A rare and controversial state funeral for assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe began Tuesday in tense Japan where the event for one of the country’s most divisive leaders has deeply split public opinion.
Abe’s widow, Akie Abe, in a black formal kimono, walked slowly into the Budokan hall venue carrying an urn containing her husband’s ashes, placed in a wooden box and wrapped in a purple cloth with gold stripes. Defense soldiers in white uniforms took Abe’s ashes and placed them on a pedestal filled with white and yellow chrysanthemum flowers and decorations.
Government, parliamentary and judicial representatives, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, will make condolence speeches, followed by Akie Abe.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, among dozens of foreign dignitaries and 4.300 attendees, sat in the third row, next to Rahm Emanuel, the U.S. ambassador to Japan.
Abe was cremated in July after a private funeral at a Tokyo temple days after he was assassinated while giving a campaign speech on a street in Nara, a city in western Japan.
Kishida says Japan’s longest-serving postwar political leader deserves a state funeral. But the undemocratic decision to give him the rare honor with imperial ties, the cost, and controversies about his and the ruling party’s ties to the ultra-conservative Unification Church have fueled controversy about the event.