The third part of a statement by an award-winning journalist reveals the true face of the most vocal Japanese disgruntled ex-member of the church.
by Masumi Fukuda
Article 3 of 4. Read article 1 and article 2.
Initially, I did not pay much attention to Sayuri Ogawa (a pseudonym), a second-generation ex-member of the former Unification Church, when she first began to appear on TV and other media. When a sensational incident such as the Abe assassination occurs, it is normal that some who believe they have a story to tell would try to attract media attention. The question is, however, whether their testimony is true or not.
Soon, the credibility of her claims began to be questioned, especially on the Internet. Indeed, her explanations about the cause of her mental illness, the reason why she left the Unification Church, and the story of her financial troubles with her mother changed from time to time, and her claims were not consistent at all. Then, new stories were suddenly added, such as that she had been sexually harassed by a male group leader during a Unification Church training session, or that while she was at a church event in Cheongpyeong, Korea, her mother had stolen money she had saved and hidden.
The Family Federation is very strict about romantic relationships, and prohibits sexual relationships before marriage. Therefore, it is difficult to imagine a man sexually harassing a woman during a training session, which is a religious event of the church. In my experience of covering similar incidents in other contexts, it is also true that among those who claim to have been sexually harassed, abused by their supervisors, stalked, had their children severely bullied, or suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, while some were real victims, others made claims that were not true or greatly exaggerated their stories.
If Ogawa had limited herself to present her statements on YouTube or satellite TV, hers might have remained just a minor incident. However, she later testified at hearings by the ruling and opposition parties, attended a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, and was finally invited by the Diet as a witness.
She began her speech by raising her voice in front of many Diet members. “(My parents) confiscated my wages, two million yen for five years of part-time job, which I started when I was in high school. I have never received it back. Despite this situation, my parents repeatedly gave large amounts of donations to the church without asking me and my siblings. The teaching that leads to such donations is forced on children from an early age…”
Many agree that Ogawa was behind both Prime Minister Kishida’s decision to exercise the right to ask questions to the Family Federation, a preliminary move towards seeking its dissolution, which he had previously been reluctant to do, and the unusually rapid enactment of the new law for the victims’ relief. Needless to say, however, making statements in public involves a significant responsibility. If by any chance a false accusation determined the government to act, it would be a very serious matter.
Around the end of November 2022, I asked a spokesperson for the former Unification Church whether Ogawa’s claims were true. He replied, “Her parents are heartbroken. They deny most of Ogawa’s claims.” Hearing this, I hesitated for a while, and then told the church representative that I would like to interview Ogawa’s parents. On December 24, I traveled to Mie Prefecture, where her parents live, to conduct a lengthy interview.
My impression is that both mother and father are loving, ordinary parents who think of their daughter first and foremost. The only thing that distinguishes them from ordinary parents is their faith in the Family Federation. Indeed, since Ogawa was a little girl, they took her to Sunday church services and held a salute ceremony at 5 a.m. once every eight days at their home. But that salute ceremony takes about fifteen minutes.
Ogawa claims that she fainted several times during the ceremony and that she dislocated her shoulder when she was made to get down on her knees, but her parents said that this was not true at all. Kneeling on the ground is not specific to this ceremony, but rather a Korean way of bowing to elders (called “respectful worship” in the church). They also told me that she fell asleep in the middle of the ceremony, which they thought was what she described as “fainting.”
Ogawa’s parents also flatly denied her claim that her family had been poor since she was a child, and that this was due to her parents’ large donations to the church. They said that because her father had studied in the U.S. for a long time and his job as a head minister of the Unification Church after returning to Japan paid very little, he could not even afford to tithe, i.e., to pay one tenth of its income to the church, let alone making larger donations.
In the first place, Ogawa was not directly told by her parents that they had made large donations. However, she assumed that her parents had done it because they had in their home items such as marble jars, a two-stories pagoda, and a Maitreya statue. It is true that these items are expensive and in the Unification Church are often given to believers who have made significant donations.
However, the jars and the pagoda were from a deceased believer, and her father, who was the local church’s head minister, had been asked by the bereaved family to take them. The Maitreya statue was purchased at a low price by a co-religionist friend of her father, who then gave it to him for free.
Ogawa herself stated at a hearing held by the Constitutional Democratic Party last August that, “If (my father’s) salary had been better, we might have had a better life. And I had actually heard from my mother that his salary was low.” Therefore, she must have been aware that they were poor because her father’s income was low.
That all of her siblings were bullied because of the family’s poverty was also denied by Ogawa’s sister, who was present during the interview. Her two older brothers, who were not present when I met their parents, also clearly denied Ogawa’s claims.
Ogawa’s claim that her mother stole her part-time job wages has changed several times and is completely inconsistent.
