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The Weird Story Behind Shinzo Abe’s Assassination

The Weird Story Behind Shinzo Abe’s Assassination

2023-11-04 08:07:45

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On the final morning of his life, Shinzo Abe arrived within the Japanese metropolis of Nara, well-known for its historical pagodas and sacred deer. His vacation spot was extra prosaic: a broad city intersection throughout from the town’s predominant prepare station, the place he could be giving a speech to endorse a lawmaker working for reelection to the Nationwide Food plan, Japan’s parliament. Abe had retired two years earlier, however as a result of he was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, his identify carried huge weight. The date was July 8, 2022.

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In images taken from the group, Abe—immediately recognizable by his wavy, swept-back hair; charcoal eyebrows; and folksy grin—could be seen stepping onto a makeshift podium at about 11:30 a.m., one hand clutching a microphone. A claque of supporters surrounds him. Nobody within the images appears to note the youngish-looking man about 20 toes behind Abe, wearing a grey polo shirt and cargo pants, a black strap throughout his shoulder. In contrast to everybody else, the person isn’t clapping.

Abe began to talk. Moments later, his remarks have been interrupted by two loud experiences, adopted by a burst of white smoke. He collapsed to the bottom. His safety guards ran towards the person within the grey polo shirt, who held a home made gun—two 16-inch steel pipes strapped along with black duct tape. The person made no effort to flee. The guards tackled him, sending his gun skittering throughout the pavement. Abe, shot within the neck, could be lifeless inside hours.

At a Nara police station, the suspect—a 41-year-old named Tetsuya Yamagami—admitted to the capturing barely half-hour after pulling the set off. He then provided a motive that sounded too outlandish to be true: He noticed Abe as an ally of the Unification Church, a bunch higher often known as the Moonies—the cult based within the Nineteen Fifties by the Korean evangelist Reverend Solar Myung Moon. Yamagami mentioned his life had been ruined when his mom gave the church the entire household’s cash, leaving him and his siblings so poor that they typically didn’t have sufficient to eat. His brother had dedicated suicide, and he himself had tried to.

“My prime goal was the Unification Church’s prime official, Hak Ja Han, not Abe,” he instructed the police, in accordance with an account published in January in a newspaper known as The Asahi Shimbun. He couldn’t get to Han—Moon’s widow—so he shot Abe, who was “deeply linked” to the church, Yamagami mentioned, simply as Abe’s grandfather, additionally a major minister and famend political determine in Japan, had been.

Investigators seemed into Yamagami’s wild-sounding claims and located, to their alarm, that they have been true. After a fast huddle, the police seem to have determined that the Moonie connection was too delicate to disclose, at the least for the second. It’d even have an effect on the end result of the elections for the Higher Home of the Food plan, set to happen on July 10. At a press convention on the night time of the assassination, a police official would say solely that Yamagami had carried out the assault as a result of he “harbored a grudge towards a particular group and he assumed that Abe was linked to it.” When reporters clamored for particulars, the official mentioned nothing.

After the election, the Unification Church confirmed press experiences that Yamagami’s mom was a member, and the story rapidly took off. The Moonies, it emerged, maintained a volunteer military of marketing campaign staff who had lengthy been a secret weapon not only for Abe however for a lot of different politicians in his conservative Liberal Democratic Occasion (LDP), which stays in energy beneath Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Later that month, the Japanese tabloid Nikkan Gendai revealed an inventory of 111 members of parliament who had connections to the church. In early September 2022, the LDP introduced that nearly half of its 379 Food plan members had admitted to some kind of contact with the Unification Church, whether or not that meant accepting marketing campaign help or paying membership charges or attending church occasions. Based on a survey by The Asahi Shimbun, 290 members of prefectural assemblies, in addition to seven prefectural governors, additionally mentioned they’d church ties. The rising numbers uncovered a scandal hiding in plain sight: A right-wing Korean cult had a near-umbilical connection to the political occasion that had ruled Japan for many of the previous 70 years.

The Japanese have been outraged not simply by the looks of influence-peddling however by a galling hypocrisy. Abe was a fervent nationalist, wanting to rebuild Japan’s world standing and proudly unapologetic for its imperial previous. Now he and his occasion had been caught in a secretive electoral alliance with a cult that—it quickly emerged—had been accused of preying on Japanese struggle guilt to squeeze billions of {dollars} from credulous followers.

