Filming of Shinzo Abe: who are the “Moonies” and why are they in the spotlight? | Japan

The apparent motive given by the man accused of murdering Shinzo Abe has shed light on the Unification Church and its ties to politicians.

Tetsuya Yamagami confessed to killing the former Japanese prime minister during a campaign speech on Friday. He accused the global religious movement – whose members are often called Moonies – of bankrupting his family and said Abe defended his activities in Japan.

The Japanese branch of the church has confirmed that Yamagami’s mother is a member, but declined to comment on the suspect’s claims that she made a ‘huge donation’ more than 20 years ago, leaving the family in doubt. financial difficulty.

Branch president Tomihiro Tanaka told a press conference that Yamagami’s mother became a follower in the late 1990s, adding that the family suffered financial ruin around 2002.

Tomihiro Tanaka, president of the Japanese branch of the Unification Church, at a press conference in Tokyo on Monday. Photo: KYODO/Reuters

The official name of the organization is the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, although it is better known as the Unification Church. It was founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon, whose vehement anti-communism would lead him to forge ties with conservative politicians around the world, including in Japan.

Moon, who died in 2012, said he had a vision when he was 15 in which Jesus told him to fulfill his unfulfilled mission to restore humanity to a state of “sinless” purity.

The early adherents of the church were effective recruiters, and membership grew from an initial group of 100 missionaries to around 10,000 within a few years.

Often described as a cult driven by financial gain, the church became known for holding mass weddings in huge sports stadiums – involving thousands of couples meeting for the first time – and claimed to have at one time gained about 3 million followers worldwide.

But worldwide membership of the church, whose teachings include new interpretations of the Bible, has fallen sharply to several hundred thousand since its peak in the 1980s, some experts say.

Its connection to Japan is inseparable from the instability of the post-war years, when conservative politicians sought to build alliances that they believed would prevent the country from embracing communism.

Among them was Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who allegedly started a church-linked organization. It was Kishi’s decision to woo Moon and his followers in Japan that allegedly caused Yamagami to target his grandson.

Yamagami allegedly told investigators that he fired a shot with a homemade weapon at a Unification Church near his home the day before Abe was shot. The Asahi Shimbun quoted residents as saying they heard a loud bang in the early hours of July 7.

The Japanese chapter was founded in 1959 – the penultimate year of Kishi’s three-year term as prime minister – as the church sent missionaries to Japan and the United States to forge ties with politicians and influential business leaders.

Last September, Abe delivered a congratulatory speech via video link at an event hosted by an affiliate, the Universal Peace Federation. Donald Trump is among other conservative politicians who have publicly associated themselves with the church.

Abe had been criticized for speaking at events organized by church affiliates. Last year, lawyers representing people who say they lost money to the church filed a protest letter after he delivered the video message. They also protested when Abe sent a telegram to a mass wedding in 2006.

Moon, who moved to the United States in the early 1970s, had long-standing ties to Japan, having studied engineering at a high school in Tokyo. He was charged with tax evasion in the United States in 1981 and served 11 months in prison.

In 2008, Moon passed control of the church to his youngest son, Hyung Jin Moon, who later formed a splinter organization, the Church of Sanctuary, after falling out with his mother, Hak Ja Han. She now controls the Unification Church.

Police have not publicly identified the group to which Yamagami is responsible for his family’s financial troubles, and most Japanese media refrained from naming it until Monday’s press conference.

With Agence France Presse

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