TOKYO – With prayers, flowers and flags draped in black ribbons, Japan on Tuesday said farewell to Shinzo Abe, a polarizing figure who dominated politics as the country’s longest-serving premier, before being gunned down at a campaign rally last week.
Crowds packed pavements lined with a heavy police presence as the hearse carrying Abe departed from a central Tokyo temple in early afternoon. People shouted, clapped and waved as it passed, with some holding flowers.
Hundreds filed into the temple on Monday evening and Tuesday morning to pay their respects to Abe, who died aged 67. His killing on Friday by an unemployed man wielding a homemade gun stunned a nation where both gun crime and political violence are extremely rare.
The funeral ceremony, limited to family and close friends, was closed to the media. Abe’s widow, Akie, was chief mourner.
The funeral procession was set to pass through Tokyo, taking in the capital’s political heart of Nagatacho and landmarks such as the parliament building Abe first entered as a young lawmaker in 1993, after the death of his politician father, and the office from which he led the nation in two stints as prime minister, the longer from 2012 to 2020.
From early morning, long lines of people dressed in black, mixed with others in informal clothing with backpacks, formed outside the temple.
Keiko Noumi, a 58-year-old teacher, was one of many who came to offer prayers and flowers to a large photograph of Abe set up inside the temple grounds showing him in a simple white shirt, laughing with his hands on his hips
“There was a sense of security when he was the prime minister in charge of the country,” she said. “I really supported him, so this is very unfortunate.”
Others queued in front of ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) headquarters to make offerings at a makeshift shrine that will be in place until Friday. Party staffers come out to offer cold barley tea to mourners sweating in the sultry air.
Tributes have poured in from international leaders, with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken making a brief stop en route to the United States from Southeast Asia on Monday morning to pay his respects. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Taiwan Vice President William Lai, on a private visit as a family friend, also joined mourners.
Nearly 2,000 condolence messages arrived from nations around the world, Kyodo news agency said.
‘GREAT COURAGE, AUDACITY’
French leader Emmanuel Macron sent his condolences in footage posted on the country’s official presidential Twitter account after he visited the Japanese embassy in Paris.
“I remember all our meetings and work together, especially during my visit (to Japan) in 2019 … I’ve lost a friend,” said a solemn Macron.
“He served his country with great courage, and audacity.”
The suspected killer, arrested at the scene and identified by police as 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, believed Abe had promoted a religious group to which his mother made a “huge donation,” Kyodo news agency has said, citing investigators.
The Unification Church, known for its mass weddings and devoted following, said on Monday the suspect’s mother was one of its members. Reuters could not determine whether the mother belonged to any other religious organizations.
Yamagami shot Abe from behind, unloading two shots from a 16-inch improvised weapon wrapped with black tape.
Chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a news conference on Tuesday that the Japanese government will consider whether there is a need to further regulate handmade guns.
“We are aware that current regulations strictly restrict firearms, whether handmade or not,” he said.
Satoshi Ninoyu, head of the National Public Safety Commission, told a Tuesday news conference he had directed that a team be established to investigate the security situation around Abe’s assassination.
“We take this incident extremely seriously,” he was quoted by the Nikkei Shimbun as saying.