taxpayers’ money should be spent on more meaningful causes, such as tackling the widening economic disparities caused by Abe’s policies.

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WHAT ARE THE IMPACT FOR KISHIDA?

Kishida, who took office a year ago, enjoyed stable public support and his July election victory appears to have secured him a chance to govern for up to three years.

But his support ratings have since plummeted over his handling of the state funeral and his ruling party’s ties to the South Korean church.

An LDP poll found that nearly half of its lawmakers had ties to the church. Kishida has pledged all links, but many Japanese want another explanation of how the church may have influenced party politics.

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WHAT HAPPENS AT THE FUNERAL?

Guests will gather hours before the funeral at the Budokan martial arts arena in downtown Tokyo for security checks, which have been tightened after Abe’s assassination. No food or drink is allowed inside, and PC or camera use is restricted to media. About 1,000 Japanese troops will line the streets around the venue. The ceremony begins with a 19 volley salute, as at Yoshida’s funeral.

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

The government says the funeral should not force anyone to honor Abe. But most of the country’s 47 prefectural governments will fly the flag at half-mast and observe a minute’s silence, which could put pressure on public schools. Residents and offices near the venue will be affected by traffic stops and security checks, and classes will be canceled at some neighborhood schools.

Opponents will hold rallies across the country.

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WHO WILL PARTICIPATE?

US Vice President Kamala Harris and the heads of state and government from Australia, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore will be present. Kishida says the event will offer him an opportunity to engage in “funeral diplomacy.”

The government said last week that 4,300 participants including foreign dignitaries, Japanese lawmakers, local leaders and representatives from business, culture and other fields are taking part – 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, are boycotting the funeral. A former minister of the ruling party will also stay away.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/09/26/explainer-why-is-japan-split-over-abes-state-funeral/ Why is Japan divided over Abe’s state funeral?

Sarah Y. Kim

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