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GSDF honor guard dispatched to ex-PM Abe's family funeral on 'ministerial-level decision'

The Ground Self-Defense Force's guard of honor attends the family funeral for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at Zojoji temple in Tokyo's Minato Ward on July 12, 2022, in this photo supplied by the Defense Ministry.

TOKYO -- A Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) guard of honor was deployed for the family funeral of slain former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held at a Tokyo temple in July, in what the Ministry of Defense calls the first case of its kind since World War II.

    In regard to the honor guard's dispatch to the private ceremony, GSDF Chief of Staff Yoshihide Yoshida told a Sept. 6 regular press conference, "The decision was made at the ministerial level. We received the instruction and performed our duty in a somber manner."

    A guard of honor comprises Self-Defense Force personnel who attend events including welcome ceremonies for state guests visiting Japan. When the family funeral for Abe was held at Zojoji temple in Tokyo's Minato Ward on July 12, hosted by his widow Akie, about a 60-member honor guard and the GSDF's Central Band comprising some 20 members were dispatched. The honor guard saluted the hearse carrying Abe's coffin and saw it off to the accompaniment of the band's music.

    According to the Defense Ministry, it had the honor guard attend the ceremony as part of the ministry's and SDF's display of condolences over Abe's death, after it confirmed the intentions of Abe's bereaved family. Then Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, Abe's younger brother, ordered the honor guard's dispatch based on rules including regulations for enforcement of the Self-Defense Forces Act, which provide for the objectives and meanings of the SDF's ceremonial protocols. As the prime minister of Japan is the top commander of the SDF, the Defense Ministry explained, "We expressed our sympathies to our former superior as the ministry as a whole."

    Up until now, there has been a total of 11 public funerals for former prime ministers that the government was involved in organizing, including the state funeral for Shigeru Yoshida in 1967 and the joint funeral for Yasuhiro Nakasone by the Cabinet and the Liberal Democratic Party in 2020. The guard of honor took part in all of those ceremonies. However, the unit had previously never been deployed for family funerals for former prime ministers. Meanwhile, the honor guard has taken part in family funerals for former heads of the Defense Agency, the predecessor of the Defense Ministry, a total of three times so far.

    GSDF chief Yoshida told the Sept. 6 media conference, "We are not in a position to comment on the purpose of the honor guard's attendance (at Abe's family funeral). It was decided at the ministerial level, and we carried out our duty in a somber manner as we were instructed to do so."

    (Japanese original by Toshiaki Uchihashi, Tokyo City News Department)

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