Uncovering the Rise of Political Violence and Unrest in Japan
Japan's Surface Calm Disrupted By Recent Events
A rift of maliciously seeded political attacks and nationalism has been on the rise in Japan in recent years, manifesting in ways that, at present, can pose security risks to the trilateral ties between Japan, the United States and South Korea.
As Japanese society retains its calm surface front, media within the nation describes an environment where relentless political rhetoric is on the rise, particular in sentiments expressed online.
Japanese society likewise experienced a spike in criminal activity that appeared to plateau once more in early 2023, settling into complex games of political intrigue.
Cracks in the Calm
The seeming calm of Japan’s surface has cracked under recent pressures.
In May, an attack in Japan made headlines because of its rarity. Four people were killed in a shooting in Nakano, Japan, including two women and two police officers, The New York Times reported.
The attack was described as a “gun and knife rampage” in a country where gun crimes are relatively low. The crime was carried out by the son of a Japanese government official, media reports explained, though there was no political motive stated. When questioned by police, the suspect claimed he had carried out the attack because he “wanted to.”
In July, police in Kyodo, Japan arrested a suspect for carrying out stabbings on a local train, reports explained.
The suspect, a 37-year-old male, was armed with three knives when he carried out the attack on a male train conductor in his 20s, and two male passengers, in their 20s and 70s respectively. The motive was not known, and a sentence was scheduled to be handed down on July 31.
A violent undertone has appeared to overtake Japan in recent years, following the Halloween 2021 fire attack on a train in Tokyo and the assassination of the former prime minister Shinzo Abe in 2022.
Japan Today called Japanese civility “proverbial,” in a recent post detailing “relentless and remorseless” internet bashing. The magazine quoted a Japanese national named Shukan Gendai explaining that, in their view, Japan is “the most malicious” society in the world.
In a country with a low murder rate, questions rise as to why some Japanese citizens are driven to kill. As societal tensions and political unrest continues to swell within the country’s core, Japan’s seething social realities may have greater security implications for Southeast Asia.
Rhetoric, Right-leaning organizations, and Religion: 3 More Rs Add To Political Unease
The piece by Japan Today detailed a rising risk of verbal violence and intensely heated rhetoric online that drove reality TV actress Hana Kimura to suicide in 2020. The rhetoric was attributed by opposing views to a rise in right-wing sentiments in Japan. This attribution has been on the rise following the late former prime minister Shinzo Abe’s assassination in 2022.
In 2022, an official state inquiry linked the prime minister’s death to his assailant's hatred of the Unification Church, a church founded in South Korea to combat communism.
A Delicate Political Balance
The rise in political rhetoric and subsequent violence in Japan comes alongside a series of intensifying political relations in the Southeast Asian region.
The late Shinzo Abe, who was known as the father of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, known commonly as “the Quad” was overshadowed in death by his looming affiliation with the Unification Church, the Lowy Institute wrote.
Abe was assassinated by Tetsuya Yamagami, a former Japanese military man who had been heavily influenced by anti-Unification church rhetoric, enough to drive him to kill the late prime minister and create a ripple of political and security implications throughout the Quad dialogue and regional pro-Western alliance.
The Camp David Trilateral Summit
In late August, U.S. President Joe Biden held a “trilateral summit” with leaders from South Korea and Japan. The summit focuses on strengthening ties between Western friendly powers as aggressive behavior from China creates international alarm. However, seething beneath the surface, within Japan in particular, is a growing sense of political unrest, unseen still in broad daylight, but gathering a grim undertone that overshadows diplomacy.
A Renewal of Ties
President Biden announced at the launch of the Camp David, Maryland summit that the summit was the “first standalone” meeting between the United States, the Republic of South Korea, and Japan. In the president’s view, there was no better way to ensure the increased safety and strengthening of the trilateral union than to hold the summit. Biden referred to the Summit as a means to “strengthen the resolve” of the three nations’ commitment to a “new chapter of diplomacy” for the world.
Beneath the warm greetings and promises of the Camp David summit lay political uncertainties. As political upheaval churns below the surface for all the major players of the summit, the trajectory of growth will be analyzed.
