A man set himself on fire near the Japanese prime minister’s office, apparently in protest at next week’s state funeral for the country’s former prime minister, Shinzo Abe.
The man, who has not been named, was initially unconscious and suffered burns all over his body after the incident in Tokyo on Wednesday morning, less than a week before the controversial farewell to Abe, who was shot dead in July.
Opposition to the September 27 state funeral has grown since Abe’s death sparked revelations about the ruling Liberal Democrat party’s ties to the Unification church, whose members are popularly known as Moonies.
According to media reports, the protester, who is in his 70s, regained consciousness and told police that he doused himself in oil before setting it on fire. A note saying he was “strongly against” the funeral was found near the scene.
The Kyodo news agency and other media said police were called to the scene around 7 a.m. after reports that someone “had gone up in flames”. According to media reports, a police officer who extinguished the flames was also injured.
Tetsuya Yamagami, who is suspected of shooting Abe with a homemade gun on July 8, has reportedly told investigators that he targeted the politician because of his ties to the Unification church.
Yamagami said his family was plunged into poverty 20 years ago when his mother, a church member, donated large sums of money to the organization.
Abe was not a member of the Church, but sent a congratulatory video message to an affiliate’s event last year. A recent survey by the ruling party of its 379 lawmakers found that nearly half had had some form of interaction with the unifying church.
Founded in South Korea in 1954 by the self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon, the church was encouraged to settle in Japan by Abe’s grandfather and post-war prime minister, Nobusuke Kishi, as a counterweight to communism and union work. The organization, known for its mass marriages, has been accused of pressuring believers into making donations they can’t afford – she claims.
Revelations about links between Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) lawmakers and the church dominate the domestic news agenda for weeks, hardening opposition to using taxpayers’ money to pay for Abe’s funeral.
The scandal also damaged Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who announced his support for a state funeral within days of Abe’s death. A Mainichi Shimbun poll conducted over the weekend showed support for Kishida at 29%, down six percentage points from the end of August.
Earlier this month, the government said the service in Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan Hall would cost at least ¥1.7 billion ($12 million), with the bulk of the money going to a massive security operation. A poll by the Kyodo news agency released Sunday found that 60.8% opposed the ceremony, and 38.5% supported it. More than 75% said the government spent “too much” on the funeral.
Foreign guests are expected to include US Vice President Kamala Harris and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. In total, about 6,000 people are expected.
But many current and former leaders will not attend, including Barack Obama, who was joined by Abe in 2016 when he became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima.
The man who self-immolated on Wednesday isn’t the first to use self-immolation in a protest affiliated with Abe, a conservative whose legacy has drawn both warm tributes and fierce criticism.
In 2014, two men set themselves on fire in separate incidents to protest the planned implementation of security laws that critics say marked a reckless departure from Japan’s post-war pacifism. One of the men has died.
Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, stepped down in 2020 due to ill health but remained influential until he was shot dead during an election campaign speech in the western city of Nara.