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Japanese Economy Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa to resign over Unification Church links

Japan’s Economic Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa has expressed his intention to resign over his ties to the controversial Unification Church, a source said on Monday, in another blow to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s cabinet.

The decision follows calls from opposition parties demanding Yamagiwa’s resignation since the start of a parliamentary session held on October 3. Kishida rejected the demand, but Yamagiwa apparently succumbed to mounting calls to resign.

“He should have resigned before the special session of the Diet was called,” said the main opposition leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Kenta Izumi. “Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s lack of decisiveness made the situation worse, and his responsibility as the person who appointed (Yamagiwa) is also serious.”

Kishida took a harder line on the Unification Church after criticism that he did not go far enough in cracking down on the group.

Last week, he ordered the Department of Education to investigate the church over problematic “spiritual selling” tactics, which could pave the way for the group to be stripped of its “religious corporation” status.

If a group is deemed to have violated the Religious Corporations Act or is “engaging in activities significantly prejudicial to the public welfare”, the government has the power to initiate a process to strip the group of its status. The court will then decide whether to continue.

But even if the group is stripped of that status, it will still be able to carry out religious activities.

On Monday, Kishida promised to meet with victims of the Unification Church, including former followers and children of current believers, as well as lawyers helping them, to hear their financial problems and other problems caused by the religious group.

It is rare for a prime minister to personally exchange views with people who have suffered as a result of a socially problematic organization, and Kishida did not specify when and where such a meeting would take place.

Kishido’s approval ratings in media polls have steadily declined over the past few months. An NHK poll conducted from Oct. 8-10 showed those who do not support the administration, at 43%, outnumbered those who do, at 38%, for the first time since Kishida took office a year ago.

The poll also showed that only 18% of those polled responded positively to Kishida’s handling of the Unification Church issue, while 73% rated it negatively.

Yamagiwa has come under fire for failing to explain his ties to the group, which has highlighted problematic practices such as its spirit sales, in which people are persuaded to buy glasses and other items at exorbitant prices.

Yamagiwa admitted earlier this month that he met Hak Ja Han Moon – the widow of Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon – in 2018.

“I remembered meeting her somewhere, but I didn’t come up with it because it would be inaccurate to talk about it because I wasn’t sure where I met her,” Yamagiwa told reporters this month.

Yamagiwa also admitted to attending a meeting of a group affiliated with the Unification Church in Nigeria 11 years ago.

In September, an LDP survey revealed that 180 lawmakers had ties to the Unification Church.

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