Family and close friends of the late Shinzo Abe, Japan’s former prime minister, attended his funeral at the Zojo-ji, a Buddhist temple in Tokyo, on Tuesday. Abe was assassinated on 8 July during a political campaign stop. He was 67 years old.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama was among the global religious leaders and dignitaries who marked the late leader’s passing: “I am deeply saddened to hear that my friendAbe Shinzo (former Japanese PM) has passed away following a gunshot attack this morning. I pray for him and offer my condolences to you and members of your family.” (Hindustan Times)
The Tibetan spiritual leader also noted his appreciation for Abe’s support of Buddhism: “I very much appreciated his friendship and support of our efforts to preserve our rich Buddhist cultural heritage and identity. Abe truly lived a meaningful life in the service of others.” (Hindustan Times)
Abe’s funeral service drew crowds of public onlookers, who waited along sidewalks as Abe’s hearse and mourners passed by. The funeral was closed to the media and limited to close friends and family, including his widow, Akie Abe.
People outside of the temple placed flowers around a picture of Shinzo Abe, which was placed beneath a statue of Kannon Bodhisattva. A wake was held for Abe at the temple on Monday evening for members of the public to offer prayers and tributes.
Shinzo Abe was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, serving in 2006–07 and again from 2012–20. He remained in government after resigning, holding his position in Japan’s House of Representatives—the lower house of Japan’s legislative body, or Diet—until his death.
Levi McLaughlin, associate professor at North Carolina State University and author of Soka Gakkai’s Human Revolution (University of Hawai’i Press, 2019), told BDG that Abe’s family practices Jodoshu, or Pure Land Buddhism. “This is somewhat striking, given the fact that his family’s roots are in Yamaguchi-ken, where Jōdo Shinshū is a dominant tradition,” McLaughlin noted.
Jodo Shinshu, or True Pure Land Buddhism, founded by Shinran (1173–1263), is considered by many to be a sub-sect of Jodoshu.
McLaughlin added: “He would take part in events organized by Jōkōkai (浄光会), a Jōdoshū organization for Diet members, and there are numerous other Buddhist groups and actors that retained strong ties with Abe.”
Zojo-ji is the main temple of the Jodoshu school of Buddhism in the region. The temple is notable for its affiliation with the Tokugawa clan, who ruled over Japan during the Edo period (1603–1867).
The man charged in the killing told police that his motive was a grudge against Abe due to his connection to the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU), formerly known as the Unification Church. The FFWPU was founded in South Korea by Sun-myung Moon (1920–2012) in 1954. The religious group garnered controversy as it grew in the 1960s and 1970s for its intense demands upon parishioners and ties to conservative politicians around the world. Over the years, Shinzo Abe took part in events hosted by FFWPU.
McLaughlin has written a commentary for the journal Critical Asian Studies addressing the killer’s grudge against the FFWPU. In it, he notes the concern that “the murder of Japan’s most powerful politician poses the risk of a moral panic that may spell danger for some of the country’s least powerful and most marginalized residents: ethnic minorities and members of minority religions.” (Critical Asian Studies)
McLaughlin’s commentary continues: “There are worrisome precedents for how events may transpire, given the connection of Abe’s assassination to a Korean religion. Relations between Japan and Korea have long been icy, at best.” (Critical Asian Studies)
McLaughlin notes, as has BDG columnist Gereon Kopf, professor at Luther College, Iowa, that the role of religion in Japan is somewhat paradoxical, with nearly three in four Japanese people claiming to have no religion.* Nonetheless, religion continues to play a powerful role throughout Japanese society, including in the highest reaches of its government.
* The Hidden Buddha (BDG)
‘My friend’: Dalai Lama’s tribute to Shinzo Abe after ex-Japan PM assassinated (Hindustan Times)
Japan mourns Shinzo Abe (NPR)
Thousands flock to pay last respects to Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, after assassination (CBS News)
Commentary | Levi McLaughlin, A Grudge Against the Unification Church Motivated the Murder of Japan’s Most Prominent Politician (Critical Asian Studies)
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