Colby Cosh: Shinzo Abe’s assassination spotlights predatory religious sect’s ties to Japanese government

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There must be other readers, I think, who have been keeping one eye on the aftermath of the July 8 assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, shot dead on a street while campaigning for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in a national election. Abe was killed with a homemade firearm by what seemed to have been a classic lone wacko full of delusions.

At any rate, that was a natural assumption for us western dilettantes to make. Our imaginations are haunted by the determined lone gunman fuelled by contrived grievances, personal troubles and obsessive research into shadowy conspiracies. Abe’s death reminded us that such a person can appear even in a high-trust, close-knit, fully disarmed, explicitly pacifistic society — one of the safest and most orderly civilizations that can be identified on this planet. (The killer, Tetsuya Yamagami, didn’t just make his own gun; he manufactured his own gunpowder and shells.)

But if you’ve been following the story, you know the implications are much weirder than that. A translator in Tokyo, Dylan Levi King, has written an excellent, unnerving primer on the aftermath of the assassination. It turned out, unsurprisingly, that Yamagami, 41, was a troubled person who had drifted from job to job and been more or less constantly broke. But the other elements of the “lone nut” jigsaw puzzle don’t snap very cleanly into place.

Yamagami, a veteran of Japan’s military, had struggled to support his mother and siblings because the Unification Church (UC), the Korean-based religious sect founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, had gotten its hooks into her. The church, which is very active in Japan, had extracted something in the neighbourhood of $1 million in donations from her, driving her into bankruptcy and perpetual penury. She had given them the proceeds of her late husband’s life insurance and the price of the family home.

It’s part of a broader “spiritual sales” problem, an issue of unchecked religious charlatanry, that had gone largely uncontrolled and uncommented on in Japan. And when Yamagami began to explore that rabbit hole, he found that the church really was protected by deep, pervasive ties to the LDP.

It wasn’t misinformation that drove him round the bend, you see; it was accurate information that had been informally suppressed. Yamagami decided to target Abe, once the chosen scion of the LDP, because he had constantly given aid and comfort to the Unification Church — and received vital political support in exchange. This is, as King observes, a statement of flat fact:

“During Abe’s years of ascendency, Unification Church personnel helped staff his electoral campaigns and local office in the city of Shimonoseki, where he had inherited his father’s power base. The Unification Church’s local office stood directly across from the one occupied by Abe himself, and members came and went freely. When it came election time, Unification Church members manned phone banks.

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1 comment

  1. Rather than feeling contempt for the assassin many Japanese instead express sympathy for the cult victim whose family was bankrupted by the Unification Church.

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