JAPANESE MEDIA DISTORTS ABE’S TIES WITH UNIFICATION CHURCH
Most Japanese media outlets are focusing too much attention on exploring the “dark ties” they suspect existed between assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Unification Church. Influenced by the media, many voters have come to view with suspicion the second Fumio Kishida administration, causing a sharp drop in public support. Erasing the negative impact of the church is said to have been the prime reason Kishida went ahead with a reshuffling of his cabinet barely a month after Abe’s assassination, discharging seven ministers who acknowledged ties with the church or its affiliate groups.
Polls conducted following the reshuffle by two major dailies, The Yomiuri and The Nikkei, produced unexpected results: the approval rating of the second Kishida administration dropped by some 5 percent, despite the fact that cabinet approval ratings usually increase after a reshuffle. The dailies’ analysts attributed the cause of the plunge to voters’ disappointment that Kishida fell short of dispelling the suspicions that his newly appointed cabinet members have had some ties with the Unification Church in the past.
That leads one to wonder whether Abe and members of his ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) before and after him really built that deep a relationship with the Unification Church. All available facts show the opposite is the case.
In 2018, Abe’s administration revised the Consumer Contract Act aimed at enabling consumers who fell prey to deceptive marketing practices, such as “spiritual sales,” to recover their money.
On May 23 that year, LDP parliamentarian Keiko Nagaoka submitted to the Diet a revised Consumer Contract Act, representing seven parties that included the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, paving the way for providing redress for the victims of fraudulent sales. Had Abe had close relations with the Unification Church, the revision of the act would not have materialized.
But the media barely reports on this aspect of the Abe administration’s
posture toward the church. On the contrary, news outlets willfully emphasize the relationship between the church and Abe and his party in an attempt to demean him. As a case in point, the editorial in The Asahi Shimbun dated August 3 stated:
“A political leader entrusted with safeguarding the livelihood of the people should not give a stamp of approval to a cult whose activities, such as spiritual sales and soliciting large donations, have become a grave social problem. The LDP’s interaction with the Unification Church is said to date back to the days of Abe’s grandfather, Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. The LDP must be held accountable, since its successive generations of leaders, including faction heads, have long been involved with the church.”
Something Deeply Wrong
I wonder why the media has failed to refer to the historical background
which initially prompted Kishi to align with the International Federation for Victory over Communism (“the Federation” hereafter), a political group formed in Seoul in the 1960s by the church’s founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a staunch anti-communist and self-proclaimed messiah. At the time, Asia’s anti-communist heads of state, including Park Chung-hee of South Korea, Chiang Kai-shek of Taiwan, Kishi, and his brother and incumbent Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, regularly sent congratulatory messages to conventions the Federation hosted. In the years following the Greater East Asia War, the US and the Soviet Union were engaged in the bitter ideological conflict of the Cold war, while the Korean War (1950-53), the Cuban missile crisis (1962), and the Vietnam War (1955-75) rocked the world. In 1971 the People’s Republic of China was admitted into the United Nations, with Taiwan expelled. The Free and the Communist Blocs were engaged in a fierce clash. That was the backdrop which prompted Kishi’s LDP to interact closely with the Federation.
Journalist Ryoshu Kadota had this to say on the “Genron” Internet TV news show that I host every Friday night:
“In May 1970, a national convention of the Federation was held in Tokyo at a large hall run by Rissho Koseikai, a relatively new religious movement which recognized the Federation not as a religious group but an organization sharing similar values. Takeo Fukuda, then finance minister who became prime minister in 1976, stated in a message sent on the occasion: ‘We also have an invisible 38th parallel in Japan which allows us to freely act, express ideas, think, and engage in economic activities. But there are forces plotting to upend our free society and reshape it into one comprising a tightly controlled organization for the few under the name of Marxism. I wish to remind all of you here today that we should never lose in this battle of capitalism against communism.’”
It is unfair of the media today to focus narrowly on the ties Kishi and Abe had with the Unification Church while failing to factually depict the historical background of the relationship the LDP and the church cultivated with each other going back to the 1950s.