Weaknesses in each nation’s social structure have given exploitation opportunities to the Chinese state, data analysis showed. As these volatilities create a path for bad actors to take advantage, it likewise stimulates the conditions of increasing political instability, which could in turn erode the pledged strength of the trilateral agreement.
Japan’s Rise in Politicized Violence
The death of Shinzo Abe was Japan’s most prominent political assassination since World War II. It signaled a growing risk of nationalistic violence in Japan.
Japanese Ultra-nationalist Sentiment Rises
Meanwhile, local interest outlets, such as Modern Tokyo Times, have accused the late former prime minister and the incumbent Kishida’s cabinet of corruption. Deep-seeded corruption and the rise of nationalist thought have contributed to growing unrest in Japanese political discourse.
In a 2022 article, the outlet criticized Kishida and called out his cabinet’s family dynasty of power in Japan, and made note of the “primarily male” political ruling faction’s practice of “denying comfort women,” and other allegedly corrupt practices.
Abe’s Contributions To Nationalism
Abe was, at the time of his passing, a controversial figure both within Japan and without, as the onlooking world viewed him as an “apologist of atrocities” wrote Foreign Policy.
The western political outlet referenced Abe’s most “toxic legacy” as his contribution to the rising sentiments of Japanese nationalism. The magazine accused United States leaders as being “willing to overlook” what they regarded as national revisionism on Abe’s part.
The Death of Shinzo Abe
The assassination of late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signaled a significant shift in Japanese political thought. In the eyes of foreign onlookers, Abe’s assassination alerted the world to a troubled undertow in the nation.
The assassination itself, however, looked inward and deeper at a growing controversy fueled by a dead South Korean billionaires’ religious organization that has grown deep roots within Japan’s leading political class.
Layers of a Long-Standing Rift
Peeling back the layers of Abe’s death, Le Monde Diplomatique explained that Japan has “little controls” over religious cults. The lack of formal governance for religious cults and their entanglement in political affairs reportedly contributed, at least in part, to the late premier’s demise.
However, the timing of Abe’s death at the hands of his assassination was removed by a distance of two decades from the inciting incident.
When questioned, Abe’s assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, explained that he retaliated against the late premier because of massive contributions and support Abe had made to the Unification Church, a religious organization known for its massive wedding ceremonies that the assassin’s mother had “gone bankrupt” giving extravagant donations to.
The Unification church’s influence in Japan had, as Le Monde Diplomatique quoted Hokkaido University Professor Yoshihide Sakurai, stemmed from a long-time “deep seated hatred”of Japan in the Unification Church founder’s generation.
The political influence of the church itself had layers in a rift, stemming from the fact that Japan had served as a “rear base” for U.S. troops during its war in Korea.
South Korea had, at that time in history, reportedly regarded Japan as a “satanical” state for its actions towards its people and neighbors in the 20th century.
The influence of the Unification church, its charismatic leader, and the rhetoric surrounding it, stemmed from layers of deep-seated rivalry that stands in stark contrast to the unifying mission and purpose of the Trilateral Summit.
Sun Myung Moon, the KCIA, and the Yakuza
The Unification Church founder, Sun Myung Moon, who had declared himself a messianic figure, had an early affiliation with politically corrupt institutions and organized crime.
In a report for The Consortium, American journalist Robert Parry, familiar to U.S. audiences for his discovery of the Iran Contra scandal, detailed Moon’s affiliations with the “brutal” Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) and the Japanese mafia, known as the yakuza. Parry’s report highlights how Moon made “an alliance” with Kim Jong Pil, the KCIA’s founder.
By the 1970s, Parry reported, the United States was able to trace the source of money for the Unification Church, called the “Moonies cult” after its founder, primarily to banks in Japan. However, once the U.S. traced the money to Japan, they could follow the cash “no further”.
Parry traced the activity of Kim Jong Pil who had been put in charge of South Korea’s negotiations with Japan following Japan’s World War II occupations of South Korea, and the Korean war.
