Unification Church ex-members in Japan rail at politicians who embraced it By Reuters

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© Reuters. A no trespassing signal is positioned outdoors the doorway of the Household Federation for World Peace and Unification, extra generally often known as the Unification Church is seen at its Tokyo headquarters in Tokyo, Japan August 29, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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(Fixes formatting of story)

By Tim Kelly, Ju-min Park and Kaori Kaneko

TOKYO (Reuters) -When Solar Myung Moon, the Korean founding father of the Unification Church, wanted cash for its intensive non secular and enterprise ventures he would look to Japan, in keeping with some former members.

“Senior officers would inform us he wanted lots of of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} and that Japan needed to pay,” mentioned Masaki Nakamasa, a Kanazawa College professor who was a member of the church for 11-and-a-half years till 1992.

Moon, a self-proclaimed Messiah, died in 2012 however church doctrine tells its Japanese members they should atone with donations for atrocities perpetrated throughout their nation’s 1910-1945 occupation of Korea. In keeping with church dogma, Japan is an Eve nation that, by consorting with the satan, betrayed Korea, portrayed as Adam.

The Unification Church handled Japan like “an financial military” to boost donations, in keeping with Kwak Chung-hwan, Moon’s deputy till the late 2000s, who mentioned the group ought to apologize for the excesses of its management within the nation. In an announcement, the church dismissed Kwak’s remark, saying he had discredited the group and its followers.

Whereas dozens of ex-members in Japan have sued the church for the reason that Nineteen Eighties over its fund elevating, many former followers have hesitated till now to debate their experiences publicly attributable to social stigma and worry of repercussions from their households.

The assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe in July opened a nationwide debate over the Unification Church and has shone a highlight on its shut ties with the ruling Liberal Democratic Occasion (LDP).

The suspect within the killing, 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, accused the church of impoverishing his household, in keeping with police. In social media posts earlier than the killing, he blamed Abe for supporting the non secular group.

Beginning with Abe’s grandfather – ex-prime minister Nobusuke Kishi – the church brazenly cultivated relations with LDP leaders, primarily based on their shared opposition to Communism. Abe, like many different LDP lawmakers, spoke at church-related occasions. And his authorities eliminated the church from a listing of organizations monitored by the Public Safety Intelligence Company.

Since Abe’s killing, Japanese media have uncovered ties between the church and dozens of LDP lawmakers.

Utilizing info out there on legislators’ web sites and sources together with movies posted on-line by the church, Reuters recognized at the least 65 LDP lawmakers – together with Abe and 23 from his right-wing faction – who attended church occasions, despatched congratulatory messages, paid membership charges, accepted political donations from its associates, or acquired election assist.

Reuters additionally spoke with seven former Unification Church followers who described how their households had been burdened with heavy donations. 5 of them mentioned church officers instructed them to vote for LDP candidates at elections.

“Our lives had been price lower than our votes,” mentioned one former church member, who mentioned she was in hiding from her church-going mom and who posts on-line underneath the alias Keiko Kaburagi. She mentioned that she didn’t condone Yamagami’s actions however may “perceive how he felt” towards the LDP.

The blogger, like 4 different former church members interviewed by Reuters, requested to not be recognized to keep away from attainable harassment.

The Unification Church says it not accepts donations that trigger monetary hardship and has curtailed aggressive “non secular gross sales” of church items after convictions for the follow a decade in the past prompted its then-leader in Japan to resign.

The church says its political arm, the Common Peace Federation (UPF), has courted lawmakers and most of them are from the LDP due to its ideological proximity, though it has no direct affiliation to the social gathering.

POLITICAL CRISIS

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s emphatic win in July’s higher home elections – days after Abe’s capturing – was imagined to tighten his grip on the LDP, nonetheless dominated by the ex-premier’s supporters.

As an alternative, revelations over the LDP’s hyperlinks to the church and his determination to grant Abe, Japan’s longest-serving publish warfare chief, a uncommon state funeral have triggered a disaster. An opinion ballot revealed by Japan’s greatest every day, the Yomiuri, on Sept. 5 confirmed that greater than half of respondents opposed the funeral honours.

5 of the previous followers interviewed by Reuters mentioned the church directed its members to vote for LDP lawmakers who opposed LGBT rights and promoted conventional household values according to church doctrine.

“Church leaders inform members at gatherings or via on-line messengers to vote for LDP candidates,” mentioned one second-generation member. The 20-something workplace employee requested to not be recognized as a result of their dad and mom – who had been married at a mass church ceremony – stay senior members.

The church says that it’s doesn’t give political steering to members, which is finished as a substitute by the UPF.

Three present members interviewed by Reuters at its headquarters in Tokyo mentioned that they had been inspired to vote within the higher home election for an LDP candidate, Yoshiyuki Inoue, a former political affairs secretary to Abe. Two of them mentioned they did so.

