Japan’s Late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Honored at Divisive State Funeral

Posted on: September 27, 2022, 10:40h. 

Last updated on: September 27, 2022, 04:17h.

Former Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was honored Tuesday with a state funeral in Tokyo, a ceremony that drew praise and criticism from his supporters and opponents.

Japan Shinzo Abe integrated resort casinos gambling
Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pays his respects to Shinzo Abe during the late prime minister’s state funeral on Sept. 27, 2022. Abe was responsible for legalizing commercial casino gambling in Japan. (Image: AP)

Abe was assassinated at 67 on July 8 while making a campaign speech in the city of Nara. His assailant, a 41-year-old, said he wished to kill the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader for his and the party’s alleged ties to the Unification Church, which critics label a cult.

Abe’s tenure as prime minister lasted for nearly eight years, from December 2012 through mid-September 2020. Abe embraced a stronger military and national security and pushed economic policies that sought to bring Japan into the 21st Century.

A major component of his economic policy — dubbed “Abenomics” — was the liberalization of casino gambling. In 2018, Abe successfully encouraged LDP members, who control the country’s National Diet, to authorize as many as three integrated casino resorts.

Abe’s support of Las Vegas-style resorts was part of his effort to increase tourism to Japan and make the country a more attractive destination in Asia for leisure travel.

Casino Legacy

Abe and the LDP pressed forward with commercial gambling. That’s despite polling that showed it to be unpopular with the general public. The opposition feared slot machines and table games might further hurt vulnerable populations more drastically than the country’s pachinko parlors already do.

Abe announced his resignation in August 2020 because of colitis-related health concerns. The LDP selected Yoshihide Suga as his successor, and he assumed the prime minister’s office on Sept. 16, 2020.

The changing of the guard atop the LDP briefly threatened the carrying out of Abe’s casino wishes. But Suga opted to embrace his predecessor and longtime confidant’s gambling goals. Suga resigned in September 2021 amid dismal approval ratings. The LDP elected Fumio Kishida as the new leader, and he was installed in the role in October 2021.

Japan’s lengthy legislative process, followed by a global pandemic, has resulted in no casinos being approved by the country almost four years after the Diet passed its gambling bill. The snail’s pace has turned off some casino operators that previously expressed interest in Japan, including Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, and Hard Rock International.

Only MGM Resorts and Casinos Austria remain. Osaka has selected MGM to build a casino complex that could cost as much as $9 billion. Casinos Austria is working with Nagasaki on a $3.2 billion casino development in Sasebo City at the Huis Ten Bosch Dutch theme park.

If those projects one day come to life, the casino resorts will secure Abe’s legacy and fulfill his wishes of generating new tourism in Japan.

Controversial Funeral

Japan doesn’t make a habit of holding state funerals. Abe’s ceremony was the first state funeral in Japan since 1967. With Japan’s economy still suffering from the pandemic, many opposed spending a projected $11.5 million to honor the late leader.

Abe’s supporters turned out in droves to pay their respects. Notable attendees included Suga, Kishida, and US VP Kamala Harris. The state funeral was attended by an estimated 10K people, who waited in an hours-long line to lay flowers at his ashes.

Abe’s widow, Akie Abe, cried as Suga and Kishida talked about her late husband’s impact on the nation.

You always said you wanted to make Japan better, that you wanted young people to have hope and pride,” Suga said. 

“You were a person who should have lived much longer,” Kishida concluded.