Q&A: State funerals in Japan

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A state funeral is held for former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on Oct. 31, 1967.

Question: What is a state funeral?

Answer: A ceremony hosted by the nation upon the death of a person who has made significant contributions to Japan. All expenses are paid from public funds. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will have such a state funeral.

Q: What kind of people have been given state funerals?

A: Before World War II, state funerals were held based on the state funeral ordinance promulgated in 1926. They were held for members of the Imperial family or when the serving emperor decided one should be held for a person of distinguished service to the nation. Former Prime Ministers Hirobumi Ito and Aritomo Yamagata had state funerals, as did Heihachiro Togo, who commanded the Japanese fleet to victory in the Battle of Tsushima during the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War.

Q: How about after World War II?

A: The state funeral ordinance became null and void with the implementation of the Constitution in 1947. The only postwar prime minister who has been given a state funeral was Shigeru Yoshida in 1967. The Cabinet decided to hold the funeral at the behest of then Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, who looked up to Yoshida as his political mentor. When the funeral for Yoshida was held, the government requested ministries and agencies to fly flags of condolence and observe a moment of silence, and to ask the public to cooperate in offering their condolences in a similar manner.

For the state funeral for Abe, however, the government has refrained from making a similar Cabinet decision so as not to mislead the public into perceiving that it is forcing the public to express their condolences.

Q: What about other prime ministers?

A: The funeral for Sato in 1975 was a national funeral jointly sponsored by the government, the Liberal Democratic Party and volunteers from the public. Since former Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira’s funeral in 1980, usual funeral rites for former prime ministers were held by the Cabinet and the party in power, mainly the LDP, with expenses evenly split.