Why so many Japanese are opposed to the state funeral for Abe?
By Koichi NAKANO
Hi everyone. Today I am going to talk about the state funeral for the former prime minister Shinzo Abe scheduled on September 27th and give my reasons why it’s a bad idea.
We were all caught by surprise when Abe was brutally murdered in broad daylight as he was campaigning for a candidate in the Upper House election on July 8th. Regardless of one’s politics and one’s view on Abe’s record, it was a shocking incident, and it was hard not to feel sympathetic about Abe’s sudden demise. No one should be killed like that.
Things got rather more controversial in Japan soon after, though, when prime minister Fumio Kishida announced his decision to organize a state funeral on Abe’s behalf. There are many reasons why a state funeral is a bad idea, but here are my top five.
Reason 1: It is an obsolete institution
The state funeral in Japan is essentially a prewar institution that was discontinued a long time ago. The last, and in fact, only, instance of a state funeral in the postwar era was more than 50 years ago in 1967, when the former prime minister Shigeru Yoshida passed away. As the prewar State Funeral Ordinance was already abolished twenty years previously in December 1947 when Japan became a democracy, Yoshida’s state funeral was strongly criticized at that time for lacking any legal basis –as an arbitrary, outdated, and illegitimate decision by the government. In the prewar, state funerals were granted as an honor by the Emperor for the exceptional contributions made by the deceased to the Empire. The entire nation led by the Emperor was mobilized to mourn the dead “hero” on the day of the state funeral. State funerals were granted to the members of the imperial family and the highest ranked civil and military servants of the Emperor and the events were utilized during wartime to fan nationalism for the persecution of war. It is for these historical reasons, and for the controversy generated by Yoshida’s state funeral in 1967, that state funerals were put to rest, until Kishida suddenly dug it out of its grave for Abe this time.
Reason 2: It was decided undemocratically
Kishida formalized the decision to host a state funeral by a mere decision of the cabinet, and adamantly refused to have the matter deliberated, let alone voted on, by the parliament, even though state funds will still be used to cover the entire cost of the ceremony. So, it is also the haphazard and undemocratic way the state funeral was suddenly resuscitated that is unacceptable. Can the cabinet randomly decide who to grant the honor of a state funeral without any legal basis, without any parliamentary discussions, and without any convincing criteria –and make the taxpayers foot the bill? Many think not.
Reason 3: The majority of the Japanese people are against it
The polls conducted so far indicate a very divided public opinion, with 47.3% against the state funeral and 30.5% in favor in a recent Jiji poll, for example. Kishida vowed to gain greater understanding from the skeptical public in the weeks to come, but if anything, opposition against the state funeral has grown stronger with the passage of time. Have we not learned anything from the failure of Yoshida’s state funeral more than half a century ago? Joint funerals by the cabinet and the ruling party have become something like a norm for some of the big shot former prime ministers since, and few are convinced that Abe deserves a special treatment that brings back the ghost of the country’s imperial past. The government has not made it clear so far whether it is going to “request” the people and public institutions like schools to mourn on the day of the state funeral by, for instance, observing a minute of silence or by flying the national flag at half-mast. It would be really disturbing and unpopular if it tries to enforce anything like that.
Reason 4: It’s being used to whitewash Abe’s legacy
The Kishida government is contradicting itself when its chief spokesperson claims that the hosting of the state funeral does not amount to an imposition of a positive political assessment of Abe’s legacy, while singling him out at the same time for a rare, and indeed disused, honor. When asked why a state funeral, Kishida cited Abe’s record of 8 years and 8 months in office as the longest serving prime minister in history and his tragic death while he was campaigning amid the democratic process that is the election as incomparable to any other. Hmm. Well, that is incomprehensible. Maybe Kishida is trying hard to say that Abe made an exceptional contribution, and maybe even sacrificed his life, while furthering democracy in Japan, but that’s not what the Japanese people think his record is about.
