The LDP’s Tangled Ties to the Unification Church

Recent Features

Features | Politics | East Asia

The LDP’s Tangled Ties to the Unification Church

Japanese lawmakers’ collusive ties with the controversial religious group have emerged as a major national issue.

The LDP’s Tangled Ties to the Unification Church

A bride watches her smartphone in a Unification Church mass wedding ceremony at the Cheong Shim Peace World Center in Gapyeong, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.

Credit: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

Following the assassination of Japan’s former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, collusive relations between Japanese conservative politicians and the Unification Church have been revealed in a steady drip, spurring public distrust in the principle of separation of church and state defined by the nation’s constitution.

Most recently, Japanese Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo – Abe’s younger brother– said on July 26 that he had received help in past elections from members of the Unification Church. Kishi is just the latest ruling party lawmaker to disclose connections with the religious group at the center of controversy over Abe’s assassination on July 8.

Abe’s assailant, Yamagami Tetsuya, 41, has told investigators that he held a strong grudge against the church formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, a religious group established in Seoul in 1954 by South Korean religious leader Moon Sun Myung (1920-2012) and best known for its mass wedding ceremonies.

According to the police, Yamagami blamed the religious group for bankrupting his mother by forcing her to donate more than 100 million yen ($732,400) to the church and ruining his family by pushing his older brother to suicide. Yamagami grew up in a single-mother home after his father committed suicide in 1984 when the suspect was 4 years old, which made his mother turn to religion for comfort.

Yamagami said he targeted Abe because of his links to the church. It was known that Abe had some ties with the group, as he had sent a video message to an event held by the Universal Peace Federation, a friendship organization of the church, in September 2021.

Yamagami’s criminal act can never be tolerated and he should be strictly punished according to the law. But the improper collusion between politicians and the Unification Church, often described by critics as a cult, cannot be overlooked.

It is widely known that since the 1980s this church has caused numerous social problems in Japan, including the notorious “spiritual-pressure sales” method. This fraudulent business scheme involves cajoling people into buying pots and seals, books, treasure towers, and so on at exorbitant prices, claiming these items will break the evil spell of ancestors.

According to the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, there were 34,537 consultations with total damages amounting to 123.7 billion yen ($906 million) in relation to the Unification Church between 1987 and 2021. Last year alone, there were 47 consultations with total damages amounting to about 331 million yen ($2.4 million).

Suganuma Mitsuhiro, 86, a former high-ranking officer of the Public Security Intelligence Agency in Japan, said in an interview with The Diplomat earlier this month that the government has been unable to stop the church’s antisocial behavior because of the freedom of religion guaranteed in the constitution.

Suganuma said the relationship between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the Unification Church “remains a serious problem.”

In particular, he pointed out that the church has embedded itself in Japanese society in various ways, including entering the political arena under the name of the International Federation for Victory over Communism (IFVC), a conservative political organization that was established by Moon Sun Myung, the guru of the Unification Church, in both Seoul and Tokyo in 1968.

“Probably most of the LDP’s right-wing lawmakers are subject to the influence of the Unification Church now,” Suganuma said.

Suganuma pointed out that former Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke, Abe’s grandfather, collaborated with Moon in founding the IFVC in Japan.

He explained the background behind this collaboration. In the 1960s and ‘70s, there were a series of massive protests by students and workers throughout Japan against the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which allows the US to maintain military bases on Japanese soil. At the time, right-wing politicians such as Kishi and Fukuda Takeo, another former prime minister, and big-shot right-wing figures including Sasakawa Ryoichi and Kodama Yoshio, were all afraid of a “communist revolution” in revolution. They sought to confront communism in collaboration with Moon’s IFVC, meaning the church entered the Japanese conservatives’ political tent based on the ideology of anti-communism.

An FBI report published in 1975 pointed out Kishi and Sasakawa were two heads of the Japanese branch of the IFVC.

It is also well known that when the Unification Church entered Japan in 1959, its headquarters was right next to Kishi’s house in Nanpeidaicho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. It was certified as a religious corporation in 1964.

Suganuma said that the IFVC, which had been advocating the overthrow of communism during the Cold War, is now working to fight tyrannical countries such as China, Russia, and North Korea. This is in response to the battle between democracy and autocracy that U.S. President Joe Biden has in mind with China and Russia.

According to Suganuma, “What’s wrong with the Unification Church is how it collects money.”

He said the Japanese branch of the church is being asked to raise funds by the Korean headquarters. He explained that donations are often coerced as necessary atonement for Japan’s colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. The church gives Japanese believers a sermon that “your descendants are suffering because your ancestors have committed so many sins. That’s why you have to cancel the sin,” Suganuma said.

In other words, Japanese believers are manipulated to believe they should donate to the Unification Church to “atone for the crime of colonial rule committed by their ancestors,” Suganuma said.

The Washington Post reported on July 12 that despite the church’s roots in South Korea, it was Japan that traditionally provided as much as 70 percent of the church’s wealth, quoting historians who have studied the church.

According to the Financial Times, the Unification Church’s business interests “include ski, ocean and golf resorts, a construction group, a defense company, a chemicals group, an auto parts business and a newspaper.”

“They bring the collected money [from Japan] to South Korea. And then South Korea brings that money to the U.S.,” Suganuma said, pointing out that the Moon, the father of the Unification Church, also founded the U.S. conservative newspaper Washington Times. The paper has backed conservative conspiracy theories and supports U.S. right-wing politicians like former President Donald Trump.

“In the U.S., the church even has the Washington Times,” Suganuma said. “It also has much clout over U.S. lawmakers in both legislative houses.”