July 12, 2022 - 12:15pm

Japan’s eternal party of government the LDP won a sweeping victory in the upper house elections over the weekend. The party, under its popular leader Fumio Kishida, had been expected to do reasonably well, but may have benefited from a wave of sympathy after the horrific slaying of the former leader, and Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe last Friday. The turnout was low, with opposition supporters perhaps staying home out of respect.

However, had the election come a little later the response from the electorate might have been somewhat different. For details are emerging about the assassination that may reveal something of the darkness at the heart of the LDP and how the machinations of Abe’s grandfather may have sown the seeds of his grandson’s demise.

The man who shot Abe on Friday originally claimed that he had been “dissatisfied” with the former prime minister, without apparently elaborating as to why. The manner of the slaying, in broad daylight with a homemade shotgun, suggested a crank, albeit a resourceful one, with a general grudge against society.

But it is now being reported that shooter Tetsuya Yamagami may have had a very specific reason for targeting Abe — the former prime minister’s suspected association with what was initially reported simply as a ‘religious group’. The Mainichi Shimbun reported that Yamagami’s mother had made a ‘huge donation’ to the group, which had effectively bankrupted the family and caused its ‘disintegration’.

That ‘religious group’ in question was rumoured to be the Unification Church (once better known as the ‘Moonies’) the Korean based quasi-Christian church best known for its charismatic and notorious founder Sun Myung Moon, its mass weddings, and its anti-communist political stance. The church has now confirmed Yamagami’s mother was a member.

There have long been rumours of an unhealthily close relationship between the LDP, and specifically the Abe family, and the Unification church dating back to the days of his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi (prime minister of Japan from 1957–1960).

Kishi, a former class A war criminal, had failed in his goal of revising Article 9 of the US imposed constitution (which prohibits Japan from taking unilateral military action). He was pushed out of office after violent protests over the automatic extension of a security Treaty with the US.

Blaming the communists for his demise, he seems to have been drawn into the orbit of the fiercely anti-communist Moon in the mid-1970s. According to a research paper by Richard Samuels, the relationship between the Unification Church and the LDP subsequently blossomed. Samuels alleges that the church’s headquarters in Tokyo was built on land once owned by Kishi, and that the church was providing protection from prosecution for its ‘fraudulent and aggressive’ sales techniques. Samuels adds that by the 1980s ‘Japan provided some four fifths of Unification Church revenues worldwide’. He further states that Shintaro Abe, Shinzo’s father and Japan’s foreign minister from 1982-1986, ‘depended upon’ the church in his campaigns.

And so from grandfather to father to son. Shinzo Abe allegedly appeared at an event hosted by an organisation affiliated with the church last September, and video has emerged of him sending a message of congratulations to the church in connection with another event.

Not everyone in Japan has been shocked by all this. There has been a long-running debate in Japan about the links between organisations that call themselves churches and politics. The most powerful entity is Sokka Gakkai, a modern Buddhism group with an estimated 12 million members worldwide. Its political party Komeito formed a coalition with the LDP in government. It is viewed with suspicion by many.

There are rumoured to be 2000 quasi-Buddhist or Shinto groups (‘cults’ say some) operating in Japan, a legacy of the vacuum created at the end of the Second World War when emperor worship came to an end and a market opened up for ‘faiths’ that offered succour and fellowship in desperately hard times. Some may have been legitimate, but the tax-exempt status granted by the government created the conditions for charlatans to flourish. In the hardscrabble years of reconstruction, an unhealthy closeness between the country’s political leaders, and powerful religious and criminal groups became normalised. Few doubt that it continues in some form to this day.

Japan’s current prime minister Fumio Kishida was close to tears when making a statement following Shinzo Abe’s death. Yesterday, he made a speech declaring he will pursue Abe and the Abe clan’s long-cherished dream of constitutional revision.

How ironic, and how sad, that Shinzo Abe’s death may have helped to give him that power.

Philip Patrick is a lecturer at a Tokyo university and a freelance journalist.