Shinzo Abe: Tribute to a Pragmatic Politician | Daily News

Shinzo Abe: Tribute to a Pragmatic Politician

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Japan has been a trusted friend of Sri Lanka, for centuries. In fact the enduring bond between both nations is as solid as the great Mount Fuji. The people of Japan have been a genuine partner in Sri Lanka’s journey of progress. Today, we join the people of Japan in mourning for the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe will attend the State Funeral, on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka.

Shinzo Abe became Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister in November 2019, when his time in office eclipsed that of KoshakuKatsura Taro, who had served three nonconsecutive terms in the early 20th Century. In August 2020 Shinzo Abe announced that he would resign as Prime Minister citing illness, although he remained in office in a caretaker capacity pending the selection of a successor. On September 14, 2020, Yoshihide Suga, Abe’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, was chosen as the new leader of the LDP, and he became Prime Minister two days later. Prime Minister Abe was a member of a prominent political family. His grandfather Nobusuke Kishi served as Japan’s Prime Minister from 1957 to 1960, and his great-uncle Eisaku Sato held the same post from 1964 to 1972. After graduating from Seikei University in Tokyo (1977), Shinzo Abe moved to the United States, where he studied political science at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. In 1979 he returned to Japan and joined Kobe Steel Ltd. He subsequently became active in the Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP), and in 1982 he began working as secretary to his father, Shintaro Abe, who was Japan’s Foreign Minister.

To-ji Temple

Due to LDP term limits, Prime Minister and LDP Leader Junichiro Koizumi was forced to leave office in 2006, and he was succeeded in both posts by Shinzo Abe. Abe became the country’s first Prime Minister to have been born after World War II and it’s youngest since the war. A conservative, Abe sought to strengthen ties with the United States and pursue a more assertive foreign policy. Abe supported United Nations sanctions against North Korea following that country’s nuclear test and imposed a set of unilateral sanctions on North Korea that included a ban on all visits to Japanese ports by North Korean vessels. In July 2007 the LDP lost its majority in the upper house to a coalition led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), and in September Abe announced that he was resigning. He was succeeded by Yasuo Fukuda. The LDP won a landslide victory in lower-house elections on December 16, 2012. On December 26 the new LDP majority in the chamber—bolstered by the members of the party’s coalition partner, New Komeito—overwhelmingly approved Abe as Prime Minister. He replaced the DPJ’s Yoshihiko Noda, who resigned from office that day.

As Prime Minister, the dynamic Abe worked to build up Japan's military, and sought to boost and reform the economy through a programme that came to be known as “Abenomics”. During his tenure, Abe reformed immigration policy, female labour-force participation climbed, and the Japanese economy unexpectedly returned to healthy growth.

While delivering a campaign speech for a colleague on July 8, 2022, Shinzo Abe was assassinated. This incident made global news headlines. A 41-year-old man with a homemade gun was arrested at the scene, and police claimed that he later confessed to the shooting. The shooting shocked many in Japan, which is one of the world's safest nations and has some of the strictest gun control laws anywhere. Yamagami was unemployed and a former member of Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force for three years, and attacked Abe because he believed he was associated with a group Yamagami hated. Multiple handmade guns were later found at Yamagami's home.

The Japanese Government has announced it will hold a State Funeral for Abe on September 27, with the ceremony extending to provide enhanced security and receptions to host foreign dignitaries. State Funerals in Japan are usually reserved for members of the imperial family, though the honour was also afforded to former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida in 1967.

Most of us will not be familiar with Japanese rituals, and therefore let’s understand their solemn traditions. Japanese funerals manifest a mixture of Shinto and Buddhist traditions. Shinto, the native religion in Japan is a collection of rituals, including funeral rites, which grew out of the complex cultural history of the archipelago.

The original religion of Japan is Shinto, worshiping the forces of nature. Meaning the way of God, Shinto has animistic beliefs that are based on respect for kami. Literally, kami means “that which is above men” or “superior to the human condition,” and this term is often translated as “god” or “spirit”. Its origins are lost in the mists of time. According to myths, the goddess Izanami and Izanagi are the heavenly god couple who gave birth to the archipelago. Amaterasu, the sun goddess, is the direct ancestor of the emperor himself. Shinto tends to make harmonious relations between human beings, nature, and kami. Shinto priests, recognizable by their black caps and long white tunics, are to be a person who knows the rituals that give rise to supernatural forces. History reveals Buddhist funeral rites were introduced from outside, and are meant to help the deceased make a transition from life to afterlife, and to reincarnation should it not escape from the cycle of rebirth. The strongest pressure for merging the two traditions came in 1638 when all Japanese households were required to register with a temple as members of the Buddhist faith.

The Otsuya is very similar to the wake ceremony in many Western countries and is a time when family, relatives and close friends gather to say their fond goodbyes to the dead. In this solemn ceremony, the bereaved gather and spend a period of time in the same location as the body of the departed. A Buddhist priest will chant what is a called sutra while the family and relatives will offer incense at an incense urn in front of the body of the deceased. A portrait of the deceased is placed within the arrangement and incense, which must be kept burning at all times, is placed near the coffin.

The Ososhiki is the actual Japanese funeral service, and contains several ceremonies. It starts one day after the Otsuya with a Sougi or Soshiki, which is the funeral ceremony itself. It follows a similar procedure to the Otsuya, with a priest chanting a sutra and the bereaved burning incense. After the Sougi, there is a Kokubetsushiki, or memorial ceremony, where the friends and acquaintances of the bereaved pay their respects to the dead and offer condolences to the family. Lastly, there is a cremation ceremony.

There are two types of incense that are used: Makko (incense powder) or Senko (incense sticks). Since ancient times in Asia, incense powders have often been burnt as incense trails. Artistic, spiritual, and complicated geometric patterns are pressed into the ash base of the incense burner, incense powders then fill the indentation, are pressed lightly and gently lit. Incense is thought to purify the air and attune the mind. Some people even say it reverently summons the gods.

Senko comes in many forms and a myriad of scents. Perhaps its purest, and most Japanese, form is stick senko made from cedar. Since ancient times in Japan, the word ‘defilement’ has been used to refer to death and salt is believed to have the effect of purifying this transition, so those who place ‘morishio (piled salt)’ at the entrance to their homes are hoping to prevent defilement and impurity from entering their homes. After the ceremony, purifying salt may be given to the guests. In Japan the annual memorial ceremony is replaced by the celebration of Obon, a three-day holiday in August, when the spirits of ancestors are said to return to their families’ homes. The traditions of Obon take various forms throughout Japan. Lamps may be lit at the butsudan- a Buddhist altar, and small fires may be burned in front of the door to guide the spirits home. Some families visit their grave site, clean the grave, and respectfully “carry” their ancestor’s home with them. The custom of floating small boats on the final day, filled with offerings of food and a candle is witnessed as they are placed in a placid river or by the sea. Chochin (paper) lanterns are hung to guide the spirits and Obon dances are performed. Families have reunions and visit the graves of their relatives and make food offerings at altars and temples.

May the soul of Shinzo Abe, travel on a divine path laden with soft cherry blossom petals to reach eternal rest. 

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