EXPLAINER: The Unification Church’s ties to Japan’s politics


TOKYO – The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has uncovered suspicious and little-discussed links between him and a religious group that began in South Korea but has spread its influence around the world.

Police and Japanese media have suggested that the alleged attacker, Tetsuya Yamagami, who was arrested at the same place, was furious at Abe’s alleged ties to the Unification Church, which has maintained relations with politically conservative groups and leaders. in the United States, Japan and Europe. . The suspect was reportedly upset because his mother’s massive donations to the church bankrupted the family.

Many Japanese have been surprised when revelations of the links between the church and Japan’s top leaders, which have their roots in joint efforts against communism during the Cold War, emerged this week. Analysts say it could lead people to take a closer look at how strongly the ruling world’s conservative worldviews have driven the policies of modern Japan.

A look at the church and its deep ties to Japan’s ruling party and Abe’s own family:


The church was founded in Seoul in 1954, a year after the end of the Korean War, by the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed messiah who preached new interpretations of the Bible and conservative value systems. family-oriented.

The church advocated anti-communism and the unification of the Korean peninsula, which has been divided between totalitarian north and democratic south.

The church is perhaps best known for crowded weddings where couples, often from different countries, were paired and renewed the vows of the already married, in large, open venues such as stadiums and gyms. The group is said to have a global membership of millions, including hundreds of thousands in Japan.

The church faced accusations in the 1970s and 1980s of using tortuous recruitment tactics and brainwashing followers to hand over large chunks of their salaries to Moon. The church has denied these allegations, saying many new religious movements faced similar accusations in its early years.

In Japan, the group has faced lawsuits for offering “spiritual merchandise” that allegedly caused members to buy expensive art and jewelry or sell their properties to raise donations for the church.


Throughout his life, Moon worked to transform his church into a global religious movement and expand his business and charitable activities. Moon was convicted of tax evasion in 1982 and served a prison sentence in New York. He died in 2012.

The church has developed relationships with conservative world leaders, including US Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush and, more recently, Donald Trump.

Moon also had ties to North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of current ruler Kim Jong Un.

Moon said in his autobiography that he asked Kim to give up his nuclear ambitions and that Kim replied that his atomic program was for peaceful purposes and that he had no intention of using it to “kill (Korean) compatriots. “.


Abe was known for his arch-conservative views on security and history issues and was also supported by powerful lobbies such as the Nippon Kaigi. He appeared at events organized by church affiliates, including one in September 2021.

In a video that was shown on a big screen at the church-related meeting of the Universal Federation for Peace (UPF), Abe praised his work for peace on the Korean peninsula and the group’s focus on family values. The emphasis on traditional and paternalistic family systems was one of Abe’s key positions.

“I appreciate UPF’s focus on family values,” he said in the video. “Let us be aware of the so-called social-revolutionary movements with narrow-minded values.”

Reports of his appearance at the 2021 event drew criticism from the Japanese Communist Party and cult observers, including a group of lawyers who have watched the activities of the Unification Church and supported its alleged victims.

At a press conference on Monday after the church’s connection to Abe’s assassination was revealed, the church’s leader in Japan, Tomohiro Tanaka, said Abe supported UPF’s peace movement but that he was not a member.

Police have not yet publicly identified the group cited by the suspect, presumably to avoid inciting violence.


Ties between the church and Japan’s ruling party go back to Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who served as prime minister and shared concerns with Washington over the spread of communism in Japan over the years. 60 as union activists gained strength.

Kishi, who was arrested as a war criminal but never charged, was known for his right-wing political views, and the anti-communist position of the Unification Church coincided with his views on Japan’s national interests, according to the experts.

Kishi’s close relationship with the church was publicly known. At one point, the church headquarters was in a building next to Kishi’s Tokyo residence, and he was seen with Moon in photos taken at the church and published in group publications. Media reports say the suspect believed Kishi brought the church to Japan.

“Japanese leaders of the time saw the church as a tool to promote anti-communist views in Japan,” said Masaki Kito, a lawyer and religious business expert. For the group, showing close ties to prominent politicians was one way to gain support for their activity.

Ties between church-affiliated organizations and LDP lawmakers have developed over decades since the church expanded, providing solid political support and votes for the ruling party, experts say, though that the group denied it.

A survey of 128 lawmakers obtained from the police and published in Weekly Gendai magazine in 1999 showed the most attended events organized by the anti-communist affiliate of the Unification Church, the International Federation for Victory over Communism. , also funded by Moon, and more than 20 LDP lawmakers. he had at least one member of the church in his offices as a volunteer.


The church denied any favorable treatment by Kishi when it opened a branch in Japan. Tanaka said Abe supported the peace movement of current leader Hak Ja Han Moon, but denied any movement of money between the group and the LDP.

The church said Monday it had no records showing Yamagami was a member. The church said it had had no direct relationship with Abe, although it interacted with other lawmakers through an affiliated organization.

Members of the National Network of Spiritual Sales Lawyers, who oversee the church, say they have repeatedly asked Abe and other LDP lawmakers to stop appearing or sending messages to events organized by the Unification Church or its affiliates, ignoring the long-standing church. related issues.


“The assassination is giving birth to the Unification Church,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of international politics at Sophia University in Tokyo. “The church’s relationship with the right-wing factions of the LDP and its far-right policies could be closely scrutinized,” and lead to a reassessment of Abe’s legacy.

Nakano said it could lead to revelations of how party views have distorted post-war Japanese society while slowing the progress of gender equality and sexual diversity.

Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed.

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