For example, regarding the period of time during which her mother took her wage, she said “from the age of 18 to 20 (October 2013–October 2015)” in an email to her father in January 2021; “during high school to after graduation (July 2011–March 2018)” at the Constitutional Democratic Party hearing in August 2022; “for two years after graduating from high school (March 2014–March 2016)” in a conversation on the messaging application LINE with her father also in August 2022; and “from July 2011 to around March 2015” in her written statement to Noriko Ishigaki, a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party, in the case of the Family Federation’s request for a preliminary injunction.
Ishigaki had posted a video of her party’s hearing with Ogawa on her YouTube channel. In response, the Family Federation filed an application with the Tokyo District Court for a provisional injunction ordering the removal of the video, claiming that its content was not based on any fact and constituted defamation of the church.
The reasons why her mother allegedly took her wages also changed from “to pay for the tuition of (Ogawa’s) two older brothers,” to “because we did not have enough money for living expenses” (although Ogawa said the money was used for donations), to “it is a provisional borrowing and I [the mother] will definitely return the money when you will need it.” She also claimed that she reluctantly gave the money to her mother, or alternatively that her mother came to her part-time job premise every month on payday and did not leave until she gave the wage to her.
Indeed, her mother honestly admitted that when Ogawa was a high school student, she had borrowed 160,000 yen from her daughter and did not immediately return it because she was struggling to pay the school fees for her eldest and second sons.
However, in May 2018, when Ogawa ran away from home after leaving a letter behind, 220,000 yen were withdrawn from her father’s JA bank account via ATM. Ogawa’s family keeps all the family members’ bank passbooks and bank cards together in a drawer at home, and the PIN numbers are also the same for all family members. Since no one in the family had withdrawn any money that day, “I thought my daughter must have taken it. But we didn’t say anything because of the 160,000 yen,” her mother stated.
In addition, since Ogawa had repeatedly asked her father to send money after that, he did it several times in response to his daughter’s requests, and the total amount came to about 100,000 yen.
Furthermore, Ogawa’s brothers also remitted several amounts of money to her because it was true that she had helped them with their school tuition fees. The bank passbooks documenting the withdrawals (supposedly by Ogawa) and remittances by family members were submitted by her parents as evidence in the preliminary injunction case. In other words, even though her mother paid back the 160,000 yen she had borrowed a long time ago, Ogawa was still claiming, “They took my money for a long time. I want my two million yen back.” The mother completely denies Ogawa’s claims.
Her mother had no idea why her daughter was calling her a thief, and seemed quite shocked. However, out of concern for her mentally unstable daughter, she did not rebuke her with strong words. Instead, her parents patiently tried to communicate with their daughter through LINE, and asked her to send them photos of her bank passbook or other documents as evidence that her mother had taken her money. However, for several times Ogawa either did not reply or deflected the conversation. Therefore, her parents’ efforts to elicit their daughter’s correct memories have not been successful.
However, the written statement Ogawa submitted to the court in the preliminary injunction case reveals her obvious lies. She had stated at the hearing of the Constitutional Democratic Party that, “When I was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward, my mother withdrew all the money from my savings account, which I had hidden and saved, without my permission.”
However, the savings account, which she had “hidden and saved” did not actually exist, and the fact that her mother withdrew money from the account without her permission could not be proved. In her written statement, she replaced this version with a completely different story, that her mother borrowed money from her and never returned it.
She also stated at the hearing of the Constitutional Democratic Party that her parents had confiscated all the wages of the part-time job she had started after she graduated from high school, and had used the money for donations to the Unification Church. However, her bank passbook was submitted to the court as evidence. It turned out that her wages from May 2018, when she started receiving her salary by bank transfer instead of hand-delivery, were still in her bank account.
This led her to tell yet another completely different story. In the written statement, she claimed that around March 2015, her mother came to the nursing home where she was working on a payday and took almost the entire amount, so she asked the head of the facility to change the way of paying her, from hand-delivery to bank transfer. In fact, since May 2015, her wages for the part-time job were paid by bank transfer. However, both her mother and the head of the nursing home deny Ogawa’s claims.
In other words, the nursing home switched to bank transfer not because of a request by Ogawa, but because of business reasons of their own, and they did it for all their employees. Her mother recorded her conversation with the head of the nursing home and submitted it as evidence in court.
In addition, a written statement filed in the temporary injunction case also revealed that Ogawa had no evidence of her parents’ alleged large donations to the Unification Church, on which she had strongly insisted from the beginning of her public appearances.
In her written statement, she presented it as a mere speculation, writing that, “The church has a quota for large donations, and it is impossible that my parents, who are devoted followers of the Unification Church, had not made such donations,” and “It is my belief that the jars and a pagoda at home were given to my parents as a result of their large donations.”