This, Parry writes, put Pil in touch with “fascist” Japanese social leaders Yoshio Kodama and Ryoichi Sasakawa, who had been jailed during World War II for war crimes. Parry reported that, “behind the scenes”, Kodama and Sasakawa rose to become the “power brokers” of the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party, the ruling party of Japan and the party Abe was affiliated with.
Parry reported that Pil’s contacts with the yakuza provided a road into Japan for the Moonies cult, when radical extreme far-right Japanese Buddhist sect members converted “en masse” to the Unification Church.
Spreading Influence and Money Over Old Hurt
Parry went on to report that Moon and his church became intensively involved in anti-communist activity, engaging with the Asian People’s Anti-Communist League, which was founded by the governments of Taiwan and South Korea. The League reportedly paired traditional conservatives with Latin America’s “death squads” and traditional Nazis.
To build bridges to the west following the divisive war, Moon started spreading money to make friends in Washington. Parry reports that Washington began a “counterintelligence investigation”into the Moonies' political motivations as this continued.
Clashes and Communist Influences
Yakuza gang affiliates and Chinese-linked mafia have had direct clashes of violence.
A commentary posted to The Conversation in January explained how, in October 2022, a brawl erupted in a central neighborhood of Tokyo between rival Chinese gang members and a group called Chinese Dragons, which is a Tokyo-formed Chinese protection gang.
The post explained the response from the yakuza crime syndicate, and how nationalist political rhetoric fuels “paranoia” over the influence of the Chinese mafia in Japan. Analysis concluded that yakuza rhetoric toward Chinese mafia has lended itself to a growing sense of paranoia in Japan about the Chinese influence, a factor that contributes to the rising rates of nationalism in recent history.
Anti-Religious Sentiments and CCP Influence
The political unrest in Japan over the relationship between national pride and cult affiliation has created a social fracture China has taken advantage of in its own Japan-denouncing rhetoric.
As anti-religious rhetoric rose with the death of Abe, the Japan Breakaway Association reportedly opened hotlines to support victims of religious discrimination.
Data collected from local media reports shows an overlap in where the Japan Breakaway Association instituted call centers to support “second generation” survivors of the Unification Church and other religious organizations. From the same vicinity where the Japan Breakaway Association’s influence was detected, data analysis also picked up the influence of Chinese national rhetoric in the Tokyo region.
A comparative analysis of media reports showed that the Japan Breakaway Association launched its anti-religious violence hotline from Government Building No. 1 in The Knot area of Tokyo's Shinjuku district. Interestingly, intelligence data also flagged military influences data from China directly overlapping with data collected on the Japan Breakaway Associations’ efforts to create call centers for second generation religious cult affiliates, a term in Japan which refers to the children of cult members, in particular the Unification church, The Japan Times explained.
Overlapping Influences Between Unification Defectors and China
Attempts to boost relations between Japan and China have exposed the depth of Unification influence on Japan, through the apologies of the church’s defectors.
In Chinese state-linked media reports from CGTN, the overlapping influence was explained. Over 300 people attended a state event with former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, the Chinese Ambassador to Japan Wu Jianghao, and representatives across the academic, cultural, and media sectors, CGTN wrote.
The event was held to commemorate the “45 anniversary” of the China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which, according to the Chinese government, began negotiations in 1975 and was formalized in 1978. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan publicizes the treaty as being formed on August 12, 1978, and the treaty explained that the “contracting parties” would develop “relations of perpetual peace and friendship.”
Former Prime Minister Hatoyama disclosed his affiliations with the Unification Church to his Twitter account in July of 2022, the month and year that Abe was assassinated. In his post, Hatoyama expressed “deep regret” for having been involved with the religious organization, and stated that he was “sorry” he had not given the matter “deep consideration,” Hatoyama wrote as he was quoted by the English language Japanese news outlet The Asahi Shimbun in 2022.
Hatoyama’s statement came around a time of great controversy in Japanese politics over alleged dealings or confirmed dealings of the Japanese ruling party with the controversial church.
Abe’s brother, then Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi was reportedly among the most prominent political leaders in Japan to “openly admit” to having received help from the church organization in his election campaign, The Asahi Shimbun reported.
