Revelations since Shinzo Abe’s death shed light on Moonies’ influence | Japan

japan was still struggling to understand the violent death of Shinzo Abe when the man suspected of killing him gave information to the police that shocked the country’s political establishment.

Tetsuya Yamagami said he shot Abe because of the former prime minister’s ties to the Unification Church, also known as the Moonies, which he blamed for bankrupting his family. Yamagami’s mother, a long-time church member, reportedly gave him 100 million yen. [£618,000] in donations two decades ago, plunging his family into poverty.

Three weeks after Abe’s death, details emerged showing the church’s ties to politicians extend far beyond Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, angering voters and raising questions about his influence. in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s policies on gender equality and sexual diversity.

Daily revelations that parliamentarians from the ruling and opposition parties have courted the church, from attending events to recruiting its members into campaigns, in exchange for mobilizing voters, have shaken the current prime minister, Fumio Kishida, and to his party just a few weeks after his comfortable victory in the upper house. elections.

A poll published on Sunday by the Kyodo news agency showed Kishida’s cabinet approval rating had fallen more than 12 percentage points to 51% in a matter of weeks. Additionally, more than 53% of those surveyed said they opposed plans to hold a state funeral for Abe next month.

In a letter to an anti-church blogger sent the day before the attack, Yamagami said his adolescence had been ruined by his mother’s “excessive spending, family breakup and bankruptcy,” adding that his loyalty to the church of Unification had “distorted my whole life.” .

The letter, reported by Japanese media, accused Abe of being one of the church’s most influential supporters. During questioning, he also blamed Abe’s grandfather and postwar prime minister, Nobusuke Kishi, for promoting the church in Japan in the 1960s as a countermeasure against communism and labor unions.

The church, known for holding mass weddings in sports stadiums, was founded in South Korea in 1954 by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah who preached new interpretations of the Bible and conservative values, including a strong anti-communist streak.

In a video message last year to the Universal Peace Federation, an affiliated group, Abe praised the group for its focus on family values. “We should be wary of so-called social revolutionary movements with narrow-minded values,” he said.

However, there is no evidence that Abe was a member of the church, which also had relationships with other influential conservatives, including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and Donald Trump.

He found an immediate ally in Kishi, a suspected war criminal who was never charged and whose social conservatism and right-wing politics mirrored that of Sun Myung Moon, whom he met near Mount Fuji in 1967 to discuss his anti-communist mission.

Those same shared values ​​underpin the current relationship between the church, whose members are often known as Moonies, and the LDP, according to Professor Mark Mullins, director of the Center for Japan Studies at the University of Auckland.

“Conservative LDP politicians share some values ​​with the Unification Church: its anti-communism and, more recently, family values, including opposition to same-sex marriage,” Mullins said.

A photograph of Shinzo Abe at the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo.
A photograph of Shinzo Abe at the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

While LDP lawmakers have often made their ties to conservative Shinto and other organizations public, “it appears they were not interested in their association with the Unification Church being widely known,” Mullins added.

“This is likely related to the negative image of the church due to complaints and lawsuits from former members for high-pressure and misleading recruiting and fundraising activities.”

Despite its Korean origins, the church has found fertile ground in Japan, where it is said to have hundreds of thousands of members.

The National Spiritual Selling Lawyers Network, a group of 300 attorneys representing people who say they have been financially harmed by the church, accuse her of brainwashing believers into handing over large amounts of money.

The network has received 34,000 complaints related to “lost” money totaling more than 120 billion yen (£742 million) since 1987, a claim the church has strongly denied.

Lawyers repeatedly asked Abe and other LDP lawmakers to stop sending congratulatory messages or appearing at events organized by the church, which now calls itself the Federation for World Peace and Unification, and its affiliates. They protested when Abe sent a telegram to a Unification Church mass wedding in 2006.

“Members are under pressure every day to donate,” said Hiroshi Yamaguchi, one of the lawyers. “They tell you that karma is linked to money and that donations are the only way to save yourself. So you think you have to do it.”

He added: “It is not a simple religious organization… it has repeatedly emphasized the importance of its political and media activities, as well as its religious profile.”

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LDP General Secretary Toshimitsu Motegi denied that the party had institutional ties to the church, but said individual politicians should be “more careful” about their ties to the organization.

They include defense minister, and Abe’s younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, who said church members had campaigned for him in the election. Satoshi Ninoyu, chairman of the National Public Security Commission, admitted he had helped organize an event for a church-linked group in 2018, while education minister Shinsuke Suematsu acknowledged church members had paid to attend a fundraising event that he organized. Opposition politicians have also admitted to having connections to the church.

“Abe’s murder shines a light on the Unification Church,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of politics at Sophia University in Tokyo. “The church’s relationship with the right-wing factions of the PLD and their far-right policies could come under close scrutiny.”

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