the police say Tetsuya Yamagami Abe was targeted because he believed the former prime minister had supported a “some group” to which the man’s mother had made large donations.
In a letter published by local media, Yamagami accused Abe of supporting the Unification Church and expressed displeasure towards the group, which has confirmed his mother’s membership.
Former adherents, lawyers and academics who have studied the church say that the reported details on Yamagami’s family are consistent with a general pattern in Japan.
Yamagami’s mother reportedly joined the church when her husband died by suicide, and was quickly consumed by her faith.
Yamagami’s uncle told local media that his nephew sometimes called him for help when his mother left her children alone and without food while attending church.
He donated 100 million yen (then about $1 million) to the church, he said, and later declared bankruptcy.
It all sounds familiar to Hiroshi Yamaguchi, the lawyer representing former members of the church.
“Members are under pressure to donate every day,” he told AFP.
“They tell you that karma is tied to money and (charity) is the only way to protect yourself. So you think you have to do it.”
Officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU), the church was founded by Sun Myung Moon in Korea in 1954 and its followers are colloquially known as “Moonies”. Is.
The Japan chapter began in 1959, and membership began during the country’s 1980s economic boom – “an era in which people were unsure how to live their lives”, said Kimiyaki Nishida, professor of social psychology at Risho University in Tokyo. Told.
Japan became a financial center for the Church, which taught Japanese believers that they needed to atone for their country’s wartime occupation of Korea.
“They deliberately assign different roles to each country,” said Hotaka Tsukada, an associate professor of the sociology of religion at Joetsu University of Education.
“They have (sales) manuals to exploit believers,” he told AFP.
The church offered a “spiritual sale” of exorbitantly priced items, including a 43 million yen ($350,000) statue, which Japanese believers were told would exonerate them or their ancestors.
The huge outlay by the members led to a backlash.
Japan’s National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales says it has filed a lawsuit seeking 123.7 billion yen ($900 million) in damages for former followers since 1987.
A series of arrests and rulings against the church in the 2000s put limits on “spiritual selling,” but lawyer Yamaguchi says believers are still pressured to meet monthly charity goals.
“It’s a goal that God sets,” he says as the church tells the members. “It’s a quota they need to meet.”
The Church denies that members are pressured.
“We are of the view that all donations before Heaven should be given freely,” FFWPU press liaison Damien Dunkley told AFP.
“The FFWPU sometimes appeals for donations, but FFWPU members choose when, how much, and how much they will give.”
In 2005, Yamagami allegedly attempted suicide after his mother went bankrupt, in the hope that his siblings would receive insurance payments.
His older brother, a childhood cancer survivor, died by suicide a decade later.
In a letter to an anti-church blogger sent the day before Abe’s assassination, Yamagami said that his teenage years were spoiled by his mother’s “excess spending, family disruption and bankruptcy”.
“The experience has distorted my whole life,” said the letter, published by local media.
Former members of the church have cited similar family breakdowns, including a Japanese woman whose mother told her to stay with an abusive husband chosen by the church because divorce “would please the devil”.
“I cannot defend what (Yamagami) did,” she told a news conference this month on condition of anonymity.
“But… that’s how the church badly destroys life.”
Yamagami’s letter accused Abe of being “one of the Unification Church’s most influential supporters”, partly based on a 2021 speech the politician gave to a church-affiliated group.
Churches and affiliated groups regularly enlist prominent figures, including former US President Donald Trump, for events.
Dunkley said that the church “wants to build relationships with anyone interested in peace”.
He added that its “mission is to help bring about a peaceful, harmonious world of true love in which humanity lives as ‘one family under God'”.
But the former church member said that to encourage reverence followers were shown pictures of the moon with prominent figures.
“It made me think he had links with politicians and that Moon was a true messiah,” she said.
The assassination has forced a re-examination of the church’s ties with politicians in Japan, including Abe’s grandfather: former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi.
Abe’s brother, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, acknowledged this week that church members acted as campaign volunteers, with Dunkley saying followers only do so “as private citizens”.
Opposition parties have now announced a number of task forces to investigate the church’s activities and links with politicians.