This magazine has already discussed Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s radical reshuffling of his cabinet on August 10 this year and the extent to which this decision may have been influenced by various contacts between former Japanese ministers and a certain quasi-religious cult. The cult in question is an offshoot of an organization founded in South Korea in the 1950s, which claims to represent the ideals of ecumenism and universality.
In Japan this movement has been known under a number of different names, most commonly the Unification Church. Until very recently it has attracted very little attention in Japan society. But its name earned notoriety in connection with the assassination on July 8 of Shinzo Abe, former Prime minister and one of the most highly-respected statesmen in Japan’s entire post-war history. When he served his first term, which lasted just a year (2006-7) he was one of the youngest Prime Ministers in Japan’s history. His second stint as Prime Minister lasted almost eight years, from December 2012 to August 2020.
The circumstances of the murder are still unclear. It is possible that the main reason for the assassination was the motive claimed by the killer himself, a 41-year-old bachelor maned Tetsuya Yamagami. Although there are also questions about the conduct of Shinzo Abe’s security team.
Tetsuya Yamagami mentioned the Unification Church in his first, rather confused, statements concerning his actions. In his “final” statement on his motives, he claimed that he was extremely upset by the fact that his mother, an active member of the Unification Church since 1991, had given all her savings, more than $700,000, to that organization.
His claim has had the effect of putting the inner workings of the Unification Church into the spotlight. It turns out that the organization routinely coerces its “congregation” into making donations. It should be noted that the Unification Church is by no means the only organization to behave in such a way, and other cults frequently sell many certificates “guaranteeing” the remission of sins. Such practices inevitably provoke negative reactions both from those within and those outside the organization.
However, it is possible, in the present author’s view, that the Japanese are suspicious (to put it mildly) of the Unification Church, especially recently, as much because of its origin in South Koreas as because of its practices. Especially since relations between Japan and South Korea are currently extremely complicated. Not only on an official level, but also between the two populations.
Or rather especially between the two populations, for it is this ethnic tension that represents a serious barrier to the two countries’ attempts to overcome their differences. These attempts are being made under considerable pressure from Washington, which has an interest in bringing together (potentially) anti-Chinese powers both in the East Asian region and further afield.
Be that as it may, during the investigations into the assassination of Shinzo Abe it was discovered that a number of members of the government and parliamentarians had contacts with the Unification Church, a fact which provoked considerable public anger in Japan.
According to a survey, 85% of Japanese consider it unacceptable for individual government ministers to have contacts with the Unification Church. In response to this strong public feeling, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took the step of reshuffling his government. However, even after the reshuffle, it turns out that there are supporters of the Unification Church in the cabinet.
That last fact has served to focus public attention even more closely on anything related to the Unification Church. It turns out that many lawmakers have some kind of contact with that organization. They include, 146 members of parliament from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, representing about 40% of the party faction in the House of Representatives (the lower house in the Japanese Parliament). It is clear that, rather than being confined to a few individuals, support for the Unification Church is deeply ingrained in Japan’s ruling political establishment.
Public concern about this support has been further increased by the discovery that Shinzo Abe himself had links with the Unification Church. This fact is clearly one of the reasons for the public controversy provoked by the decision to give the former Prime Minister a state funeral – an event that is scheduled for September 27. It should be noted that there is no clear legal basis for organizing state funerals. Thus it is left to the government to decide in each case whether such a funeral should be held.
Whatever the legal situation, public opposition to a state funeral for Shinzo Abe is growing day by day. If at the beginning of August 49% of Japanese were against such an honor, by the end of the month this proportion had increased to 56%. People are also concerned about how much the event will cost the state. Fumio Kishida, the current Prime Minister, has even been threatened that if Shinzo Abe is given a state funeral then “he will be next.”
The increasingly negative attitudes to the current government are entirely the result of the new revelations about links between its members and the Unification Church.
But the present author is left with a sense that all the media stories about a link between the Unification Church and the assassination of Shinzo Abe might just be a way of deflecting attention from some other, more fundamental motive for the crime.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.