Mourners streamed into a temple in Tokyo to pay their respects to Japan’s slain former premier Shinzo Abe on Monday, as his assassination overshadowed an election win for the ruling party he had dominated.
Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has the chance to cement his own power following Sunday’s election gains, and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen were among hundreds attending Abe’s wake, three days after he was shot at an election rally.
A private funeral for Abe, who resigned in 2020 and was Japan’s longest-serving premier, is scheduled for Tuesday.
“There is a profound sense of sorrow at his loss,” Yellen told reporters outside the temple, where she placed incense in Abe’s honour and greeted his family.
“Prime Minister Abe was a visionary leader and he strengthened Japan. And I know that his legacy will live on and result in a more prosperous Japan,” she added.
Abe’s shooting shocked a nation where political violence and gun crime is rare.
The suspected killer, identified by police as 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, believed Abe had promoted a religious group to which his mother made a “huge donation”, Kyodo news agency has said, citing investigative sources.
The Unification Church, a controversial group known for its mass weddings and devoted followers, said on Monday the suspect’s mother was one of its members.
Neither Abe nor Yamagami were members of the church, said Tomihiro Tanaka, president of the Japan branch of the church, officially called Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. Nor was Abe an adviser to the church, Tanaka said, adding that it would cooperate with police if asked to do so.
Reuters was not immediately able to contact Yamagami’s mother and could not determine whether she belonged to any other religious organisations.
In elections held on Sunday, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its ruling coalition partner extended their majority in the upper house of parliament. With a majority already in place in the lower house, what would have been a celebratory mood at LDP headquarters in usual circumstances turned sombre.
A moment of silence for Abe was offered in his memory, and Kishida’s face remained grim as he pinned rosettes next to winning candidates’ names on a board in a symbol of their victory.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Kishida during a brief stopover on Monday to offer condolences on behalf of President Joe Biden.
“I shared with our Japanese colleagues the sense of loss, the sense of shock that we all feel - connected people feel - at this horrific tragedy,” said Blinken.
“But mostly, I came at the president’s behest because more than allies, we’re friends. And when a friend is hurting, other friends show up.”
Kishida, Yellen and US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel were among hundreds of officials and family heading to Monday’s wake at Tokyo’s Zojoji temple, where the former premier’s body lay.
A line of black sedan cars, including several with diplomatic plates, dropped off mourners, some mopping their brows as they queued beneath the steps leading to the temple in the sultry heat.
A part of the temple was also open to members of the public who crowded in to lay flowers. “I feel so sad that a prime minister who dedicated himself for Japan died this way,” said Naoya Okamoto, a 28-year old who works in construction.
“He was the prime minister who demonstrated to the world a strong Japan once again.”
Abe, who resigned as prime minister in 2020 citing ill health, remained influential in the LDP party.
The LDP and its junior partner Komeito won 76 of the 125 seats contested in the chamber, up from 69 previously. The LDP alone won 63 seats, up from 55, to win a majority of the contested seats, though it fell short of a simple majority on its own.
With no elections set for another three years, Kishida, an Abe protege, now has an unusually long breathing space to attempt to implement his own agenda. That includes expanding defence spending and revising Japan’s pacifist constitution - a long-held dream of Abe’s.
Abe led the largest faction within the LDP, and analysts said his death could lead to potential turmoil within the party that might challenge Kishida’s control.
Kishida told a news conference that he would take up the difficult problems that Abe was not able to resolve, such as revising the constitution, adding that he hoped there could be discussions on the topic during the next session of parliament.
“We gained strength from voters for stable government of this nation,” Kishida told a news conference.