Shinzo Abe funeral: Japan bids final goodbye to its longest-serving prime minister

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With prayers, flowers, and flags draped in black ribbons, thousands of mourners gathered today in the streets of Tokyo to bid a final goodbye to Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe.

A family funeral was held at a temple days after Abe was killed by a gunman who opened fire as he was delivering a campaign speech in Nara in southern Japan.

Although the funeral itself was attended only by close family members, along with prime minister Fumio Kishida and senior party leaders, the pavements outside the Zojoji temple were packed with crowds of people, some dressed in black, wanting to pay their final respects to the country’s longest-serving prime minister.

In an attack that stunned the nation, the 67-year-old collapsed bleeding last Friday after being shot as he gave a speech in support of a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidate. Though Abe was airlifted to a nearby hospital, he was later pronounced dead. Doctors said he had suffered major damage to his heart, along with two neck wounds that damaged an artery.

Police at the scene of the shooting arrested Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, a former member of Japan’s navy, on suspicion of murder.

“There was a sense of security when he was the prime minister in charge of the country,” said Keiko Noumi, a 58-year-old teacher, one of many who came to offer prayers and leave flowers in front of a large photograph of Abe set up inside the temple grounds, which showed the former prime minister in a simple white shirt, laughing with his hands on his hips. “I really supported him, so this is very unfortunate.”

A vehicle carrying the body of the former Japanese prime minister leaves the Zojoji temple after his funeral (Reuters)
A vehicle carrying the body of the former Japanese prime minister leaves the Zojoji temple after his funeral (Reuters)

Others queued outside the headquarters of the LDP, which is Japan’s ruling party, to pay tribute.

People shouted, clapped and waved as a motorcade that included a hearse carrying Abe’s body departed from the Tokyo temple early in the afternoon and processed through the city to the crematorium.

“Thank you very much for your work for our country!” a man shouted.

People wait in line to pay their respects to the former Japanese prime minister prior to his funeral (AP)
People wait in line to pay their respects to the former Japanese prime minister prior to his funeral (AP)

“He was my favourite prime minister,” said Akihito Sakaki, who is 58 and self-employed. “So I came here to say goodbye.”

The procession passed through Tokyo’s political heart, Nagatacho, past landmarks such as the parliament building that the slain leader first entered as a young lawmaker in 1993.

Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida, alongside officials and employees, offers prayers as the funeral procession passes (Reuters)
Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida, alongside officials and employees, offers prayers as the funeral procession passes (Reuters)

Prime Minister Kishida quietly waited along with a group of cabinet ministers in front of the office from which Abe had led Japan as its prime minister from 2012 to 2020.

Mr Kishida bowed his head, holding a set of Buddhist rosary beads around his hands, as the hearse slowly passed. Abe’s widow, Akie, bowed in response from the front seat of the vehicle.

Tributes poured in from international leaders, with US secretary of state Antony Blinken making a brief stop en route to the United States from southeast Asia on Monday morning to pay his respects. US treasury secretary Janet Yellen, and Taiwanese vice-president William Lai, on a private visit as a family friend, also joined the mourners.

Taiwan’s vice-president William Lai leaves the funeral (Reuters)
Taiwan’s vice-president William Lai leaves the funeral (Reuters)

French leader Emmanuel Macron sent his condolences in footage posted on France’s official presidential Twitter account. “I remember all our meetings and work together, especially during my visit [to Japan] in 2019,” he said. “I’ve lost a friend. He served his country with great courage and audacity.”

According to the Kyodo news agency, nearly 2,000 condolence messages were sent from countries around the world.

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