26 September 2023
Fact checkMisleading

Misleading: Image sequence reversed to make watermelons appear stolen from Abe’s memorial

Annie Lab reached out to a journalist who also took photos of the roadside memorial around the same time. The two slices of watermelon were placed later than the flowers on the ground.


Several posts on the Chinese social media platform Weibo (here, here and here) recently claimed watermelons had been stolen from a makeshift memorial for the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who was assassinated in Nara on July 8.

They included two images of roadside tributes placed at the site where Abe was shot. The first photo shows two sliced pieces of watermelon along with flowers and bottled drinks but in the second image, no watermelon can be seen.

Altogether, these posts have over 16,000 likes and 2,600 shares as of this writing. However, these posts are misleading.

While no one can say for sure that no tribute has been stolen there at any given time, Annie Lab can confirm these two images are not chronologically ordered.

We found a series of tweets by James Oaten, a North Asia correspondent for Australia’s ABC News who is based in Tokyo, which has similar-looking pictures.

His first post at 6:42 p.m. says, “Flowers have been laid where former Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot” with a photo of the roadside memorial he took that shows flowers and a bottle of sports drink.

(Note: Twitter displays its timestamp based on the timezone set in the user’s device. The embedded tweet above was posted at 6:42 p.m. in Japan Time (UTC+9) on July 8.)

Another tweet he posted at 7:08 p.m. reads: “Watermelon now added,” with a photo showing two slices of watermelon with more bottled drinks and flowers.

(The above was posted at 7:08 p.m. JPT (UTC+9).)

Annie Lab reached out to Oaten and he said he “took those photos just moments before posting them on Twitter.”

We visually compared his photos with the images from the misleading posts (below). We can confirm that both showed the same items and were taken at around the same time.

Photo of misleading Weibo posts (left) and Oaten’s picture show identical items.
It is clear that Weibo posts reversed the chronological order of the two images.

Oaten also said, “A lot of people were placing items down so it’s highly likely the items simply weren’t visible after a while.”

By the following morning, authorities had moved the tribute a few meters away to the footpath, according to Oaten.

He added that those tributes are cleared every now and then to make way for more tributes.

In Japan, Abe was known for his fondness for watermelon. His official profile on the website of the Liberal Democratic Party, which was created when he was running for the party president in 2018, lists watermelon and yakiniku (grilled meat) as his favorite food.

At the G8 summit in 2013, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister also stated watermelon is one of his favorite foods. The Asahi newspaper reported some mourners placed watermelon juice at the roadside memorial on July 9.