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Weeklies take a look at faiths, (misplaced) hopes and charities


Which religious groups were most successful in raising funds for earthquake victims in the devastated parts of Tohoku? In its Golden Week double issue, Flash (May 8-15) ran an article about the heretofore unreported nexus between last year’s disaster and religion. The most generous donor by far, which mustered some 20,000 volunteers over 130 days — approaching the Self-Defense Forces in equipment and speed — was the 40-year-old “Hinokishin Brigade” of the Tenrikyo Sect, which also donated some ¥920 million. This was followed by Soka Gakkai and Rissho Koseikai each donating over ¥500 million; Seicho no Ie (¥250 million); the Unification Church (¥160 million); the Science of Happiness (¥61 million); and various Buddhist charities (¥340 million).

While not going into specifics, Flash also acknowledged the good works performed by Christian groups, 42 of which are said to have aided in the Tohoku recovery. “In addition to the evacuation centers, churches both in Japan and abroad functioned as bases for the collection and distribution of materials,” says Kazuyoshi Takahashi, director of an NPO that coordinated their efforts. “A small minority may have engaged in coercive attempts to gain converts or to proselytize. It may be stating the obvious, but for the disaster victims, religious affiliation was one of the most important things.”

Not to be outdone, Shukan Post (May 4-11) ran a series of six articles totaling 17 pages under the headline, “A complete dissection: Japan’s religions’ ‘money’ and ‘power.’ ” One of the articles suggests that political bigwig Ichiro Ozawa might be inclined to use his influence to push for elimination of religious groups’ tax-exempt status, a move that could add as much as ¥4 trillion to the government’s coffers annually. The justification for this is made evident from another article, which purports to expose the “side businesses” operated by large religious groups, which are said to include schools, hospitals, cemeteries, golf courses and — bless their hearts — love hotels. A sidebar item mentions the “black market” for purchasing a “dormant religious group” (i.e., one still recognized by the government although not engaged in any activities), the going rate for which is said to be ¥100 million.

“This is how Japan would change under Prime Minister (Toru) Hashimoto” is the cover story in Sapio (May 5-16). Hidetsugu Yagi, professor at Takazaki City University of Economics, voiced the opinion that should Osaka’s mayor ascend to national leadership, he would “seek to wean Japan away from its current self-flagellating historical viewpoint” through educational reforms.

In addition to a review of the accounts of the Nanking Incident that appear in school textbooks, Yagi suggests that a Hashimoto government would consider expunging “fabricated accounts” of the 1945 mass suicides by civilians in Okinawa and the postwar convictions of Class A war criminals (sentenced to death at the Tokyo Tribunal). And students should also be taught about the favorable aspects of its 1910 annexation of Korea, such as the building up of Korea’s infrastructure, plus the huge reparations paid by Japan that he claims made South Korea’s economic miracle possible.

“U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher changed education to include aspects such as that lands colonized (by Britain) enjoyed benefits, so that (British) students could take pride in their own country and people,” Yagi writes. “Hashimoto has not discussed educational reform at a public forum, but it is obvious that he understands these contents.”

Historical revisionism aside, the subject of religion pops up here as well: At a symposium in Kyushu held in August 2009 (which Yagi also attended), Hashimoto made public remarks to the effect that “it’s weird that the prime minister of Japan cannot worship at Yasukuni Shrine.” More recently Hashimoto made a visit to the Gokoku shrine in Osaka just prior to his resignation as Osaka governor last October. But as prime minister, Hashimoto would be in the international limelight, and Yagi acknowledges that Yasukuni visits et al would confront numerous hurdles.

In the wake of last year’s March 11 disaster and Fukushima meltdown, many Japanese have turned their attention to sources of nonpolluting, renewable energy in the hopes of weaning the country from nuclear plants. The downside, reports Spa! (May 1-8), is that the new ventures have attracted swindlers.

“From last summer, the number of complaints over fraudulent eco-energy schemes has been on the rise,” an unnamed staff member of the Consumer Affairs Agency informs the magazine.

“The scams and fraudulent sales based on eco actually began several years back along with the boom in eco-related business,” says crime journalist Takeshi Natsuhara. “But since the disaster last year they’ve picked up, particularly frauds related to clean energy.”

The most common frauds, according to the source at the Consumer Affairs Agency, tend to take two main forms. One is related to investment schemes, such as in land to be allocated for wind-turbine power generation. The other involves the sales of spurious “green electric power certification.” It seems shady operators approach businesses, offering certificates issued by government offices or private companies that certify a business is utilizing “green” energy generated from wind turbines, solar power, and so on.

Spa! adds that homeowners also need to be wary of unscrupulous businesses engaged in door-to-door sales of solar panels. “If you are approached by someone promoting eco power or espousing an antinuclear stance, you should be skeptical,” advises Satoru Saito, an administrative scrivener who counsels such victims. “It’s great to be concerned about eco energy, but it can’t offer a cure-all. You also need to obtain the right information and learn about it on your own.”