2nd-generation Jehovah's Witness shows empathy with accused Abe assassin

The Mainichi, Japan/January 14, 2023

OSAKA -- "He must have thought, 'if it weren't for their religion,' because I was the same," said a 45-year-old man who was raised by religious parents as a "second-generation follower" about Tetsuya Yamagami, who has been indicted for the murder of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Comparing Yamagami's life with his own, the man told the Mainichi Shimbun, "My life has been tossed around by religion."

The 45-year-old man was born to a Japanese seal maker and stay-at-home mother in Kyoto Prefecture. Troubled by raising a child, the mother sought comfort in religion. When he was 6, his family joined the Christian denomination Jehovah's Witnesses. His father was a skilled craftsman, and he made good money, but chose to close his business saying that seals could be associated with fortune-bringing and other religious practices. He then started moving from job to job, and the family relocated from a three-bedroom condo to a small, old apartment.

His parents were strict, which came from their faith. If the man dozed off during a gathering, his parents would whip his bottom with an electric cord.

As an adult he once asked his mother, "Do you know how much I suffered?" She apologized, saying, "I didn't know you were having a hard time. I'm sorry," but would not admit that her faith was wrong.

Yamagami, 42, has claimed that his mother ruined his family by making massive donations to the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, better known as the Unification Church. The man told the Mainichi Shimbun, "His mother was the same as mine. They devoted their lives not to their families but to their religion."

The man's academic career path was also restricted. He was one of the top students in his high school, but did not go to college. Higher education was considered undesirable, as it exposed an individual to diverse values and would cause doubt in one's faith. His family was also financially struggling due to the father being unable to keep a stable job. After graduating high school, the man was hired by an information technology firm. He's since worked a few different jobs, and every time he was made aware of the disparity he had with those with university diplomas.

Yamagami attended a high school in Nara Prefecture known as a college prep school, but is said to have given up on going to university due to his family's financial struggles. The man surmised Yamagami's feelings, saying, "The older he got, the more regret he must have built up."

When the man was 21, his ex-girlfriend died of a brain tumor. But he was unable to attend her funeral due to religious reasons. This was the turning point for the man to move away from the religion, thinking, "What purpose does a religion serve if I can't even send off my loved ones?"

The man started pondering recently that if he had a choice over religion when he was a child, he might have led a different life. Though he doesn't approve of violence, it is true that Abe's assassination became a catalyst to shed light on second-generation followers of religious groups.

"There are children who are at the mercy of religion today. I hope that society extends a helping hand to them so that they will be able to choose their own life," he commented.

(Japanese original by Tsuyoshi Yamada, Osaka City News Department)

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