TOKYO - Naoko Fukasawa was a bored and aimless 21-year-old office
worker in 1982 when a man in a downtown train station offered
to change her life. She had never heard of his group, the Unification
Church, but it sounded more meaningful than pouring tea for her
bosses all day, so she signed up.
In the decade that followed, Fukasawa became a key cog in the
Japanese fund-raising machinery that is a central source of the
church's financial might and its high-profile activities in the
United States. Church officials say that they raise $400 million
a year here and that followers worldwide have invested more than
$1 billion in the United States in the last 20 years, including
more than $800 million in the Washington Times newspaper.
But there are growing signs that after years as the financial
engine driving the church's global machine, Japan is becoming
a troublesome base for the Unification Church and its leader,
the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Former members and analysts who have
followed the church's fortunes say its fund-raising efforts have
lost momentum, in large part because of public criticism and lawsuits.
Fukasawa, who quit the church in 1992, is one of 300 Japanese
citizens who are suing the church and its members, an unusually
high number in a society where it is unusual to resort to civil
lawsuits to settle disputes.
The former church members say they were brainwashed into slavelike
devotion to the church. Other people have sued because they say
they were duped into paying exorbitant prices for vases, prayer
beads or other religious objects, sometimes under pressure from
church members who said their relatives would "burn in hell"
unless they donated.
A lawyers' group that represents those with grievances against
the church have received more than 17,000 complaints about Unification
Church activities since 1987. The group says the church has paid
out about $150 million in settlements to avoid more lawsuits.