The church linked to Abe’s killing, Japan’s political turmoil


Shinzo Abe was not his murderer’s most well-liked goal.

Investigators say Tetsuya Yamagami, who fatally shot Japan’s longest-serving prime minister on July 8, had initially wished to kill the chief of the Unification Church — a South-Korean spiritual sect that the 41-year-old blames for his household’s monetary damage. But the COVID-19 pandemic acquired in the way in which.

Hak Ja Han Moon, who has led the church because the 2012 loss of life of its founder — her husband Sun Myung Moon — had stopped coming to Japan following pandemic-related border closures.

In a letter Yamagami despatched to a blogger a day earlier than capturing Abe with a hand-crafted gun, he wrote that it was “impossible” to kill Hak Ja Han Moon. And though Abe was “not my original enemy”, the 67-year-old politician was “one of the most influential sympathisers” of the Unification Church, he wrote. “I can no longer afford to think about the political implications and consequences that Abe’s death will bring,” he added.

The brazen killing within the metropolis of Nara, as Abe was delivering a marketing campaign speech, shocked Japan, a nation the place political violence and gun crimes are extraordinarily uncommon. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shortly declared that he would maintain a state funeral for Abe whereas the Japanese public handed his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a sweeping victory in an higher home election held simply days after the assassination.

But the grief shortly gave approach to anger amid rising media scrutiny of the church’s in depth ties with Abe and the LDP, and alleged abuses, together with claims of compelled donations. Kishida has, in the meantime, seen his approval scores plunge from 63 p.c on the time of Abe’s assassination to about 29 p.c in mid-September, elevating questions over the prime minister’s political future.

“The Unification Church is not so much regarded as a religious organisation, but rather as a predatory cult in Japan,” mentioned Koichi Nakano, professor of political science on the Sophia University in Tokyo. The LDP has “outraged” the Japanese folks simply as if “ties with a notorious criminal organization had been revealed,” mentioned Nakano.

Church or cult?

Officially generally known as Family Federation for World Peace and Reunification and disparagingly known as “the Moonies”, Sun Myung Moon based the Unification Church in South Korea in 1954. The self-proclaimed messiah was a staunch anti-Communist who advocated conservative family-oriented beliefs. Famously, he oversaw mass weddings at which he had matched 1000’s of {couples}, typically by pairing images of people that had by no means met earlier than.

Experts say the church’s right-wing beliefs helped it broaden abroad through the Cold War.

Moon grew to become good mates with Nobusuke Kishi, who served as Japan’s prime minister from 1957 to 1960 and was Abe’s grandfather. It was Kishi who helped discovered the church’s political arm, the International Federation for Victory Over Communism in Japan in 1968, in accordance with Japanese media. After gaining a foothold in Japan, the church handled its followers there like an “economic army”, a former senior member advised the Reuters information company, elevating cash by accumulating donations and promoting “spiritual goods” akin to costly ginseng tea or miniature stone pagodas.

In the case of Yamagami, Abe’s killer, kinfolk say his mom, a religious follower, donated some 100 million yen ($692,000) to the church, a big a part of which got here from a life insurance coverage cost from his father’s loss of life by suicide. The donations bankrupted the household and Yamagami, described by his uncle as “extremely smart” and “hardworking”, needed to abandon plans to go to school.

The Unification Church is well-known for its mass weddings, with some {couples} matched just by picture  [File: Kim Hong-Ji/ Reuters]
Moon Sun Myung, the founding father of the Unification Church, drinks a toast together with his relations throughout his 91st birthday celebration in 2011 [File: Jo Yong-Hak/ Reuters]

A gaggle of attorneys representing victims of the church’s “spiritual sales” in Japan mentioned the spiritual group has been linked to some 30,000 complaints involving losses of 123.7 billion yen ($856m) since 1987 and that the church has used the funds raised in Japan to construct and seed a multi-billion greenback enterprise empire spanning the globe.

According to Britain’s Financial Times, Moon based a conglomerate known as Tongil Group in South Korea in 1963, and its associates now function ski and golf resorts, a defence firm, a chemical compounds group, a automotive elements enterprise and a newspaper. In the United States, the church’s enterprise pursuits embrace the conservative Washington Times newspaper, the New Yorker Hotel in New York, the True World Foods seafood wholesaler and an enormous property portfolio, it mentioned.

Despite the complaints over its fundraising practices in Japan, the church continued to search out favour amongst LDP politicians, with whom it shared conservative values, together with opposition to LGBTQ rights.

Investigators say it was a video message that Abe had despatched final 12 months to an occasion hosted by a Unification Church-affiliated group, the Universal Peace Federation (UPF), and attended by Hak Ja Han Moon that prompted his killer to think about switching his targets. In the message to the UPF, Abe had praised Hak Ja Han Moon and thanked the group for its “focus and emphasis on family values”.

Japanese media, in the meantime, have alleged that the church, which now has about 100,000 energetic followers in Japan, has directed its members to assist elect LDP candidates. A former follower advised the Asahi Shimbun newspaper that she had volunteered in campaigns to assist elect Abe ally Koichi Haguida with a purpose to “save” Japan. Five former followers additionally advised Reuters that church officers had instructed them to vote for LDP candidates who opposed homosexual rights.

“The nexus of right-wing politicians and a right-wing Church that both oppose gender rights, LGBTQ rights and want to turn back the hands of history on social developments involving the family have sparked anger,” mentioned Jeffrey Kingston, professor of historical past and Asian research at Temple University in Japan. “Their conservative dogma does not enjoy public support.”

‘No shocking links’

In a bid to deal with the rising outcry, Kishida reshuffled his cupboard, ordered LDP legislators to sever ties with the church and introduced a brand new programme to assist these experiencing hassle with the group. This contains providing authorized help for many who are in search of the return of their donations.

The LDP additionally carried out an inner survey that discovered nearly half of its 379 nationwide legislators had ties to the church. It mentioned some 96 of the legislators reported attending occasions organised by the church or its associates whereas 29 mentioned they’d accepted donations from the group. An extra 17 mentioned they’d acquired election assist from church followers who volunteered of their campaigns.

Kingston mentioned a radical investigation of the allegations of the church’s actions in Japan was mandatory.

“Its extensive and longstanding political role has been kept obscure until the assassination,” he mentioned. “It is in the public interest to thoroughly vet the organisation and its role in politics and whether it is in compliance with regulations covering religious organisations.”

The church has denied supporting any specific political celebration and mentioned it doesn’t give political steering to its members. It did say, nevertheless, that its political arm, the UPF, has courted Japanese legislators and most of them had been from the LDP due to shared values.

A spokesman for UPF, Kajikuri Masayoshi, additionally advised NHK he didn’t perceive the furore over ties between the 2 teams. “Our relationship is just normal. In most cases, they sent congratulatory telegrams or did interviews with our magazines. I think there were no legal or ethical problems,” he mentioned in late August.

With Japan getting ready to carry Abe’s funeral on Tuesday, some analysts mentioned they anticipate the outcry to blow over.

Masaki Nakamasa, professor of philosophy at Kanazawa University, mentioned he believed the hyperlinks between the Unification Church and the LDP had been “not so strong”.

Attending church conferences with a purpose to achieve election volunteers doesn’t make the legislators believers, mentioned Nakamasa, who was additionally previously a member of the church.

“It is really hard to turn conservative Japanese politicians into devoted Moonies,” he mentioned, including: “After the memorial service for Abe, the media and the net opinion will lose interest, because there are no real shocking links between Abe and the Unification Church.”