Moonies Affiliations Provoke CCP
In 2022, the Associated Press explained the ties of the Unification Church to Japan’s ruling political class and why this affiliation made a significant impression on Abe’s assassin. The AP explained that Abe’s assassination surfaced what was “long suspected” but “little spoken about” ties between the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party and the Unification Church.
The AP explained that Japan’s top leaders and the church share in common “anti-communism efforts” that stretch back to the Cold War era. The Unification Church was founded in 1954 the year following the end of the Korean War.
The church made a significant impact on the Korean Peninsula because of its stance of unification and the end of communism, values that were pushed by Moon, who had declared himself a messianic figure and who influenced the church to adopt radicalized beliefs and practices such as massive group wedding ceremonies. Moon himself was a radical figure who served a 13-month sentence in the United States for tax evasion. The former church leader died in 2012.
Political Violence and Anti-Moonie Rhetoric
The Moonies organization has long held an anti-communist rhetoric. In recent months, following the death of Abe and the renewed attention into the international ties of the Moonies organization, this anti-communist rhetoric has drawn the critique and disdain of China.
Chinese-state linked media outlet The Global Times explained that, during the 1960s, Shinzo Abe’s maternal grandfather, the former Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, had a direct association with the Unification Church’s founder Sun Myung Moon. The Global Times wrote that this association would “sow the seeds” of Abe’s death many years later.
Kishi was, according to The Global Times, directly invited to be “an executive chair” at a banquet for Moon’s International Federation for Victory of Communism, an anti-communism organization launched in the 1960s.
China “Blows Whistle” on Western Moonies Affiliations
The Chinese-state linked media site went on to express that the Moonies had “paid” many prominent figures of Western society to attend its meetings, including former President George H.W. Bush, President Gerald R. Ford, disgraced comedian Bill Cosby, and Jack Kemp. The
The Chinese state-linked outlet likewise stated that the former U.S. President Donald Trump and former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev had been in attendance at Unification Church-linked events. Former President Trump, along with his State Secretary Mike Pompeo, spoke at a Moonies event in 2021. In 1991, the Unification Church leader Moon had a confrontation with Trump and demanded that “he apologize,” The New York Times reported.
The Chinese-state linked media’s commentary was supported by American press publications in the 90s which explained that President George H.W. Bush was “paid” by Moon’s group to make a speech for the organization. Bill Cosby was under contract to perform for the group, a report by The Washington Post highlighted in the 90s.
In its critique of the Moonie affiliation with Japanese leadership, The Global Times likewise tied the late Moon and his church to deep infiltration attempts in the United States. In particular, Moon had launched a strategy to defend the former U.S. President Richard Nixon from the Watergate Scandal.
Moon’s defense of Nixon was detailed in a report by The Washington Post published November 10, 1977. The report details internal documents from the Unification Church which showcased an “elaborate campaign” to prevent Nixon from facing impeachment in 1973. The documents explained that the Unification church’s sponsored National Prayer and Fast Committee was in “close contact” with Nixon’s supporters, including Rabbi Baruch Korff, through a scheme known as “Project Watergate.”
Church memos also reportedly detailed planned meetings with Bruce Herschensohn, a Nixon administration White House aide. The meeting plan memos were dated for July 1974 Herschensohn explained to the press that he had met with Moonies church members, but that he had not discussed a strategy with them.
The Washington Post’s 1977 report explained that the Internal Revenue Service had been investigating whether the actions of the Unification Church in Nixon affiliation were political or religious, due to the fact that, at the time of the report, tax exempt organizations were prohibited from taking part in political activity.
The state-linked Chinese outlet's version of events was supported by The Asahi Shimbun’s reporting on the issue, when the latter outlet explained that Moon had “boasted” over his high degree of influence in Japanese politics. Moon’s boastings were sourced and quoted from print media publications that have since been converted to digital records.
In his commentary, Moon lamented that Shintaro Abe, another relative of Shinzo Abe, was “to become prime minister.” In these statements, Moon explained that anyone who “wanted to become prime minister in Japan,” had to have his support to achieve this goal.
