Police wary of anti-vaccination group Yamato Q

Yamato Q, a group opposing COVID-19 vaccinations and claiming to be a Japanese branch of internet conspiracy theory network QAnon, has been active in the nation, prompting the police to closely monitor its movements.

Five members of Yamato Q were arrested in April for breaking into a Tokyo clinic that was serving as a COVID-19 vaccination site.

According to sources, about 6,000 people participated in Yamato Q demonstrations held nationwide in January, and the police are keeping a close watch on the group.

QAnon has spread mainly in the United States, claiming that the deep state, or a dark government, is controlling the world, and that former U.S. President Donald Trump is a savior. One of its characteristics is disbelief in authorities and existing media, and the story embraced by adherents is against COVID-19 vaccination.

According to investigative sources, Yamato Q was established around December last year. On social media, the group claims that it “aims to protect children’s lives from COVID vaccination.”

On Jan. 9, the group held anti-vaccination demonstrations in all 47 prefectures in Japan. According to the police, the participants numbered about 6,000, mainly middle-aged and older people.

While the number of official members is unknown, registered users of its LINE OpenChat group talk application number over 10,000. The group is based in a condominium in the Shirokane district of Minato Ward, Tokyo, and the organization became a general incorporated association in March.

Arrest of self-claimed leader

In March and April, Yamato Q members entered COVID-19 vaccination sites in Tokyo and made a scene, claiming that “vaccination is a crime.”

In April, self-claimed Yamato Q leader and former actor Hiroyuki Kuraoka, 43, was arrested for allegedly breaking into a clinic in Shibuya Ward, along with four others aged 41 to 64.

According to a subsequent investigation by the Metropolitan Police Department, major decisions at Yamato Q were made by its executive management department, comprising about five senior members including Kuraoka. Other departments included the alliance department, which was in charge of planning demonstrations; the posting department, which distributed flyers; and a department aiming to “revitalize regional areas.” Branches have been set up in various areas, with leaders appointed.

Regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Yamato Q has repeatedly posted messages on social media calling Russian President Vladimir Putin is “a savior.”

Conspiracy theory

In January 2021, a mob of Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol in a riot, resulting in the deaths of five people. Many of the violent supporters are said to have voiced QAnon conspiracy theory claims.

The Japanese police authorities are wary that if the conspiracy theory also keeps spreading in Japan, there could be cases of violence.

“People with a sense of loneliness and inferiority indulge themselves in a feeling of superiority that they are the only ones who know the truth,” said Takayuki Harada, a psychology professor at the University of Tsukuba.

He said that with the coronavirus pandemic, more people are feeling anxiety and frustration, which has helped spur the spread of the theory.

Harada added: “If such claims are lightly dismissed as ridiculous, those who have a perverted sense of justice could go out of control, using whatever means they think necessary. It’s important to disseminate correct information and deny incorrect information item by item.”

Mother becomes ‘different person’

“My mother was an ordinary housewife, but suddenly she turned into a different person,” said a 17-year-old high school student in western Japan, whose mother has been involved in Yamato Q.

His mother, in her 50s, had always been very interested in the spiritual world. During the initial period of the pandemic, she wore a mask and urged her family members to do the same.

In September last year, however, she started saying, “There’s salt water in the vaccine.” By the end of last year, she was going out without wearing a mask.

People who were strangers to the family came to their home for a gathering, and the mother went out to take part in a “camp” at a ryokan inn on weekends.

Questioned by her family members, the mother admitted that she was engaged in Yamato Q activities.

She said that the U.S. presidential election, in which Trump lost, needed to be redone. Since Russia launched its attack on Ukraine, she has repeatedly said, “Putin is doing justice.”

The student had hoped his mother would withdraw from the group after the arrest of Yamato Q members last month, but the incident made her more intransigent. “I will not give in to oppression,” she said.

“I don’t know how this has happened,” the student said. “I just hope she wouldn’t do anything that would cause trouble for other people.”