'He always protected me': Wife of Shinzo Abe says in eulogy as Japan bids farewell to slain ex-PM

Akie Abe, wife of Japan's former PM Shinzo Abe is seen in a vehicle carrying his body in Tokyo on July 9, 2022. PHOTOS: EPA-EFE
Mourners pay tribute to Japan's former PM Shinzo Abe at a makeshift memorial at Zojo-ji Temple on July 12, 2022. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
A woman crying near the makeshift memorial for former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe at Zojo-ji Temple on July 12, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
A hearse carrying the body of former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe leaves after his funeral at Zojo-ji Temple on July 12, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
A hearse carrying the body of Japan's former PM Shinzo Abe makes a brief visit to the Prime Minister's Office in Tokyo. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Mourners stand in line to pay tribute to late former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe at Zojo-ji Temple on July 12, 2022. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

TOKYO - Cries of "Abe-san!" and "thank you" rang out as Japan bade an emotional farewell to former prime minister Shinzo Abe, who was killed at a campaign rally last week and cremated on Tuesday (July 12).

Crowds lined the streets from Tokyo's Zojoji Temple, where Mr Abe's wake and funeral were held, to the halls of power in Nagatacho, as a hearse carrying his body made a brief procession through the city.

With nearly a dozen helicopters circling overhead, people bowed deeply, their hands clasped in prayer, as the hearse passed in a procession carried live on broadcaster NHK. Others clapped, cheered or waved.

“Thank you very much for your work for our country,” one man repeatedly shouted.

The assassination of Mr Abe, 67, Japan's longest-serving prime minister who shaped the country's economy and diplomacy, sent shock waves around the world and triggered an outpouring of grief.

A 41-year-old man, Tetsuya Yamagami, was apprehended moments after the shooting and is in police custody.

At the private funeral on Tuesday among family and close friends, Mr Abe's widow Akie, 60, delivered a tearful eulogy, media reports said, citing attendees and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) officials.

Recounting the final minutes she spent with her husband after rushing to the city of Nara, where Mr Abe had been campaigning for an LDP candidate, she said: "When I squeezed his hand, it felt like he squeezed mine back. I told him that I knew he was in pain, that it was OK to let go."

She added: "It still feels like a dream. He always protected me. It was thanks to him that I have been able to experience so much.

"The winter of my husband's life may have come. He left behind a lot of unfinished business as a politician, but hopefully the seeds that he planted will finally sprout."

Mrs Abe placed a flower by the coffin and laid her cheek against her husband's for a few seconds after her eulogy, reports said.

Mr Taro Aso, who served as Mr Abe's deputy prime minister and finance minister from 2012 to 2020, praised him for his "sense and his courage that expanded Japan's presence in the world".

On a personal note, the 81-year-old also recounted how the two had bonded over golf and rounds of alcohol. He said: "You were supposed to deliver my condolences. It's very hard for me to be reading yours."

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A woman holds a collage as she waits to bid farewell to former Japan PM Shinzo Abe during the funeral procession in Tokyo on July 12, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In a Twitter message before the funeral, Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi - Mr Abe's younger brother who was adopted by an uncle - said: "I lost my brother. At the same time, Japan lost an irreplaceable leader... My brother loved Japan and bet his life on politics to protect the country."

Also at the funeral was Taiwanese Vice-President William Lai, who was in Japan in his personal capacity as a "close friend of many years" of the Abes.

Nonetheless, the visit to Japan by Taipei's highest-ranking official in decades prompted China to lodge "stern representations" and say that Taiwan's "political tricks will never succeed".

After the funeral rites, the hearse departed the temple with a tearful Mrs Abe in the passenger seat for a tour through political landmarks before the last stop: a crematorium in Shinagawa ward.

Mr Shinzo Abe's widow Akie, in a vehicle carrying Mr Abe's body, leaving Zojo-ji Temple after his funeral on July 12, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

As Mrs Abe held onto her husband's mortuary tablet inscribed with his posthumous Buddhist name, she bowed to the public in acknowledgement. Some were in tears, while others waved and applauded the slain leader on his final journey through Tokyo.

The motorcade passed by the LDP headquarters, the Prime Minister's Office and the National Diet building. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, waiting at the Prime Minister's Office, blinked back tears as he bowed, clasping a set of Buddhist rosary beads.

Japan's PM Fumio Kishida, officials and employees offer prayers towards a hearse carrying the body of late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. PHOTO: REUTERS
A hearse carrying the body of former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe making a brief visit to the LDP headquarters as LDP lawmakers, officials and employees offer prayers, in Tokyo on July 12, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Public memorial services are likely to be held although no details are as yet available.

On Monday, about 2,500 politicians, business leaders and ambassadors paid their respects at an overnight vigil known as tsuya at the temple.

Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako sent flowers and dispatched a chamberlain to burn incense at the wake, said the Imperial Household Agency.

A temporary memorial site was also set up at the temple, with a picture of a smiling Mr Abe in a white shirt and no tie, his arms akimbo. Mourners laid flowers - white chrysanthemums were being handed out - and offered prayers.

Ms Keiko Noumi, a 58-year-old teacher, was one of many who came to offer prayers and flowers under cloudy skies to the large photograph of Mr Abe.

“There was a sense of security when he was the prime minister in charge of the country,” she said. “I really supported him, so this is very unfortunate.” 

A temporary memorial site was set up at Zojo-ji Temple in Tokyo, with a picture of a smiling Mr Shinzo Abe in a white shirt and no tie, his arms akimbo. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
The crowd at Zojo-ji Temple in Tokyo on July 12, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Tributes have poured in from international leaders, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken making a brief stop en route to the United States from South-east Asia on Monday morning to pay his respects. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also joined mourners.

Nearly 2,000 condolence messages arrived from nations around the world, Kyodo news agency said.

French leader Emmanuel Macron sent his condolences in footage posted on the country's official presidential Twitter account after he visited the Japanese Embassy in Paris.

"I remember all our meetings and work together, especially during my visit (to Japan) in 2019... I've lost a friend," said a solemn Mr Macron. "He served his country with great courage and audacity."

Diplomats also paid their respects, including US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, Russian Ambassador to Japan Mikhail Galuzin and Singaporean Ambassador to Japan Peter Tan. 

People pay tribute to former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo on July 12, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Suspected killer Yamagami believed that Mr Abe had promoted a religious group to which his mother made a "huge donation", Kyodo news agency has said, citing investigators.

The Unification Church, known for its mass weddings and devoted following, said on Monday that the suspect's mother was one of its members.

Yamagami shot Mr Abe from behind, unloading two shots from a 40cm-long improvised weapon wrapped with black tape.

A security officer detaining suspect Tetsuya Yamagami in Nara on July 8, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a news conference on Tuesday that the Japanese government will consider whether there is a need to further regulate handmade guns.

“We are aware that current regulations strictly restrict firearms, whether handmade or not,” he said.

Mr Satoshi Ninoyu, head of the National Public Safety Commission, told a Tuesday news conference he had directed that a team be established to investigate the security situation around Mr Abe’s assassination.

“We take this incident extremely seriously,” he was quoted by the Nikkei Shimbun as saying.

Out on the capital’s streets, Japan’s mourning continued.

“He was my favourite prime minister,” said Mr Akihito Sakaki, 58, and self-employed. “So I came here to say goodbye.”

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