Family takes son from Moon group

Gloucester, Mass/July 31, 1992
By Richard Salit

A young Japanese man is back in Tokyo this week after his father and sister traveled halfway around the world to take him away from a Gloucester tuna fishing program with ties to the Unification Church.

Only last week father Yoshiono and sister Akiko were staked out along the city's wharves and piers, disguised in hats and sunglasses and peering through binoculars for a glimpse of 20-year-old Hiroaki Kawaai as he sailed in and out of Gloucester Harbor.

"Hiro" left Japan in March for a month long trip to visit Akiko, a college student in New Hampshire, as family members tell it. But just before he was to return home and begin college himself, Hiro was introduced to the Unification Church while traveling alone in New York City.

When his return flight landed in Tokyo on April 7, Hiro was nowhere to be found.

What follows is the story of a Japanese family that refused to leave a son in the hands of followers of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a man whom some see as a messiah.

The story might have a different ending had the family not been able to spend $20,000 on the mission and had they not had the help of Gloucester police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The authorities turned Hiro over to his family after questioning him about his expired visa.

Back in Japan, Hiro is said to have lost interest in the Unification Church. Nevertheless, local observers are left wondering what troubles the church programs may be causing families.

The episode also sheds light on to what lengths families are willing to go to get their children back from the Unification Church, even in a country that supposedly cherishes the right to religious expression.

Who is this Rev. Moon?

Hiro was like many other boys his age, as described by his family. An economics student at an Ivy League-caliber school in Japan. Hiro liked to go out dancing and hang out with girls. He never strayed far from the fold of his family; in fact, his sister said he was more of a mama's boy than anything.

When he left for the United States on March 15 to meet Akiko, Hiro was on his first big adventure.

Shortly after arriving, the siblings took advantage of Akiko's spring break to go on a bus trip to Florida. When his sister headed back to school, Hiro struck out on his own for Washington, D.C., and New York City. He knew enough English to get by, but not much more.

The day after he was to arrive in Japan, Hiro called his father to say he was staying in America. When he wouldn't explain why, his father hung up on him in anger.

Hiro later telephoned Akiko and recounted how he had bumped into a young Japanese woman in the streets of New York. She made small talk in Japanese and brought him to a dormitory with other young people. There he watched videotapes on Unification theology three days in a row.

"You don't understand," Hiro told Akiko during the phone conversation. "Just get the book written by Rev. Moon."

No one in the Kawaai family was religious and Akiko was baffled. "Who is this Rev. Moon?" she wondered.

In April, Hiro's mother and father visited their son in Brooklyn to persuade him to return home, go back to school and, if he insisted, get involved in the Unification Church in Japan. Hiro refused. It was about all his mother could stand, said Akiko who described her as "sick" over the whole affair.

After the parents returned home, Hiro called to say he was going tuna fishing. When his father pressed him to say where, he finally answered: In Gloucester.

At that point, said Akiko, "We decided to come over and get him out of this country."

The Kawaais had researched Moon and concluded that the "Unification Church is just a cult," one that uses mind control and is more interested in business than religion, Akiko said.

Hiro, said Akiko, "did not come to this country to join the Unification Church. It was not his decision. They made him do it."

Akiko's only explanation for Hiro's behavior is that after seeing her independence in the United States, he too "wanted to do something by himself."

'I must be patient to get my son.'

With binoculars around his neck, Yoshiomi Kawaai looked like just another tourist from the Far East - unless you happened to notice that the young Japanese woman at his side didn't leave the Jodrey State Fish Pier from morning to night for more than a week.

Kawaai, a businessman man who sells hotel supplies, rarely changes out of a suit and tie. But to keep his son from recognizing him, he wore blue jeans, a T-shirt, a baseball cap and aviator sunglasses.

The father and daughter were watching the comings and goings of the dozen or so tuna boats that are part of Ocean Challenge, described by church officials as a program to teach tuna fishing and Unificationism. The boats leave the church-affiliated properties at 111 East Main St. before the crack of dawn and sometimes don't return until dusk.

"I must be patient to get my son," Yoshiomi Kawaai said in his limited English after pouring his guest a drink from a cooler in the trunk of his rented car.

The first day he spotted his son he felt "relief," Yoshiomi Kawaai said while translating for her dad. "The other feeling is sad. He lived with him for 20 years. Why does he have to look through opera glasses and hide?"

The Kawaais worried that if they were to walk right up to Hiro, he might resist them or that church members might help him escape. They were also concerned that he had been weakened by long days fishing, little sleep and not much food - ways the church tries to brainwash recruits, critics and some former members say.

The Kawaais opted to get in touch with Kathy Hurlburt, who founded the church watchdog group "Coalition for a Free Gloucester." Together they determined that the only alternative to filing a kidnapping complaint - a charge that wouldn't stick if Hiro denied it - was to nab him for his expired visa.

So last Wednesday, as the sun set on Gloucester Harbor, police Lt. Michael McLeod and the FBI's Larry Frosili joined the Kawaais as they waited for Hiro's tuna boat to return. When the boat pulled in to an East Gloucester pier, the officers confronted Hiro.

According to a police report, Hiro was told that his visa had expired and that he should go with his sister to straighten out the problem. He didn't object.

By now Yoshiomi Kawaai had gone to Hurlburt's home to await a call from the police. He was excited and couldn't sit down. Then something rose inside him, swelled and burst. He began to sob, removed his glasses and dabbed at the tears with a handkerchief.

Moments later Lt. McLeod telephoned. "He's (Hiro) tired. He wants to go home," he told Hurlburt.

That laid to rest any plans to have someone pose as an immigration official or even more drastic means Akiko only hinted at earlier when she said, "I cannot leave without taking him."

In a few hours, Akiko, Hiro and their father were reunited on plane back to Japan.

Back in Japan

Hiro has only been home once since arriving in Japan a week ago. His family wants to keep him at a hotel where he is visited by a minister and a counselor who specializes in what some have come to call "deprogramming."

During a stopover in Los Angeles, Hiro had said he wanted to return to New York after straightening out his visa. He had also asked to call church members. His family refused.

In the first days back in Japan, according to Akiko, Hiro wanted to tell his family about the Divine Principle, which contains Unification Church doctrine that forbids drinking alcohol and having pre-marital sex.

"I have to give up everything," he told Akiko. She said he had been afraid to leave the church because he had been told that "something bad will happen to his family."

But Hiro's attitude has begun changing. Akiko said during a telephone call earlier this week. For example, her brother accepted a beer the other day. More symbolic, perhaps, was when he gave Akiko a necklace with a picture of Moon and his wife that he had been wearing.

"Here you go," he told her. "I don't need it."

"I am happy now because I can talk to him like usual," Akiko said.

"Some relatives wonder if he is pretending. I have a strong feeling he is not faking. He decided he was going to go back to school in April."

Back in Gloucester, Kathy Hurlburt remained concerned about the whole episode. She said that "nothing's changed" since a decade ago when she and others demonstrated against the church moving into Gloucester.

"It just seems as though they are still trying to make it difficult for the families to communicate," she said. "How can they do this to families?"

The young people are at a particularly susceptible age, she said, because they are searching for independence and meaning in their lives.

"That's a typical member, a person who wants to do something with their lives," such as Hiro, she says. "And here he bumps into the messiah in the streets of New York."

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