The Unification Church’s ties to Japanese politics

TOKYO (AP) — The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has unearthed long-suspected and little-talked-about ties between him and a religious group that began in South Korea but expanded its influence across the world. whole world.

Japanese police and media suggested that the alleged attacker, Tetsuya Yamagami, who was arrested at the scene, was furious at Abe’s reported ties to the Unification Church, which has ties to groups and politically conservative leaders in the United States, Japan and Europe. . The suspect was reportedly upset because his mother’s massive donations to the church bankrupted the family.


Many Japanese were surprised when revelations emerged this week about the church’s ties to key Japanese leaders, which have their roots in shared anti-communist efforts during the Cold War. Analysts say it could lead people to take a closer look at how conservative worldviews in the ruling party have driven the policies of modern Japan.

A look at the church and its deep ties to Japan’s ruling party and Abe’s own family:

WHAT IS THE UNIFICATION CHURCH?

The church was founded in Seoul in 1954, a year after the end of the Korean War, by the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed messiah who preached new interpretations of the Bible and conservative, on the family.

The church has championed anti-communism and the unification of the Korean Peninsula, which has been divided between the totalitarian North and the democratic South.

The church is perhaps best known for mass weddings where it paired couples, often from different countries, and renewed the vows of those who were already married, in large open venues such as stadiums and gymnasiums. The group is said to have millions of members worldwide, including hundreds of thousands in Japan.

The church was accused in the 1970s and 1980s of using underhand recruiting tactics and brainwashing adherents into paying huge portions of their salaries to Moon. The church has denied such allegations, saying many new religious movements faced similar charges in their early years.

In Japan, the group has faced lawsuits for offering “spiritual goods” that allegedly caused members to buy expensive artwork and jewelry or sell their real estate to raise donations for the church.

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WHAT IS THE CHURCH’S CONNECTION TO WORLD LEADERS?

Throughout his life, Moon worked to transform his church into a global religious movement and expand his business and charitable pursuits. Moon was convicted of tax evasion in 1982 and served time in prison in New York. He died in 2012.

The church has developed relationships with conservative world leaders including US Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush and most recently Donald Trump.

Moon also had ties to North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un.

Moon said in his autobiography that he asked Kim to give up his nuclear ambitions, and that Kim replied that his atomic program was for peaceful purposes and that he had no intention of using it to “kill compatriots (Koreans)”.

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WHAT WAS ABE’S CONNECTION TO THE CHURCH?

Abe was known for his arch-conservative views on security and history issues and was also backed by powerful lobbies such as the Nippon Kaigi. He has appeared in events organized by affiliated churches, including one in September 2021.

In a video shown on the big screen at the meeting of the church-linked Universal Peace Federation, or UPF, Abe praised his work for peace on the Korean Peninsula and the group’s focus on family values. The emphasis on traditional and paternalistic family systems was one of Abe’s key positions.

“I appreciate FPU’s emphasis on family values,” he said in the video. “Let us be aware of the so-called social revolutionary movements with narrow values.”

Reports of his appearance at the 2021 event have drawn criticism from the Japanese Communist Party and cult watchers, including a group of lawyers who have been observing the Church’s activities. ‘Unification and supported its alleged victims.

At a press conference on Monday after the church’s connection to Abe’s assassination was revealed, the leader of the church in Japan, Tomohiro Tanaka, said Abe supported the peace movement of the UPF but that he was not a member.

Police have yet to publicly identify the group named by the suspect, presumably to avoid inciting violence.

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WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE GOVERNMENT PARTY IN JAPAN?

Ties between the church and Japan’s ruling party go back to Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who served as prime minister and shared his concerns with Washington over the spread of communism in Japan in the 1960s as union activists were getting stronger.

Kishi, who was arrested as a war criminal but never charged, was known for his right-wing political views, and the Unification Church’s anti-communist stance aligned with his view of Japan’s national interests, experts say.

Kishi’s close relationship with the church was known to the public. At one point, the church headquarters was set up in a building next to Kishi’s Tokyo residence, and he was seen with Moon in photos taken at the church and published in group posts. According to media reports, the suspect believed that Kishi brought the church to Japan.

“Japanese leaders at the time saw the church as a tool to promote anti-communist views in Japan,” said Masaki Kito, a lawyer and religious affairs expert. For the group, showcasing close ties to prominent politicians was a way to gain approval for its activity.

Ties between church-affiliated organizations and LDP lawmakers have grown over the decades since the church’s expansion, providing strong political support and votes for the ruling party, experts say, although that the group denied it.

A survey of 128 lawmakers obtained from police and published in Weekly Gendai magazine in 1999 showed the highest-attended events held by the Unification Church’s anti-communist affiliate, the International Federation for Victory over Communism , also funded by Moon, and more than 20 LDP lawmakers. had at least one church member in their offices as a volunteer.

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WHAT DOES THE CHURCH AND ITS CRITICISM SAY?

The church denied any favorable treatment from Kishi when it opened a branch in Japan. Tanaka said Abe supported current leader Hak Ja Han Moon’s peace movement, but denied any movement of money between the group and the LDP.

The church said Monday it had no records showing Yamagami was a member. The church said it had no direct relationship with Abe, although it did interact with other lawmakers through an affiliated organization.

Members of the National Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales Network, which monitors the church, say they have repeatedly asked Abe and other LDP lawmakers to stop appearing or messaging at events. organized by the Unification Church or its affiliates while ignoring the long-standing church. related issues.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE PARTY?

“The assassination shines a light on the Unification Church,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of international politics at Sophia University in Tokyo. “The church’s relationship with right-wing factions of the LDP and its far-right policies could come under scrutiny,” and lead to a reassessment of Abe’s legacy.

It could lead to revelations about how party views have distorted post-war Japanese society, while blocking progress on issues of gender equality and sexual diversity, Nakano said.

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Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed.