Unification Church documents reveal Japan’s division over former prime minister’s funeral

“He was quite an influential person. He strengthened Japan’s presence on the international stage and helped the economy through ‘Abenomics’.

But even Soto struggles to justify ties to the Unification Church. “Of course, it is very important to cut off the relationship with an organization that harms others,” he says.

Tetsuya Yamagami, accused of killing Shinzo Abe, is escorted by police to Nara.Credit:Japan News-Yomiuri

Even Abe’s harshest critics say Yamagami’s actions were heinous. But Yamagami and his family have been damaged by a church that has spent decades building its empire in Japan.

The Yamagami family home in the comfortable, middle-class suburb of Hiramachi was once surrounded by streets filled with manicured hedges and roses.

When Yamagami shot Abe in July, he was living in an 18-square-meter apartment not far from Yamato-Saidaiji Station, where he made weapons and pipe bombs after midnight. The first time his neighbors heard of him was when the police burst into his bedroom, leaving dents on the door which are visible today. “It was a shocking thing,” said a neighbor, who asked not to be identified.

A series of dents can be seen on the front door of where assassin Tetsuya Yamagami lived in Nara, Japan.

A series of dents can be seen on the front door of where assassin Tetsuya Yamagami lived in Nara, Japan.Credit:

Yamagami’s family is typical of the victims of the Unification Church. Her mother donated over a million dollars to the church from insurance payments and land sales for the promise of salvation. This has left her family in poverty and her son cannot afford to go to college. He then descended further into mental illness after the suicide of his older brother.

Tokyo lawyer Hiroshi Yamaguchi, who has followed the church for 35 years, has so far found more than 34,537 victims in Japan who have donated the equivalent of more than $1.3 billion. Eighty percent of them are older, wealthy or middle-income women, a generation that has retained traditional gender roles. Targeted by the church during the day their husbands are at work, they have handed over fortunes to a church headquartered in South Korea that warns them and their families that they risk eternal damnation if they don’t. not pay for the sins of Japan.

The church had a compelling message to sell – Japan committed war crimes during its occupation of Korea and World War II. His congregation now had to atone with donations. He found a gap in Japan – a country with a dwindling number of religious followers – where the local saying goes that the Japanese are “born Shinto, married Christian, died Buddhist”. Japan is the biggest market and biggest source of income for the South Korean church.


“For believers in Japan, it’s like the gods are asking them for money, so they have to do it,” says Yamaguchi.

“They say if you don’t have the key to open the cage door, your families will suffer.

“They thought they were doing the right thing. Then they ask their families and friends to do it. When they find out it’s all a lie, they crumble.

The Sydney Morning Herald and age visited the church in Nara this week where Yamagami was training in shooting, but its doors were closed. In a sign that the commercial fallout from the assassination could be greater than the political fallout, the Unification Church abandons the scene. Inside a yellow poster says: “the mother of peace will wipe away the tears of human beings”. But fewer humans come here now. A neighbor who lives next to one of his larger churches says only two to three people visit every few days.

Tokyo lawyer Hiroshi Yamaguchi, member of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Selling.

Tokyo lawyer Hiroshi Yamaguchi, member of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Selling.Credit:Viola Kam

“They stopped gaining followers,” says Yamaguchi. But they still need money to fund their mass weddings in Korea and hundreds of venues across Japan. “They are asking the Japanese church to give them more money,” Yamaguchi says.


The church has denied any wrongdoing. Hideyuki Teshigawara, a church leader, said on Thursday that the church will now “take into consideration the financial situation of congregants and ensure that donations are not excessive”.

Outside the church in Nara, the bullet holes have been painted over, but there are still deep scars in the wall. Japan’s political calculus will not be so easily settled.

Dozens of foreign leaders are expected to arrive in Tokyo from Monday for funerals few locals want. Protesters will gather outside the Nippon Budokan, where the ceremony will be held, and in the streets of Tokyo.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese after his last visit to Tokyo in May.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese after his last visit to Tokyo in May.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Albanese is only due to spend 24 hours in the Japanese capital, perhaps sensing the mood here is very different from that of London, where millions lined the streets following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. On Tuesday, he will pay tribute to a leader much admired abroad, but who at home is more controversial in death than he was in life.

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Jerry B. Hatch