Majority of Japan universities bolster anti-cult measures: survey

Kyodo News, Japan/July 2, 2023 

A majority of Japanese universities bolstered measures against cults recruiting on campus after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's fatal shooting a year ago added to concerns that students could be easy targets, a Kyodo News survey shows.

Of the 50 universities that gave valid responses, 28 or 56 percent said they strengthened steps to alert students of the risk of joining cults as controversy erupted after Abe was shot dead on July 8 last year.

Tetsuya Yamagami has told investigators he killed the former leader over his link with the Unification Church, often regarded as a cult. The 42-year-old held a grudge against the church, and targeted Abe because he was a grandson of former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, who helped the religious group set up in Japan.

Yamagami's mother had made huge donations to the church, pushing the family into financial and emotional distress.

With multiple answers allowed in the survey conducted in June on 65 universities with a student body of more than 10,000, 16 universities said they had put up warnings on bulletin boards and 14 said they had handed out flyers.

Among other steps were lectures being conducted to students about cults by 12 universities and an increase campus patrols by 11 universities.

Seven universities had added warnings to their guidelines to new students, and two had beefed up information sharing measures with the police.

Incoming students in particular are targeted, since they are thought to be more vulnerable as they have not yet fostered strong relationships, cult experts say.

The survey, however, found nearly 80 percent of the universities had difficulty grasping the situation, with nine saying they did not understand the full extent of the engagement of cults with students and 29 saying they were only partially aware.

Past recruitment practices by cults involved calling the students directly or pretending to be a student club. But the methods have become less visible with the use of social media.

One university said that they are unable to do anything until a student comes forward to request help.

Another university said that they "respond on the basis of consultations requested by the student, friend or guardian, and there is a limit to getting an accurate reading of the situation."

The survey also showed universities are confused on how to act for fear of treading on the freedom of religion. One university said "it is hard to ban an organization by name," while another said they could "potentially be sued if a student is a second-generation believer" of cult teachings.

Takashi Uriu, 49, who joined a Buddhist cult in 1993 for around 12 years, said that he used to recruit new students by pretending to be a university lecturer or by setting up fake student clubs.

He warned that cults are now targeting junior and high school students, and that new groups that are pushing self-help topics are rising.

"It is important that society as a whole embraces those who sense contradictions in their lives and who are deeply worried so that they are not unfortunately drawn by authoritative religions and leaders," he said.

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