The Moonies and American Extremism
Despite reports that Moon and Trump had clashed in the early 90s, the Unification Church organization itself, with its deeply anti-communist roots, reportedly began to align itself with Trump’s far-right leaning rhetoric.
In 2021, U.S. political journalist and commentator Jordan Green, a contributor to Raw Story, wrote with regards to the Moonies breakaway cult called the Rod of Iron, and stated that he had found evidence the group had even had a presence at the January 6 Capitol riots. The Rod of Iron is a religious organization under the influence of Sean Moon, the 42-year-old son of the late Sun Myung Moon. The Rod of Iron cult, based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, has reportedly gained notoriety for bringing weapons into its churches, referring to tactical rifles as “the rod of iron” from which the group derives its name.
Sun Myung Moon wears a “crown of bullets” when giving his sermons, and claims that he was anointed as the successor of his father, who his church believes was a “messianic figure.” He explained to local media in Tennessee, following a motion to build a church retreat in Grainger County, Tennessee that the sect oversees gun training for children and adults.
Green stated that the breakaway group, which he had described as an “AR-15 worshiping sect” had likewise prepared for “insurrection 2.0.” The Moonie influence that Green wrote about in his article for Raw Story was documented in August 2021, almost a year before the anti-Moonie Yamagami would end Shinzo Abe’s life.
The Rod of Iron breakaway sect has become hotly politicized as figures of the American far-right, including Steve Bannon and Dana Loesch, MAGA speakers and Trump affiliates, have spoken at the sect’s church events.
Reflections Upon Western Alliance
The United States has been a long-time advocate of eliminating violent extremism to promote international relations. The United States Institute of Peace noted that the United States is “vulnerable to terrorism” and has been since the events of September 11, 2001, when Al-Qaeda flew two planes into the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York, New York, collapsing the towers and subsequently killing, maiming and poisoning a massive congregation of innocent civilians.
Analysis dictates that the influence of radical extremism has a profoundly negative impact on the United States and its trilateral agreement with Japan and South Korea. The rising rates of far-right rhetoric and extremism in Japan, coupled with the continued negative influence of the Moonies cult and the Chinese Communist Party’s reaction to it, have made Japan likewise vulnerable to radical extremism.
Additionally, economic struggles within South Korea, its proximity to its belligerent neighbor in North Korea, and the weakening rhetoric and subsequent Chinese Communist Party response makes South Korea uniquely vulnerable to the challenges of rising political violence in Southeast Asia.
As anti-Communist rhetoric gives way to a pro ultra-nationalism in Japan, it sets a collision course with a rising tide of aggressive Communist intervention that, from data analysis, seems to hand-in-glove eclipse influence in Japan and South Korea. China aggressively publishes rhetoric opposed to the activity of the prominent Moonies, which have expanded their influence within Southeast Asia and, in various forms, extended their reach into American society.
Japanese nationalism is on the rise, particularly in the form of verbal attacks and heated rhetoric in online forums.
The generation and political actions of the Unification Church founding had been influenced by deep generational rivalries and hatred that have cast a pallor on trilateral relations.
Anti-Moonies cult rhetoric inspired the assassination of Shinzo Abe, which was the most extreme act of political violence in Japan since World War II.
The Moonies cult has had a hand in pro-nationalist, anti-communist rhetoric in the region.
In areas of South Korean or Japanese society where anti-Moonie rhetoric was published in the media, or social relief efforts were made to counter negative cult following outcomes, data detected direct network overlaps with the Chinese state.
Japanese political unrest and seemingly unaffiliated acts of political violence, particularly Abe’s assassination, have been in direct retaliation against Moonies’ influence.
Corruption in Japan’s ruling class has been influenced by an entangled relationship with the Moonies cult, which has led to civil unrest.
In the interest of preserving Communist ideals, the Chinese state has appeared to target its influence spheres in Japan to overlap the Moonie rhetoric.
Moonies have had significant influence in U.S. politics dating as far back as the Nixon administration.
The Moonies have developed a violent breakaway cult called “the Rod of Iron” and have been accused of fostering radical extremism.
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