Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — one of the most consequential leaders in Japan’s postwar history — died Friday after being shot while he was giving a stump speech in the city of Nara. He was 67 years old.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had earlier described Abe as being in a “serious condition."
Abe was unconscious when he was rushed to a hospital and was bleeding from the chest.
The police have arrested the man suspected of attacking Abe, who was giving a speech in front of Yamato Saidaiji Station when the incident took place at around 11:30 a.m. Campaigning had been underway for Sunday’s Upper House election.
Videos of the incident showed two shots being fired. Japan is known for having one of the strictest gun control laws in the world.
Abe suffered an injury to the right side of his neck due to a gunshot and was bleeding internally in the left side of his chest, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. The former prime minister was transported via a medical helicopter to Nara Medical University Hospital in the city of Kashihara, south of central Nara, according to NHK, who quoted ambulance officials.
The man was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, and the gun was confiscated, according to the broadcaster. Police identified the man as Tetsuya Yamagami, a 41-year-old resident of the city of Nara.
Government officials said that the suspect had been a Maritime Self-Defense Force officer for three years until around 2005.
Yamagami told investigators he “had grievances” with the former prime minister and had intended to kill him.
The gun used in the attack appeared to be hand-made, with the media footage showing an object with what looked like two barrels wrapped in black tape lying on the ground after the attack.
Shortly after flying back to the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo from Yamagata Prefecture by helicopter, Kishida had said that doctors were doing everything they could to save Abe’s life.
“It was a despicable, barbaric act that happened during election campaigning, the foundation of democracy,” Kishida told reporters. “It is an unforgivable act.”
Kishida said he ordered ministers campaigning outside of Tokyo to return to the capital immediately, and that he would convene a Cabinet meeting later Friday.
High school students who witnessed the shooting told NHK that a man came up from behind and fired two shots.
“The first shot sounded like a toy bazooka, and the man then stepped back after the first one,” a student said. After the attacker fired the second shot, a large amount of white smoke appeared, she added.
People in Japan expressed shock at the use of a gun in the attack, a rare occurrence in the country.
Kensaku Kimura, a Tokyo office worker in his 40s, said that, even with the recent spate of mass shootings in the U.S., "it's crazy that Japan is being affected in this way, especially in relation to one of the most influential people in the nation."
Takeru Minakuchi, an office worker in Tokyo who has lived in the U.S., was almost in disbelief.
“Having lived in the U.S. for two decades, it is surreal to watch an assassination attempt unroll on Japanese daytime TV,” he said. “I am nervous about the ramifications of this incident for the politics of the (Asia-Pacific) region (and beyond), but more so about further infringements of our personal freedoms in the name of public safety.”
In an era of increased Chinese military and economic assertiveness, Abe is widely credited as the key architect of “the Quad” framework — a security grouping of Japan, the U.S., Australia and India — and with advancing values-based diplomacy promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
During Abe’s second time as prime minister, which ran from December 2012 to September 2020, he provided stability to Japanese politics following a period when the country was criticized for its “revolving door” prime ministers, in which the nation’s leader changed every year.
He previously became prime minister in 2005, only to step down a year later due to his health.
On the foreign policy front, Abe also formed a close personal relationship with mercurial former U.S. President Donald Trump, unlike most other world leaders, helping to stabilize Japan’s ties with its main ally during a time marked by various diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and other countries.
Abe, the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history, was known for his hawkish policies, including his push to revise the pacifist Constitution to clarify the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces. Even after stepping down, Abe had been vocal about expanding the nation’s defense, urging the government to increase the related budget to 2% of gross domestic product.
In August 2020, he abruptly announced his intention to step down due to deteriorating health and was replaced by Yoshihide Suga, his right-hand man and the chief Cabinet secretary during Abe’s second administration.
Abe’s second administration saw him promote Abenomics — drastic monetary easing and fiscal spending in hopes of rejuvenating the domestic economy. But economists say Abenomics also led to wider inequality, prompting Kishida to propose a “new capitalism” focused more on the redistribution of wealth.
The former prime minister was a political blue blood. His grandfather was former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi and his father was former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe.
He had long been seen as a prospective candidate for prime minister, serving as deputy chief Cabinet secretary under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and accompanying Koizumi to North Korea in 2002 for the return of five Japanese nationals abducted by the reclusive state in the 1970s and 1980s.
“We are all saddened and shocked by the shooting of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo,” U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said in a statement prior to news of Abe's death. “Abe-san has been an outstanding leader of Japan and unwavering ally of the United States. The U.S. Government and American people are praying for the well-being of Abe-san, his family, and people of Japan.”
Yamato Saidaiji Station is on the Kintetsu line, an artery connecting Japan’s ancient capital of Nara to Osaka and Kyoto.
Abe had traditionally received strong support in the area. One of his closest allies, Liberal Democratic Party policy chief Sanae Takaichi, represents Nara Prefecture’s second district, which lies just to the south of the station.
A suspect was arrested after Abe, one of the most consequential leaders in Japan’s postwar history, was shot while campaigning in the city of Nara on Friday.