As details about Yamagami’s private historical past and the LDP’s position grew to become extra broadly recognized, a wierd inversion came about: Individuals started expressing sympathy for the alleged murderer and anger on the sufferer. A Japanese weekly devoted a canopy story to the swooning followers often known as “Yamagami Girls” and different supporters. Properly-wishers started sending Yamagami items. 1000’s of individuals protested the choice to grant Abe a state funeral, and a swiftly made characteristic movie that portrayed Yamagami as a tragic hero was proven all around the nation. The LDP’s ballot numbers, already falling, continued to drop, and a cupboard minister was compelled to resign after he didn’t adequately clarify his ties to the church.

The assassination uncovered deep divisions over the legacy of Abe, who’s hailed by some for restoring Japanese affect around the globe and reviled by others as a harmful throwback to the nation’s warlike previous. The affect of the Moonies on Abe and the LDP stays a stay subject, and final November the Kishida authorities—wanting to clear its identify—opened an inquiry that would threaten the Unification Church’s authorized standing in Japan as a faith. That might show a deadly blow, and may elevate questions in regards to the church’s position within the different 100 or so international locations the place it has a presence, together with the US. As a result of the group’s leaders haven’t been charged with any crime, the Japanese authorities would, in essence, be asserting the ability to resolve when a faith does extra hurt than good.

All of this might need remained hidden have been it not for the determined act of a person who had failed at nearly every thing else. As he awaits trial within the solitude of his jail cell, Tetsuya Yamagami can console himself that he could also be among the many most profitable assassins in historical past. A yr after Abe’s demise, his homicide has come to appear much less the random act of an unhinged loner than a tragedy unfolding slowly over a long time.

Within the days after Abe’s assassination, many individuals have been amazed to find that the Moonies have been nonetheless related in any respect. In Japan, as in the US, the group had receded from the headlines because the Eighties and ’90s, when it made information with its weird mass weddings, eerily totalitarian type, and sometimes brazen bids for political affect—together with Solar Myung Moon’s founding of The Washington Occasions, a conservative newspaper within the U.S. capital.

One other shock was Japan’s central position in Moon’s actions. Though the Unification Church is headquartered in South Korea, because the Nineteen Seventies the bulk of the group’s money has come from Japan, and so have a lot of its most fanatical followers. “Japan is definitely designated as a core pillar” of the church’s funds, I used to be instructed by Masaue Sakurai, a former high-ranking official within the church who was compelled out in 2017. Of all of the individuals I spoke with whereas reporting on the Moonies in Japan—a few dozen present and former members and their households, in addition to legal professionals, journalists, political figures, and activists—Sakurai was the one one who appeared to sympathize with either side: those that detest the church and people who revere it. He met me in a Tokyo espresso store the place Mozart and Schubert piano sonatas performed softly within the background, and he stood to greet me within the Japanese method, bowing and proffering his enterprise card with each arms.

Sakurai was blunt in regards to the church’s ruthless strategies in Japan, however he spoke warmly about its adherents, whom he sees as victims of a misguided management. (He grew up within the church.) He instructed me that when he started working for the church, in 1998, it was “already focusing 100% on the compelled assortment of donations.” The group initially raised cash from “non secular gross sales.” Japanese followers have been pressured to purchase and promote low-cost Korean-made merchandise at outrageous markups—miniature stone pagodas, private inkan signature stamps, “particular” ginseng tea—with the promise of therapeutic powers. When that triggered lawsuits and public complaints, the church moved to direct donations.

Moon, who died in 2012, justified a predatory deal with Japan by proclaiming that South Korea is an “Adam nation” and Japan an “Eve nation.” Like a standard spouse, Japan was obligated to satisfy the wants of her husband. Behind this blithely patriarchal formulation was an previous and festering grievance between the 2 international locations. From 1910 till 1945, Japan dominated Korea as a colony and handled its individuals as an inferior race, an perspective that is still widespread in Japan to at the present time. Through the Second World Battle, hundreds of Korean ladies and women have been compelled into sexual slavery by Japan as “consolation ladies.”

This sordid history was by no means absolutely acknowledged or taught in Japan after the struggle, and the Moonies have exploited that willed ignorance to great impact. They make a follow of displaying new members images of Japanese troopers committing struggle crimes in Korea, says Pascal Zivi, a Frenchman who has lived in Japan for 43 years and runs a analysis middle on spiritual extremism based mostly within the metropolis of Sapporo. “Younger Japanese are shocked, and that makes them extra prone to consider that different issues have been hidden from them,” he instructed me. The Moonies then inform their recruits that their ancestors are struggling in hell for his or her sins, and that the one solution to save them is by giving cash.

