Insincere responses to questions about Unification Church invited mistrust

Despite his relationship with the Unification Church being uncovered with one revelation followed by another, he continued to give ambiguous answers, such as saying, “I have no recollection.” He dug his own grave with this insincere attitude.

Daishiro Yamagiwa, minister in charge of economic revitalization, submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for having brought confusion into the Diet over the issue surrounding the group officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. The prime minister accepted the resignation.

Yamagiwa paid membership fees to affiliated organizations of the Unification Church and attended their meetings held in Japan and abroad. He reportedly also invited executives of affiliated organizations to his stump speeches and briefing sessions on national policy.

He initially refused to acknowledge these facts, and even after the media reported on them, he did nothing but explain away the situation as if it were someone else’s problem. For example, Yamagiwa said, “If you just base it on media reports, it is natural to assume that I attended these meetings.”

In the Diet as well, Yamagiwa repeated these types of answers. He was in a group photo with the top leader of the Unification Church at a meeting in Aichi Prefecture in 2019, but he stated, “That scene doesn’t come to mind.”

The propriety of his involvement aside, such an attitude cannot dispel a sense of distrust.

Kishida retained Yamagiwa in his post in the Cabinet reshuffle in August, but later a host of details regarding his relationship with the Unification Church came to light. Before the current extraordinary Diet session, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno sounded out Kishida over whether he wanted Yamagiwa to resign, but eventually the decision was made to keep him in the Cabinet.

It is obvious that the decision to have Yamagiwa resign should have been made at that stage. Government leaders bear more than a little responsibility for making the situation worse.

Kishida told reporters: “I undoubtedly feel responsibility for his appointment. That’s precisely why I want to firmly fulfill my responsibilities as the prime minister.”

This is the first time a Cabinet minister has been forced to resign from the Kishida Cabinet since it was launched in October last year. Kishida must make every possible effort to restore trust. There is a need to learn from this Cabinet member’s resignation and resolidify the foundations of his administration.

At the end of this month, the government intends to decide on a comprehensive economic stimulus package, focusing on measures to deal with rising prices. Yamagiwa was in charge of coordinating these measures. He was also the Cabinet minister in charge of COVID-19 measures. Policy delays cannot be tolerated.

Not only the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, but also lawmakers from opposition parties, such as the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and Nippon Ishin no Kai (the Japan Innovation Party), have connections to the Unification Church. It is certain that many Diet members have given their “endorsement” to the organization, whose activities, including its so-called spiritual sales tactics, have been pointed out as problematic for society.

Taking such facts into consideration, it is reasonable that the ruling and opposition parties will work together to promote efforts to clarify the actual situation surrounding the Unification Church’s activities, and make efforts to provide relief to victims. The issue must not be used as the subject of a political struggle.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 25, 2022)