Ties between a long string of senior figures in Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's administration and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly the Unification Church) religious group have been exposed. However, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its lawmakers have been slow to respond.
In June, LDP policy chief Koichi Hagiuda and Akiko Ikuina, the latter elected to the House of Councillors for the first time in July, visited a Unification Church-related facility. A Shukan Shincho weekly magazine report on the visit revealed that Hagiuda not only knew they were going to a meeting of the church-affiliated Women's Federation for World Peace, but that he had brought Ikuina along.
The act of taking a new candidate to the gathering just before the official launch of the upper house election campaign suggests that Hagiuda was actively trying to foster connections with the group.
In early August, when he was still the minister of economy, trade, and industry, he admitted that he attended another Unification Church-related event in 2014, but denied any special relationship with the group, saying, "I greeted them at the beginning of the meeting they invited me to, but I'm not knowingly associated with them."
If Hagiuda does not disclose everything, and just keeps correcting previous statements when new details are revealed in the news media, his credibility will come into question.
There have been reports that one former Unification Church member has claimed that between 2009 and 2012, while Hagiuda was out of office after losing his seat, the LDP heavyweight frequently visited church facilities to give lectures. And in these, Hagiuda stated that he wanted to "realize the 'Kingdom of God.'" He denies this, but he is duty-bound to hold a press conference to explain himself.
Economic revitalization minister Daishiro Yamagiwa's responses to questions about Unification Church affiliations are also highly problematic. He admitted to attending a 2018 event of a related organization only after it was decided that he would stay on after a recent Cabinet reshuffle.
When it was reported that he had attended other church-related events in South Korea in 2010, Nepal in 2016, and Tokyo in 2019, he repeated a string of awkward excuses such as, "I couldn't find any documents from those years," "I remember going to Nepal, but I don't remember going to the conference," and "However, from what I've seen in the press, it's natural to assume that I attended."
Assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had sent a video message to an event of a Unification Church-affiliated group. There are also testimonies to the effect that Abe was trying to pull in the church's organized support for votes in the July upper house election.
Public suspicions are mounting, and all this is only adding to distrust in Japanese politics.
The LDP is surveying all of its national lawmakers about their relationships with the church. However, it is unacceptable to end the investigation there. We need a thorough clarification of what is and has been going on.