In a fresh crackdown on fringe religious groups suspected of illegal activities, police yesterday arrested leaders of a "foot cult" that diagnosed followers' ills by examining the soles of their feet.
Tokyo police said they had arrested Hogen Fukunaga, founder of the Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo (Flower of Law and Three Law Practice) and 10 top followers on suspicion of defrauding five people, including three housewives, of 25 million yen (HK$1.8 million) in the mid-1990s. The cult issued a statement of protest. "The arrest came out of the blue and was tantamount to depriving us of peace of mind," it said.
Police said Fukunaga and his top followers, whose headquarters are at the foot of Mount Fuji, had no licence to practise medicine but claimed to be able to diagnose health conditions and predict the future of individuals by examining their feet.
"If you do nothing, you will get cancer. If you follow the voice of heaven, you will get well," a police spokesman quoted Fukunaga as telling the five people before taking their money.
Fukunaga, 55, has said he is the world's last saviour and that he hears the voice of heaven. He has also predicted human beings will disappear from the earth on January 6, 2001.
Followers were told to buy religious goods and enter expensive training programmes to ensure they were cured.
Media reports said the cult was believed to have defrauded about 30,000 followers of 81 billion yen since 1987, when it was officially recognised as a religious group.
Last month, a Japanese court ordered the cult and Fukunaga to pay 227.2 million yen to 27 former followers. Separately, more than 1,000 former followers have sued the cult, demanding it pay about five billion yen in damages.
Japanese authorities have been cracking down on fringe religious groups suspected of illegal practices, amid fears that membership of anti-social religious groups is rising.
The doomsday Aum Shinri Kyo, accused of a fatal 1995 nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 and injured thousands, was placed under surveillance by the Government in February under new laws.
Cult leader Shoko Asahara, now on trial for his alleged role in the cult's crimes, preached that the world was ending and the cult had to arm itself to prepare for various calamities. A recent newspaper poll showed that eight in 10 Japanese citizens still harboured worries about the doomsday cult.
Since the deadly gassing, Japan, which regards itself as one of the safest countries in the world, has witnessed a string of crimes linked to fringe cults.
Last November, police found the mummified body of a 66-year-old follower of the Life Space cult in a hotel. At that time, his family claimed he was still alive and being treated for a brain haemorrhage with pats on the head from guru Koji Takahashi, who was later arrested and charged with murder.