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Entertainment Shinzo Abe's star-studded $17 million state funeral is being held today. Here's why many in Japan are mad about it

22:51  26 september  2022
22:51  26 september  2022 Source:   abc.net.au

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A lavish, star-studded funeral for former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated in July, will be held later today.

But the event, which is costing Japanese taxpayers nearly $AUD17 million, has revealed deep divisions over the politician's legacy.

Abe was shot in the back by a man armed with a homemade gun as he delivered a campaign speech in Nara on July 8.

The man held a grudge against the former prime minister because of his links to a mysterious church that has a reputation for aggressively pressuring or coercing large donations from its supporters and members.

Since the assassination, public appeal has shifted sharply against the church and parts of Japan's elite that have connections to the group, particularly after media revealed the alleged gunman's family was bankrupted some 20 years prior due to such donations.

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The state funeral for Abe is now so controversial that last week a man set himself on fire in Tokyo as a form of protest.

Despite polls showing a majority of Japanese voters disapprove of the state funeral, the event is going ahead at 3pm AEST.

Here's what to expect.

A VIP guest list

The funeral will be held at the Nippon Budokan, an iconic indoor arena in Tokyo that can seat more than 14,000 people.

Abe served as Japan's PM for a year in 2006, and again from 2012 to 2020, so he forged many connections with other world leaders.

Approximately 6,400 people are expected to attend the service, including dignitaries from 190 countries.

Among the world leaders on the guest list are US Vice-President Kamala Harris and Indian PM Narendra Modi.

But Australia's representation is among the most extensive. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is flying in, bringing with him three of his predecessors: John Howard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.

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Mr Turnbull has described Abe as "sincere, authentic and warm," as well as "calm, considered and wise," while his former liberal party colleague Mr Abbott labelled him a "great historic leader".

"There's no doubt about it, in my time as prime minister, the two outstanding global leaders were [Indian Prime Minister] Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe," Mr Abbott told the ABC.

Mr Abbott credited Abe for creating the Quad — a partnership between Australia, India, Japan and the United States — which he said was the "most important strategic development" in the world since NATO.

Abe is also credited for his efforts to revive the stagnant Japanese economy, implementing policies known as 'Abenomics', and as the man who brought the Olympics to Japan.

He also began the push to remove pacifist elements from the country's constitution, something the current prime minister Fumio Kishida has vowed to complete in honour of Abe.

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"Abe was really the first Japanese prime minister who wasn't living in the shadow of the second world war," Mr Abbott said.

"He was the first Japanese prime minister who wanted Japan to be a normal country once more.

"And given Japan's record as an exemplary citizen, given Japan's status as a well-functioning liberal democratic society, given the fact Japan has well and truly assimilated the dreadful lessons of that war … I think [he] was right."

Scott Morrison, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were also in office during Abe's long tenure, but were unable to attend due to prior engagements.

Japan's Crown Prince Akishino and six other imperial family members will attend.

However, Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako will not be joining them as it's customary for Japan's emperor to avoid funerals at home and abroad.

The couple did, however, make an exception to travel to London to farewell Queen Elizabeth II earlier this month.

Abe's controversial legacy sparks mixed feelings

Despite Abe's popularity among Japan's friends and allies, within the country his controversial legacy divides opinion, particularly his deeply conservative, nationalistic agenda.

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"Within Japan, he was never a very popular prime minister," said Jeffrey Hall, an expert in Japanese politics at Kanada University of International Studies.

"He always had about 50, maybe a little less than 50 per cent, approval rating.

"When he left office his approval rating was dropping even lower than that."

Continuous polls from even conservative news networks that are generally sympathetic to politicians like Abe show more than half the public is against the state funeral.

But it is not only Abe's political legacy that divides opinion, with the former leader becoming increasingly unpopular as more details of his apparent link to a controversial South Korean church have surfaced.

The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, known colloquially as the Unification Church, has been embroiled in controversy since Abe's death and revelations that dozens of members of his former party, the Liberal Democrat Party, had links to the religious organisation.

Abe was reportedly targeted by his assassin because of his connection to the church, which the shooter claimed left his mother financially ruined after she made a "huge" donation, totalling about $AU1 million.

Experts say the church urges Japanese followers to make large donations to make amends for their ancestral sins, including Japan's past colonisation of the Korean Peninsula.

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"It's impossible to explain so much opposition to the funeral without also linking it to this scandal involving the Unification Church," Dr Hall said.

"Abe was killed because of his connection to the church. And with every passing day, the media here continues to report on new revelations about conservative politicians – many of them within Abe's faction of the LDP – having sort of shady ties to this church."

In the weeks after Abe's death, local media began reporting LDP figures had attended events organised by the church's affiliates, paid fees or received support during election campaigns.

An investigation by the LDP has concluded that 179 of its 379 lawmakers had interacted with the church.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has denied the church had any influence over government policy, but support for his party has dipped as a result of the scandal.

The ceremony will cost more than $17 million

Shinzo Abe is only the second Japanese prime minister since World War II to receive a state funeral.

Normally, past and sitting prime ministers' funerals are hosted jointly by the government and their political party, local media report.

But Abe's funeral will be entirely paid for from Japan's national budget at an estimated cost of $17 million, an honour usually reserved only for members of the imperial family.

The decision has angered many voters and prompted some to take to the streets in protest.

"There are other prime ministers from the same party — one won a Nobel Peace Prize — that didn't get a state funeral," Dr Hall said.

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"So it's really a question why Abe deserves this special state funeral."

In defending the decision, Mr Kishida offered four reasons for the ceremony in a parliamentary debate on September 8.

One of those reasons was because Abe was killed while on the campaign trail in the lead up to an election — the "foundation of our democracy" — and in order to "resolutely defend that democracy," a state funeral was required.

As well as the cost, opposition figures have questioned the legal basis for the state funeral plan, arguing the government had not followed "due process" in consulting with judicial and legislative leaders before making the decision, the Japan Times reports.

In response, the prime minister has cited a law which, he said, stipulates that the management of national ceremonies falls within the cabinet's authority.

However, as controversy over the funeral has grown, the government has moved to clarify that there will be some key differences between Abe's funeral and other state ceremonies.

How will Japan mourn?

The Japan Times is reporting that unlike prime minister Shigeru Yoshinda's funeral, no requests will be made to agencies, ministries, public organisations and boards of education to fly the national flag as an act of condolence.

And Japanese residents will not be forced to "engage in an expression" of national mourning, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno.

But after a shocking assassination and a divided response that has prompted one man to set himself on fire in protest, officials will likely be on high alert for any other acts of violence.

The highly publicised farewell to Japan's longest serving PM will allow men and women from around the world to pay tribute to a man who, despite a divisive legacy, devoted most of his adult life to changing Japan's political landscape.

The high-profile names littered in the crowd will be a testament to his lingering influence both at home and abroad.

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