Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2022.10.06

Is there such a thing as a ‘real’ state funeral?

the japan times on September 16, 2022

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II passed away on Sept. 8 and her state funeral is scheduled to take place on Monday.

Following the news of her death, the phrase “real state funeral” has been “trending” on Japanese social media. They say the queen’s funeral in the United Kingdom is the “real” state funeral and the state funeral for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, scheduled to be held on Sept. 27, is “not real.”

Typical tweets in Japanese say something to the effect of: “The real state funeral is in the U.K., which the whole world mourns, in contrast to the state funeral-style ceremony in Japan, which is being forced to go ahead despite the opposition from many citizens,” or “I definitely do not want to participate in the state funeral that the current Japanese government is trying to force through.”

Their criteria for the distinction between “real” and “not real” are irrelevant. Anyone who opposes Abe’s state funeral in Japan seems to be one of the following: either those who simply abhor Abe, or those who are disgusted with whatever ties existed between him, LDP lawmakers and the former Unification Church.

Opponents of Abe’s state funeral seem to be unaware that there are voices of opposition about the queen’s state funeral. Although such voices are rare in London, there’s more being expressed in former British colonies in Africa or the Indian subcontinent.

In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, young Africans, sharing images or stories of their elders who told them how they were beaten during the British colonial rule, tweeted, “We cannot mourn.”

In South Africa, an opposition party said in a statement that “we do not mourn the death of Elizabeth, because to us her death is a reminder of a very tragic period in this country and Africa’s history.”

Some even assert that former colonizers must apologize and compensate for their deeds of the past. As recently as in January 2021, however, an adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron rejected the idea. In response to the Algerian demand for a formal apology, he said there will be “neither repentance nor apologies” in an official report on the history of colonization and the Algerian War.

Likewise, in February 2013, upon his visit to Amritsar, where hundreds of Indians were massacred by the British in 1919, Prime Minister David Cameron never apologized to India. He reportedly said, “In my view, we are dealing with something here that happened a good 40 years before I was even born,” and “I don’t think the right thing is to seek out things you can apologize for.”

“I think the right thing is to acknowledge what happened, to recall what happened, to show respect and understanding for what happened,” he added.

In contrast, Japan did apologize for its wartime conduct and colonization in 1995. Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama officially stated, “Japan, … through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. I … express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology.”

These are the historical facts the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II faces. Most Japanese, who are opposed to Abe’s state funeral and consider the British one as “real,” are unaware that criticism against the British state funeral may potentially be more serious than the domestic opposition to Abe’s in Japan, which is largely centered around the cost (¥1.7 billion, $12 million) and procedures in terms of how it was decided. Such opposition also references Abe’s political record as well as his ties to the controversial Unification Church.

Still, all politics is local and every Japanese has the right to oppose Abe’s state funeral. Those critics in Japan, for their own political reasons, may never stop arguing against whatever is related to the late prime minister, even after Sept. 27. That said, those opponents are fundamentally wrong for the following three reasons.

First, it is futile and even absurd to compare the upcoming state funerals in Japan and the United Kingdom. Although both are to be held during the same period in late September, the two state funerals have so different international and domestic circumstances and implications that you cannot simply compare them and pinpoint which is “real” and which is not.

Secondly and more importantly, their criticism against Abe’s state funeral may reflect the centuries-old and counterproductive national characters of the Japanese who tend to unquestioningly admire and praise whatever is foreign in order to denounce and criticize the domestic circumstances they do not appreciate, either politically, economically or culturally.

Finally, and most tragically, such national tendencies may imply the embarrassing reality that the Japanese may not have matured enough as a nation since the World War II defeat in 1945. Despite more than seven decades, the people in Japan may still be divided and do not have a general idea of what kind of nation it is or should be.

In this regard, the British seem to be fairly united over who they are, although people in their former colonies may disagree. This may be the real difference between Japan and the United Kingdom.