Ichiro Suzuki On September 27, the Japanese government held a state funeral of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated on July 8. This was the first state funeral for Japan’s politician since 1967, and was the only the second one after World War II. Last one was for former PM Shigeru Yoshida, who served in the turbulent post-war years and guided the country back on track for reconstruction and prosperity. Politicians’ state funerals can be controversial because it takes time for history to evaluate his or her accomplishments, not in time for a funeral, and there are always a fair number of people who dislike or even hate him or her, even for a popular politician. (All U.S. presidents receive a state funeral, unless his, or her in the distant future, family declines it, to make it controversy-free. Otherwise funerals of Barack Obama or Donald Trump one day would be fiercely opposed by a large number of American people.) While Abe was remarkably successful, comfortably winning 6 elections to be Japan’s longest-serving PM, he was intensely hated by not a small number of people. Mobs who marched the streets to oppose the funeral were core haters of Abe, on everything he did as a PM, including a series of national security-related laws, his attempt to change labor-related laws, to a rising stock market, let alone his well known desire to amend the Constitution. These people are hard-core leftists, who continue to believe in a utopia that is free from armed conflicts as long as a country declares its intention to stay out of one, and a world of no foreign aggressors. The media in general blasted their views that are deeply in sympathy with hard-core leftists, even if such views are grossly deviated from those of average people on the streets. The left-leaning media that fiercely opposed Abe while he was in office brought back anti-Abe campaigns focused on the funeral. This time, they did so by digging into his relationship with Unified Church, which indirectly led to his assassination. On the other hand, the networks that did not oppose the funeral did not campaign in defense of the event. This was not an election, and campaigns were lopsided. Only the people and the media that opposed the funeral shouted loud while others simply remained silent. Shortly after the assassination, PM Abe’s state funeral was generally accepted by the public. As time progressed, opposition steadily grew in the polls. The media’s bombardment of negative campaigns worked. Network televisions’ base audience is overwhelmingly aged people, often retirees or otherwise full time house wives who are at home to be able to watch TVs in the day time. Not surprisingly, people who marched the streets mostly belonged to the baby-boomer generation, who not only watch TV but also grew up fascinated with the beauty of socialism during the period of Japan’s super-normal growth. They opposed everything Abe did and still opposes everything the government does. In fact, these same people vociferously opposed the Olympics in Tokyo, especially amid rising coronavirus infections preceding the Games in the summer of 2022. Outside of this hard core Abe haters, most of the people who did not support the funeral in the polls was simply not comfortable with the funeral though they still mourned him, but the poll still requested them to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Younger people in general supported the state funeral. This segment of the population doesn’t watch TV, to begin with, and hence is not contaminated with what’s said on this type of media. Growing up in the age of the internet, they have high media literacy, being able to sort out information out of a flood of it, not being influenced by the last opinion they hear. On top of it, PM Abe created jobs for this cohort of the population, and they know it. On the day of the funeral, the Liberal Democratic Party estimated that 23,000 people presented flowers outside the site of the funeral, queueing two to four hours. They stood in the line quietly in sharp contrast to the mobs who shouted loud against it near the funeral site. People who stood in the line thought 23,000 was an underestimation. Many thousands did not reach the point of laying flowers as the site was closed after sunset. Left wing activists who organized a rally reported 15,000 men and women participated. They are known for always reporting grossly inflated numbers. More people took the funeral positively after the funeral than before the event. Former PM Suga, who was Abe’s chief cabinet secretary, read a moving eulogy. It has lifted the public’s impression on the funeral. A video of the speech went viral on TikTok as a proof of younger people’s support. Nonetheless, this state funeral has consumed lots of PM Kishida’s political capital. His approval rating has plummeted, halving to around 30% in a matter of a few months that followed Abe’s death. Japan’s left-leaning media is always looking for a chance to bring a PM down, and Kishida walked into their hands. While there is no national election until the summer of 2025, it is not easy to imagine how Kishida stays as PM until three summers later. Regardless of Kishida’s fate, the controversy over the state funeral is unlikely to make a dent on the LDP’s hold onto power. The left’s activists shouted loud as usual and a few left-leaning opposition parties went along with them. That made them feel good for a time, but it has only enhanced distrust in them among voters who have been skeptical about them as policy makers. Finally, the rift brought to light that freedom of speech is in place in Japan. Shouting loud in public against the government’s ceremony is something that is never allowed in Xi’s China or Putin’s Russia.
About the author: Mr. Suzuki is a retired banking executive based in Tokyo, Japan.