Thousands gathered in the streets of Tokyo on Tuesday to voice opposition to a state funeral for slain former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while mourners formed long lines to lay flowers for the late Japanese leader and praised his diplomatic and economic accomplishments.
Many people brought flowers to special stands set up in a park near the Nippon Budokan arena, the funeral's venue, but some people were seen shouting protest slogans against the state-funded ceremony.
The stands in the park were originally scheduled to open at 10 a.m., but organizers opened 30 minutes earlier as the number of mourners swelled quickly, flooding the area from Hanzomon subway station.
The funeral plan of the government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met growing opposition over its costs, concerns that people could be forced to mourn and its possible use to cement a positive legacy for the divisive former leader.
A number of demonstrations against the event took place across the capital, with organizers of a protest held outside parliament reporting that some 15,000 gathered in opposition, while around 2,500 were reported to have joined a march from Hibiya Park to Tokyo Station, coordinators said.
Closer to the venue, about 200 protestors also assembled at a small park in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward before proceeding to the arena, where up to 20,000 police officers were mobilized for the event.
Keigo Ikeda, 21, a senior at Meiji University who participated in the demonstration, said, "I cannot tolerate the fact that our tax money is being used for the funeral."
The total cost of holding the funeral was expected to reach about 1.6 billion yen ($11.16 million). The government initially said the event, excluding expenditures for security and receiving international guests, would cost 249 million yen, but it later gave the larger estimate after drawing criticism from opposition parties.
Ikeda also slammed the government led by Abe for its reinterpretation of the Constitution to enable the use of collective self-defense, or defending allies even without an attack on Japan, saying, "It showcased the country as a puppet of the United States."
Among the crowd of mourners, Kazuo Mashiba, 61, a retired member of the Maritime Self-Defense Force from Nara Prefecture, said, "I feel that he had contributed to Japan's security by promoting the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific."
There were also people in their teens and 20s offering flowers at the stands and taking photos of Abe's portrait.
Kosei Yamamoto, 16, and Teppei Katsuno, 15, said they came because Abe had been prime minister for so long.
"I felt close to him as he dressed up as Mario at the time of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and it was sad to see the attack" that left Abe dead, said Katsuno.
Abe was the country's longest-serving prime minister, holding the top post for eight years and eight months over two tenures until September 2020, a factor which his more recent successor Kishida has repeatedly cited as a reason for holding only the second state funeral for a former prime minister in postwar Japan.
Abe was gunned down while giving a stump speech in the western city of Nara two days before the July 10 House of Councillors election.
Given the attack took place despite the presence of police, there were extra precautions on Tuesday to ensure there were no gaps in security. Roads near the venue were temporarily closed, causing traffic jams.
While police officers and security guards moved busily near the venue, a 56-year-old man from Kawasaki, near Tokyo, said he had taken time off work to mourn but felt out of place wearing a black tie when "other people were leading their lives as usual and mourning was not made mandatory."
The government stressed it would not force people to engage in public displays of mourning after criticism of the state funeral grew, and it did not ask government agencies and affiliated organizations to raise flags of mourning or observe a moment of silence.
Other people were seen offering prayers in front of Abe's home in Tokyo's Tomigaya district, from where he commuted daily even after becoming prime minister.
"He must have felt bitterly disappointed, having to leave behind so much unfinished business," said Koichi Takano, 60, from Kodaira, Tokyo, referring to revision of the country's pacifist Constitution and efforts to resolve the abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.