(TOKYO) — Thousands of protesters opposed to the state-funded funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lined the streets near parliament in Tokyo on Tuesday, as helicopters whizzed above and dignitaries from all over the world paid their respects to the slain leader.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, who was among those who came Tokyo’s famed Budokan arena on Tuesday, said she came out of respect for the slain leader’s legacy and that Abe was a great friend to the United States.
Japan’s government said about 3,600 people from Japan and about 700 from overseas would come to the state funeral.
Abe’s critics said he was a divisive, lackluster leader who trampled on Japan’s democratic principles. Local polls show that opposition to the state funeral was far greater than the support.
“Even though he’s gone, he still somehow manages to obfuscate the truth,” Kazuma, a man in his seventies in attendance at a large protest, told ABC News. “How can we have a state funeral if the taxpayers don’t approve?”
Mihoko Inagaki, a woman from Tokyo in her thirties, said, “There has to be some debate over whether or not they should use taxpayer money for this. They can’t just use it without discussion or debate. It’s a serious threat to our democracy.”
The legal basis to hold the event has been called into question.
Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida defended his administration’s decision, saying that it would not only commemorate Abe’s legacy but also show that Japan can “resolutely defend democracy without yielding to violence.”
Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, disagreed. “No one thinks that deciding on doing a state funeral in an undemocratic way will help Kishida defend democracy. If you really follow the logic, it’s democracy that should not be suspended in spite of the brutal murder.”
He added that the state funeral will only serve to whitewash Abe’s rather undemocratic record while in office.
The mood in the capital had been distinctly dour in the days leading up to the funeral, as the citizens of Japan wrestled with the unsettled legacy of the murdered leader and his controversial send-off using taxpayer funds. The plan set off a firestorm of debate and protests. The government said the event would cost $12 million, but many suspected the final tab will be much higher.
In the country’s post-World War II history, only one other prime minister was granted the honor of a funeral financed with state coffers. Police from outside prefectures have also been brought to Tokyo to bolster security.
Detractors say Kishida’s decision to hold the state funeral was in itself undemocratic and that this event is a thinly veiled attempt by Japan’s ruling party to whitewash the legacy of one of the nation’s more divisive leaders.
Though Abe was Japan’s longest-serving leader in Japan’s modern history, he was not the most popular.
His years in office were plagued by scandals and he left behind many unfulfilled political goals, including the unsuccessful push to “normalize” the nation by revising its pacifist constitution.
Polls show roughly 6 in 10 Japanese people opposed his state-funded funeral. Hundreds of thousands signed petitions calling for the event to be halted.
Detractors argued that the state-funded event will essentially force all citizens of Japan to express sadness for the departed leader. The government, however, assured the public that “every citizen will not be required to engage in mourning.”
On Sunday night, hundreds gathered near Tokyo’s bustling Shinjuku station with placards and loudspeakers to demonstrate against the state funeral.
“In these tough times, there is no need for taxpayer money to finance this. Most of us are having a tough enough supporting our families as it is,” declared 35-year-old Yosuke Takagi, a sanitation worker living in Tokyo.
Sanae, a woman in her sixties who declined to give her last name, looked on while brandishing a small sign that read, “No State Funeral.”
“Abe didn’t move Japan forward at all while he was in power and the scandals surrounding him are numerous,” she said.
Shinzo Abe’s brazen murder in July exposed alleged and long-suspected links between many of Japan’s top government leaders and the Unification Church, now known as Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
Critics claim the group is a cult known for “spiritual sales” of trinkets at exorbitant prices and soliciting large monetary donations.
According to police, Abe’s accused assassin said the church sent his family into poverty and blamed Abe for supporting the church. As details of church and government ties emerge, support for the state funeral wane and clouds of doubt over Abe’s legacy grow.
Some academics said they believe that a state funeral for Abe cast a favorable light on the leader, preventing proper evaluation of his legacy. Nakano, of Sophia University, told ABC News that Abe’s supporters will have a tough time ensuring that history looks upon him favorably.
“Prime Minister Kishida probably hoped that the tangled web can be covered up with the hosting of the state funeral and the deification of Abe, but that is not happening.” Nakano said. “The fact that Abe was the linchpin of the tight relations between his party and the Unification Church is now public knowledge, so at least domestically, a lot of people will remember Abe as much less than a faultless hero that turned Japan around.”
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party had since admitted that 179 out of 379 members it surveyed were found to have interacted with the Unification Church. Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency has assembled of a panel to investigate dubious marketing practices alleged to be conducted by the church.
Naomichi, who works in office management in central Tokyo told ABC News, “Perhaps Abe’s greatest accomplishment was exposing the connection between the Unification Church and Japan’s politicians. That will be his legacy.”
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