Japan bids sombre farewell to assassinated former PM Shinzo Abe

People line the streets as the hearse carrying Abe’s body is driven around Tokyo after private funeral at the Zojoji Temple.

People queue on the steps of the Zojoji temple to pay their respects to former prime minister Shinzo Abe
People queued at Zojoji Temple on Tuesday to pay their respects to former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before his funeral [Issei Kato/Reuters]

Japanese have turned out in their hundreds to bid farewell to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who dominated the country’s politics before his resignation in 2020, and died after being shot at a campaign rally last week.

Crowds packed pavements lined by police as Abe’s hearse left central Tokyo’s Zojoji Temple early on Tuesday afternoon. People shouted, clapped and waved as the vehicle passed, with some holding flowers.

Earlier on Tuesday, many queued at the temple to pay their respects to the former prime minister, who was 67.

His assassination on Friday by an unemployed man using a homemade gun shocked a nation where both gun crime and political violence are extremely rare.

Keiko Noumi, a 58-year-old teacher, was among those offering prayers and flowers in front of a large photograph of Abe set up inside the temple grounds.

“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.”

Abe, who became one of Japan’s most influential post-war politicians, led the country for nearly eight years before he announced in August 2020 that he was resigning because of his health.

“Abe was the face of government,” Jeffrey Hall, an expert in Japanese politics at the Kanda University of International Studies, told Al Jazeera from Tokyo. “For eight years, he was always there. He had a vision of Japan. A vision of a country that would be more proactive in world affairs, [and] more proactive in security, and sought to achieve this by building many strong personal relationships with world leaders.”

People queue to offer flowers and prayers to Shinzo Abe who was killed on Friday
Abe was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister and influential even after his resignation for health reasons in 2020 [Eugene Hoshiko/AP Photo]

The hearse carrying Abe’s body began its drive around the centre of Tokyo, passing major political landmarks such as the parliament building where Abe became a legislator in 1993, following a funeral attended by close family and friends.

Since Abe’s death, tributes have 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.

Blinken said Abe “did more than anyone to elevate the relationship between the United States and Japan to new heights”.

French President Emmanuel Macron sent his condolences in footage posted on the country’s official presidential Twitter account after he visited the Japanese embassy in Paris.

“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.”

Mourners pray and leave white flowers for former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Mourners pray for Abe at the headquarters of the Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo. He was shot by a man with a homemade gun during a campaign event on Friday [Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the Japanese government had received more than 1,700 condolence messages from a total of 259 countries, regions and international institutions following the assassination.

“I have discovered again the great achievement former Prime Minister Abe left in diplomacy,” Hayashi told a news conference.

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 said, citing investigators.

The Unification Church, known for its mass weddings and devoted following, said on Monday the suspect’s mother was one of its members.

Yamagami shot Abe from behind using a 40cm-long (16 inches) weapon equipped with plastic pellets, according to Kyodo.

He told investigators he watched YouTube tutorials to learn how to make guns, the news agency reported on Tuesday.

People stand on the street outside Japan's parliament as the hearse carrying Shinzo Abe's body passes
Guards stand to attention as people watch the hearse carrying Abe’s body in front of the Japanese parliament following his funeral in Tokyo [Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies