Years of controversy surrounding the Unification Church have resurfaced as a result of the murder of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe by a man with resentment toward the organization.
Tetsuya Yamagami, according to the police, targeted Abe because he thought the former prime minister backed a "certain group" that the man's mother had made sizable payments to.
Yamagami accused Abe of backing the Unification Church in a letter that was made public by local media, and he also voiced anger at the organization once it was revealed that his mother was a member. Former members of the church, lawyers, and academics who have studied it claim that the information provided about Yamagami's family fits a typical pattern in Japan.
According to reports, Yamagami's mother joined the religion after her husband committed suicide and became completely enamored with her faith. Yamagami's uncle informed the local media that occasionally when his mother left her kids alone and hungry while she went to church, his nephew phoned him for assistance. He claimed that she gave the church 100 million yen ($1 million at the time) before declaring bankruptcy.
Attorney Hiroshi Yamaguchi, who represents former members of the religion, says that everything seems familiar.
"Members are under pressure every day to make donations," he told AFP. "They tell you karma is attached to money and (donations) are the only way to save yourself. So you think you have to do it."
The church, which is also referred to as the "Moonies," was established by Sun Myung Moon in Korea in 1954 and is officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU).
Kimiaki Nishida, a professor of social psychology at Tokyo's Rissho University, said that the 1980s economic boom in the country was "an era in which people were unsure how to live their lives" and that this uncertainty led to a surge in membership for the Japan chapter, which was founded in 1959.
Similar family breakdowns have been described by former church members, including one Japanese lady whose mother advised her to stay with an abusive husband picked by the church because divorcing him would "please Satan."
Based in part on a speech the lawmaker delivered to a group affiliated with the organization in 2021, Yamagami accused Abe of being "one of the most influential supporters of the Unification Church" in his letter.
Donald Trump, a former U.S. president, has frequently been hired by the church and organizations linked with it for events. Several task forces to examine church activities and relations to politicians have now been announced by opposition parties.