Journalist Suzuki Eito and His Battle Against the Former Unification ChurchSociety Politics Family
A Forced Dissolution?
According to the journalist Suzuki Eito, while it may seem that efforts toward forcing the dissolution of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly known as the “Unification Church”) are currently in a lull, they remain as strong as ever and are likely to even ramp up sometime this year.
“The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, or MEXT, continues in its efforts,” says Suzuki. “Now it is up to Prime Minister Kishida Fumio to make a decision.”
MEXT has asserted its right to question the organization under the Religious Corporations Act a total of seven times, and it has compelled the former Unification Church to provide relevant documents and materials in response to these inquiries. It has not yet, however, filed with any court an Order for Dissolution by Judicial Decision.
“Since it was assumed that the former Unification Church would not provide any documents or materials that would put it in an unfavorable position,” says Suzuki, “MEXT carefully compared what the former Unification Church submitted with documents that it had already obtained independently. The Ministry is expected to file an Order for Dissolution by Judicial Decision this fall, indicating that the government may be prepared to take the next step.”
If the order is filed, the former Unification Church will be stripped of its status as a religious organization and lose the favorable treatment it currently enjoys under tax law.
A week after the July 8, 2022, assassination of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, members of the media began to focus on the existence of a certain document: a list of over 100 Diet members who had attended or sent telegrams of congratulations to events organized by groups with ties to the former Unification Church. Although some of these politicians were in the opposition, the majority were in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Suzuki Eito was the author of this list. Other members of the media then began pursuing Diet members whose names appeared on the list. These Diet members all parroted the same responses to reporters’ questions: “I did not know that organization [the sponsor of the event they had been linked to] was associated with the former Unification Church” or, more simply, “I cannot recall.” This in turn provoked the ire of the Japanese public. At this very same time it was being reported that the mother of Yamagami Tetsuya, the accused assassin of former Prime Minister Abe, had donated over ¥100 million to the former Unification Church, which led to irreparable rifts in the Yamagami family. This led to further scrutiny of LDP politicians who acted as mouthpieces for the former Unification Church.
Releasing the List
The news website Almost Daily Cult News, which is Suzuki Eito’s main writing vehicle, did not publish the list of names itself.
“We thought it would be more efficient,” Suzuki explains, “to distribute the list to major media outlets rather than putting it up on our own site. I had no ambition to scoop other journalists with stories about the former Unification Church. I still feel that way. My stance is that information should be as open as possible so that everyone has a chance to investigate the issues themselves.”
The effect of this distribution exceeded even his own expectations. According to a survey conducted by the daily Asahi Shimbun, support for the Kishida administration—which stood at 57% immediately following Abe’s assassination—suffered a drop of 10 points after just one month and has continued to fall ever since. The criticism-plagued LDP initiated an investigation of politicians with links to the former Unification Church, and on September 8, 2022, it announced that 179 LDP Diet members had some type of association with it. However, this investigation consisted of a questionnaire that LDP politicians completed on a voluntary basis, and thus it is generally believed that the number with links to the church is higher than the 179 who chose to respond positively to the questionnaire.
“Other reporters,” observes Suzuki, “managed to uncover aspects of the issue that I myself was unable to. This is another reason why I think it was the right decision to share our list with everyone.”
In fact, Suzuki has been investigating this issue without much fanfare for a long time. He began with a survey of the former Unification Church in 2002. While a university student he had a part-time job and was involved in a band, which took up most of his time. After graduation, he worked for a building maintenance company on a limited contract basis. It was around this time that he first saw with his own eyes that church members would speak to passers-by under false pretenses, as they did not disclose the true name of the organization on whose behalf they were recruiting.
“One time, I had just passed through the turnstile at JR Shibuya Station,” he recalls. “There were a lot of church recruiters inviting passers-by to study ‘palm reading’ or claiming that they could tell by looking at their faces that they were experiencing problems. When they came across someone who seemed anxious, they would tell them that they were at ‘a major turning point’ in their lives. In this way the recruiters would attempt to hook people and eventually bring them to facilities associated with the former Unification Church.”
In addition to the “palm reading study” approach, the recruiters would also sometimes use something called an “attitude survey.” The ultimate goal in either case was to entice people who showed any interest at all into going with them to “video centers” run by former Unification Church members. There, the targets would be shown videos designed to arouse interest in the organization’s doctrines.
“From that point onward,” explains Suzuki, “the enticements would continue non-stop and gradually shift to mind control techniques. In the end, the targets would be made to go to training camps run by the former Unification Church so that they could be turned into followers.”
