Yamagami Tetsuya’s Revenge
In 2022, Yamagami Tetsuya assassinated Japan’s former leader in revenge for his ties to the Unification Church. But Japan’s cults look to become more powerful as its social order decays.
When political figures are murdered, the line between political motivations and mental illness is blurred. The biography of the assassin is always scoured for instability, as if to suggest that political killings themselves always stem from a pathology.
Shinzo Abe’s assassination was one of the most notable deaths of a world leader in recent memory, especially considering the fact Japan is usually considered to be one of the most politically stable places on Earth. Indeed, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has presided over the country almost continually since it was founded in 1955.
Correspondent Dylan Levi King’s profile on the assassin Yamagami Tetsuya concludes that this is actually what played a role in his decision to kill the former prime minister. The LDP places a stranglehold on civic life in Japan, and uses cults like the Unification Church as fronts for business and intelligence-gathering. Yamagami’s mother frittered away much of the family fortune to the Unification Church, and after failed stints in the military and various odd jobs Yamagami blamed his poor station in life on the Unification Church. He decided to stage the assassination to draw attention to the role it plays in dictating modern Japan’s status quo:
Meanwhile, the mainstream media in Japan was largely unwilling to run stories linking politicians to the Unification Church. When Yamagami and others wanted to find information, they were limited to informal networks gathering data online. Only after the killing would Japan’s tight-lipped leaders begin to murmur publicly about the Unification Church; one leading member of Abe’s LDP faction described the ties as “deep relations” extending back to “ancient times.”
The reality was that the Unification Church was a willing and active partner in the LDP’s overall political strategy. This support became pivotal to the LDP as the party clawed its way back into power. The Unification Church branched out beyond a handful of powerful factions in national politics to support even peripheral municipal politicians. When Yamagami’s actions finally raised questions about LDP-Unification Church relations in 2022, half of the LDP members sitting in the House of Representatives turned out to have connections to the group.
In exchange for election wins, the church received the vocal, public support of LDP lawmakers, including Abe, who addressed Unification Church gatherings and flew out to events hosted by the group. They began to wield influence or sometimes direct control over public policy, advocating a socially conservative agenda and confrontation with China. These policy suggestions were carried out in sometimes contradictory ways: although the LDP paid lip service to the traditional family, Abe also vowed to send women into the workforce; the LDP resisted proposals from the opposition to legalize same-sex marriage, but tolerated civil partnerships sealed by local governments; and despite LDP governments occasionally ratcheting up tension with China, as in the disputes over the Senkaku Islands, they also strengthened economic and cultural ties.
The LDP played the other side of the religious fence, too. The party eventually brought the Soka Gakkai party Komeito into a coalition, despite its more liberal, vocally anti-war views. This has led to some strange politics in recent years: the LDP staggers forward, jerked from both sides. The party serves as a platform for Abe’s faction and their provocative foreign policy—which included sending the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq—but cannot ever amend the U.S.-imposed constitution because Komeito will force them to back down. Conservative nationalists share power with neo-Buddhist pacifists, with the only logic being to keep everyone in government. As a result of these fragile, mixed alliances, the possibility of a strong leadership figure from within the LDP has become all but impossible. What matters is keeping the ship upright, not getting to any particular destination.
This was the rabbit hole Yamagami went down. The more he learned, the more he was determined to change things—if not for the country, then at least for himself. If he couldn’t hit a member of the Unification Church directly, he decided, the next best option would be their political proxy. All of the thwarted ingenuity and hope found some kind of direction, and he went to work building bombs and guns.
In the end, Abe got a state funeral, while Yamagami sits in a tiny detention facility in Osaka. Having been judged mentally competent to stand trial, he could face the death penalty.
Despite the fact he committed a grave crime, Yamagami’s story seems to have generated a wave of sympathy among some commentators in Japan—an entire documentary was produced and premiered in time for Shinzo Abe’s state funeral. Many of those shut out of power feel that the current Japanese political order is not dynamic enough to address the problem’s economic and demographic problems, but too strong to replace with a new order.
Society always makes an inward, even religious turn when possibilities in the material and political worlds disappear. And so cults like the Unification Church, Soka Gakkai, and others will continue to influence Japan from the shadows unabated. Barring some other contingency, when the time comes for Japan’s political order to change, they may be the only players left standing.
If you’re interested in the history of the LDP and the origins of Shinzo Abe, be sure to check out Palladium Magazine’s profile on his grandfather and founder of the LDP, Kishi Nobosuke. He presided over Manchuoko, Japan’s military-administrated puppet state in Chinese Manchuria from 1932 to 1945. The pan-Asian university of the region produced many of the developmentist leaders that would spur on the “East Asian Miracle.”
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Here’s what’s been on the front page lately:
Yamagami Tetsuya’s Revenge by Dylan Levi King. In 2022, Yamagami Tetsuya assassinated Japan’s former leader in revenge for his ties to the Unification Church. But Japan’s cults look to become more powerful as its social order decays.
The Censor Who Ended the Soviet Union by Alexander Gelland. After learning the truth about Stalin in 1956, Soviet propagandist Alexander Yakovlev became disillusioned with the communist project. Decades later, he helped end it.
How America Lost the Atomic Age by Benjamin Leopardo. Seventy years ago, nuclear power was poised to launch us into an energy-rich future. Why didn’t that happen?
Vietnam’s Red Napoleon by Avetis Muradyan. The early years of Vietnam’s legendary general Võ Nguyên Giáp show the power of a competent lieutenant working in close trust with a sovereign leader.
“Opportunity Is Always Out There” With Simon Mann. Simon Mann discusses his experiences as a mercenary intervening in the Angolan civil war, getting involved in a failed coup in Equatorial Guinea, and his time in some of Africa’s worst prisons.
That’s all for now.