Few outsiders know as a lot in regards to the Moonies as Hiroshi Yamaguchi, a grandfatherly lawyer of 74 who based a authorized consortium to assist former church members get better their cash. “What they do,” he defined to me, “is dig up your issues,” probing for household troubles and emotional vulnerabilities. They then attribute these difficulties to sins dedicated by ancestors, sins that may be atoned for under by donating to the Unification Church. In the meantime, the Moonies ferret out the main points of a goal’s earnings and belongings, and report it up the chain. All of those strategies are specified by manuals for the church’s fundraisers, who reply to a military-style hierarchy. (Though I spoke with a number of particular person members, the church didn’t reply to queries about its practices.)

Yamaguchi is a religious Buddhist who instructed me he acquired concerned as a result of he was revolted by the best way the Moonies “abuse faith to make cash or manipulate individuals.” When Yamaguchi first heard that Abe had been shot, he was horrified. However when he found that the suspected killer was a sufferer of the church, his response was “No surprise.”

A photo of Hiroshi Yamaguchi on a red background.
Hiroshi Yamaguchi, the founding father of a legal professionals’ community that has introduced hundreds of claims towards Unification Church followers and workers (Yoshio Tsunoda / AFLO / Alamy)

He and his fellow legal professionals have introduced roughly 35,000 compensation claims towards church followers and workers by former members since 1987, and have recovered greater than $206 million. Presumably that represents solely a fraction of the church’s donation income in Japan throughout these years. And Japan, the place the church has an estimated 60,000 followers, was a wealthy useful resource for many years earlier than the legal professionals acquired concerned. The church transferred at the least $800 million from Japan to the US from 1975 to 1984, in accordance with two former church officers who spoke with The Washington Put up in 1984. (The church by no means did acquire a big American following, regardless of its visibility within the U.S. within the ’80s.)

Behind the numbers is widespread human struggling of a form that Yamagami helped reveal. His mom joined the Unification Church when he was a boy, after his father dedicated suicide and his brother was recognized with malignant lymphoma. She donated about 100 million yen to the church—roughly $700,000—forcing her to declare chapter, and leaving the household destitute. Yamagami needed to abandon his hopes of going to college. His brother killed himself. “It’s no exaggeration to say that the experiences then have continued to distort my total life,” he wrote in a letter to a blogger the day earlier than the assassination.

Yamagami could appear an excessive case. However Sakurai, the previous church official, instructed me the household’s account was acquainted. Sakurai’s job concerned touring throughout Japan and counseling church households who had complaints or issues. He heard so many tales about struggling attributable to extreme donations that he started talking up about it to his superiors. His warning was not effectively acquired, he mentioned, and when he continued, he was requested to retire.

The Japanese public acquired an uncommon real-time glimpse of the familial wounds suffered by church members in early October 2022, when a defector appeared at an emotional press conference in Tokyo. The defector was a 26-year-old lady who had grown up within the Unification Church, and nonetheless felt so threatened by it that she used a pseudonym, Sayuri Ogawa. Her face was partially coated by a surgical masks. Wearing a grey swimsuit and seated alongside her husband, she was earnest and concise, describing the church’s abusive practices and providing proposals to curtail them. She spoke of the concern of hell that the church had instilled in her as a baby, and of individuals pressured into marrying digital strangers throughout group weddings, with most of the {couples} “now residing a lifetime of remorse.”

Essentially the most highly effective second got here 47 minutes into the press convention, when a hand-delivered message arrived unexpectedly from the Unification Church. The message—learn aloud in entrance of the cameras by Ogawa’s husband—declared that Ogawa suffered from psychiatric points, that she had an inclination to lie, and that the press convention should cease instantly. The message had been signed by her dad and mom. Ogawa was visibly shocked and upset. However she went on to explain her struggles with dissociative and panic issues, introduced on by her dad and mom’ inflexible adherence to church practices. Combating again tears, she mentioned she was now mentally wholesome and had been freed from the church for the previous 4 years. Many within the viewers have been deeply moved to see the best way Ogawa maintained her dignity in such a susceptible second. “If you happen to really consider in me,” Ogawa mentioned unsteadily earlier than the convention ended, “please guarantee that this group is dissolved.”

The church’s leaders have tried to tamp down criticism as soon as once more by conceding that their fundraising has been too aggressive. In September 2022, a senior official mentioned the church was placing new measures in place to forestall extreme donations.

