Japan minister admits receiving Unification Church group’s backing

Japan’s education minister, who is also responsible for religious issues, admitted Tuesday to having received a recommendation letter from an affiliated group of the controversial Unification Church for an election campaign.

A major newspaper, citing unnamed sources, reported earlier in the day that Masahito Moriyama participated in an event hosted by the Federation for World Peace and accepted a recommendation letter ahead of a general election in October 2021.

Opposition parties intensified their offensive against Moriyama, saying that if the report is true, he should step down as his purview includes oversight of the Unification Church, which fanned controversy through a scheme involving “spiritual sales” in the 1980s.

At a parliamentary session, Moriyama said, “If there happen to be photos, I think I must have received the recommendation letter” as the daily Asahi Shimbun published photographs. But he said he has no intention of resigning, citing no recollection of the event.

Moriyama added that he did not seek support from the affiliated group of the Unification Church, which has been criticized over its aggressive fundraising tactics and cozy ties with ruling party lawmakers, for the House of Representatives election.

While Moriyama, who assumed his current post in September 2023, said his office has no record of his attendance at the event, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called at the session on the Cabinet member to “continue to perform his duties.”

Katsuya Okada, secretary general of the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said if Moriyama is “really connected to the religious organization, he lacks credibility” and Kishida “should consider replacing him.”

Yuichiro Tamaki, head of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, said, “This is an issue that has attracted the attention of the whole country and caused a stir. If he cannot provide a sufficient explanation, he should step down.”

In October 2022, Daishiro Yamagiwa, who served as economic minister under the Kishida administration, was forced out of the Cabinet after a flurry of revelations of his relations with the Unification Church emerged.

The Unification Church has been under scrutiny in Japan since former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was fatally shot in July 2022 by Tetsuya Yamagami, whose mother made massive donations to the group that were ruinous for his family.

Yamagami was quoted by investigative sources as saying that he targeted Abe as the politician’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped establish the religious corporation in Japan in the 1960s.

In the wake of Abe’s assassination, connections between many lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Kishida, and the Unification Church have been revealed, raising concerns about the religious organization’s influence in the political arena.

Amid growing criticism of the group, Kishida’s government filed a request with a court in October for an order to dissolve the Unification Church, which could deprive the religious corporation of its tax benefits.