Commune ordered to return ‘brainwashed’ woman’s cash

The Tokyo District Court ordered an agriculture commune Wednesday to return about 240 million yen to a former follower who claimed she was brainwashed into donating the money.

The ruling ordered the Yamagishi Life Demonstration Community in Tsu, Mie Prefecture, and other Yamagishi entities affiliated with the parent Yamagishi Association to repay the money.

The Yamagishi Association, which was launched in the town of Iga, Mie Prefecture, in the 1950s, believes communal living based largely on agriculture is indispensable to producing a humane society.

The court said the woman first attended a seminar provided by the association in 1985 and became a member of a Yamagishi community in Tsu with her two children in 1989. She decided on communal life after becoming concerned about her daughter’s unruly behavior. She donated all her assets, including 230 million yen, upon joining the community, the court said.

The woman left the group in 1994 after becoming disillusioned by the extravagant lifestyles of some of the group’s leaders and realizing she was simply a source of money and free labor, according to the court.

While the woman signed a contract with the organization stating the money would not be returned if she left the group, the court said the contract ran contrary to public order and accepted social customs.

It also said the contract contravened the freedom of thought guaranteed under the Constitution, as the contract may have prevented the woman from leaving the group.

Although the court ordered the group to return her money, her claim that the group used unjust canvassing measures such as the seminar was rejected, with the court saying it was socially acceptable.

According to the plaintiff’s lawyer, around 10 civil suits demanding the Yamagishi affiliates return donations or pay compensation have been filed by former followers across the country. The Yamagishi Association now organizes 39 communities.

A Yamagishi spokesman declined comment on the ruling until they have fully examined it.