State funeral for ex-PM Abe draws protesters as well as mourners

TOKYO — Thousands gathered in the streets of Tokyo on Sept. 27 to voice opposition to a state funeral for slain former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while mourners formed long lines to lay flowers for the late Japanese leader and praised his diplomatic and economic accomplishments.

Many people brought flowers to special stands set up in a park near the Nippon Budokan arena, the funeral’s venue, but some people were seen shouting protest slogans against the state-funded ceremony. The stands in the park were originally scheduled to open at 10 a.m. but organizers opened 30 minutes earlier as the number of mourners swelled quickly, flooding the area from Hanzomon subway station.

The funeral plan of the government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has met growing opposition over its costs, concerns that people could be forced to mourn and its possible use to cement a positive legacy for the divisive former leader.

In one of a number of demonstrations, around 200 people assembled at a small park in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward to protest against Abe’s funeral before marching toward the arena, with up to 20,000 police officers mobilized for the event.

Keigo Ikeda, 21, a fourth-year Meiji University student who participated in the demonstration said, “I cannot tolerate the fact that our tax money is being used for the funeral.”

The total cost of holding the funeral was expected to reach about 1.6 billion yen ($11.16 million). The government initially said the event, excluding expenditures for security and receiving international guests, would cost 249 million yen, but it later gave the larger estimate after drawing criticism from opposition parties.

Ikeda also slammed Abe’s government for its reinterpretation of the Constitution to enable the use of collective self-defense, or defending allies even without an attack on Japan, saying, “It showcased the country as a puppet of the United States.”

Among the crowd of mourners, Kazuo Mashiba, 61, a retired member of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force from Nara Prefecture, said, “I feel that he had contributed to Japan’s security by promoting the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

There were also people in their teens and 20s offering flowers at the stands and taking photos of Abe’s portrait.

Kosei Yamamoto, 16, and Teppei Katsuno, 15, said they came because Abe had been prime minister for so long.

“I felt close to him as he dressed up as Mario at the time of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and it was sad to see the attack” that left Abe dead, said Katsuno.

Abe was the country’s longest-serving prime minister, holding the top post for eight years and eight months over two tenures until September 2020, a factor which his more recent successor Kishida has repeatedly cited as a reason for holding only the second state funeral for a prime minister in postwar Japan.

Abe was gunned down while giving a stump speech in the western city of Nara two days before the June 10 House of Councillors election.

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