In September 2020, Shinzo Abe retired from parliamentary office due to ulcerative colitis.

This week, his funeral was held in Tokyo.

Belonging to the Nara Prefecture, Nara is one of Japan’s oldest regions. Just last week, Abe was on the campaign trail in Nara, endorsing Kei Sato who was running for re-election in the Upper House. It was there the 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, shot Shinzo with a handmade gun that used two metal pipes wrapped above a wooden plank with duct tape. According to the Japanese police, Abe suffered bullet wounds to his neck and damage to his heart. He died shortly after in hospital.

Heir to a Political Dynasty

Shinzo Abe was the longest-serving Prime Minister in Japan’s history. He held office for just a year in 2006, and then again from 2012 to 2020. A member of the LDP, an umbrella Conservative Party in Japan, Abe was born into a political dynasty. Nobusuke Kishi, his grandfather, was the prime minister of Japan from 1957 up until 1960. His paternal grandfather, Kan Abe, served in the House of Representatives during the Second World War. It was only inevitable, after studying in the States and having a stint at Kobe Steel, that Shinzo Abe would enter the political arena his grandfather had once commanded.

It was not until he became the Chief Negotiator for Japan that he gained national popularity. In defiance of North Korea, he demanded that Japanese prisoners visiting Japan remain there. Four years later, Abe became the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. Six months later, Shinzo Abe became the leader of Japan.

A Controversail Opponent

Abe’s feud with the North Korean government is no secret. He opposed North Korean leaders when it came to the abduction of Japanese nationals. As a result of his strong disapproval, Trump even promised to bring the issue to the North Korean leader’s attention when they met.

Another issue that loomed large over Abe’s tenure as PM, concerns the painful history of Comfort Women. Beginning in the 1930s, women were kidnapped by the Japanese military and forced into sex slavery. Brothels filled with sex slaves from countries like China and South Korea expanded rapidly after the infamous Rape of Nanking — when the imperial Japanese army began a six-week-long attack on Nanking and raped between twenty-thousand and eighty-thousand women. The comfort women lived in utterly inhumane conditions, being consistently forced into sex and made pregnant or ill with sexually transmitted diseases. These rapes allegedly increased before battles. It was only in 1946 that these ‘comfort stations’ were banned by Douglas McArthur.

Hundreds of thousands of women were subjected to brutal treatment by the Japanese army, leaving them with lifelong trauma. Abe was critical of their experiences, telling reporters:

‘There is no evidence to prove there was coercion, nothing to support it.’

The issue of comfort women was not unknown to Japanese leaders. Junichiro Koizumi and Ryutaro Hashimoto both apologised, in 2001 and 1996 respectively. The government, however, never accepted legal responsibility.

A Patriot

Abe was proud of his country and unwilling to budge on matters that marred its reputation. This resulted in a contentious trade war with South Korea when the South Korean Supreme Court issued a verdict that Japan should pay around $89,000 for reparations. In 2007, he also disavowed the 1993 Kono Statement where Yohei Kono, chief cabinet secretary, said that the military was:

‘directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women. The government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, etc, and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments.’

Abe was a controversial figure in politics. A man proud of his country’s accomplishments. An unflinching nationalist. And a strong, decisive leader. But he was also seen as a historical revisionist, a stubborn, petty and corrupt politician who destroyed damning contracts and documents implicating him in suspicious monetary activities.

His death at the hands of a former Self-Defence Force Sailor has been predicted to change Japanese politics forever. What this means for a country whose post-war constitution was drafted by the United States, remains to be seen.

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