However after I spoke with present believers—all however considered one of them chosen by the church—I heard a a lot much less penitent tone. Each considered one of them mentioned that complaints about fundraising have been exaggerated, and that cash was given voluntarily. Two of them mentioned they didn’t consider that Yamagami’s motive for the alleged homicide had something to do together with his mom’s donations. He’s a “terrorist,” considered one of them instructed me, and the entire affair was cooked up by leftists as a pretext to go after the church.

The Moonies I met in Japan shocked me with their friendliness and candor, however I acquired the impression that they stay in a world other than their fellow residents. One in all them was a 27-year-old lady named Kiaki Kojima, who belongs to what the church calls its “second era”—the kids of believers. We met in a Tokyo workplace constructing the place tiny furnished rooms are rented by the hour for enterprise conferences, each numbered and code-locked in lengthy corridors, like cells in an immaculate jail. Kojima instructed me her mom had donated 100 million yen to the church, the identical quantity as Yamagami’s mom. Kojima had grown up in poverty in consequence, consuming frugally and carrying hand-me-downs, her college choices restricted. She mentioned she had resented these privations at one temporary second in her childhood, however had then come to simply accept them.

She additionally accepted the church’s selection of husband for her, a Filipino man whom she married on-line in 2021 with out ever having met him. (They’ve met since then, however he has not but moved to Japan.) She demonstrated how she had leaned ahead to kiss her laptop computer display through the wedding ceremony ceremony, sitting in a bridal costume in a church some 2,000 miles from the groom. At instances, I assumed I caught a touch of embarrassment in her eyes, as if she understood how odd this stuff sounded to an outsider. However she mentioned she had grown up within the church and felt liked there.

On reflection, Abe’s relationship with the Unification Church seems to be precisely just like the political land mine it turned out to be. Hiroshi Yamaguchi and his legal professionals’ group wrote repeatedly over time to politicians within the LDP and different events, urging them to chop ties with the Moonies. Abe himself might have acknowledged the dangers. In 2003, a Japanese journalist named Yoshifu Arita, who had written in regards to the Unification Church, appeared on a TV discuss present alongside Abe, then a senior LDP lawmaker. Arita, who later served in parliament with a celebration against the LDP, instructed me that in a industrial break he requested Abe if the Moonies had ever approached him. Abe mentioned sure, they have been very persistent about it, and he tried to keep away from them.

Abe’s ambitions seem to have modified his thoughts. He grew to become prime minister for the primary time in 2006, after which resigned a yr later, introduced down by monetary scandals, election losses, and a painful case of ulcerative colitis that made it troublesome for him to work. “Abe was traumatized by the failure of his first time period,” Koichi Nakano, a political-science professor at Sophia College, in Tokyo, instructed me. “When he got here again, he was centered on by no means letting that occur once more.”

Abe didn’t get one other likelihood to run till 2012. The chance got here after what might have been a fateful assembly. In April of that yr, Abe hiked up Mount Takao, a forested peak about an hour from downtown Tokyo the place many guests cease at a Buddhist temple to hope for success from a long-nosed supernatural being often known as a daitengu. Abe was accompanied by a senior church-allied determine named Masatoshi Abe (no relation). Together with them, Masatoshi mentioned in an interview years later, was a contingent of some 300 younger Moonies. Masatoshi and the youthful Moonies urged Abe to run for prime minister.

It’s unimaginable to know what distinction this mountainside pep discuss made to Abe, however it might have served as a reminder of the church’s energy to enlist keen volunteers. It could even have underscored their political frequent floor. Though the LDP has no spiritual orientation, its longtime emphasis on household values, anti-communism, and neoliberal economics meshed effectively with Moon’s neobiblical conservatism. The occasion seems to have conveniently ignored Moon’s different beliefs, together with his declare to embody the “excellent Adam” who would redeem humanity by his personal sinless household.

The second was an necessary one for the Moonies too. By the early 2000s, the group had come beneath renewed suspicion, and never simply due to the rising variety of lawsuits filed by victims of its “non secular gross sales.” In early 1995, members of a doomsday cult known as Aum Shinrikyo launched sarin gasoline on the Tokyo Metro at rush hour, killing greater than a dozen and injuring a whole bunch. The assault was a horrible shock for a rustic unused to violent crime, a lot much less terrorism, and drew hostile consideration to what are recognized in Japan as “new spiritual actions.” (Aum had no hyperlinks to the Moonies.) The Unification Church, Yamaguchi instructed me, grew to become fearful that it not had political safety. So church officers reached out to Abe. “Why Abe? As a result of Abe already knew he may use them for his political benefit. And his hawkish politics jibed with theirs.”

