- The Washington Times
Monday, July 11, 2022

Throngs of mourners streamed through a temple in Tokyo on Monday to pay respects to Japan’s slain former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, as the widening investigation into his assassination at a campaign rally Friday brought forth new questions about what may have motivated the killer.

Police revealed that the suspect, 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he wanted to kill Mr. Abe because of the former premier’s rumored connection to an organization that Mr. Yamagami resented.

Although police didn’t identify the organization, press accounts said it was the Japanese branch of the South Korean-based Unification Church and cited Mr. Yamagami’s anger over his mother’s donations. Japan’s Kyodo News reported Monday that “unreliable information on the internet” said Mr. Abe’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, played a role in bringing the Korean church to Japan in the late 1950s.

Tomihiro Tanaka, head of the Unification Church’s Japan branch, acknowledged at a news conference in Tokyo on Monday that Mr. Yamagami’s mother was a member. Citing the ongoing official investigation, he declined to comment on the specifics of donations to the church or what may have driven the assassination of Mr. Abe.

A private funeral will be held Tuesday for Mr. Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. He resigned in 2020 for health reasons.

The assassination overshadowed the weekend’s election win for Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Mr. Abe was the dominant figure in the party for years and was shot at a campaign stop for an LDP candidate.

The governing Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, secured a majority in the parliament’s upper house in elections Sunday.

SEE ALSO: Biden offers condolences to Japanese Prime Minister Kishida following Abe’s death

LDP officials vowed to use their parliamentary victory to achieve Mr. Abe’s unfinished goals, including strengthening the military and revising the country’s pacifist, postwar constitution. The election result means Prime Minister Fumio Kishida could rule uninterrupted until a scheduled election in 2025 and allows him to work on long-term policies. The constitutional amendment may face an uphill battle.

Mr. Kishida welcomed the victory but acknowledged the need to unify the party without Mr. Abe. Even after resigning as prime minister, Mr. Abe controlled the largest faction within the party and had an international reputation far greater than his successors.

A wake was held for Mr. Abe on Monday evening at a Buddhist temple in downtown Tokyo where Mr. Kishida and former and current political leaders, as well as ordinary mourners, paid tribute. Some broke down in tears.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared in Tokyo in a show of respect to the U.S. ally. He met with Mr. Kishida to offer condolences and to deliver a letter from President Biden to Mr. Abe’s family.

“I shared with our Japanese colleagues the sense of loss, the sense of shock that we all feel, the American people feel, at this horrific tragedy and killing,” Mr. Blinken told reporters traveling with him. “It’s such a loss, too, because during his time in office, Prime Minister Abe really took the relationship between our countries to new heights.

“We saw in him something rare: a man of vision who had the ability to realize that vision,” the secretary of state said. “But mostly I came at the president’s behest because, more than allies, we’re friends. And when a friend is hurting, other friends show up.”

Ongoing investigation

Video and photos taken by people at the campaign rally in the western Japanese city of Nara show the assassin pulling out a homemade gun before firing two smoke-filled blasts. Mr. Abe collapsed and was taken to a hospital, where he later was declared dead.

Mr. Yamagami, who was arrested at the scene of the assassination, remained in police custody Monday while investigators continued to comb for clues.

Mr. Abe was widely regarded as a nationalist and conservative who pushed for a restoration of traditional practices in Japan. He is known to have fostered positive ties with a number of faith-based organizations, likely in an effort to win support from conservatives for Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party.

Reuters reported Monday that Mr. Abe served as “supreme adviser” to Nippon Kaigi, a right-wing lobby group that counts as members many other leading LDP figures. Nippon Kaigi promotes respect for traditional Shinto beliefs, including visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese war dead are buried. Among them are those responsible for World War II atrocities.

Ties between Mr. Abe and the LDP and the Unification Church were trending on Japanese social media Saturday, according to Reuters. Many commenters reportedly were resurfacing clips of a speech Mr. Abe gave at an event organized by the organization last year alongside former President Donald Trump and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Unification Church representatives cautioned against jumping to conclusions drawn from media speculation.

Mr. Tanaka stressed that the motive behind Mr. Abe’s assassination was unclear.

Speaking in broad terms, he confirmed that some people have made generous donations to the Unification Church, which has had a presence in Japan for decades. Mr. Tanaka emphasized that no donors have ever been forced to contribute.

“Trying to understand how such hatred may have possibly led to the killing is totally perplexing,” Mr. Tanaka said.

The church is also known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, founded in South Korea by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

Mr. Abe was not a church member but may have spoken at some events of affiliated groups, said Mr. Tanaka. He said the assassination “is something that should never have happened.”

“I feel a deep outrage,” he said at Monday’s news conference. “My heart aches that Japan has lost a loved and respected leader.”

Mr. Tanaka said Mr. Yamagami’s mother joined the church in the late 1990s and had recently been participating in church events about once a month. There were years when she did not go to the church at all, he said. Mr. Yamagami was not a member.

Although the church has had scandals related to donations, no major troubles have arisen since compliance measures were set up in 2009, Mr. Tanaka said.

“The amount of donations is up to each individual,” he said. “We are grateful to those who give large donations, but nothing is required.”

The news conference started with Mr. Tanaka bowing in a solemn moment of prayer. “As a religious leader, I take this extremely seriously,” he said of Mr. Abe’s assassination.

Japanese media reports said Mr. Yamagami’s mother declared bankruptcy in 2002, but Mr. Tanaka said records dating back 20 years couldn’t be confirmed and details were unknown.

Hak Ja Han Moon, the widow of Rev. Moon, has led the Unification Church since a few years before his 2012 death.

The two devoted their lives to the promotion of world peace and the reunification of the Korean Peninsula — the guiding premise of the movement, which emerged from the church that Rev. Moon founded in 1954. The ministry grew from a tiny, embattled church in South Korea into a global spiritual movement and an affiliated commercial empire comprising hundreds of ventures in more than a half-dozen countries, including hospitals, universities, newspapers such as The Washington Times, and a ballet troupe.

The controversial practices include mass arranged weddings, often pairing followers from different countries, aimed at building a multicultural religious world.

In Japan, famous actresses have joined the church and politicians have courted friendly ties because of the church’s influence. The Japanese branch was founded in 1959. Church spokesperson Ahn Ho-yeul said the church has 300,000 believers in Japan and 150,000 to 200,000 in South Korea.

The majority of Japanese people adhere to a mix of Shinto and Buddhism.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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