Explained: Why the Unification Church has become a headache for Kishida in Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addresses the United Nations General Assembly during the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York, New York, U.S., August 1, 2022. REUTERS/ David ‘Dee’ Delgado

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TOKYO, Aug 9 (Reuters) – Japan’s Fumio Kishida is expected to reshuffle his cabinet on Wednesday as his party’s ties to the Unification Church have shaken public support following the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month.

Abe’s alleged killer resented the church, alleging it bankrupted his mother, and blamed Abe for promoting it, according to his social media posts and news reports. Read more

A dozen other lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have since revealed ties to the church, which critics call a cult.

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The church has confirmed that the alleged shooter’s mother is a member. He says he has been vilified and members have received death threats since Abe’s shooting.

Here’s why the church is a problem.

WHAT IS THE CONTEXT?

The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, known as the Unification Church, was founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed anti-communist messiah.

Japan was an early destination for its international expansion, where Moon’s conservatism aligned with the Cold War views of the ruling elite.

He started the International Federation for Victory Over Communism group in the 1960s, building relationships with Japanese politicians, according to church publications.

WHY PLD?

The church and the LDP share some views, opposing same-sex marriage and supporting the revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution, said Eito Suzuki, a journalist who studies lawmakers’ relationships with religious groups.

The church has forged ties with politicians to attract followers and gain legitimacy, said Hiro Yamaguchi, a lawyer who has worked on cases against it. Politicians had access to church members for help in campaigns, he said.

The LDP had no “systematic relationship” with the church, said general secretary Toshimitsu Motegi. It would cut ties with the church, he said on Tuesday.

WHAT ABOUT EBA?

The church said Abe was neither a member nor a councillor. He spoke at an event hosted by an affiliated church last September, according to his website.

Nobuo Kishi, Abe’s younger brother and serving defense minister, told reporters he received support from church members as campaign volunteers.

Former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, Abe’s grandfather, was honorary executive chairman at a banquet hosted by Moon in 1974, the International Federation for Victory over Communism said on its website.

TO FALL?

Support for Kishida’s cabinet has fallen to the lowest since he took office in October at 46%, state broadcaster NHK said on Monday, with many poll respondents saying they wanted an explanation of ties to the government. ‘church.

Kishida, who said he had “no ties” to her, said new cabinet members and ruling party officials must “review” ties with the church in depth. Read more

WHOLESALE IN JAPAN?

The church has some 600,000 adherents in Japan out of 10 million worldwide, and Japan is the church’s fourth-largest congregation, according to Ahn Ho-yeul, a Seoul-based spokesperson, although groups of surveillance in Japan question the number.

Recruitment tactics include knocking on doors, targeting relatives of members and approaching people outside train stations, say former supporters.

Japan has been its main source of income for decades, the spokesperson said, in part because of the practice of trading religious items for donations.

These so-called spiritual sales by the Unification Church and other groups have cost followers nearly $1 billion and resulted in some 35,000 claims since 1987, according to a group of lawyers.

The church previously pledged not to solicit excessive donations after some members were found guilty of illegal sales tactics following an investigation.

The suspect in Abe’s murder said the church persuaded his mother to part with about 100 million yen ($736,000), according to his social media posts and news reports.

After the incident, the church said it returned approximately $400,000 to the mother. He either denied coercing her or declined to comment on the total sum.

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Reporting by Tim Kelly in Tokyo and Ju-min Park in Seoul; Editing by John Geddie, David Dolan and Simon Cameron-Moore

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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