On January 4, 2019, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe walks behind Shinto priests during their visit to Ise Shrine. – / AFP

The assassination of the former Japanese prime minister rekindles controversy over the links between politics and religion in the land of the Rising Sun.


Forty-eight hours after the assassination of their former prime minister Shinzo Abe, the Japanese went to the polls for partial senatorial elections on Sunday in an almost ordinary surreal atmosphere. As anticipated, the majority parties have consolidated their position, earning enough votes for a possible constitutional reform – the very one that Shinzo Abe has pursued in vain all his life.

But behind this “dark victory”, as the newspaper called it Nikkei, the ruling party is shocked by this unprecedented act in a country usually spared from violence, especially political violence. It takes unexpected relief with the killer’s personality and, more importantly, the motives. Tetsuya Yamagami, a lonely and quiet former employee, said he was targeting a cult leader the day his mother swallowed his fortune and that Shinzo Abe promoted; being the former absent, he would successfully target the latter.

This scenario plunges the country into embarrassment. For forty-eight hours the major media have deployed the gigantic human and material resources at their disposal (the five national newspapers have 9,355 journalists) to reconstruct the story. As always, television stands out: the crime scene is flown over by the helicopter, reconstituted as a model on the set, gutted down to the smallest detail.

Correspondents are sent to the four corners of the country to gather the most insignificant information. But this riot of effects is matched only by the watered-down nature of its product. The day after Shinzo Abe’s murder, the five major Japanese newspapers all published the same front page, including the font size, word for word, betraying their complicity.

Investigators are spreading great “confessions” visibly rewritten to a circle of “accredited” journalists who print them without worrying about their truthfulness or even credibility. “It is undeniable that the main Japanese media give too much prominence to the police announcements, at least in the early stages of the case”, observes César Castellvi, author of Last Press Empire, a highly documented work in the Japanese press.

The best Japanese readers are therefore surprised to read that the killer allegedly had it “got the misleading impression(omoikomi) that Shinzo Abe was linked to a “religious organizationnameless – to which he was well connected. The Japanese police are currently led by Itaru Nakamura, who is famous for disrupting the rape trial of a journalist close to power. Better: Sunday evening the Japanese “big press” had not yet named the so-called “religious organization” targeted by the murderer. This, the Unification Church (also known as the Moon sect), had however been revealed by local tabloids, foreign headlines, and even the relevant Church. Critics of the latter, who claim 3 million followers worldwide, criticize the brainwashing it inflicts on its devotees.

Mainstream media are walking on eggshells

How come? Mainstream media are walking on eggshells. Religions, traditional (such as the local Shinto cult), established (such as the Soka Gakkai) and “new” (such as the Unification Church or Seicho no ie) play a discreet but crucial role in Japanese political life. Their ability to mobilize loyal supporters in electoral strength and donations make them valuable allies of parties, especially in the majority, and especially in cities with anomalous populations, where opportunities for socialization are few. “Many hierarchs of the PLD are linked to religious organizations, of which they are the delegates in the political world”, explains Axel Klein, a political scientist at the University of Duisburg and Essen and a specialist on the relationship between religion and politics in Japan. “They never admit it in public because it would alienate other voters, but those ties are real and strong”, indicate.

The PLD’s majority ally, the Komeito Buddhist party, is historically a branch of the Soka Gakkai sect (the two organizations claim they are no longer connected), with millions of followers. “Japan is not the only country where politics and religion go hand in hand. It has many similarities with the United States “, observes Axel Klein. The shukan, these disrespectful weeklies that write wholesale what the big Japanese newspapers are reluctant to publish, are mobilizing. The cult supported Shinzo Abe. So we will write about the links between the two “ assures one of their reporters.

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