Abe’s murder highlights controversy over Japan’s Unification Church

The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by a man resentful of the Unification Church has resurfaced during years of controversy over the group.

Police say Tetsuya Yamagami targeted Abe because he believed the former prime minister supported a “certain group” to which the man’s mother had made large donations.

Former congregants, lawyers and scholars who study the church say the reported details of Yamagami’s family fit a common pattern in Japan.

Yamagami’s uncle told local media that his nephew sometimes calls out to him for help when his mother leaves her children alone and without food as they go to church.

This all sounds familiar to attorney Hiroshi Yamaguchi, who represents former members of the church.

“They tell you that karma is money and (donations) are the only way to save you. So you think you have to.”

The Japanese chapter started in 1959 and membership took off during the economic boom of the 1980s – “a time when people didn’t know how to live their lives,” said Kimiaki Nishida, professor of social psychology at Rissho University. from Tokyo.

Japan became a financial hub for the church, which taught Japanese believers that they had to atone for their country’s wartime occupation of Korea.

“They have (sales) manuals to exploit believers,” he told AFP.

The huge spending by members caused a backlash.

A series of arrests in the 2000s and verdicts against the church imposed limits on “spiritual sales”, but attorney Yamaguchi says believers are still in a rush to meet monthly giving goals.

The church denies that members are pressured.

“The FFWPU sometimes calls for donations, but FFWPU members choose if, when and how much they will donate.”

Her older brother, a childhood cancer survivor, committed suicide a decade later.

“The experience has distorted my whole life,” reads the letter published by local media.

Former church members have recounted similar family breakdowns, including a Japanese woman whose mother told her to stay with an abusive church-chosen husband because a divorce “would please Satan.”

“But…that’s how much the church destroys lives.”

The church and affiliated groups have regularly enlisted prominent figures, including former US President Donald Trump, for events.

He said his “mission is to help create a peaceful and harmonious world of true love in which mankind lives as ‘one family under God'”.

“It made me feel like they had ties to politicians and that Moon was a real messiah,” she said.

Abe’s brother, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, admitted this week that church members had served as campaign volunteers, which Dunkley said supporters were only doing ‘as private citizens’ .

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Robert M. Larson