Shinzo Abe, the country’s longest-serving prime, was remembered in Japan on Tuesday with prayers, flowers, and flags adorned with black ribbons. Abe was a divisive figure who dominated politics before being fatally shot at a campaign event last week.
As the funeral carrying Abe, who passed away at the age of 67, left a central Tokyo shrine and proceeded through the city, crowds crowded the sidewalks that were heavily police-lined.
As the hearse passed in a procession televised live by broadcaster NHK, people knelt in prayer and bowed deeply. Nearly a dozen helicopters were circling overhead. Others applauded, waved, or cheered.
“Thank you very much for your work for our country!,” one man repeatedly shouted.
Prior to the private event, hundreds of people paid their condolences at the temple where Abe’s burial was held on Monday evening and Tuesday morning. In a country where political violence and gun crime are incredibly rare, his killing on Friday by an unemployed guy brandishing a handmade gun surprised the public.
A large crowd had gathered in front of the parliament building, which Abe first visited as a young MP in 1993 after the passing of his politician father in Nagatacho, the political hub of the capital.
In front of the office where Abe served as prime minister for two terms, the longest of which was from 2012 to 2020, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and a number of cabinet members waited quietly.
Kishida bent his head and wrapped a pair of Buddhist rosary beads around his clasped hands as the hearse slowly passed. Akie, Abe’s widow, bowed from the hearse’s front seat.
Long queues of individuals with backpacks and black attire began to develop outside the temple as early as the morning.
One of those who came to offer prayers and flowers to a big portrait of Abe set up inside the temple grounds portraying him in a straightforward white shirt, laughing with his hands on his hips, was 58-year-old teacher Keiko Noumi.
“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 lined up in front of the offices of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to lay offerings at a temporary shrine that would stay there until Friday. Workers from the party emerge to bring the sweltering mourning cold barley tea.
International leaders have paid their respects, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stopped briefly on his way to the US from Southeast Asia on Monday morning. Janet Yellen, the US Treasury Secretary, and William Lai, the vice president of Taiwan, who was visiting privately as a friend of the family, also joined the mourners.
According to the Kyodo news agency, about 2,000 condolence notes came in from around the world.
Following a visit to the Japanese embassy in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his condolences in a video that was shared on the nation’s official presidential Twitter account.
“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 suspect’s mother is a member of the Unification Church, which has a loyal following and is known for its large weddings. Whether the mother belonged to any other religious groups was unknown to Reuters.
Yamagami used a 40 cm (16 inch) long (16 inch) homemade weapon covered in black tape to shoot Abe twice from behind.