And this brings me to my 5th reason…
Reason 5: Abe’s actual legacy
Abe is remembered for his many cronyism scandals and for his utter lack of respect for the principles of constitutional government and democratic accountability. I will review them in more detail in the next couple of videos, but here are some of the things he is responsible for: For one, he gutted the constitutional constraints on government power, made a mockery of parliamentary scrutiny, and muzzled the media, as he furthered the remilitarization agenda in the name of the liberal international order and the rule of law. Secondly, he was the standard-bearer of historical revisionism and led the rightwing campaign to whitewash the Japanese wartime past, which was intricately tied with his remilitarization drive, the suppression of academic and press freedoms, and highly reactionary stance on gender equality issues. And third, he was mired in a series of cronyism scandals of his own making, ranging from an illegally discounted sale of state property to a crazy nationalist school that Abe’s wife was the honorary principal of, to doctoring and destroying public documents to cover up his illegal activities. Even Abe’s own death brought to light his and his many associates’ tight and troublesome connections with the Unification Church, which is notorious in Japan for its decades long practices of predatory fund-raising and for its advocacy of extremely rightwing gender, family, and education policies. The people are demanding a full investigation into the illicit ties between the ruling party and the Unification Church that Abe coordinated, not a state funeral to cover them up.
Some concluding thoughts:
That so many Japanese disapprove of the state funeral for Abe may come as a surprise to those outside of Japan. The shocking circumstances of his untimely death ensured that the international media coverage as well as the responses from foreign dignitaries would be disproportionally and overly fawning about the man and his record, and while that is understandable to a degree, the disconnect was at times embarrassing and, quite frankly, offensive in a patronizing sort of way from the Japanese perspective.
Hillary Clinton, for instance, tweeted:
Prime Minister Abe was a champion of democracy and a firm believer that no economy, society, or country can achieve its full potential if women are left behind. I am shocked and devastated by his assassination—a loss for Japan and our world.
Maybe someone should have informed her that Steve Bannon once “praised” Abe that he was “Trump before Trump” –the first nationalist leader to govern an industrial democracy. Emphatically not a friend of women, if you ask Japanese and Asian feminists, who have seen through the charade that was Abe’s much hyped, but inconsequential, “Womenomics.”
You may wonder how Abe can possibly be both at the same time, but Clinton and Bannon have more in common with each other than either would want to admit and these two seemingly contrasting characterizations of Abe intersect with one another on a key point: the rapidly growing US bipartisan identification of China as the new Evil Empire that must be faced down. Yes, that’s right, Abe is being adulated for having been Washington’s Man in Japan who stood up against China. That’s what makes him a “champion of democracy” and an unapologetically nationalist “Trump before Trump” at the same time. I am no fan of the autocratic rulers of China at all, but I also cringe at the idea that the present-day US and Abe can claim themselves to be the champions of democracy. Kishida has, in fact, emphasized the “high appreciation” of Abe expressed by foreign states as a foremost reason why the Japanese state, too, representing the whole nation, should mourn his death. The hosting of a state funeral for Abe will be an act of contemporary historical revisionism that revives a defunct, imperialist, nationalist institution in order to grossly distort reality and lionize Abe as a champion and martyr to the cause of democracy, with Kamala Harris, Barack Obama, and even perhaps Donald Trump in attendance, if Biden lets him. Oh gross.
Did you get a better idea why there is such a strong domestic opposition to the state funeral for Abe in Japan? I will be following up with a couple of more videos that critically assess Abe’s legacies for what they truly are from a progressive perspective, rather than just parroting what the complicit conservatives and liberal hawks on both sides of the Pacific want us to believe. Thank you for watching.
September 2, 2022
Koichi NAKANO, "Progressive! Channel" (https://www.youtube.com/c/ProgressiveChannelKN/featured)
"5 FATAL FLAWS OF ABE'S REMILITARIZATION DRIVE"
"5 DEADLY SINS OF ABE'S HISTORICAL REVISIONISM"
Reproduced by courtesy of Koichi Nakano Ph.D.