Divided Japan bids farewell to slain Shinzo Abe

In a black kimono, Shinzo Abe’s widow, Akie, walked slowly carrying her husband’s ashes in a silk-covered funeral urn.

She placed it on a wide altar covered in white chrysanthemums.

Above it hung a huge photo of Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.

Only once in Japan’s post-war history has a politician been given a state funeral – and Tuesday’s event to honour Abe has stirred huge controversy.

It drew thousands of guests – local and global leaders, notably from Japan’s closest allies. But it also faced a backlash as protesters marched against the decision to hold the funeral.

It’s a day and an event that appears to have cut Japanese society down the middle. And it’s a sign of Abe’s complicated and often divisive legacy.

The 67-year-old politician was assassinated in July – shot twice by a homemade gun. The killing shocked a country unused to gun crimes or political violence, triggering an outpouring of grief for a leader who had never been that popular.

“Abe-San, thank you so much,” mourners shouted when they gathered to pay their respects in July – with his death, many of his countrymen realised he had given Japan a sense of stability and security.

That mood changed with the announcement of a state funeral. But it has gone ahead despite growing opposition from the Japanese public, with opinion polls showing around 60% opposed it.

Outside the Budokan – the arena in Tokyo where the funeral was taking place – the queue of mourners carrying flowers stretched for well over 3km (1.8 miles). They wore black and carried flowers to pay their respects for one last time.

“I love Abe and everything about him, that’s why I am in line,” one 19-year-old said. Another mourner, a woman, said she was there to “show my gratitude for his long service as PM”.

But a short distance away in front of the Japanese parliament, thousands more gathered to noisily and angrily demonstrate their opposition. Abe was widely admired abroad, but he was a divisive figure at home. -BBC

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