Saturday , August 13 2022

After a Brutal Assassination, Japan Mourns and Carries On

TOKYO — A day after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a political rally, the police in Japan faced sharp questions about the adequacy of his security, even as parliamentary candidates resumed campaigning on Saturday in a sign that despite the tragedy, political life was carrying on.

White vans bearing large photos of politicians, and blaring their names from loudspeakers, rode through the streets. Candidates fist-bumped with supporters and posed for selfies. And politicians, many from Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, made their final appeals to voters before an election Sunday, in the shadow of deep mourning.

Standing on a truck in the glitzy Ginza fashion district of central Tokyo, Akiko Ikuina, an L.D.P. candidate and former pop idol running for a seat in Japan’s Upper House, cried as she said that “those of us who are left behind must help make Mr. Abe’s vision for our country come true.” During a moment of silence, some of the hundreds of supporters in the audience wept.

It is common during Japanese campaign stops for politicians mingle freely with voters, keeping almost no distance between themselves and the crowd.

But the ease with which a lone gunman could carry a homemade tape-wrapped weapon up to Mr. Abe, once one of the world’s most powerful leaders, may lead some in Japan to rethink that openness.

With nerves on edge as the current prime minister, Fumio Kishida, made his final campaign appearances in Yamanashi and Niigata prefectures on Saturday, the police body-scanned residents and prowled roofs. At one point, a security guard stood so close behind Mr. Kishida as he exhorted a crowd that the guard seemed to be glued to the prime minister’s back.

In the wake of Mr. Abe’s assassination — in a country where gun deaths are a rarity, let alone the gunning down of a major political figure — Japan was only beginning to process the shock.

Early on Saturday, Akie Abe, Mr. Abe’s widow, accompanied his body in a hearse to his home in Tokyo from the hospital in Nara where he died. Mr. Abe’s parliamentary office said a wake would be held on Monday, to be followed by a funeral on Tuesday at one of Tokyo’s largest Buddhist temples.

The police were still searching for answers, and they said little on Saturday. In the absence of much new information about the suspect in custody, Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, rumors swirled on social media.

The Nara prefectural police continued to question Mr. Yamagami. At a news conference on Saturday afternoon, the police told reporters that he had taken a train one stop from his neighborhood to the location of the campaign rally where Mr. Abe was shot. They also said they had found multiple bullet holes in a vehicle used by the L.D.P. candidate for whom Mr. Abe was campaigning, but they did not elaborate.

At a press briefing on Saturday in Nara, Tomoaki Onizuka, head of the Nara prefectural police, acknowledged flaws in the protection that had been given to Mr. Abe. “It is undeniable that there were problems in the security,” Mr. Onizuka said.

On Twitter, Toshio Tamogami, a former chief of staff for Japan’s Air Force, seemed to ask the question that was on the country’s mind after seeing numerous videos on television and social media that showed the gunman walking unobstructed past security, before pointing a large, improvised gun in the direction of Mr. Abe.

“How did the police, protective detail and other security not notice the criminal who approached with a gun from behind?” Mr. Tomogami wrote.

Neighbors of Mr. Yamagami’s mother, Yoko, also of Nara, said that she kept to herself in the quiet residential neighborhood, where elderly residents often stop to chat in the streets. Kikuko Nakano, 73, who lives a few doors down from Ms. Yamagami, said that although she had lived in the community for many years, she had hardly ever spoken to Ms. Yamagami and had never seen Mr. Yamagami visit.

Hundreds of people in Nara lined up on Saturday to pay their respects to Mr. Abe, at a makeshift memorial at the site near the Yamato-Saidaiji railway station where he was assassinated. They left flowers, photos and cards, along with packets of snacks and cans of beer and soda, on tables set up under a white tent.

Police officers controlled traffic as mourners spilled over from the sidewalk onto the street. They set up cardboard boxes to collect the overflow of bouquets. Even as rain poured down in the midafternoon, visitors of all ages stood in line.

“If asked who is the face of Japan, it’s Mr. Abe,” said Miharu Araki, 24, a former resident of Nara who had come from Osaka, about 20 miles away, to visit the site, after being glued to the television all day on Friday for news about Mr. Abe.

In Tokyo, as political candidates wrapped up their campaigns, life continued at pace. In Shibuya, the city’s popular shopping and entertainment district, crowds thronged fashion stores, and cafes and restaurants were full. A flag at Tokyo Dome flew at half-staff as the Yomiuri Giants played the Yokohama DeNa Baystars, but there was no moment of silence before the game.

Outside the baseball stadium, couples tried to win stuffed animals in an arcade. A line snaked out the door of a nearby convenience store. Makiko Kawasaki, 29, who planned to take her 3-year-old for a ride on a Ferris wheel, said the assassination of Mr. Abe had not changed her plan to skip the voting Sunday.

“I’m not really interested in politics,” Ms. Kawasaki said. “And it’s my husband’s birthday tomorrow.”

At a campaign rally in Shibuya for Taku Yamazoe, 37, a Communist Party member of the Upper House of Parliament seeking re-election from the Tokyo electoral district, volunteers held up signs with slogans like “Raise the minimum wage to 1,500 yen an hour” or “Legalize Same-Sex Marriage.”

In a speech to supporters, Mr. Yamazoe invoked Mr. Abe. “We will not tolerate the silencing of free speech,” Mr. Yamazoe said. “Violence is not democracy.”

Some of Mr. Yamazoe’s supporters said they were worried that the assassination might propel some people to cast sympathy ballots for the L.D.P., though the party had been heavily favored to win in any case.

“I hope votes tomorrow aren’t swayed because of what happened,” said Natsumi Takahashi, 20, a college student who ate ice cream from a cup as she listened to Mr. Yamazoe speak. “I’m a bit worried.”

She said she did not agree with some of Mr. Abe’s policies on gender relations. “I want people to not forget what he was like as a politician when they cast their votes tomorrow,” said Ms. Takahashi.

Motoko Rich and Hikari Hida reported from Tokyo. Daisuke Wakabayashi reported from Seoul. Hisako Ueno reported from Nara.




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