The assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with a homemade weapon has shaken a country unaccustomed to political violence.
Equally startling are the details that have been emerging about the alleged killer, who was a rich kid until his mother’s huge donations to the Unification Church plunged him into poverty and filled him with a grudge.
Some people say they understand the 41-year-old, especially people his own age who somewhat identify with him after three decades of economic hardship and social upheaval.
There are even those who propose on social networks that help be sent to Tatsuya Yamagami. More than 7,000 people signed a clemency petition for Yamagami, who told police he had killed the popular Abe because of his ties to an undisclosed religious organization assumed to be the Unification Church.
Some experts say the case sheds light on the plight of thousands of children, children of church members, who have suffered abuse and neglect.
“If he had not committed a crime, Mr. Yamagami would deserve solidarity. There are many others who suffer” because of their parents’ faith, said Kimiaki Nishida, a psychology professor at Rissho University and an expert on cults.
The ruling party has maintained close ties to the church and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s popularity has plummeted since the assassination, which caused him to get rid of all members of his cabinet associated in any way with the church. On Thursday, the national police chief, who took responsibility for Abe’s death, resigned from him.
Yamagami, who is in prison awaiting a psychological evaluation, had expressed on social media his hatred for the Unification Church, founded in South Korea in 1954 and which has been accused of recruiting people by deception and brainwashing its followers. faithful to make large donations.
In a letter to the Associated Press and in tweets believed to be his, Yamagami said his family and his life were destroyed by the church because of the large sums donated by his mother. Police confirmed that he found a draft of the letter on a confiscated computer in his one-room apartment.
“When my mother joined the church (in the 1990s), my adolescence disappeared and 100 million yen ($735,000) was wasted,” Yamagami said in her letter, which she sent to a blogger the day before Yamagami’s murder. Abe, which occurred on July 8 in Nara, western Japan. “It is not an exaggeration to say that my experience during that period was life-altering.”
Yamagami was four years old when his father, an executive at a firm founded by his grandfather, committed suicide. When his mother joined the Unification Church, she began making large donations that bankrupted the family and ended Yamagami’s hopes of going to college. His brother committed suicide. Yamagami spent three years in the Army and most recently worked in a factory.
An uncle told the press that Yamagami’s mother donated $440,000 to the church within months of joining. When his father died in the late 1990s, he sold $293,000 worth of company property, leaving the family bankrupt. The uncle said that he stopped giving her money for the children because the mother gave it to the church.
Yamagami tried to kill herself in 2005, and her mother did not put off a trip to South Korea, where the church was founded, according to her uncle.
Yamagami’s mother reportedly told prosecutors that she was sorry for the trouble her son was causing the church. Her uncle stated that she seemed devastated, but that he was still faithful to the church.
It was not possible to speak with Yamagami, her mother, her uncle, or her lawyers for this report.
One of the reasons Yamagami’s case shocks society is because he is part of what the Japanese describe as “the lost generation”, condemned to do low-paid jobs as a result of the economic collapse in the 1980s. Many of the people born in that era are unmarried, have unstable jobs and feel marginalized. In recent years, there have been some crimes — a 2008 multiple murder in Tokyo and a 2016 fatal fire in Kyoto — that reportedly involved young people from the lost generation with family problems and difficulties finding work.
Yamagami’s case focused attention on the children of Unification Church worshipers. Several experts say that they are often mistreated by their parents and that the government does not help them because it does not want to interfere with religious freedom.
“If we had paid more attention to the problems of the past decades, the (Yamagami) attack could have been prevented,” said Mafumi Usui, a social psychology professor at Niigata Seiryo University and an expert on cults.
In September 2021, Abe praised the church’s work for peace on the Korean peninsula and his emphasis on family values in a video. The video may have been what motivated Yamaguchi, according to Nishida, the psychology professor.
Yamagami apparently told the police that he was planning to kill the wife of the church’s founder, Hak Ja Han Moon, who has led the church since her husband’s death in 2012, but changed his target because it would be difficult for her to travel to Japan due to the pandemic. .
“While I feel great bitterness, Abe is not my real enemy. He is such an influential supporter of the Unification Church,” Yamagami wrote in his letter. “I no longer have space in my mind to think about the political significance or consequences of Abe’s death.”
The case highlighted links between the church and the Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan almost continuously since World War II.
Tomihiro Tanaka, who heads the Japanese branch of the church, denied any “political interference” and said the church has closer ties to the ruling party than others because of its anti-communist stance.