Duped family tells of contempt for cult

Yomiuri Shimbun/May 10, 2000

Even as police arrested the founder and senior officials of the Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo religious group on suspicion of swindling former followers out of a huge sum of money, one former follower said he hoped the police investigation would fully expose the organization's "malicious nature" to the public.

Ho-no-Hana is thought to have coerced more than 30,000 people into undergoing its dubious training sessions by subjecting them to "sole-of-the-foot diagnoses" and telling them the sessions would prevent them from becoming cancer victims.

"I cannot forgive Ho-no-Hana, a group that always tries to take advantage of people's weakness," said a 65-year-old self-employed Ishikawa Prefecture man as he sat upright in front of the portrait of his son who died at the age of 30.

In June 1994, the son, a company employee, had been diagnosed with terminal colon cancer at the age of 29. He underwent surgery and was able to return home, but he was hospitalized again in January 1995.

Two months later, the son suddenly told his father that he wanted to take part in a Ho-no-Hana training session.

Although the son had not been told that his condition was terminal, his girlfriend, who had read the books of Ho-no-Hana founder Hogen Fukunaga, apparently convinced him to do so, the 65-year-old man said.

Grasping onto any hope for a cure for his son, the man went on a 30-kilometer drive at night to meet with two senior members of a local Ho-no-Hana branch.

As soon as they gave the man a sole-of-the-foot diagnosis, they frowningly told him that his was the sole of a man "who is trampling on his son." They then reportedly told him that things would be all right if his family participated in a five-day training session.

At that time, the man understood "all right" as meaning that the training session would cure his son's cancer.

Against his son's doctors' strong objections, the son left the hospital and went with his parents to Vox Dei (voice of God) village, Ho-no-Hana's headquarters located in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture. The family paid 5.84 million yen in training fees to the religious group. During their visit to the village, the son suffered several severe stomachaches.

Three days after they returned home, the family received a call from the branch's head, telling them to go to a certain hotel. When the parents showed up at the hotel with their dying son, they were welcomed by 50 to 60 Ho-no-Hana members.

The branch head had the son stand in front of the crowd and said, "This person's terminal cancer has been cured."

The announcement was greeted by applause, but it came as a blow to the parents, as they had not told their son about his cancer. "It was not cancer at all," the upset father shouted in vain. It seemed to him that his son had become terribly crestfallen.

After the gathering, the family was urged to purchase expensive items such as hanging scrolls at a total cost of 13 million yen. The price tag was hefty enough to shock the parents, but they ended up buying them in an attempt to save their son, even emptying a savings account to raise the money.

Their efforts, however, did nothing to improve their son's condition. Ten days after the training session, the son collapsed, saying that he could hold out no longer, and was hospitalized again. Two months later, he was dead. His parting words to his parents were, "The training could not change anything."

Ho-no-Hana has continued to tell the public that its sole-of-the-foot diagnoses reveal the state of a person's health and fortune through the color and condition of the sole, and even the length of the toes.

In many cases following a diagnosis, potential followers would be told things like their soles were so dirty they would suffer from cancer, or that they would commit suicide within a certain period of time.

Then they would be persuaded to take part in five-day training sessions after being told that things would be all right after the training. The group is said to have usually received 1.25 million yen to 2.25 million yen per person in training fees.

The training itself, conducted in the group's Vox Dei headquarters, required participants to recite the Ho-no-Hana's "Nanakangyo" behavior guides for hours on end. They were instructed to hand-copy a sutra titled Hannyatengyo, which the religious group invented by changing five parts of the well-known Hannyashingyo sutra.

Participants were allowed to sleep a total of only about 10 hours and eat four or five meals in five days of training.

On the final day of the session, when participants were in an extreme state of mind, Fukunaga and other senior officials would hold a "judgment meeting."

During the meeting, followers were required to intently recite from the "Nanakangyo" guides while the group officials allegedly hurled verbal abuse at them, egging them on to chant with desperation. After pronouncing the group a "failure" twice, officials then announced that the followers passed the test.

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