TOKYO – Just as the late Mr Shinzo Abe’s tenure as Japan’s longest-serving prime minister was divisive, a plan to hold a state funeral on Sept 27 has split the country, two weekend polls have found.

A slim majority of respondents were against the plan, which has stoked small-scale protests.

In a survey by the Nikkei newspaper, 47 per cent were against the state funeral while 43 per cent were in favour. The rest were on the fence.

Another survey by Kyodo News showed 53.3 per cent opposed the state funeral with 45.1 per cent in support.

Japan is extending invitations to foreign dignitaries for the ceremony at the Nippon Budokan arena. This would be the first state funeral since 1967, when one was held in honour of Mr Shigeru Yoshida who led the country after World War II.

A state funeral is fully financed by taxpayers’ money.

Funerals for prime ministers have mostly been jointly paid for by the state and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), including one for former prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone who held office from 1982 to 1987 and died in 2020. The government bore half the cost, or about 96 million yen (S$1 million) at the time.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was foreign minister and LDP policy chief under Mr Abe, said at a news conference last month that his Cabinet decided a state funeral be held due to the former premier’s stature as Japan’s longest-serving leader and the diplomatic legacy he has left behind.

LDP secretary-general Toshimitsu Motegi also said last month that he “does not accept” that there are public doubters against the state funeral plan, suggesting that it was an opposition attempt to stoke controversy.

Still, some 61.9 per cent of respondents in the Kyodo poll felt it was necessary to hold a parliamentary debate on the need for a state funeral.

Public opposition has reportedly led the LDP to reconsider a plan to deliver a memorial address for Mr Abe when the Diet convenes for an extraordinary session from Wednesday (Aug 3) to Friday to select a new president and vice-president for the Upper House after last month’s elections.

The address might be postponed to an autumn session of Parliament, reports said, despite parliamentary tradition for such a speech to be delivered in line with the death of an incumbent Diet member.

During the state funeral for Mr Yoshida, sirens were sounded nationwide to call for a moment of silence, and schools and government agencies were closed in the afternoon.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno has said that Mr Abe’s state funeral will not be a national holiday, nor will members of the public be asked to observe the mourning.

This is but one of the areas where Mr Kishida has come under pressure just three weeks after leading the LDP to a decisive victory in an Upper House election.