Winter in Unalaska by Sam Zmolek
Your voice in the Aleutians.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Mourners visit the site of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's assassination


Mourners are visiting the scene of Shinzo Abe's assassination. The former prime minister was killed in western Japan yesterday while campaigning for his party, shocking a nation where gun laws are strict, politics are largely peaceful and security at campaign events is low. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from Seoul. Anthony, thanks for being with us.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Nice to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: How is Japan mourning Mr. Abe's loss?

KUHN: Well, in Nara, the city where he was killed while campaigning, mourners laid flowers and bottles of drinks at a table near the site of his assassination. Abe's body was carried in a motorcade with a hearse and accompanied by his wife Akie from Nara back to Abe's home in Tokyo. Abe has a funeral scheduled for Tuesday. That is mostly for family and close friends. There is no word so far on a public memorial service. Another thing that was different today was that there appeared to be tighter security, more police at campaign events and even a metal detector at Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's campaign stop. And that is something you almost never see in Japan.

SIMON: The international reaction has been extraordinary, hasn't it?

KUHN: Yes. And there are some important late additions to what's already come in. One is that China's leader, Xi Jinping, expressed his condolences, saying that Shinzo Abe had worked to improve relations between Beijing and Tokyo. That's important because China was one of Abe's toughest critics, accusing him of trying to revive Japanese militarism. Abe did try later on to improve ties, but they later soured.

Another thing is that the leaders of the U.S., India and Australia issued a joint statement praising Abe. And those leaders are members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, which was originally Abe's idea, as is the Free and Open Indo-Pacific, an idea which the U.S. now champions. So the fact that two of the keystones of U.S. policy in Asia were Abe's ideas gives you some idea of his impact on geopolitics in the region.

SIMON: And he filled a huge space on the political stage in Japan. Where does his assassination leave Japanese politics?

KUHN: It leaves a big hole in the middle of them. Abe was the leader of the largest faction in the ruling party. The party and the government are a pact with his faction members and his proteges. The defense minister is his brother, for example. The Prime Minister Fumio Kishida served as Abe's foreign minister for five years. So Kishida and all these others had to get his advice. They had to pay attention to his concerns even as they sought to formulate their own policies. And this has sort of been a story at the very center of the Kishida administration. So now it's sort of - it remains to be seen who's going to fill this vacuum and whether Abe's party is going to unite to pursue his unfinished policy goals, especially amending the country's constitution to give the military a freer hand, or whether it moves in a different direction.

SIMON: And what more have we learned about the man who killed Shinzo Abe?

KUHN: The new details which have come out are that police searched the home in Nara of 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, who was a former sailor in Japan's maritime armed forces and found more improvised weapons like the double-barreled shotgun apparently used to kill Abe, as well as homemade explosives. This assassin reportedly told police that his motivations were not political. He claimed his mother had been bankrupted by donating to an unnamed religious organization, and he saw Abe as promoting this group. But we don't know what the group's name is, and the story is hard to verify.

SIMON: NPR's Anthony Kuhn, thanks so much for being with us.

KUHN: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.