Mieko Nakabayashi was in a TV studio, waiting to be interviewed about Boris Johnson’s resignation, when she heard that former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been shot during a campaign speech.
Ms. Nakabayashi, a former lawmaker and a professor of political science at Waseda University, said she and the program’s hosts were “astonished,” adding that “they couldn’t believe that this could happen in Japan.”
It was a sentiment felt across the country, where violence of all kinds is rare, and where before Friday, the idea of trying to kill a politician seemed like a relic of a long-gone era.
Gun violence is almost unheard of in Japan, which has some of the world’s most stringent firearm laws. In 2021, there were only 10 shootings, resulting in one death and four injuries, according to data from the National Police Agency.
Tempers rarely run high in Japan’s famously sedate politics. Even the ultra-right-wing groups that regularly prowl city streets in black vans, broadcasting political propaganda, are viewed as more of a nuisance than a threat to public safety.
Police protection at political events is light, and during campaign season, voters have plenty of opportunities to interact with the country’s top leaders.
Assassination was a regular feature of Japan’s turbulent politics in the years leading up to World War II. But since then, only a handful of politicians have been murdered.
The last killing of a national-level political figure was in 1960, when a 17-year-old extreme nationalist stabbed to death the leader of Japan’s Socialist Party, Inejiro Asanuma.
The same year, another ultranationalist attacked Mr. Abe’s grandfather, Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, stabbing him repeatedly in the leg and sending him to a hospital.
In recent decades, what little political violence Japan has seen has often been linked to organized crime or to right-wing groups. In 2007, Kazunaga Ito, the mayor of Nagasaki, was shot to death by a gang member.
Journalists have also occasionally been targets. In 1987, a reporter for the left-leaning Asahi Shimbun newspaper was murdered, in an incident linked to right-wing anti-Korean groups.
Protesters have sometimes expressed their grievances by taking their own lives, hoping to draw public sympathy to their causes. Most famously, the novelist Yukio Mishima killed himself in 1970, after leading a small group of right-wing militants in a failed coup.
Gerald L. Curtis, a professor emeritus of political science at Columbia University, said that the attempt on Mr. Abe’s life would reverberate through Japan’s politics.
“It no doubt will shake up the Japanese terribly and will reinforce the view that Japan is no longer the safe, peaceful country it has been since the end of WWII and has to change to deal with the new frightening realities it faces,” he said in an email.
“The question is how Japan’s political leaders respond.”