Ogawa has appeared in an NHK (Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai, Japan Broadcasting Corporation) documentary program this year and has published a book, “Sayuri Ogawa: The Second Generation of a Religion” (Shogakukan). Neither in the documentary nor in the book are the alleged large donations mentioned. We may assume that she began to downplay this claim after her parents persuasively denied it. With this, however, the whole idea that she is a victim of the former Unification Church would remain without evidence, and she would have no credibility when calling for the dissolution of the church.
For this reason, Ogawa has decided to focus on a different claim, sexual harassment by a church male group leader. If even this claim would be abandoned, there would be no reason to take her seriously in the media or even to discuss her at all. Unfortunately, however, her story of this incident also has no credibility.
Ogawa reported on social media that she told her mother about the sexual harassment when she came home after the training session, but her mother claims that she had never heard that story. Ogawa also showed an email the male group leader sent to a church staff, but there was no mention of Ogawa claiming she had been sexually abused.
She also sent an e-mail to another staff, saying “I felt the male group leader’s eyes on me,” but again, nothing was mentioned about sexual harassment. At the time, no one who was involved with her in the training case heard anything about sexual harassment. Perhaps the story was made up after she started talking to the media.
Ogawa has always claimed that she was victimized by the former Unification Church and by her parents, who were church members. Nobody considers the fact, however, that this male group leader is being victimized by being falsely accused by Ogawa. He is not named but can be easily identified by the church members who attended the training session in Chiba at the same time as Ogawa. I consider this to be a serious assault on this man’s honor.
Ogawa also stated that her parents gave up two of their daughters for adoption based on the Japanese adoption system, which is true and was also perfectly legal, commenting, “It is almost like human trading.” We believe that this is also defamation against her parents. As I mentioned earlier, I wonder whether she has ever considered how much her heartless words and actions, including calling her mother a thief, hurt her parents’ feelings, the honor of her adopted siblings, and by extension, the honor of the Family Federation.
I recently spoke with three female second-generation believers of Ogawa’s generation. They never told me anything negative about Ogawa. They are not speaking ill of her because they know that she shares with them the struggles and problems of the second-generation believers, as well as the bond of being brothers and sisters who once shared the same faith.
As second-generation believers grow up, the three said, they experience the gap between the values of their faith and those prevailing in the secular world. For example, they realize, and may have problems in accepting it, that the Family Federation’s teachings and values about dating and sexuality ask them to behave differently from their friends who are not members of the church.
Ogawa may have experienced such struggles, but she actually fell in love with a non-member of the church and was not prevented by their parents to date and eventually marry him, was able to fully engage in her favorite musical activities with the support of her parents, and easily left the church when she decided to do so.
The anti-Unification-Church activists claim that it is not easy to leave the former Unification Church, but Ogawa’s own experience tells a different story. You just leave the church. No one will run after you. Ogawa’s parents did not force her to remain in the church. These facts too make it very difficult to accept the claim that Ogawa is a victim of the former Unification Church.
If you do not like the organization, you may just stay away from the Family Federation. One wonders why it was necessary for Ogawa to make public statements such as, “The Unification Church is a cult that calls itself a religion and is an antisocial organization that drives its members’ families to collapse. We hope that the anti-cult law enacted in France will also be adopted in Japan;” and “Please dissolve this organization.” In fact, these statements by Ogawa were just copied and pasted from the claims of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, and are the proof that she followed their guidance and is under their influence.
After I finished interviewing Ogawa’s parents, I was eager to talk to her as well, so I requested an interview through her father and wrote to her e-mail address. However, I received a response from her representative, Attorney Takashi Yamaguchi from the Network. He insisted “We refuse your interview,” and even refused to be interviewed himself on her behalf.
I got the impression from Attorney Yamaguchi’s reply that the facts are unimportant to the Network. They are willing to say anything, even lies, to destroy the Family Federation. They probably think everything is justified to achieve this aim. That is why they do not care if Ogawa’s statements are true or highly dubious or false, and they continue to use her as a convenient tool for their purposes.
Incidentally, this tendency is becoming prominent in several media. The term “post-truth” (which in fact means a non-truth) refers to a situation in which falsehoods that appeal to personal emotions have a stronger influence than objective facts in influencing the public opinion. The “Sayuri Ogawa phenomenon” is a typical case of “post-truth.”
A few years ago, the terms “fake news” and “fact-checking” started being currently used. It was necessary to “fact-check” the “fake news” that was rampant in the media. Today, however, any attempt to fact-check Sayuri Ogawa’s words and actions is countered by accusations of “slander against a victim,” “invasion of privacy,” and so on. However, if the media disregard facts, they deny their function and in a way “commit suicide” as media. If the public opinion accepts such media, the society as a whole becomes corrupt. All claim to be interested in social justice, but they will get the contrary of it.