Sensing that this was problematic behavior, Suzuki began efforts to put an end to false solicitation. Essentially working alone, he at times suffered violence and was trailed by church members whom he tried to stop from falsely soliciting people. He also made a new discovery during this period, which was that if you engage in a normal conversation with church members, many of them turn out to be pleasant people.
“Those who were soliciting people to join in palm reading studies had good intentions and were not bad people,” he said. “In fact, it was indeed people who had good intentions who became followers and who then became enthusiastic about recruiting people. This was something that I first learned through conversations with followers.”
The reality is that people of good will tend to become caught up in new religious movements. The largely unknown technique used to entice these people to new religious movements is mind control, and influential politicians were deployed by the church to present a convincing face to followers and prevent targets from getting away. Suzuki made proposals to write articles on the issue on numerous occasions, but his results were mixed at best.
“Most publications completely ignored me,” recalls Suzuki. “The editors would say things like ‘that politician has no name value’ or ‘the former Unification Church isn’t a hot topic.’ I had to endure that kind of treatment for a very long time.”
The only media outlet that expressed any interest was Shūkan Asahi, which ran “Abe teikoku vs. shūkyō” (The Abe Empire vs. Religion) in its April 11, 2014, edition. This story went into details regarding then Prime Minister Abe, LDP members, and the former Unification Church.
“That was the start of a run of stories at a pace of about one per year,” said Suzuki. “But in addition to complaints about the articles that were sent to the editors of the magazine, there were also those who insisted that the magazine shouldn’t run what they referred to as the ‘fake news’ that I had written.”
The Media Backs Down
But there was another reason why the media stopped covering new religious movements as problems in society.
“Other religious organizations, just like the former Unification Church, would quickly file complaints any time they were portrayed negatively in the news media,” recalls Suzuki. “There were a lot of lawsuits, and the media outlets began to think that it was too much trouble to cover the issue.”
Most new religious movements used their plentiful funds to bolster their media strategies. For example, they would send reporters mid-year and year-end gifts and invite members of the Japanese media to events being held abroad. It was due to these practices that the Japanese media stopped covering issues related to the former Unification Church.
In spite of this media environment, Suzuki continued his investigative reporting at Almost Daily Cult News, which was founded by the journalist Fujikura Yoshirō in 2009.
As a result, the intrepid Suzuki sometimes received anonymous mail. One bore the title “Suzuki Eito: Predatory Journalist.”
It stated, “What is your real job, a carpenter? Most of the time you don’t even look like a journalist. You wear work clothes and you drive an old-fashioned pickup truck to work in the early morning hours. When you ‘report,’ you change into a suit, but still . . .” It went on to say, “You’re forcing your mother—a woman in her eighties—to work in order to support you.”
Naturally, none of this was true.
“The reason I drove a pickup truck in the morning,” Suzuki explained, “is that I also worked in the real estate industry and had to travel to the properties I handled. I was in the process of doing renovations on the properties, and so I suppose this person saw me hauling lumber in my truck. My mother was working because she likes to work. She never gave me any of the money she earned.”
Suzuki states that he knows who wrote this letter, and what the writer’s objectives were.
“The letter was written about three years ago,” says Suzuki. “After Abe’s assassination, I began to appear on television, and for a time I was working in and around the National Diet building and the Kantei, the prime minister’s official office and residence in Nagatachō, Tokyo. I suppose the letter-writer was attempting to suggest that I was an untrustworthy person.”
The Need for a Formal Investigation
In response to the former Unification Church issue, the Kishida administration got a new law passed that was intended to provide support to people who had been victimized by unscrupulous religious organizations. But Suzuki claims the new law does nothing to solve the underlying problem. He also says that the Japanese government needs to conduct a formal investigation into the issues that formed the background of Abe’s slaying.
When asked what his next step would be, Suzuki replies: “There are several politicians in the LDP who have attempted to escape any personal responsibility by laying all the blame on Abe. I’d like to next turn my attention to them.”
Regarding the responsibilities of the media, Suzuki goes on: “If the media once again stops covering this issue, it’s clear that things will return to ‘business as usual,’ and that the politicians who facilitate the activities of these religious organizations will fall out of the public eye. I think that both the religious organizations and the politicians who support them will simply go back to their old ways as soon as the media stops paying attention to them. It’s therefore the media’s responsibility to make sure that coverage of this issue does not end.”
(Originally published in Japanese. Reporting and text by Mikata Kyū, Nishioka Yukifumi, and Power News. Banner photo: Journalist Suzuki Eito at a press conference in Tokyo in September 2022. © Mikata Kyū.)