For Shinzo Abe, the Unification Church was additionally a household inheritance. His grandfather Nobusuke Kishi had helped the Moonies turn into established in Japan when he was prime minister within the late Nineteen Fifties, and in 1964 the church moved its Japanese headquarters to an Artwork Deco–type constructing in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward that Kishi had used as his official residence when he was prime minister. His own residence was subsequent door. The connection was rooted of their shared anti-communism. Kishi was a political survivor. He had risen to prominence within the Nineteen Thirties, when he oversaw Japan’s brutal occupation of Manchuria. He was jailed in 1945 as a Class A war-crimes suspect, however American authorities launched him once they noticed that right-wing anti-communists like Kishi may assist steer Japan on a pro-Western course. Kishi brokered the founding of the LDP in 1955.

Political affect had been Moon’s guiding star virtually from the beginning. Though he based his church within the Nineteen Fifties, it gained a broad following solely after Lieutenant Normal Park Chung Hee staged a army coup in South Korea in 1961. The church was then “organized” by the founder and director of the Korean Central Intelligence Company, Brigadier Normal Kim Jong-pil, in accordance with an American CIA report written two years later, although it isn’t clear precisely what position the Korean company performed. South Korea’s leaders seem to have seen Moon as a helpful instrument due to his fierce opposition to communism. However they have been additionally anxious in regards to the quasi-religious cult of character being developed within the ’60s and ’70s by the North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung. It’s attainable that they noticed Moon as a cultural counterweight of types, says Peter McGill, a British journalist with a long time of expertise in Japan and South Korea who has written in regards to the Unification Church.

Moon used his state connections and his rising Japanese earnings to construct a big portfolio of holdings. Tongil Heavy Industries, headed by considered one of Moon’s cousins, manufactured artillery weapons and different weapons for the South Korean army. Moon’s household owned or managed chemical and building corporations, resorts, Brazilian soccer groups, and actual property all around the world, together with the New Yorker Lodge. Moon’s most profitable enterprise enterprise might have been sushi, which he and his Japanese followers helped popularize in the US. Consuming uncooked tuna was nonetheless an unique pursuit to Individuals when Moon—the self-declared “king of the ocean”—started investing in shipyards within the late Nineteen Seventies and sending his followers to promote door-to-door from refrigerated vans. True World Meals, a seafood firm based at Moon’s course, controls a big share of the sushi commerce, promoting uncooked fish to hundreds of eating places throughout the US and Canada.

Kishi and Moon exchanged favors for many years, typically beneath the aegis of church-sponsored teams such because the Worldwide Federation for Victory Over Communism, which helped Moon curry favor with right-leaning political figures around the globe. After Moon was convicted of tax fraud in the US and despatched to federal jail, Kishi wrote a letter to President Ronald Reagan, urging him to launch his previous buddy. (Reagan didn’t.) Kishi handed on his Moonie connections to a different main LDP member, his son-in-law, Shintaro Abe (Shinzo Abe’s father), who would serve 4 years as Japan’s international minister.

Revelations in regards to the depth of the Abe dynasty’s involvement with the Moonies have continued to trickle out over the previous yr. In April, church information revealed on-line in South Korea confirmed that Moon thought of himself a kingmaker and even a type of savior in Japanese politics. “Anybody who needs to turn into prime minister in Japan wants my assist,” he was quoted as saying in 1987. He boasted about his relationships with three generations of the Abe household.

A photo illustration of The Moonies with followers at a mass wedding.
In 1995, Reverend Moon and Hak Ja Han Moon presided over the mass wedding ceremony of 35,000 {couples} at Olympic Stadium in Seoul, South Korea. (Yamaguchi Haruyoshi / Sygma / Getty; Bettmann / Getty; Wikimedia)

Shinzo Abe’s involvement with the church seems to have been discreet at first. Leaked church memos direct members to assist him, and counsel that the church noticed Abe as a dependable conservative who agreed with its positions on homosexual marriage and conventional gender and household roles. Afterward, Abe grew to become much less cautious. In September 2021, he delivered a prerecorded video tackle at a web based church convention, praising Moon’s widow, Hak Ja Han Moon, for her “tireless efforts in resolving disputes on the planet, particularly in relation to the peaceable reunification of the Korean peninsula.” (Donald Trump delivered a speech on the identical occasion.) Yamagami reportedly noticed Abe’s video on the 2021 convention, which can have helped him resolve to focus on the previous prime minister.

Why was the church such a precious ally? I attempted to ask LDP officers, however they’d not communicate with me. The Moonie connection stays politically poisonous for Japanese politicians. The Moonies are much less shy in regards to the relationship.

