After recent controversy surrounding potential ties to the Unification Church, the Prime Minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida, has decided to shuffle up his cabinet, a government body of highly elected officials that advise the Prime Minister. It all started about a month ago after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, known in Japan for his “Abenomics” initiative to jumpstart the country’s economy and military. He was shot while campaigning for parliamentary elections and died in the hospital some hours after. Abe was mourned throughout Japan as well as the world until his assassin told the police something interesting. The assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, told authorities that the reason why he had killed him was that Abe had ties to the Unification Church, also known as the Moonies, who he blamed for his family’s poverty.
The Unification Church is a group founded in South Korea in 1954 and is most known for holding mass weddings and other ceremonies. However, the group has recently come under fire over fundraising issues and other controversies surrounding it. According to Yamagami, his mother, a longtime member of the church, had donated around a total of ¥100 million ($748,634), leaving the family with no money to spare for themselves. The day before the attack, Yamagami had also sent a letter to another person who hated the church, stating how his mother had ruined his teenage years through “overspending, family disruption, and bankruptcy.” That same letter also cited Abe as one of the most influential supporters of the church. Further details revealed by Yamagami stated that support of the church goes back to Abe’s grandfather and a postwar minister by the name of Nobuske Kishi, who promoted it during the 1960s to counter communism and trade unions.
This new information caused outrage among voters in Japan, making them ponder if the church has any effect on the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) policies on gender equality and sexual diversity. A poll by Kyodo News in the following weeks showed that approval for Kishida’s cabinet had dropped about 12% to a mere 51%, and only 47% of respondents also approved the plans to hold a state funeral for Abe next month. Additionally, Kishida’s own approval rating has fallen from 59% to only 46%, his lowest rating ever since he took office last October.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaking during a press conference at his Tokyo residence on August 10th, 2021. (Photo provided by Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool via REUTERS)
In response to this, Kishida reshuffled his cabinet in the hope to quell the public outrage while stating that “I don’t think the Unification Church’s policies have unjustly influenced party policies.” Kishida explained that he chose experienced ministers who would be the best to deal with today’s problems such as China’s growing aggression over Taiwan, as long as those ministers promised to reexamine their ties with the Church. Many key cabinet members stayed in the cabinet, but seven ministers who had disclosed links to the Church were moved out of the cabinet, the most notable of which being Abe’s brother, Nobuo Kishi. Kishi was the defense minister and was reportedly let go for health problems, however, it’s been stated that he will now be advising Kishida on national security. Kishi is being replaced by Yasukazu Hamada, who is likely to push for increased defense spending similar to Kishida. Industry minister Koichi Haiguda, a member of Abe’s faction, was also removed from the cabinet and now serves in a key party position.
The reshuffling of the cabinet came about one month earlier than it was expected to happen, making political analysts emphasize how chaotic this situation has gotten for the administration’s reputation. “He’s basically doing damage control,” said political commentator Atsuo Ito. Tomihiro Tanaka, head of the Unification Church, has also spoken out about the shuffle, stating that it’s very “unfortunate” that Kishida is making lawmakers break ties with the church, and that religious organizations have a duty to be involved in political activity.