Japan Food Cult Ordered To Pay

The Associated Press, April 28, 2000

Tokyo - A court on Friday ordered a Japanese cult that claimed the ability to gain powerful insights through the human foot to pay damages to former followers for coercing them into paying exorbitant fees.

The cult, Ho-no-hana Sampogyo, which claimed to cure illnesses by examining feet, was ordered to pay $2.12 million to 27 people, said Fukuoka District Court spokesman Hiroshi Yoshizaki.

Former members say they paid the group as much as $935,000 after being warned that they would die or get cancer unless they had the soles of their feet inspected.

Complaints against the cult surfaced about four years ago, and some 1,000 former group members have filed lawsuits, demanding a total of $50 million in damages.

The verdict in Fukuoka, 560 miles southwest of Tokyo, was the first that held Ho-no-hana Sampogyo legally responsible for defrauding followers.

Judge Motoaki Kimura was quoted as saying by the Kyodo News Agency that the cult "significantly deviated from the range of what is permissible in the name of religious training."

Japanese police raided the group's headquarters and branches around the country in December, and are investigating it for suspected fraud. Friday's ruling comes amid growing public concern about the bizarre practices of several Japanese religious organizations.

Ho-no-hana Sampogyo, led by guru Hogen Fukunaga, also claimed that the shape of people's feet revealed their personality, with short toes signifying short tempers and fat toes foretelling good fortune.

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