“I used to be capable of get candidates elected for the parliament, for gubernatorial elections, and metropolis mayors,” Mamoru Kamono, a dapper 67-year-old who spent a long time as an in-house journalist and election organizer for the Unification Church, instructed me. Kamono met me on the church’s Tokyo headquarters, on a high-rent downtown avenue just some minutes from the crowds and digital billboards of Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection. We have been escorted right into a spotless room overseen by a portrait of Solar Myung Moon. Kamono appeared pleased with and keen to speak in regards to the political work he’d executed for LDP candidates in Toyama prefecture, northwest of the capital. The church’s volunteers did extra than simply knock on doorways and make telephone calls, he instructed me. They labored their contacts with main executives in a whole bunch of corporations, and leveraged a casual system of group voting. After acquiring the names of all the staff in a given firm, Kamono instructed me, the Moonie volunteers would press them to safe the votes of their relations and neighbors. In Japan’s extremely disciplined, hierarchical society, this technique typically resulted in massive margins for the church’s favored candidates.

After elections, logs of marketing campaign telephone calls would present that the Moonies did 10 instances as a lot outreach as another group, Kamono mentioned, and this translated into immense gratitude from candidates. That made it all of the extra hurtful, he added, when the Toyama metropolis council handed a decision severing all ties to the church after Abe’s assassination.

What tangible acquire did the Moonies get in return for his or her marketing campaign miracles? They could not have wanted a lot, as a result of they’d belief within the LDP’s conservative views about homosexual marriage, ladies’s rights, and the significance of household, core points for the church. (Moon’s personal homophobia went far past the LDP’s; he as soon as described homosexual individuals as “soiled, dung-eating canine.”) However the Abe administration does seem to have gone out of its solution to do them at the least one massive favor.

In 2015, the federal government took the controversial step of allowing the church to rename itself, to the outrage of its longtime critics. This was a matter of actual import, as a result of because the mid‑’90s the phrases Unification Church had been tainted in Japan. The church now advertises itself beneath the extra anodyne banner of Household Federation for World Peace and Unification, although most outsiders nonetheless use the previous identify.

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Kihei Maekawa, who was a senior official within the training ministry when it authorised the rebranding, remains to be stewing about it. (Faith falls inside the ministry’s portfolio.) After I arrived at his workplace, he handed me a printout of the 41-page Legislation on Non secular Companies. He instructed me the church’s software to alter its identify was granted a fast approval by the training minister on the time—an ally of Abe’s who had acquired his personal election assist from the Moonies and brought cash from a church-linked publication. (The minister, Hakubun Shimomura, has denied that he was concerned within the identify change.) This wasn’t simply political opportunism, Maekawa mentioned. It was additionally a repudiation of his ministry’s prior resolution. When the church had first approached the federal government about altering its identify, in 1997, Maekawa was in command of the related bureau. He and his colleagues reached a consensus that permitting the change could be “an excessive cover-up,” as a result of the church had turn into infamous for its fundraising practices.

There are hints that the federal government might have executed different favors. Arita, the journalist and former parliamentarian, instructed me that he spoke with a bunch of senior police officers after the 1995 sarin-gas assault on the Tokyo Metro, when all new spiritual teams have been beneath higher scrutiny. One of many officers instructed him that “subsequent, we’re aiming to show the Unification Church.” A decade later, Arita mentioned, he met some retired police officers, and when he requested them why there had been no prosecution of the Unification Church, they replied, “Its political energy.” The police have declined to touch upon the matter, and final yr the church sued Arita and a number of other others for defamation.

The LDP denies that it did something for the Moonies and maintains that it merely accepted the assistance of marketing campaign volunteers. However after Abe’s assassination, the occasion’s plummeting ballot numbers created a political crucial for Prime Minister Kishida (who has denied any connection to the church) to show that he and the remainder of the LDP will not be Moonie stooges. In November 2022, his culture minister announced a formal probe into the church’s alleged misbehavior. This could assist set up whether or not there are grounds to withdraw the church’s tax advantages and standing as a non secular group. Even when there are such grounds, a decision may take years.

