The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on 8 July 2022, in the midst of national elections, set alight the passions of an entire country. He was murdered by a 41 year old man with a homemade shotgun in the ancient capital of Nara, near Osaka, for reasons not yet known. The nature of the killing has proved particularly shocking where gun crimes average at under 10 per year in a country of over 120 million people (CNN). Abe, a highly controversial yet remarkably personable figure, was a giant of modern Japanese politics. As the youngest and longest serving Prime Minister since World War Two, Abe set about forging a new national identity for post-war Japan. He envisaged a society unshackled by guilt for crimes long committed. His plans to remilitarize Japan and his reluctance to dwell on the Japanese Empire’s role in World War Two-era crimes, such as the coercion of South Korean “comfort women” into sex slavery, garnered him critics at home and across the sea. For the author of Towards a Beautiful Nation, a “love of country” was paramount and necessary if Japan was to avoid becoming a “Tier Two nation” and sliding into international peripherality.
Abe excelled in the role of international statesman, undertaking a slew of foreign visits as Prime Minister and cementing Japan’s ties with India, Australia, the US, the EU and NATO. He was the first Japanese Prime Minister to address the Australian parliament and the first to attend India’s Republic Day Parade. Donald Trump even fancied him as a golfing partner. Under Abe, Japan’s outlook was more global than bilateral or even regional. He brought the 2020 Olympic games to Tokyo and increased his nation’s involvement in fighting terrorism in the Middle East. His suggestion of a “Robot Olympics”, intended to showcase Japan’s advanced robotics sector, is emblematic of his private investment-driven approach to economic policy, termed ‘Abenomics’.
Relations with South Korea and China were frostier than those which Abe cultivated with the Anglophonic world. South Korea and The People’s Republic of China, Japan’s historic foe (‘victim’ is perhaps more accurate given the nature of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and the 1937 ‘Rape of Nanjing’), did not take kindly to Abe’s negationist view of the past in which the blame for historic crimes ought to be more widely spread. Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, a Tokyo monument dedicated to all those who died serving in the service of Japan, war criminals included. The trajectory of Japanese foreign policy, which has the potential to be reconfigured by the sensational killing of Abe, is hugely consequential for peace and stability in the region. As Abe’s former Special Advisor Tomohiko Taniguchi ominously stated in the aftermath of the assassination, “Japan’s neighbourhood is not a peaceful place”, citing the nuclear threat of Russia, China and North Korea.
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