It was later in the mid-1970s that the church began engaging in spiritual sales in an attempt to raise funds, claiming many victims among its members by cajoling them into buying virtually worthless merchandize, such as vases priced at several million yen (ten of thousands of US dollars). The church should never be forgiven for that. That sentiment drove the Abe administration to revise the Consumer Contract Act, as mentioned earlier. There is no question he wanted to protect Japanese consumers.
Tetsuya Yamagami, the 41-year-old gunman who shot Abe, is said to have been embittered by the miserable fate his family suffered after his mother donated some ￥100 million (approximately US$750,000) to the church and his family went bankrupt some 20 years ago. Even so, Yamagami had no reason to murder Abe. The media, which should be focused on investigating his crime, has shifted its attention to the Unification Church instead, unduly bringing discredit on Abe, the victim of the heinous crime. There is something deeply wrong with this.
In reshuffling his cabinet, Kishida obviously reviewed candidates’ ties to the church as a prerequisite in the new lineup of Cabinet officials and LDP executives. Candidly speaking, I find this step insufficient, as he must probe more deeply into the broader relationship between politics and religion in Japan. In view of the seriousness of the matter, I believe a special Diet investigative committee should be set up for thorough scrutiny.
Soka Gakkai and Komeito
The Unification Church, which initially declared war on communism, later switched its focus to cult activities, such as spiritual sales and mass wedding ceremonies, as is well known. Many questions must be asked about the church’s activities today and many countermeasures taken as needed. What changes, if any, has the church undergone as a cult? How effective has the revised Consumer Contract Act been in taking care of the victims of the cult’s fraudulent marketing practices?
In questioning the relationship between politics and religion, we must also look into the relationship between Soka Gakkai (the largest sect of Nichiren Buddhism in the world today, founded in 1930 and headquartered in Tokyo) and its political arm, Komeito, which now serves as junior partner in the coalition government. In interacting with the Unification Church, LDP ministers would regularly send messages on important functions the church and its affiliated groups hosted, which in turn used the messages to increase its influence. They also helped politicians with election campaigns and votes in return. I would think the same pattern of give-and-take applies to the relationship that has existed between Soka-Gakkai and Komeito since 1964.
An observation by Haruhisa Nakagawa, Director of Japan Christ Seminary founded in Tokyo last year, is worth heeding. A chance meeting at a church with a 23-year-old woman who was formerly a member of the Unification Church prompted him to initiate research on the cult, Nakagawa explains. He notes that, while the church is viewed as heretical in the international community because of the unorthodox events it hosts, such as mass wedding ceremonies, it is only in Japan that it has committed evil, because “the Unification Church fundamentally functions in Japan propelled by an anti-Japanese ideology.”
Under the church’s “divine principle,” explains Nakagawa, Japan is destined to perform a mission to serve the world as an “Eve (i.e., ‘woman’) country,” committed to nurturing all the nations by protecting them and extending economic assistance as the mother of the world, even if she starves herself.
Meanwhile, South and North Korea are each defined as an “Adam (i.e., ‘father’) country,” with Japan expected to wholeheartedly contribute to their reunification on the Peninsula. Nakagawa says all this boils down to the church demanding that Japan handsomely donate money to Rev. Moon as a means of atoning for its colonization of the peninsula 1910-45, help South Korea’s growth, and have sufficient military capabilities to fight against communist nations described as Satans. For these reasons, the Unification Church is fully for an introduction of an anti-espionage law and a revision of the “no war” Article 9 of Japan’s peace constitution, continues Nakagawa, declaring that its position is strictly for the good of the two Koreas.
In covering the relationship between politics and religion in Japan, the media must definitely provide a broad overview of the whole episode while at the same time scrutinizing whether Yamagami really was a lone wolf. We must, without fail, get the truth about the assassination of Shinzo Abe.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,012 in the August 25, 2022 issue of The Weekly Shincho)