Is the Unification Church a faith in any respect? The church’s representatives scoff on the query. They level out that the Moonies have been acknowledged in Japan since 1964, and that solely two of the nation’s 180,000 registered spiritual teams have ever been dissolved. One was Aum Shinrikyo, and one other was a Buddhist group whose monks have been enriching themselves by fraud. In each instances, the group’s main figures have been convicted of crimes—a regular that the Unification Church’s predominant lawyer, Nobuya Fukumoto, instructed me should be the related authorized precedent. There isn’t a legal case towards the Unification Church’s leaders in Japan, and subsequently, in his view, no foundation to withdraw the church’s authorized standing. He mentioned the present authorities inquiry is nothing greater than a determined effort by Kishida to shore up assist.

Others say the church ought to have been confronted way back. Kihei Maekawa, the previous authorities official, confirmed me a line within the Legislation on Non secular Companies declaring that the state is entitled to revoke a faith’s standing if, “in violation of legal guidelines and rules, the spiritual company commits an act which is clearly discovered to hurt public welfare considerably.” Particular person members of the Unification Church have been sued efficiently; the unanswered query is whether or not the establishment itself could be held liable. Maekawa famous that the Church of Scientology, which isn’t authorised as a faith in Japan, approached his ministry through the Nineteen Nineties about making use of for official recognition. It was instructed to not waste its power. If the Unification Church have been making use of immediately for the primary time, the identical factor would doubtless occur.

Some critics say the church has executed a lot injury that eradicating its nonprofit standing isn’t sufficient. They need a regulation to assist defend the general public from the risks of cults. Eito Suzuki, a journalist who has been writing in regards to the Moonies for many years and who has helped reveal the extent of their relationship with the LDP, instructed me {that a} authorities report proposed a regulation of simply this sort again in 1995—after the Aum Shinrikyo subway assault—with a provision for monitoring abuses by spiritual actions. The thought, Suzuki mentioned, was shelved.

Maybe all religions begin off as cults. It’s not exhausting to think about Buddha or Christ displaying up at a Japanese authorities ministry immediately, software in hand, and being despatched packing. However there are causes to treat the Unification Church as uncommon. Its devotees systematically misrepresent themselves and their intentions. They use concern to police their ranks and maximize their income in a manner that’s typically extra redolent of the Mafia than of a holy order.

This was introduced dwelling to me throughout an extended discuss I had with a girl who was lured into becoming a member of the Moonies in 1997 and spent two years as a member. She and her husband—who helped her get out—agreed to inform me their story however requested that their names not be used, as a result of even immediately they concern retaliation. I’ll discuss with them as Keiko and Jun.

We met in a restaurant in downtown Tokyo. Keiko, a small, pale lady of 68, instructed me it began when she was befriended by a fellow member of the parent-teacher affiliation at her son’s college. The girl invited Keiko and a number of other different moms to a spot known as the video middle, the place they watched movies and TV exhibits. The middle didn’t have any seen affiliation, however as they returned over the next months—they have been housewives with time on their arms—they seen that faith started to play a much bigger position within the movies they noticed. Twice Keiko requested, “Is that this a faith you’re attempting to transform me to?” Each instances, her new buddy mentioned no; it was nearly training. The ladies grew nearer. After a yr, Keiko arrived on the middle someday and was shocked to be handed a duplicate of the Bible. “They sat us down and mentioned, ‘We’ll let you know who the Messiah is,’ ” she recalled. “ ‘It’s Moon.’ ”

Keiko mentioned she was greatly surprised, but in addition reluctant to desert her new pals. She determined to proceed, telling herself she’d stop if issues acquired unhealthy. She attended lectures on the ideas of the Unification Church, and shortly she was being despatched into the road to promote socks and handkerchiefs to profit charities. (She later found that the charities didn’t exist, and the income went to the church.) She hid all of this from her husband, on the urging of her Moonie supervisors. She started spending cash on vases and different supposedly non secular merchandise, and traveled to the church’s headquarters in South Korea for “expel the demon” ceremonies. As her attachment to the group grew stronger, she started listening to a brand new message: If you happen to communicate sick of the church, you might die. If you happen to betray Reverend Moon, you and your ancestors will burn in hell perpetually.

Jun, a retiree with a quiet, steadfast method, instructed me it didn’t take him lengthy to determine what had occurred to his spouse. He was decided to behave, however he knew that different deprogramming efforts with Moonies had backfired, in some instances in spectacular style, when believers have been locked up by their households for months, even years, and typically returned to the church anyway after regaining their freedom. The Moonies I met talked about these failed interventions (a few of them documented in court docket) as proof of the hostility they typically face in Japan.

