Japanese Cabinet minister resigns over ties to the Unification Church

Japanese Economy Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa surrounded by reporters
Japanese Economy Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa is surrounded by reporters Monday at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo.
(Kyodo News)

Japan’s economy minister submitted his resignation Monday over his ties to the Unification Church after facing mounting criticism in a widening controversy involving dozens of ruling party lawmakers.

Daishiro Yamagiwa’s resignation is a further blow to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government, which has been rocked by his party’s close ties to the controversial South Korean-based church following the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July.

Yamagiwa faced opposition lawmakers’ growing demands for his resignation after he repeatedly said he did not remember his past attendance at church meetings during overseas trips or posing for group photos with church leader Hak Ja Han Moon and other executives.


Kishida on Tuesday appointed former Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto to take Yamagiwa’s place as economy minister.

Kishida called Goto a veteran politician with a ”passion” for economic and social reforms. Kishida said he expected Goto to play a central role in coordinating and achieving key policy goals, including a major economic package that Kishida plans to announce later this week.

The Kishida government’s approval ratings have nosedived over his handling of the Unification Church controversy and for holding a highly unusual state funeral for Abe, one of Japan’s most divisive leaders, who is now seen as a key link between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the church. Abe sent a video message in 2021 praising Hak Ja Han Moon at a meeting of the church affiliate the Universal Peace Federation.

Some critics see the ceremony as an attempt to whitewash the legacy of Abe, who was the longest-serving leader in Japan’s modern political history.

Sept. 26, 2022

Since the 1980s, the church has faced accusations of devious business and recruitment tactics, including brainwashing members into turning over huge portions of their salaries to it.

“I just submitted my resignation” to Kishida, Yamagiwa told reporters Monday. He said he routinely discarded documents and therefore could not clearly verify past contacts with the church and provided explanations only after reports of his past church ties surfaced.

“As a result, I ended up causing trouble to the administration,” Yamagiwa said. “I attended the church’s meetings a number of times and that provided credibility to the group, and I deeply regret that.” He pledged to stay away from the church in the future.


A survey of the Liberal Democratic Party in September found that nearly half of its approximately 400 lawmakers had ties to the church, including Cabinet ministers, many of whom shared the church’s conservative views and sent messages or attended its meetings but were not necessarily followers of its theology. Kishida has pledged to cut all such ties, and recently said he instructed the government to probe the church, with the possibility of revoking its legal status.

Ties between Japanese politicians and the conservative Unification Church have come under renewed scrutiny since the assassination of Shinzo Abe.

Aug. 10, 2022

Media surveys show that many Japanese want a clearer explanation of how the church may have influenced party policies.

Kishida said he accepted Yamagiwa’s resignation because, “as prime minister, I have to prioritize our work to push forward economic measures, an extra budget and support for victims of the church problems.”

Yamagiwa, who was criticized for clinging to his post and stalling parliamentary sessions because of questioning by opposition lawmakers, was seen as having been forced to quit. He said he had no intention of resigning as a lawmaker because he did not break any law.

Abe was shot to death during an outdoor campaign speech in July. The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told police he killed Abe because of his apparent link to a religious group he hated. A letter and social media postings attributed to Yamagami said his mother’s large donations to the Unification Church bankrupted his family and ruined his life.

A crude weapon of metal and wood parts was used to assassinate the former prime minister of Japan, which has some of the world’s strictest gun laws.

July 8, 2022

The church, founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon, obtained religious organization status in Japan in 1968 amid an anti-communist movement supported by Abe’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.


The group acknowledged that there have been cases in which it received “excessive” donations. It says the problems have been mitigated since it adopted stricter compliance measures in 2009 and has pledged further reforms.

The police investigation of Abe’s killing led to revelations of widespread ties between the church and members of the governing party, including Abe, over their shared interests in conservative causes. The case also shed light on the suffering of adherents’ relatives, some of whom say they were forced to join the church or were left in poverty or neglected because of their parents’ devotion.

Many critics consider the church to be a cult because of problems with followers and their families, including financial and mental hardships.