The Unification Church of Japan under the fire of donations and “spiritual sales”

August 24, 2022

TOKYO – Following the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Unification Church has been criticized for the large donations it receives from its supporters and the so-called spiritual sales tactics, which consist to induce people to buy goods by claiming that they bring supernatural benefits.

Officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, the group says it has fully complied with laws and regulations since 2009, when it issued a compliance statement.

However, a network of lawyers that helps those affected by the religious group said it was still receiving inquiries from former followers and that problems with spiritual sales and large donations continued.

Declaration of conformity
On August 10, Tomihiro Tanaka, the group’s Japanese branch president, held his second press conference since the shooting. Tanaka read a prepared text for about 40 minutes, emphasizing the legitimacy of the group’s activities.

Sales of jars, seals, and other Unification Church items at extremely high prices have been a problem since the 1980s.

After the arrest of a follower in 2009 who was the president of a company that sold seals, the Unification Church issued a statement of compliance and the president of the Japanese branch at the time resigned.

Tanaka described 2009 as a turning point for the Unification Church, pointing out that the group instructed its followers not to engage in any socially problematic activity.

He denied the band’s involvement in spiritual sales “past and present”.

The National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales has refuted these claims.

According to the network, the number of consultations regarding damages caused by spiritual sales and large gifts handled by the network and consumer offices nationwide totaled 34,537 from 1987 to 2021, with requests damages totaling approximately 123.7 billion yen.

The number dwindled after the compliance statement was issued in 2009, but there were still 2,875 consultations from 2010 to 2021, with claims for damages totaling around 13.8 billion yen.

Before the fatal shooting, there were a few consultations per month, but the figure rose to more than 100 cases after the shooting.

The network of lawyers says the group has adopted sophisticated tactics to limit the risk of claims for damages.

Refunds requested
A woman in her 60s in eastern Japan who had lost her husband and children became a follower of the group in 2013 after meeting a believer who claimed ancestral ties were the cause of her problems.

The woman donated more than 6 million yen, raising part of the funds by liquidating her life insurance. But she was upset that she was forced to buy scriptures and demanded a refund of around 2 million yen in 2015.

At the time, he was asked to sign an agreement confirming that “there are no further debts and credits.” The wife did and the refund was issued.

The woman then left the group and consulted the network of lawyers. In April 2017, the woman filed a lawsuit in the Tokyo District Court seeking reimbursement for the donations, excluding the writing fees.

During the lawsuit, the group argued that it had no obligation to issue a refund based on the prior agreement. But in February 2020, the court ruled that the agreement was invalid because it waived his right to make a claim without explanation and violated public order and standards of decency.

The decision, which ordered the group to refund almost all of the money requested by the woman, has been finalized.

The lawyer network said the use of such agreements increased after the 2009 declaration of compliance. In addition to the agreements, there have been instances in which the group recorded video footage of followers promising not to not ask for a refund.

“It’s obvious that the group aims to make it difficult to claim the refund,” network member attorney Daisuke Sasaki said. “There has been no change in the way the organization seeks donations by stoking people’s anxiety.”

A spokesperson for the group told the Yomiuri Shimbun: “We had such agreements even before the 2009 declaration of compliance. They are used as records to prevent problems from arising.

Yamagami, mother signed an agreement
Abe’s alleged gunman’s mother, Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, had made such a deal with the group. According to their relatives, Yamagami’s 69-year-old mother donated a total of around 100 million yen after raising funds through means such as the sale of the family home. She filed for bankruptcy in 2002.

Relatives negotiated with the group and a reimbursement process began in 2005. The agreement was concluded in May 2009, approximately two months after the group issued its declaration of compliance.

The agreement stipulated that in October 2014, a total of 50 million yen would be returned to the Yamagami family, including 17.6 million yen that had already been repaid.

The mother and son had both signed the agreement, which also stated: “Both parties confirm that there are no other debts or credits between the two parties”.

Jerry B. Hatch