On September 27, a state funeral was held for Shinzo Abe in Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan stadium, which was originally built to host the 1964 Summer Olympics.
It was only the second state funeral in Japan’s post-war history. The first such funeral was that of Shigeru Yoshida, which took place 55 years ago, in October 1967. He was Japan’s first post-war Prime Minister, who gave his name to the Yoshida Doctrine, which guided Japan’s foreign policy throughout the Cold War period and played a key role in its post-war recovery and emergence as a (de facto) major world power.
The very fact that Shinzo Abe was honored in such a ceremony (he had a private family funeral on July 12, after which he was cremated) highlights the fact that for many in the Japanese establishment Shinzo Abe is as important a figure as Shigeru Yoshida. Shinzo Abe’s reputation as a towering figure in Japan’s post-war history was confirmed by the fact that those present in the Nippon Budokan stadium included members of the Imperial family, all sections of the national government and surviving former Japanese Prime Ministers.
As for the Japanese public, attitudes to Shinzo Abe are more equivocal, to say the least. But it is still too early for the Japanese to come to a clear-headed assessment of the recently-deceased statesman who dominated the country’s political system. There are too many unreliable reports and false rumors running around, and emotions are still too heightened.
And many of those who objected to the holding of a state funeral for Shinzo Abe were likely reacting against the idea of state-enforced mourning, which people naturally see as a violation of their right to self expression. In modern societies where the freedom of the individual is valued, such violations are seen as unacceptable.
Among the criticisms leveled at the government’s plants to hold a state funeral were that it would be an unjustified use of public money at a challenging time for Japan. In response to the criticism the media published both the total amount spent – approximately $12 million – and a breakdown of the costs.
Security measures – including the presence of some twenty thousand employees of the relevant state services – accounted for half of the total cost. Those measures turned out to be entirely justified – in view of the tensions within Japanese society and the polarized attitudes to the funeral itself, there were clear risks involved in bringing together many of Japan’s leading politicians, as well as high-profile foreign guests, together in a single location. Internet users directed threats against the current Prime Minister, should he go ahead with the plans for the state funeral. The police had to make great efforts to prevent people demonstrating in favor of the funeral coming into contact with those demonstrating against it.
Unsurprisingly, the key word in most of the comments on the subject of the funeral is “why?”, a clear sign, as stated above, that in Japan public opinion on the issue is divided. That tends to support the theory already discussed in NEO, that the so-called Unification Church is somehow involved. It turns out that not only Shinzo Abe but many other Japanese establishment figures have had links with the Unification Church.
It appears that the controversy around Shinzo Abe’s funeral has brought something of the general anxiety that is affecting much of Japanese society to the surface. This anxiety is an inevitable result of the growing problems associated with the revolutions currently under way in the world order. In Japan, just as in other countries, there is a general feeling that some, at least, of the rich and powerful are to blame for these problems. After all, it is they who continue to participate in events organized by certain highly-suspect international quasi-religious organizations.
More than 700 official guests of various levels and statuses, representing more than 200 countries and territories, came to Shinzo Abe’s state funeral. Since at the time of his death Shinzo Abe was no longer serving as a state official, the strict protocol that governs international relations did not apply, and therefore the countries that felt it necessary to send representatives to the funeral were in no way obliged to send an “appropriate” official. Nevertheless, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanase, and the US Vice President all came to the funeral. And naturally, the attendance by such high-ranking officials from these countries was not incidental.
This is especially true of India and its current leader. The general rapprochement between Japan and India is one of the most striking aspects of the wider transformation of geopolitical relations that have been unfolding in the Indo-Pacific region over the last twenty years. Relations between these two countries began to develop rapidly in 2005, when the then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who was seen as Shinzo Abe’s political mentor, visited India. Junichiro Koizumi was also present at Shinzo Abe’s state funeral.
Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe appear to have had a good working relationship, that dated back to Shinzo Abe’s visit to New Delhi in 2015. From then onwards the two leaders exchanged regular visits. The current Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, continued with this tradition.
The high level of trust that developed between Japan and India was demonstrated by the first of the so-called India-Japan 2+2 meetings, in September 2021, in which the two countries’ foreign and defense ministers discussed a wide range of issues. The second round of these talks took place a year later, just three weeks before Narendra Modi’s visit to Tokyo.
While in Tokyo for Shinzo Abe’s funeral, the Indian Prime Minister also found time to discuss a range of issues related to the overall situation in the Indo-Pacific region with his current Japanese counterpart. The Australian Prime Minister also discussed the current situation with Australia’s partners in the Quad group, which includes the USA.
Thus, a number of Japan’s foreign guests, including heads of state, used their visit to a country which is a current major global power to discuss certain pressing issues. Journalists invented a new term for such talks: “funeral diplomacy”. This is a riff on the terms “ping-pong diplomacy,” which refers to the talks between the USA and China in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and “humanitarian diplomacy” – the current competition for political influence with Pakistan’s new government at a time when that country is suffering from the effects of devastating floods.
The US representative at the funeral, Vice-President Kamala Harris, was no exception to the above trend. On the day after the funeral, she took part in two important events. The first was a meeting with representatives of Japan’s IT sector. During that meeting she discussed how Japanese companies could help the US end its dependence on China as a supplier of the latest-generation semiconductors, as required by a law recently passed by Congress.
She also visited the US naval base in Yokosuka, where she was received on board the guided-missile destroyer USS Howard. In a speech to the crew of the ship, she spoke at length about China, citing most of the USA’s current concerns about that country’s policies. She also repeated a claim made by Joe Biden in his recent speech to the UN (“the United States does not seek conflict with China”), following it with the rather strange comment, “And that is why the USS Howard is here.”
Finally, it is worth noting that Shinzo Abe made many trips to Russia, during which he made a generally very positive impression on his hosts. At his funeral, Russia was represented by special presidential envoy Mikhail Shvidkoi, and the Russian ambassador to Japan, Mikhail Galuzin.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”