KOBE -- It was around 2005 that a man in his 40s in Osaka Prefecture received a panicked phone call from his father.
"Something's wrong with (your) Mom," his father said. When the man visited his parents' home with his older sister and brother, their father opened a bank passbook. It showed a series of figures in the negatives, indicating that money had been borrowed. Over 60 million yen (more than $450,000) had vanished, including the family savings.
"Mom is the serious type and not one to be extravagant. I think somebody might be deceiving her," the man thought. When he checked the closets and shelves, he found a series of items ranging from scriptures and a picture of the founding couple of a religious group to vases and jewel-like stones. The items were from the Unification Church, now formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
When the man asked his mother about the items, she insisted, "I did it for the family." Then, little by little, she spooled out the story of how it had all happened.
The woman became a Unification Church follower sometime between the late 1990s and the year 2000. Another follower told her, "Your family won't understand. If you want to protect them you'll have to make the decisions." It was then that she started to donate money. The man's father, who was a doctor, was busy, and the man and his siblings, who had already left home, didn't know what was happening.
The man's mother had been troubled by her frail health, and from when her kids were young, she had joined gatherings of another group early in the mornings. When weakness prevented her from attending, she was criticized by other participants and told, "You're not trying hard enough," and she was left with nowhere to go.
Not wanting to trouble her family, she avoided talking to them, and at a time when she was feeling alone, she was approached by a Unification Church follower about joining. She came to trust the person, who would listen to her for hours on end, crying openly, and she eventually became dependent on them.
Around 2006, the year after the man's father noticed the family savings had disappeared, the family consulted the pastor of a protestant church who had held a monthly gathering titled "Kobe meeting for countermeasures against the Unification Church," and the man's mother began counselling to leave the Unification Church.
About a year and a half later, she apologized to her family for the trouble she had caused, and severed contact with the Unification Church. The man and other family members also sought help from the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, and they recovered some of the money that she had donated.
-- Disillusioned by former Prime Minister Abe's message
Tetsuya Yamagami, the man arrested on suspicion of assassinating former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on July 8, had similarly seen his mother become a follower of the Unification Church about 30 years ago, and the family was left destitute after she donated at least 100 million yen (about $751,000) to the group. Nara Prefectural Police believe that Yamagami resented the Unification Church and planned to murder Abe after learning that the former prime minister had sent a video message to an organization closely associated with the religious group.
While criticizing the suspect's actions, the man from Osaka expressed mixed feelings, commenting, "I felt disappointed that a figure with public power paid tribute to a group on good terms with the Unification Church, which preyed on my mother, and its members." He added, "The recent crime should be used as an opportunity to think more about cracking down on fraudulent spiritual sales and about politicians' involvement with religion."
Atsuyoshi Ojima, 68, who holds the Kobe gatherings against the Unification Church and helped the man's mother leave the group, commented, "There was a leap of logic in the (Abe assassination) suspect directing his resentment for the Unification Church at Mr. Abe. But he was likely driven into a corner psychologically, and I feel strongly, 'If only the Christian church or a bar association had provided some support...'"
(Japanese original by Kotaro Ono, Kobe Bureau)