The Japanese government officially decided Friday to hold a state funeral for slain former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a Tokyo arena in the fall, despite concerns among some opposition parties and members of the public that it may lead to forced condolences for the figure, much more highly praised abroad.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press conference after the Cabinet decision that a secretariat was set up in the Cabinet Office to prepare for the Sept. 27 event, to be held at the Nippon Budokan with foreign dignitaries among those attending.
It will be only the second state funeral held for a former prime minister in postwar Japan.
Fully funded by the government, the funeral will be secular and simple, according to Matsuno. The government does not plan to make Sept. 27 a public holiday.
The decision came a day after a group of 50 people, including members of a civic group that monitors abuse of power by authorities, asked a Tokyo court to issue an injunction ordering a stop to a state funeral for Abe.
The top government spokesman reiterated that people will not be obliged to participate in a national display of grief, but concerns persist within the opposition and the public that staging a state funeral will, in effect, compel that response.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno holds a press conference in Tokyo on July 22, 2022. (Kyodo)
“I am aware that there are different opinions,” said Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a speech in central Japan’s Nagano Prefecture.
“I will explain carefully so that (a state funeral) can be held with as many citizens as possible being convinced,” he added.
The secretariat has about 20 staffers and is headed by Masafumi Mori, a special adviser to Kishida.
Japan will convey information about the coming state funeral to countries and regions that have sent condolence messages to Japan, including Taiwan, Hong Kong and Palestine, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said.
Kishida expressed last week his intention to hold a state funeral for the former leader, citing his record eight years and eight months as prime minister as well as the significant recognition he garnered in the international community.
A private funeral has already been held for Abe, just days after the 67-year-old was shot and killed by a lone gunman during an election campaign speech in the western city of Nara on July 8.
The only state funeral in postwar Japan was held in 1967 for Shigeru Yoshida, who led Japan as it rose from the ashes of World War II. It was also held at the Nippon Budokan.
Abe served as prime minister from 2006 to 2007 and from 2012 until he stepped down in 2020 due to ill health. Even after giving up the leadership, he wielded considerable influence as the head of the largest faction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Following his death, a number of foreign leaders extended their condolences to his family and the Japanese people. The U.S. Senate adopted a resolution honoring Abe for laying a lasting foundation for the relationship between the United States and Japan.
The opposition camp has criticized the government for going ahead with planning for the occasion, saying there are no legal provisions for holding a state funeral. It is also calling for further debate in parliament because the public is divided over Abe’s political legacy, accomplishments, and scandals in which he became embroiled.
“It clearly violates freedom of thought and conscience protected under the Constitution,” said Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, at a protest rally outside the prime minister’s office that drew several hundred people.
The cost is another issue. A funeral for former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone was held jointly by the Cabinet and the LDP in 2020, with the government shouldering half the cost, or about 96 million yen ($695,000).
Matsuno said the government will take the rising prices of goods and services into account and try to limit the costs to a “truly necessary level to hold a solemn and warm service.”
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