After his assassination on July 8, the body of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was carried to its final resting place in a Toyota Century limousine hearse. Toyota’s most elegant car is a fitting way to travel through Tokyo for any head of state, but the Century hearse is even more majestic, measuring over five feet longer than the already lengthy sedan.
As you may have heard, Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan from 2006-07 and from 2012-20, was Japan’s longest serving post-war leader. Last week, while Abe was giving a speech in Nara, a lone gunman assassinated him with what has been described as a home-made shotgun. Non-suicide gun-related fatalities in Japan average in the single digits each year, and among those typically half are yakuza-related and generally do not involve innocent civilians.
The murder has sent shockwaves through Japan, and hundreds of mourners lined the streets of Tokyo on Tuesday, the day of Abe’s funeral. The service was attended only by Abe’s family and top politicians, but the public was able to glimpse Abe’s hearse and motorcade on a brief tour of downtown Tokyo, which passed by the Diet building before heading to a crematorium.
There are several hearse builders in Japan converting Toyota Centurys (and other cars), but Abe’s appears to have been built by Otake, located in Tomioka City, Gunma Prefecture. Its catalog of other hearses include the Crown, Nissan Fuga, Honda Odyssey, Mercedes S-Class, Chrysler 300C and, strangely, the Toyota Rumion (aka second-gen Scion xB). Ecologically minded folks can even take their last ride in a Prius hearse.
The Century, of course, is the way to go. It’s Toyota’s most exclusive model and exudes solemn dignity. Abe’s hearse was based on the most recent Century, which, when it was redesigned in 2018, was only the third generation since the model’s debut in 1967. It uses a V8 hybrid drivetrain that puts out a combined horsepower of 425.
The car is also steeped in tradition. Some of the design cues date back to the Heian Era (794-1185 C.E.). The black paint, simply known as Kamui, is a seven-stage process that involves wet-sanding and polishing by hand. It takes a craftsman six weeks to hand-carve the phoenix emblem.
Otake doesn’t have the latest Century listed on their website, but on second-generation V12 Century hearses, Otake extended the car by 154 cm (60 in) to 6,810 mm, a total of over 22 feet. The cabin seats five people in two rows, and the coffin storage itself measures nearly seven feet. The rear has the option of opening upward like a normal hatch or as a kannon door like Abe’s. The kannon in this case is named after the small Japanese shrines found in temples and homes.
In recent years it has become fashionable to use foreign cars as bases for hearses. To transfer Abe’s body from Nara to Tokyo, Lincoln MKT and Mercedes hearses were both used. But for his final ride, there could be no better car than the Century.