Former Diet member describes church’s crucial role in securing seat

Yoshifumi Miyajima knows full well that he would never have won a seat in the 2016 Upper House election without the organizational support of a group associated with the Unification Church, which he claims obliged to repay the debt in a modest way.

But unlike past or current lawmakers, Miyajima, along with his campaign advisers, chose to recognize the crucial role the organization played in his short political career.

Miyajima, 71, served one term in the Upper House, winning a seat through the proportional representation segment of the 2016 election.

The issue is of immense public interest in light of the July 8 murder of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while delivering a campaign speech in Nara ahead of the latest Upper House elections held two days later.

Even Prime Minister Fumio Kishida urged his ministers to “properly examine and revise” their ties to the Unification Church.

The suspected shooter, Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, told police he resented the religious group because of the hardships he endured as a child after his mother made huge donations to the church. Yamagami also felt that Abe had strong ties to the organization.

Miyajima and senior campaign officials spoke to Asahi Shimbun reporters several times after Abe was shot, an event almost unthinkable in today’s Japan.

Since 2012, Miyajima has served as president of the Japan Association of Medical Technologists. Based on that experience alone, he doubted he could muster enough votes through members and related organizations to win a seat in the Upper House.

Miyajima was approached in 2015 by Chuichi Date, then a senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s upper house caucus, to run for office the following year.

Shortly before the official start of the campaign, Date informed Miyajima that votes had been obtained from an organization that supported the LDP. Miyajima said he was told the name of the organization was the Federation for World Peace (FWP). For his part, Date declined to answer questions from the Asahi about his role in the 2016 election or the organization.

Miyajima’s aides told him that the organization was linked to the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, now the official name of the Unification Church.

While Miyajima doubted whether to accept support from a group with close ties to an organization that had been in the public eye for unsavory business practices, his campaign staff told him he couldn’t back down now because the highs Party officials had gone to such lengths to ensure he got the support he needed.

Miyajima met with leaders of the organization at Date’s request. But only a small number of campaign workers were aware of the “top secret” links to the FWP. Campaign advisers also told Miyajima not to speak publicly about the support.

During the Upper House campaign, Miyajima gave speeches across the country and made a point of stopping at Unification Church facilities to speak with small gatherings of members to ask for their support. In total, he attended a dozen such meetings.

According to Miyajima campaign staff, the FWP also provided volunteers to help send tens of thousands of postcards in favor of Miyajima as well as distribute flyers.

Miyajima garnered around 122,000 votes in the election.

“I believe the church got between 60,000 and 70,000 votes, so I was honestly very impressed with the church’s influence,” a senior campaign official said.

Although facilities were made available to the FWP during the campaign, the church itself never provided direct support to Miyajima, a Unification Church official said.

“We provided support during the campaign because Miyajima’s policies matched our principles,” an FWP official said.

Miyajima said he never became a member of the church or the organization and his only association with the groups was during elections.

But after the 2016 elections, Miyajima attended various meetings organized by the FWP to express his gratitude for the support he received.

Miyajima and an aide also attended a “study session” later in 2016 paid for by the FWP where he learned about the history of the Unification Church in Japan. A video of Abe was also shown and Miyajima was told that Abe “understands” the organization’s anti-communist stance.

In May 2017, Miyajima attended a Unification Church event held in Tokyo and met privately with Hak Ja Han, the widow of church founder Sun Myung Moon and now head of the church.

Miyajima decided not to run again in this year’s Upper House poll after Abe informed him he could not count on the support he received six years ago from the FWP.

Miyajima said he was always grateful for the support received from the FWP.

However, he warned that action would have to be taken if the church was still demanding large donations from members and providing assistance to victims.

Jerry B. Hatch