Majority in Japan Oppose Expensive State Funeral for Abe


Since the murder of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, there’s been a raging debate over his funeral. Japan’s ruling party has been steadfast in holding an expensive farewell for the slain leader.

The public has been split on the decision since the start. However, with the funeral set to happen today, opposition is at an all-time high – and it’s taking the current PM’s approval down with it.

A dodgy church

It’s been several months since an assassin shot Abe in Nagoya while Abe has giving a campaign speech. It came to light later that the assassin was upset about Abe’s ties to the controversial Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, commonly called the Unification Church.

The Church is a Christian new religious movement that was founded in 20th century South Korea by Sun Myung Moon. The group, which believes that Jesus Christ appeared in a vision to Moon, has become famous for its mass wedding ceremonies[1]. Many have likened it to a cult.

The Church is known for its aggressive political action. It owns the right-wing Washington Times newspaper in the United States and it actively campaigns for far-right causes. In Japan and worldwide, it’s publicly opposed any efforts to recognize same-sex marriages or offer other material recognition to LGBTQ people.

Since Abe’s assassination, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has come under immense scrutiny for its ties to the Church. Many in Japan have accused the Church of being a deceptive business that fraudulently sells “supernatural” goods and services (霊感商法; reikan shouhou). At least one prominent politician, the LDP’s Maekawa Kihei, has called for the Japanese government to forcibly disband the organization[2].

The public and opposition leaders have pressed Kishida and the LDP to sever the party’s ties to the Church. While Kishida has taken some action, the public doesn’t think it’s enough. As a result, Kishida’s approval ratings have tanked, going negative for the first time since he took office[3]. In a recent Mainichi Shinbun poll, a stunning 72% of respondents say they weren’t satisified with Kishida’s response to the Church[3].

Growing opposition to a pricey funeral

Abe Shinzo
Picture: Shutterstock

As we reported last month, Kishida’s announcement that the country planned a huge state funeral for Abe has been controversial since the get-go. Japan has only held state funerals on a handful of occasions. Critics in Japan accuse Kishida of using the funeral mainly to further his own interests and raise his profile as opposed to any intent to honor Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister.

Additionally, it’s not like Abe was universally loved. Despite holding the reigns of power for years, Abe was a controversial domestic leader. He used his political clout to try and push through multiple unpopular policies, such as abolishing the clause in Japan’s Constitution that prevents it from participating in armed conflict. He was also at the center of multiple financial scandals during his time in office.

So it’s little surprise that many weren’t stoked when Kishida revealed that the funeral would cost close to USD $2 million[5]. Kishida later admitted that, counting security, the cost was even steeper.

At the time Kishida announced the funeral, public opinion was evenly split. Since then, however, opposition has only deepened. A new round-up by Tokyo Shinbun of polling from eight major news outlets shows that, on the even of the ceremony, the majority of Japanese residents now oppose the pricey send-off[6]. Half of the polls are showing opposition passing 60%. Even polling from more traditionally conservative outlets, such as the Sankei-FNN poll, show over 60% opposition.

A funeral at any cost

Nihon Budokan
Picture: のびー / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

The opposition hasn’t blunted the LDP’s desire to send off its former leader, though. Recently, former LDP chairperson Nikai Toshihiro went so far as to say that people should just “shut up, clasp their hands [in prayer], and send him off.” As a result, the ceremony is expected to occur on September 27th as planned.

Opposition to the funeral appears to be less about Abe as a leader. In a poll this month from Asahi Shinbun, 58% percent of respondents say they opposed the funeral because it uses taxpayer money[7]. Only 20% oppose it because they thought Abe stunk.

That shouldn’t be surpising. Japan’s economy wasn’t in great shape before the pandemic, with wages remaining stagnant for years. It’s even worse now, with the yen hitting 24-year record lows against the dollar. Kishida’s recent announcement that Japan is fully reopening its borders for visa-free travel was motivated in large part by the need to kick more tourist money into state coffers.

The opposition is now a moot point. The only question that remains is what impact the decision will have on Kishida’s term in office. Kishida plotted the funeral as a means of boosting his cred. But judging by polling, the huge expense and the lingering questions over the Unification Church are having the opposite effect.

Ironically, Abe could end up being the thing that brings Kishida down.

What to read next


[1] Unification Church. Wikipedia

[2] 旧統一教会に「解散命令を」 元文科次官の前川氏. FNN Prime Online

[3] 内閣支持続落41%、過去最低に並ぶ 不支持が逆転 朝日世論調査. Asahi Shinbun

[4] 内閣支持続落、29% 旧統一教会対応「評価せず」72% 毎日新聞世論調査. Mainichi Shinbun

[5] 内閣支持続落、29% 旧統一教会対応「評価せず」72% 毎日新聞世論調査. Mainichi Shinbun

[6] 安倍元首相国葬「反対」各世論調査で軒並み増加 9月は全ての媒体で過半数に. Tokyo Shinbun

[7] 安倍元首相の国葬賛否、反対56% 8月比で賛成減る 朝日世論調査. Asahi Shinbun

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