Due to the proportional illustration system utilized in higher home elections – whereby voters can forged their poll for a candidate wherever in Japan – focused church votes could make a distinction in tight races.

Kishida tried to attract a line underneath the scandal with a cupboard reshuffle on Aug. 10 that purged senior figures with hyperlinks to the church, together with former commerce and business minister Koichi Hagiuda, a member of Abe’s faction.

At a information convention the identical day, Tomihiro Tanaka, the pinnacle of the Unification Church in Japan, mentioned a push by Kishida to sever ties with the church could be unlucky.

Regardless of Kishida’s effort to show the web page, a ballot by the left-leaning Mainichi Shimbun every day on Aug 22 confirmed that assist for the federal government had fallen by 16 factors from a month earlier to 36%. 

In a information convention on Aug 31, the prime minister went additional, apologizing for the LDP’s ties to the church and promising to sort out them.

But Unification Church-connected lawmakers stay in Kishida’s administration, some in his cupboard and dozens extra as junior ministers. Any try by the prime minister at a deeper purge would danger upsetting a fragile political steadiness inside the fractious LDP, political analysts say.

“He would not really need any extra filth to be revealed,” mentioned Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia College in Tokyo. “(Kishida) is making an attempt to form of lead individuals to assume that what was previously is previously. The issue is it is within the current.”

ALWAYS WORKING, STILL POOR

Hiroshi Yamaguchi, a member of the Nationwide Community of Legal professionals In opposition to Non secular Gross sales, which pursues compensation circumstances in opposition to the church, estimates that the church nonetheless raises round 10 billion yen ($69 million) a 12 months in Japan, though that’s down from 50 billion yen a 12 months throughout the Nineteen Eighties financial increase.

The church declined to say how a lot cash it collects. 

Formally often known as the Household Federation for World Peace and Unification, the church retains important investments in media, colleges, ginseng manufacturing, actual property and fishing operations. It’s led by Moon’s widow, Hak Ja Han.

4 former members who spoke to Reuters described being requested to promote ginseng and different merchandise door to door. 5 mentioned their households had been coaxed into making donations they may ill-afford.

“We had been poor although my father was all the time working,” mentioned a social employee, 37, who left the church as a college scholar.

Their house in northern Japan had a kitchen, a bed room she shared along with her youthful brother, and a room her dad and mom used for sleeping and to show footage, urns and different church artifacts they acquired as tokens for donations.

Now in Tokyo along with her husband, she mentioned she has minimal contact along with her dad and mom, who underneath church teachings she has condemned to hell.

“Folks do not understand there are second-generation individuals like me all over the place,” she mentioned. “We’re simply hidden.”

Her Twitter (NYSE:) group with round 200 second-generation members has grown by round 50 individuals since Abe’s loss of life, she mentioned. Its anonymity means former members can keep away from the social stigma of being a follower, even a lapsed one.

Though the church says it has round 600,000 members in Japan, a spokesman mentioned solely round 100,000 are lively and lots of second-generation members have drifted away from it.

One who dared to talk out publicly is Eri Kayoda, 28, who appeared on tv after listening to that Yamagami’s mom had given the Unification Church $730,000.

“My household was on the verge of collapsing due to donations,” she informed Reuters. Her public look, she mentioned, enraged her mom.

The church’s chief in Japan, Tanaka, mentioned after Abe’s killing that it had returned half of the donation made by Yamagami’s mom.

    TARGETED

Some former members expressed anger that Japanese believers had been focused by the Unification Church for heavier donations. Charges revealed by the church in 2011 on a coaching web site confirmed Japanese followers had been charged 5 instances greater than South Koreans in tithes to free their ancestors from hell.

“We paid extra as a result of Japan has an even bigger financial system,” mentioned Tsunefumi Harada, one of many three present followers who spoke to Reuters, defending the follow.

The church has develop into a goal for nationalist sentiment. Its spokesperson performed a video on his cellphone of right-wing vans decked with flags and nationalist symbols that flip up outdoors its Tokyo headquarters to blare denunciations from the loudspeakers on prime.

Reuters couldn’t independently confirm the video. 

The blogger, who makes use of the alias Kubagi, found the completely different pay scale when she married for a second time at one of many church’s mass ceremonies – a uncommon prevalence in a faith that forbids divorce however for which she acquired an exception as a result of her first husband beat her, she mentioned.

Her first marriage at 21 price $10,000; the Korean charge she obtained for the second six years later was a tenth of that, she mentioned.

Now in her late 40s, she remains to be offended. She divorced and returned to Japan from South Korea in 2013 after Moon died.

Again in Tokyo along with her two daughters, she would not count on to see her mom once more except she leaves the chuch. Between them, she reckons they gave the church about $150,000, together with $5,000 for a plum blossom portray she has saved, although it’s nugatory. 

“It is not the cash I would like again. I would like the time the church took from me.” 

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