JApan was still struggling to make sense of Shinzo Abe’s violent death when the man suspected of murdering him gave police intelligence that sent shockwaves through the country’s political establishment.
Tetsuya Yamagami said he shot Abe over the former prime minister’s ties to the Unification church, also known as the Moonies, which he accused of bankrupting his family. Yamagami’s mother, a longtime member of the Church, reportedly gave it ¥100m [£618,000] in donations two decades ago, plunging their family into poverty.
Three weeks after Abe’s death, details have emerged that show the Church’s ties to politicians extend well beyond Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, angering voters and raising questions about her influence on the ruling government’s policies. Liberal Democratic Party on Gender Equality and Sexual Diversity.
Daily revelations that ruling and opposition party MPs have courted the church — from attending events to recruiting its members for campaigns — in return for mobilizing voters have shocked the current prime minister, Fumio Kishida, and his party, just weeks after their comfortable victory in the upper house elections.
A poll published Sunday by the Kyodo news agency found that the approval score for Kishida’s cabinet had fallen by more than 12 percentage points to 51% in a matter of weeks. In addition, more than 53% of respondents said they were against plans to hold a state funeral for Abe next month.
In a letter to an anti-church blogger sent the day before the attack, Yamagami said his teenage years had been ruined by “overspending, family disruption and bankruptcy,” adding that her loyalty to the Unification Church” my whole life had been disrupted”.
The letter, reported by Japanese media, accused Abe of being one of the Church’s most influential supporters. During the interrogation, he also reportedly blamed Abe’s grandfather and post-war prime minister, Nobusuke Kishi, for promoting the Church in Japan in the 1960s as a countermeasure to communism and unions.
Known for hosting mass weddings in sports stadiums, the church was founded in South Korea in 1954 by Reverend Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah who preached new interpretations of the Bible and conservative values, including a strong anti-communist slant.
In a video message last year to the Universal Peace Federation, an affiliate, Abe praised the group for its focus on family values. “We must be wary of so-called social-revolutionary movements with narrow values,” he said.
However, there is no evidence that Abe was a member of the church, which also had relationships with other influential conservatives, including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and Donald Trump.
It found an immediate ally in Kishi, an alleged war criminal who was never charged, and whose social conservatism and right-wing politics mirrored that of Sun Myung Moon, whom he met at Mount Fuji in 1967 to discuss their anti-communist mission.
Those same shared values underpin the current relationship between the church, whose members are often referred to as Moonies, and the LDP, according to Prof. Mark Mullins, director of the Japan Studies Center at the University of Auckland.
“Conservative LDP politicians share some values with the Unification church — their anti-communism and, more recently, family values, including opposition to same-sex marriage,” Mullins said.
While LDP lawmakers have often publicized their affiliations with conservative Shinto and other organizations, “it seems they were reluctant to see their association with the Unification church publicly known,” Mullins added.
“This is likely related to the Church’s negative image as a result of complaints and lawsuits from former members about misleading and pressurized fundraising and fundraising activities.”
Despite its Korean origins, the Church has found fertile ground in Japan, where it is said to have hundreds of thousands of members.
The National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, a group of 300 lawyers representing people who claim to have suffered financial loss at the hands of the church, accuses the church of brainwashing believers into handing over huge amounts of money.
The network has received 34,000 complaints since 1987 regarding “lost” money totaling more than ¥120 billion (£742 million) – a claim the church has vehemently denied.
The lawyers repeatedly asked Abe and other LDP lawmakers to stop sending congratulations or appearing at events organized by the church, which now calls itself the Federation for World Peace and Unification, and its affiliates. They protested when Abe sent a telegram to a mass wedding at Unification Church in 2006.
“Members are under pressure every day to make donations,” said Hiroshi Yamaguchi, one of the lawyers. “They tell you that karma is linked to money and that donations are the only way to save yourself. So you think you should do it.”
He added: “It is not a simple religious organization … it has repeatedly emphasized the importance of its political and media activities, as well as its religious profile.”
The LDP’s secretary general, Toshimitsu Motegi, denied that the party had any institutional ties to the church, but said individual politicians should be “more careful” with their ties to the organization.
Among them, the defense minister — and Abe’s younger brother — Nobuo Kishi, who said church members had campaigned for him in elections. Satoshi Ninoyu, the chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, admitted to helping organize an event for a church-affiliated group in 2018, while Education Minister Shinsuke Suematsu acknowledged that church members had paid for a to attend the fundraiser he organized. Opposition politicians have also admitted to having links with the church.
“Abe’s murder sheds light on the Unification Church,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of politics at Sophia University in Tokyo. “The church’s relationship with the LDP’s right-wing factions and its far-right policies could come under close scrutiny.”