In this article:
- Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently died after being shot by a former Japanese Navy member who claimed to be unhappy with him for his ties to an unnamed religious group.
- Shinzo Abe was a prominent political figure within Japan with a significant influence over the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, a political party that has remained in power for decades and has provided three consecutive Japanese prime ministers.
- Abe himself is from a family of prominent politicians, among them Nobosuke Kishi, a former prime minister known for his involvement in Japan’s overseas affairs during World War II.
- Among Abe’s biggest legacies are his promotion of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, Abenomics, and his relations to the Nippon Kaigi, a right-wing nationalist group.
On July 8, 2022, Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot while delivering a speech to a crowd at the Yamato Saidaiji train station. The speech was part of Abe’s efforts to support the campaign of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in preparation for the upper house elections on July 10, 2022.
Jimintō, as the party is known locally, is a conservative nationalist party that has remained in power, controlling the majority of both the upper and lower houses, for most of its existence. Japan’s current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is part of the LDP and currently serves as its leader.
The party was leading a Nikkei business daily poll that showed it was likely to win the majority of upper house seats, but it became clear that not everyone was happy with the LDP, or at the very least Mr. Abe, when two loud bangs were heard in the crowd before the former prime minister fell to the ground.
The suspect fired two shots on Abe using a homemade gun before being apprehended by the late prime minister’s security detail. Bystanders immediately tried to assist Mr. Abe who was quickly rushed to a nearby hospital, however, he was later pronounced dead around 5:00 PM local time.
The shooter was identified as Tetsuya Yamagami, a 41-year-old former member of the Japanese Navy who claimed he was unhappy with the former prime minister because he believed Abe was associated with a religious group that bankrupted his mother through donations.
But who was Shinzo Abe? What makes him such a celebrated politican? And why would someone want to shoot him?
Who Was Shinzo Abe?: Understanding Japan’s Longest Serving Prime Minister
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is the longest-serving PM in Japanese history. He began his political career serving as a private secretary to officers of the LDP before eventually joining the House of Representatives as a representative for the Yamaguchi 1st district.
Abe was not a complete stranger to politics or rather, his name isn’t.
Both sides of his family are known for producing prominent politicians including Kan Abe, a wealthy landowner based in Yamaguchi who was a representative during World War II, and Nobusuke Kishi, a former prime minister who also ruledManchukuo, a puppet state of the Japanese Empire in China that was “lead” by Qing Emperor Puyi.
Shinzo Abe brings up his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, in Utsukushii Kuni e where he writes: “Some people used to point to my grandfather as a ‘Class-A war criminal suspect,’ and I felt strong repulsion. Because of that experience, I may have become emotionally attached to ‘conservatism,’ on the contrary.”
Abe’s father, Shintaro Abe, also served in multiple government offices, including as Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Shinzo Abe first served as PM in 2006 and proposed to amend Japan’s imperial succession laws to allow women to inherit the throne, that is until Prince Hisahito was born to Crown Prince Fumihito, securing a sole male heir, of his generation, for the Japanese Imperial throne.
Abe also made visits to different countries in Southeast Asia in an effort to strengthen diplomatic relations with the neighboring countries of China, a nation that these southern countries see as a military threat in the region.
Japan has also had a series of territorial tensions with China that spurred Japan to strengthen the Japanese military in 2022 under the leadership of Prime Minister Kishida, Abe’s successor and current LDP leader.
Abenomics: Abe’s Three-Pronged Plan to Revitalize the Japanese Economy
The late former PM’s plan to strengthen Japan included addressing the nation’s economy using a plan known as “Abenomics.” Abe began work on Abenomics in 2012 which he founded on the Three Arrows of flexible fiscal policy, monetary expansion, and structural economic reform.
Abenomics aimed to revitalize the Japanese economy by lowering interest rates to encourage Japanese citizens and businesses to borrow and spend more money as part of the plan to raise Japan’s inflation rate to a healthier level.
Another key aspect of Abenomics was to increase the country’s labor productivity, which had been hampered by its rapidly aging population, by introducing more women to the workforce, a move that has been dubbed as Abe’s “Womenomics.”
Womenomics sought to bolster the productivity of Japan’s workers and widen the pool of available workers by bringing more women into the workforce. This included making women more visible in public life by appointing female officials into cabinet and LDP positions as well as establishing daycare facilities to ease the load of childcare on Japanese women who, in the culture of Japan, have often taken on the lion’s share of domestic labor.
The improvements that Abe’s Womenomics may have made during his term have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic which saw women among the first employees cut from the workforce.
Shinzo Abe’s Diplomacy and Military Legacy
Shinzo Abe’s legacy looms over Asia in the form of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific, an effort to unite Asian nations as well as Australia and the United States to form a united front against what these nations see as a common enemy: China.
One of Japan’s key current friends in Asia is India. The East Asian nation pursued deeper relations with India during the years of Abe’s term.
Japan’s vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific includes ensuring maritime security and safety as well as promoting public diplomacy on maritime order.
This also came with amendments to Japanese laws that allowed for the Japan Self-Defense Forces to fight overseas after years of restrictions that came in the wake of World War II. Abe also increased military spending by removing the previous cap of 1% of national GDP.
The Nippon Kaigi: Abe’s Ties to a Right-Wing Nationalist Movement
Last but not least are Abe’s ties with the Nippon Kaigi, a right-wing nationalist group within Japan that began in the 1970s with an agenda to legalize imperial-era names.
Today, the Nippon Kaigi promises to “restore a beautiful Japan and build a proud nation,” a goal that it now tries to achieve by presenting the Japanese Constitution as an obstacle to Japan’s security and establishing a “clear national polity linked to the Emperor.”
The Nippon Kaigi is also a staunch supporter of Japan’s imperial past and is known for its traditionalist stance that opposes same-sex rights and gender equality. Aside from its stance on national issues, the group also has strong religious affiliations to Seicho no ie and Jinja Honchō.
Shinzo Abe served as a special adviser to the Nippon Kaigi.
His alignment with the right-wing nationalist group and stance on Japan’s imperialist past has repeatedly caused tensions with the other Asian countries that remember the comfort women of WWII, the same countries that Abe has tried to strengthen Japan’s friendships with.
Abe’s Gone — What’s Next for Japan?
Shinzo Abe’s strong nationalist stance has made him and the rest of the LDP divisive among Japanese voters. Though the party and Abe’s hard stance against China has helped make the LDP popular among young voters, Japan’s youth vote turnout remains relatively low because of the party’s strong influence in government.
Many young Japanese voters have chosen not to vote at all due to what they see as an unchanging political climate.
The LDP has remained in power for decades and Shinzo Abe has served two terms as PM only to be succeeded by two fellow party members in a row, Yoshihide Suga and Fumio Kishida.
Despite his brief criticism of Abenomics, Prime Minister Kishida is known to have often consulted Abe, who was still a strong figure in the LDP and in Japanese politics, regarding political decisions.
To a subset of educated young Japanese, voting is pointless because the old guard keeps getting voted into power by older voters who are familiar with the party. And since few of them turn up to vote, the fear that the youth vote is useless becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But that might all change with the death of Shinzo Abe.
With regards to his policies, however, Abe’s vision for Japan and his policies are likely to remain more or less intact given that the LDP still holds considerable influence in the Japanese government.