TOKYO — When Tetsuya Yamagami was arrested after the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he told police he had “a grudge” against a “certain group.” But authorities have not identified the organization or explained its connection to Mr. Abe.
The review, amid a whirlwind of Japanese media speculation, now focuses on the Unification Church, the Christian group known for mass marriages and efforts to cultivate relations with conservative political parties around the world. entire.
At a press conference on Monday, church officials detailed the organization’s ties to Mr Yamagami’s mother, describing her as a longtime member. She had joined the church in 1998 but lost contact with the group for a long time before returning earlier this year, said Tomihiro Tanaka, the head of the church’s Japan branch.
The church, which did not specifically identify itself as the group cited by police, said it had no record that Mr Yamagami had ever been a member and was unaware of any any threat he would have directed against its members. The church also said it had no direct relationship with Mr Abe, although it had interacted with other lawmakers through an affiliated organisation.
Police have released few details about Mr Yamagami, 41, who has been charged with murder. Mr Abe was shot from behind with a homemade weapon in Nara on Friday while giving a speech for a candidate two days before a parliamentary election.
After his arrest, Mr. Yamagami told the police that he had served in the Japanese army. A person with the same name and date of birth served three years in the country’s navy.
At a press briefing on Monday, police said Mr Yamagami had confessed to testing an improvised weapon the day before Mr Abe was killed. Police said on Friday that several improvised firearms were seized from Yamagami’s apartment.
The shooting rocked a nation where gun violence is rare, but at a wake for Mr Abe on Monday night at one of Tokyo’s largest Buddhist temples, there were few signs of heightened security. Mourners from the street laid flowers in front of a photo of Mr Abe. Nearby, a stream of dignitaries in black suits and robes entered from nearby train stations or drove up to a guarded gate, although no one appeared to impose strict security checks.
Mourners gathered a day after Mr Abe’s Liberal Democrat Party won the election for the Upper House of Parliament. On Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hailed Mr Abe’s leadership and promised that the newly empowered LDP would work to achieve its long-standing goals, including revising the country’s pacifist constitution.
The Japanese people had made an “enthusiastic call” for the party to ensure Mr Abe’s legacy, he said. “It is unbearable that a great leader loved by the whole world suddenly had his life stolen through violence.”
The Unification Church was founded in South Korea in 1954 by Reverend Sun Myung Moon. He then expanded overseas, creating a network of newspapers and civic organizations which he used to develop ties with conservative political parties around the world. It also generated questions about its recruiting and business practices. In the 1970s and 1980s, the group faced lawsuits for fundraising and accusations of “brainwashing” by parents who said their children had been coerced into joining.
The church established its branch in Japan in the late 1950s, and it quickly found common cause with right-wing Japanese politicians, including Mr Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, over their shared animosity for the communism.
Ties between church-affiliated organizations and members of the ruling LDP grew over the following decades as the church grew and Japanese followers generated billions of dollars in revenue for the group.
But the Unification Church’s influence in Japan has waned in recent decades, and it has struggled to recruit new members since a schism after Mr Moon’s death in 2012, Yoshihide Sakurai said. , a professor of sociology and religion at Hokkaido University who studied Unification. Church in Japan.
Church-related groups continued to attract some of Japan’s top legislators to their events.
In 2021, Mr. Abe and other politicians from several countries, including the United States, addressed a rally in South Korea organized by a group affiliated with the Unification Church. Speaking via video stream, Mr Abe praised the band for their ‘focus and emphasis on family values’.
And in 2022, at a conference in Seoul to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula, a speaker delivered brief written remarks on Mr. Abe’s behalf. They expressed hope that the meeting would “open new avenues for peaceful reconciliation”.
Reports about Mr Abe’s connection to the 2021 event have drawn criticism in Japan from the country’s Communist Party and other groups, including a lawyers’ association which has mounted a decades-long campaign against the activities of the Unification Church in Japan.
In an open letter to Mr Abe, the association, The National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, called on the former prime minister to sever his association with the church and its affiliated organisations, writing that “to cooperate and support these events is absolutely not a good idea.”
His ties to the Unification Church were likely “very weak”, Mr Sakurai said, describing Mr Abe’s remarks to the group as “ordinary work for politicians who wanted to garner votes”.
The church was just one of many religious organizations with right-wing political persuasions that Mr. Abe and his conservative LDP colleagues relied on for political support, said Levi McLaughlin, an associate professor at the State University of North Carolina who studies the link between politics and religion in Japan.
“None of this is unusual, and it is certainly not exclusive,” he said, adding that “it happens that the church shares many of the political platforms of the LDP and in particular of Abe.”
Rich Motoko and Hikari Hida contributed report.