People gathered at the Portland Japanese Garden Wednesday night to remember former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, assassinated last week while giving a speech in Nara, Japan.

“I have a relationship with the Abes going back to 2016 and to see this happen on TV to people that I call friends, is shocking and a horrifying thing,” said Steve Bloom, CEO of the Portland garden.

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When he heard of the news of Abe’s death, Bloom’s first reaction was shock.

Abe and his wife, Akie, were longtime supporters of the Japanese Garden, Bloom said, and in 2017 they donated sake for a special gala at the garden in lieu of attending.

“Akie-san, and by extension prime minister, then, opened doors for us, made introductions, provided donations, as well as supported some of the exhibitions that we’ve done,” he said.

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While Shinzo Abe never saw the gardens for himself, Bloom is hoping to someday bring Akie Abe.

“It was always their hope to be able to get to the garden someday and, hopefully Akie-san will still come,” he said.

The Portland Japanese Garden is considered the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan.

An OPB file photo of the Portland Japanese Garden, which stayed open late on Wednesday so visitors could mourn assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Laurie Isola / OPB

In response to the news, Bloom kept the grounds open late on Wednesday so that people could gather to remember the longtime Japanese leader.

“We wanted to open the garden tonight for our community that is in shock and grieving for a country that has been through a terrible thing,” he said that evening.

A large gathering of visitors, ranging from families with children to elders, walked the tree-lined stoned pathways Wednesday evening. But Bloom was quick to say that attendance numbers weren’t important.

“That’s not what matters to us. The conversations I’ve had with the people who are coming are that they’re very grateful that we’re doing this and that they have the time and the space to reflect and to be here. So I think that’s the important thing.”.

Officials at the garden continue to encourage those who didn’t attend the event to visit, spend time in nature, and process the news of Abe’s assassination in quiet, personal reflection.

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