TOKYO — The brutal murder of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with a hand-crafted pistol shocked a nation unaccustomed to high-profile political violence.
But there’s one more surprise in the weeks since the murder, as details have emerged of an alleged killer who got it right until his mother’s massive donations to the controversial Unification Church left him poor, neglected and filled with rage.
Some Japanese have expressed understanding and even sympathy for the 41-year-old suspect, especially those of the same age who may feel a sense of recognition of their own suffering during three decades of economic malaise and social unrest.
Suggestions have been made on social media to send care packages to the Tetsuya Yamagami detention center to cheer him up. And more than 7,000 people have signed a petition asking for leniency from Yamagami, who told police he killed Abe, one of Japan’s most powerful and divisive politicians, for his ties to an unnamed religious group widely believed to be assumed to be the Unification Church.
Experts say the case has also highlighted the plight of thousands of other church member children who have suffered abuse and neglect.
“If he hadn’t committed the crime, Mr. Yamagami would deserve a lot of sympathy. There are many others who suffer too” because of their parents’ beliefs, said Kimiaki Nishida, a professor of psychology at Rissho University and an expert in cult studies.
There have also been serious political consequences for the ruling Japanese party, which has maintained close ties with the Church despite controversy and a series of legal disputes.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s popularity has declined since the assassination, and he has shuffled his cabinet to purge members associated with the religious group. On Thursday, the National Police Chief resigned to take responsibility for Abe’s murder.
Yamagami, who is being held for mental evaluation until the end of November, has previously expressed on social media his hatred of the Unification Church, which was founded in South Korea in 1954 and has been accused since the 1980s of devious recruitment practices and brainwashing of followers to to make donations.
In a letter seen by The Associated Press and tweets believed to be his, Yamagami said his family and life were devastated by the church because of his mother’s massive donations. Police confirmed that a draft of Yamagami’s letter was found in a computer seized from his one-room apartment.
“After my mother joined the Church (in the 1990s), my entire teenage years were over, with some 100 million yen ($735,000) wasted,” he wrote in the typewritten letter, which he sent to a local newspaper the day before. blogger in western Japan. he allegedly killed Abe during a July 8 campaign speech in Nara, western Japan. “It’s no exaggeration to say that my experience during that time has distorted my entire life.”
Yamagami was four when his father, a director of a company founded by the suspect’s grandfather, committed suicide. After his mother joined the Unification Church, she began making large donations that bankrupted the family and shattered Yamagami’s hopes of going to college. His brother later committed suicide. After three years in the navy, Yamagami was most recently a factory worker.
Yamagami’s uncle said in media interviews that Yamagami’s mother donated 60 million yen ($440,000) within months of joining the Church. When her father died in the late 1990s, she sold business property worth 40 million yen ($293,000), causing the family to go bankrupt in 2002. The uncle told him to stop giving food and school money to the Yamagami children because the mother is giving it to the church, not her children.
When Yamagami attempted suicide in 2005, his mother did not return from a trip to South Korea, where the church was founded, his uncle said.
Yamagami’s mother is said to have told prosecutors she was sorry she harassed the church over her son’s alleged crime. His uncle said she seemed devastated, but remained a follower of the Church. The authorities and the local bar association declined to comment. Repeated attempts to contact Yamagami, his mother, his uncle and their lawyers were unsuccessful.
As of October 2019, Yamagami, who is widely known to have tweeted under the name “Silent Hill 333,” wrote about the church, its painful past and political issues.
In December 2019, he tweeted that his grandfather blamed Yamagami’s mother for the family’s problems and even tried to kill her. “The most hopeless thing is that my grandfather was right. But I wanted to believe my mother.’
Part of the reason Yamagami’s case struck a chord is because he’s a member of what the Japanese media has called a “lost generation” stuck in low-paying contract jobs. He graduated from high school in 1999 during “the labor market ice age” that followed the implosion of the country’s bubble economy in the 1980s.
Despite being the third largest economy in the world, Japan has endured three decades of economic turmoil and social inequality, and many of those who grew up in these years are single and stuck with unstable jobs and feelings of poverty. isolation and unease.
Some high-profile crimes in recent years, such as mass murders in Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics district in 2008 and a fatal arson attack at Kyoto Animation in 2016, have allegedly involved ‘lost generation’ attackers with troubled family and work histories.
Yamagami’s case has also shed light on the children of Unification Church supporters. Many are neglected, experts say, and little help has been forthcoming as government and school officials tend to resist interference on the grounds of religious freedom.
“If our society had paid more attention to the problems in recent decades,[Yamagami’s)attackcouldhavebeenprevented’saidMafumiUsuiaprofessorofsocialpsychologyatNiigataSeiryoUniversityandcultexpert
More than 55,000 people have joined a petition calling for legal protection for “second generation” followers who say they were forced to join the Church.
In a September 2021 video message, Abe praised the Church’s work for peace in the Korean Peninsula and its focus on family values. His video appearance may have motivated Yamagami, said Nishida, the psychology professor.
Yamagami is said to have told police he planned to kill the church founder’s wife, Hak Ja Han Moon, who has led the church since Moon’s death in 2012, but changed targets because she was unlikely to enter Japan. visit during the pandemic.
“Although I feel bitter, Abe is not my real enemy. He is just one of the most influential sympathizers of the Unification Church,” Yamagami wrote in his letter. “I’ve already lost the mental space to think about political meanings or the consequences that Abe’s death will bring.”
The case has drawn attention to the links between the Church, which came to Japan in 1964, and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled Japan almost continuously after World War II.
A ruling lawmaker, Shigeharu Aoyama, said last month that a party faction leader told him how church votes can help candidates who lack organizational support.
Tomihiro Tanaka, head of the church’s Japanese branch, denied “political involvement” with any one party, but said the church has developed closer ties with ruling party lawmakers than others because of their shared anti-communist stance.
Members of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, which have provided legal assistance to those with financial disputes with the Church for decades, say they have received 34,000 complaints about lost money of more than 120 billion yen ($900 million).
Tanaka accused the lawyers and the media of “persecuting” church members.
A former devotee in her 40s said at a recent news conference that she and two sisters were forced to join the Church while in high school after their mother became a follower.
After two failed marriages arranged by the church, she said she awoke from “mind-control” and returned to Japan in 2013.
As a victim of the second generation “whose life was destroyed by the church, I can understand (Yamagami’s) pain, even though what he did was wrong,” she said.
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