He was a passionate leader: Japanese in S'pore saddened by ex-PM Abe's death

The Japanese flag flying at half-mast at the Embassy of Japan in Singapore on July 8, 2022. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - A minute's silence was observed before a Singapore Premier League football match on Friday night (July 8) hours after Mr Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister of Japan, was killed in a shooting attack.

He was shot during a rally speech in Nara prefecture in western Japan at 11.30am and declared dead at 5.03pm local time.

Players of both teams - Japanese side Albirex Niigata and local outfit Tanjong Pagar United - wore black armbands during the match in Jurong East Stadium.

Mr Daisuke Korenaga, chairman of both Albirex football clubs in Japan and Singapore, said the only word he could find to describe how he felt after learning about the tragedy was "shock".

"It has been a very difficult day... But I saw on social media many Singaporeans showing their respect for Mr Abe and I would like to thank them," he added.

Mr Korenaga, 44, said he last met Mr Abe at a dinner at the former prime minister's home in Tokyo in December 2016. The reception was a welcome for then Singapore President Tony Tan who was in Japan for a state visit.

"I remember Mr Abe being genuinely interested to learn more about Albirex and how we have been participating in the Singapore Premier League (previously known as the S-League) since 2004," he added.

Japanese fans who attended the match on Friday said they are saddened by the tragedy but want to canvass others to support one another.

Chef Haruto Kobayashi, 29, said: "I read about it when I got off work. I think he was a strong, passionate leader; not perfect but one of the better ones. I'm glad I'm here today, because I'll meet my friends who are also Japanese and we can talk about it together."

Another football fan, Mr Kenji Nakamura, a 26-year-old university student, fears copycat crimes could happen in spite of strict gun regulations in Japan.

"It's scary because you won't know what will happen as a result of this... if someone can make a gun, others will know that they can too, if they want to," he said.

Other Japanese nationals in Singapore condemned the act of brutality and expressed concerns over safety in Japan.

Albirex Niigata and Tanjong Pagar players and spectators observing a minute of silence before the start of the match at Jurong East Stadium on July 8, 2022. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
Mr Daisuke Korenaga (right) met former Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a dinner reception at Mr Abe’s home in Tokyo in Dec 2016. PHOTO: COURTESY OF DAISUKE KORENAGA

Ms Akiko Yamaguchi, 58, a Japanese-language teacher, said the attack is "extremely regrettable".

"There are a variety of opinions towards Mr Abe as a politician among Japanese people, but we can't deny his huge contribution to Japan," she said.

"It appears to me that recently, there are more Japanese people who care for themselves more than others. Just because you are not happy, you join others to bully others, or vent your stress on others, and even kill people.

"Maybe it's time for Japanese people to look into their moral and common sense again," she added.

Ms Kiyomi Nishi, 54, a conference interpreter, said the shooting is frightening but she is not surprised that it happened.

"Covid-19 has caused a lot of suffering in Japan and people are stressed out. Many businesses have been hit hard and inflation has made things worse.

"Mr Abe is part of the ruling party and when things go wrong, they become the target of the people's anger," she noted.

Ms Nishi, who is a Singapore citizen, hopes Japanese politicians will enhance their security measures.

"In Japan, it is the norm for politicians to give speeches in close proximity to the public and anyone can attend. It is not really possible to screen the people who go to these rallies so security has to be tighter," she added.

Ms Riko Abe, a 23-year-old student, hopes Japan remains a safe place and that this incident is an isolated one. "There's the election (coming) soon and my family and I are wondering what will happen (next). Especially because I know Mr Abe has many supporters, it's a very sad time for Japan."

Some Japanese nationals remember Mr Abe as a leader who brought political stability to the country. Before he resigned in 2020, Japan saw a revolving door of six administrations, including his serving of a previous stint as PM.

Said Japanese-language teacher Takemoto Kana, 25: "He had some issues with money and politics, but he made a stable government."

Others said he is best known for his constitutional reforms.

Ms Sakura Yamasaki, founder and chief executive of solar materials trading firm Singapore Solar Exchange, said: "I'm a woman in business so I'm watching for the outcome of some of his Womenomics policies (to help Japanese women get into the workforce). It was not exactly a success in terms of results but it was in terms of process."

"He put something on the agenda and that's the first big step to any big social change," she added.

  • Additional reporting by Prisca Ang

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