My mother, who was a member of the Unification Church, even mortgaged her house to make donations. So, there are many similarities with Yamagami’s family.”
Megumi Yamamoto (pseudonym, in her 40s), a member of the former Unification Church (Family Federation for World Peace and Unification) who lives in Nara City, squeezed out these words as she stared down.
Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, was arrested and sent to prison on suspicion of murder after shooting former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It is known that he harbored a strong grudge against the church after his mother’s high contributions to the former Unification Church (Family Federation for World Peace and Unification) ruined the family’s life.
In order to learn more about the anguish the suspect Yamakami was suffering, this magazine interviewed a number of former Unification Church members in Nara City, where the suspect lived. We interviewed current and former believers, who told us two stories that arose between their families and the former Unification Church.
Ms. Megumi recalls, “My mother has been a member of the former Unification Church ever since I can remember. She was such an ardent believer that she made large donations to the church and was even forced to mortgage her house as collateral.
Influenced by her mother, she became a believer herself and married in a joint wedding ceremony in Korea about 20 years ago. She currently lives with her husband and her husband’s father in a house in the city.
Megumi says that she has never met the mother of the Yamagami suspect and that “it must have been another branch of the family, different from ours. What surprised us as we continued our conversation was that after Megumi’s marriage, her husband’s family, who were not originally believers, became believers as well.
I went to Korea, met my husband at a joint wedding, and we got married. At the time, the cost of the joint wedding was about 2.3 million yen. Since then, our relationship as a couple has been basically good. Since our marriage, my husband’s family has also joined the church. As a member of the church, my monthly contribution is 10% of my income. This is called a “one-tenth donation. This is a monthly payment, and in our mind, it is like a tax.
Although the Yamamoto family is not in favor of donations, they are not the only family members who do so, with the exception of Megumi and her husband. Nobuo, the father of Megumi’s husband (a pseudonym, in his 70s), says, “I have always been against donations. Nevertheless, his son and daughter-in-law begged him to join the church, and he found himself being forced to join. When asked about the total amount of donations he has made so far, he sighed, “I am not sure how much the whole family has paid.
Ms. Megumi continued to explain the donation system of the former Unification Church.
In addition to monthly donations, we are sometimes asked to donate on a moment’s notice. The reasoning is, ‘We are in the midst of a crisis,’ ‘This is an emergency situation,’ and ‘That’s why we need donations. Sometimes it was several hundred thousand yen, sometimes several million yen. In return, they would receive seals and other goods. Because their income is known, they are forced to say, ‘If you have a heart of service, you can do this much. It is difficult to say no when you are pressed to do so. Also, money is needed for worship services. The church explains that the donations are ‘only with the consent of the people themselves. But one day I suddenly began to wonder, ‘Why does faith require so much money? ……”
Megumi says that by nature she was thrifty and fussy about money management. Through the bottomless pit of donations, she says she gradually “regained” an objective sense of money. She even went to her church for financial advice when she had doubts.
Since the COVID-19 crisis, face-to-face events have decreased in Nara, and online services are now the main form of worship. She says that she is not visiting the church as often as she used to, but she still has no intention of leaving the old Unification Church.
Perhaps because I told them so strongly once, they don’t ask me for sudden donations as much as they used to. We can even refuse. Now it’s just a monthly offering and money for online worship, and it’s no longer a big financial burden. Perhaps they thought we were a “pain in the ass family.
This tragic incident has made me think a lot. I really don’t know what to say. I have been more distant from the Unification Church than I have been in the past. However, the fact is that I joined the Unification Church and met my current husband through a joint wedding ceremony. And we have been able to live happily. When I think about that, I can’t really think about leaving the church.”
Nobuo, the aforementioned, reveals that the changes that are occurring in his son and his wife “may have been the result of family discussions. He also revealed his honest feelings, saying, “It’s hard for them to let me quit.
Keiko Tanaka (pseudonym, in her 80s) used to be a church member with a position in Nara City. However, her family, unable to bear the sight of the large amount of donations, protested to the church, and she left the church around 2006. She left the church around 2006. Mr. Tanaka recalls his memories of that time, based on his own experience.
It is true that there are cases where families are ruined by the Unification Church and religion. But there are families that are not ruined by Unification Church or religion. I made my donations not because I was told to do so, but because I was convinced by myself. （I did it because I thought [the Unification Church] was in trouble. So even when the money ran out, I had a heart of service, and I had faith from the bottom of my heart.”
Mr. Tanaka said he has received financial support from his daughter many times for donations.
About eight years ago, my daughter built me a house. The important thing is to have a discussion with your family. In our case, we were able to have a good conversation between parent and child. So even when we ran out of money, she said, ‘After all, she is my mother,’ and she did a lot of things for us.
I wonder how much her daughter must have been distressed to see her mother accumulating large donations. …… The influence of the old Unification Church extends not only to the believers themselves but also to their families.
Interview and text by： Fumiaki Kurioka Photo (sent to the prosecutor's office)： Masahiro Kawayanagi Photo (church facility)： Mune Kinoshita