Fukuoka -- The Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo foot-reading cult was ruled as an illegal money-making machine by a court here Friday, and ordered to pay over 200 million yen in damages to former followers it had swindled.
"[The order] was obviously only after profits ... and its activities were socially unacceptable as an ascetic practice and totally illegal," Presiding Judge Motoaki Kimura said at the Fukuoka District Court, ordering the cult to pay 227 million yen in compensation to 27 former cult followers. Kimura also dismissed the cult's foot-reading as "unreasonable."
The plaintiffs from Kyushu and Shikoku regions, a majority of whom suffer from illnesses or have domestic problems, had sued the foot-readers for damages, arguing that the cult made them fork out millions of yen by exploiting their anxieties.
Hogen Fukunaga, 55-year-old Ho-no-Hana founder and self-proclaimed oracle, took the lead in carrying out illegal moneymaking activities, the ruling said.
Through "reading" the soles of the followers, Fukunaga and senior cult members claimed that the plaintiffs suffered from cancer and other serious illnesses, or convinced them that they might kill themselves because of misfortunes in their lives.
Ho-no-Hana allegedly told them that their only salvation was to go through the cult's expensive training sessions and to buy lucky charms.
One of the plaintiffs, a 57-year-old man who wished to remain anonymous, paid over 7 million yen to the cult in a vain attempt to reverse his misfortune.
He sought Ho-no-Hana's advice in autumn 1995 after a series of personal disasters, including a diagnosis of acute hepatitis.
After the hepatitis, he had his finger chopped off in a workplace accident, then suffered severe facial injuries in a traffic accident. Doctors also spotted a polyp in his colon, his children began to behave violently at home and refused to attend school. Finally, the man's wife bolted from home.
Desperate to survive long enough so that he could look after his bed-ridden mother, he said he had the soles of his feet read by Fukunaga in Tokyo's Shibuya-ku in an attempt to escape from the misery.
As soon as Fukunaga had a glance at the man's sole, the founder allegedly told him his foot was "polluted" and he could die at any moment unless he attended training sessions to be held in the cult's headquarters in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture.
The man paid 2.25 million yen to participate in the sessions, which included day-long chanting of the cult mantras - Saiko-desu (I feel really good) and Okane ga tamarimasu (I'm going to make a lot of money) - recited while kneeling and blindfolded.
"A cult instructor made me shout 'saiko-desu' countless times, saying that my face was not 'saiko' enough," the man said.
A month later, he was informed by the cult that he had to pay 12 million yen or he would return to his miserable state. He borrowed 4 million yen from his employers and handed over the money, but severed ties with the cult, as his situation never improved.
He says he is still repaying the debt.