Jun instructed me he spent 18 months developing with a crew and a technique earlier than confronting his spouse. He wished to method her “with sense, with emotions,” and never simply castigate her. He organized a month-long decompression, residing together with her in a resort the place relations and former church members visited and helped her acquire a fuller perspective on what she’d been by. Finally, Keiko instructed me, she realized that the church had diminished her to a state of childish dependence. This, she instructed me, is on the root of its doctrine: “They let you know to not suppose by yourself,” as a result of that was Eve’s unique sin.

On April 15, 2023, Prime Minister Kishida was about to offer a marketing campaign speech at a fishing port within the southern metropolis of Wakayama when a man in the crowd tossed a homemade pipe bomb at him. The smoking projectile landed just some yards from his toes. Kishida’s aides rapidly pulled him to security, and native fishermen wrestled the assailant to the bottom. Though nobody was severely harm, the incident immediately reawakened recollections of the Abe assassination.

Japanese politicians might by no means once more method a marketing campaign crowd with the identical ease Abe displayed when he arrived that July morning at Nara. His demise might come to mark a second of misplaced innocence, the best way the assassination of John F. Kennedy does in the US.

The broader legacy of the Abe assassination remains to be taking form. One factor appears clear: The Unification Church is prone to endure in Japan even when it doesn’t lose its authorized standing. The Moonies I met described a litany of insults and abuses hurled at them over the previous yr. The church’s present devoted might not be overly troubled (“the Messiah is at all times ostracized,” they’re instructed), however recruiting new followers will likely be a problem.

Nor has what Moon known as the “Good Household” fared effectively since his demise. Its members have spent a lot of the previous decade combating in court docket over his belongings and legacy, and his youngsters have struggled to stay as much as their “sinless” billing. One son was accused by his spouse of cocaine habit and home abuse. (He denied each claims and has since died.) One other son leaped to his demise from a balcony at a Nevada on line casino. A 3rd son, Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon, based a separate, gun-centered church in Pennsylvania often known as Rod of Iron Ministries, the place followers do goal follow with AR-15s and produce weapons to church to be blessed. Hyung Jin wears a golden crown manufactured from rifle shells, and delivers hate-filled sermons towards the Democratic Occasion. He additionally expects to turn into the king of America. He reviles his mom—who runs the worldwide church in South Korea—because the “whore of Babylon.”

Though Abe’s status has been stained, it might get better considerably. His harshest critics are typically older Japanese who’ve robust recollections of the struggle and its aftermath, and who concern the revival of their nation’s army energy. As that era dies off, Abe might come to appear prescient, due to the best way he ready his nation for the threats of a brand new century through which Japan should defend itself from an assertive China.

Counterintuitively, the status of Yamagami, his alleged murderer, might not endure. There may be an previous custom in Japan of reverence for the doomed hero, the person who undertakes a suicidal quest and turns into a determine of deep the Aristocracy, whatever the justice of his trigger. Many Japanese nonetheless revere the right-wing nationalists who stormed Tokyo’s authorities buildings in 1936 and killed not one however two former prime ministers. The plot’s ringleaders have been later tried and executed, however a shrine to their reminiscence stands in a distinguished place in central Tokyo. The good Japanese creator Yukio Mishima memorialized them in a narrative and a movie. Their sincerity and patriotism are what matter to their admirers, not the cruelty of their act or its ramifications.

A photo illustration of Tetsuya Yamagami the day of Shinzo Abe's assasination.
Shinzo Abe’s alleged murderer, Tetsuya Yamagami, used a home made gun. After the capturing, he didn’t try to flee. (The Asahi Shimbun / Getty; Minokuniya / Getty)

One thing comparable could possibly be mentioned of Yamagami. “I not have room to consider the political which means and penalties of Abe’s demise,” he wrote a day earlier than the assassination. The purity of his motives—his righteous anger on the Unification Church—appears to have resonated with the Japanese public.

Yamagami’s trial will provide Japan an opportunity to relive the complete drama. No date has been set as of this writing. Japanese prosecutors take their time, and for a person who has admitted to killing a former head of state, there could also be strain to use the demise penalty. If that’s the case, Yamagami will face an excruciating destiny. Loss of life-row prisoners in Japan will not be instructed the date of their execution upfront. They get up each morning not figuring out if at the present time will likely be their final.

Within the months earlier than he fired the deadly photographs, Yamagami described himself as a tragic determine, drawn inexorably to a confrontation that will destroy him. And he didn’t miss the ironic parallel between his personal heedless fury and the zealotry of the church members who had ruined his life. His desperation for a homicide weapon, he wrote, was “like a member of the Unification Church throwing his life away for a false savior.”

This text seems within the October 2023 print version with the headline “The Prime Minister and the Moonies.”

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