("Kyodo News Service", December 23, 1999)
TOKYO, Dec. 23 (Kyodo) - The founder of the Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo religious sect spent more than 1 billion yen in meeting religious and political leaders in 1995 and 1996 to promote his sect and win public confidence in it, a source once close to the leader said Thursday.
A 67-year-old intermediary in the meetings has also filed a lawsuit against Hogen Fukunaga, 54, demanding the religious sect founder pay 560 million yen owing in fees.
In February 1995, Fukunaga met former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev at a Tokyo hotel, the source said, adding the meeting was made possible as Fukunaga offered to provide 10,000 U.S. dollars every month to help finance the former president's monthly English-language magazine.
In September 1995, Fukunaga met Pope John Paul II in the Vatican when he accompanied members of the U.S. Mahatma Gandhi Foundation on a visit for the 125th anniversary of Gandhi's birth, the source said.
Fukunaga received the Gandhi peace prize for 1995 from the foundation. In exchange, he promised to donate 200 million yen but it is believed he has not done so yet, the source said.
He also had an interview with Shirdi Sai Baba, who some call a living god, in a southern Indian village in October 1995, and then went to Calcutta to call on Mother Teresa, the source said.
At the United Nations headquarters in New York in February 1996, Fukunaga gave a speech appealing for environmental conservation and peace, hoping by such efforts to win the Nobel Peace Prize, according to the source.
In a meeting with Icelandic President Vigdis Finnbogadottir in April 1996, Fukunaga vainly sought a position with the country's diplomatic community, the source also said.
In May 1996 he attended the U.S. Democratic Party's gathering in Washington and afterward is said to have made a presentation in his role as Gandhi peace prize winner to that year's winner, U.S. President Bill Clinton.
The Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo sect ran photos of luminaries taken in such meetings in its publications and on its Web site.
Ho-no-Hana facilities, including Fukunaga's house in Tokyo, have been searched on suspicion the sect swindled large sums of money from adherents by telling them it would cure their illnesses.
Fukunaga and other senior members of the group took 22 million yen from November 1994 to June 1995 from three women who contacted the group after reading Fukunaga's books, according to police.
Senior sect members deceived gullible clients by ''diagnosing'' ailments such as cancer based simply on inspections of their feet, and told them that payments of millions of yen would cure them, the police said.
("Japan Times", December 7, 1999)
Five former followers of the Honohana Sampogyo religious sect Tuesday filed a criminal complaint against its guru, Hogen Fukunaga, and 12 other cult executives, their lawyers said.
The former followers filed the suit because fraud allegedly committed by the sect has become a serious social issue and needs to be stopped before more people are victimized, their lawyers said.
A total of 1,107 people from across the nation, including the five who filed the complaint, have already filed damages suits against the group. The suits seek a total of 5.389 billion yen.
According to Tuesday's complaint to the Metropolitan Police Department, the five, all women in their 40s and 50s from Tokyo, accuse Fukunaga and the others of falsely diagnosing serious ailments such as cancer after "reading" the soles of their feet on different occasions from December 1994 to August 1996.
The five claim they were duped into paying a total of 24 million yen as participation fees to the special "training" sessions, which the group said would ward off the illnesses.
The money also included payments for what the sect claimed was a holy hanging scroll, which cost 3.33 million yen, as a token of completing the training session and for a revelation called "heaven's voice" that came to Fukunaga.
Honohana Sanpogyo's foot diagnosticians use a manual that instructs them to instill fear in people by claiming that they may commit suicide or suffer cancer if they do not take the sect's training sessions.
It costs an average of 2.25 million yen to join such sessions.
Believers are told that soles provide "an insight into physical conditions, state of mind, future well-being and the lives of ancestors."
They are urged to "take one's head off," or abandon their ego, through the sessions, in order to solve all their problems.
("Asahi Shimbun", December 7, 1999)
The cult Ho no Hana Sanpogyo was so concerned with making money that followers felt compelled to slavishly borrow once they had given everything, according to a former member.
The disillusioned former cultist told Asahi Shimbun that the the group, which is being investigated for fraud, was ``nothing more than a money collecting machine.''
The 39-year-old man served as the group's branch chief in the Hokuriku region. He said branch managers were required to meet new membership targets, with many resorting to unorthodox methods to achieve their goals.
Investigators last week searched offices and meeting places of the group for evidence that it bilked thousands of followers to ``cure'' nonexistent illnesses.
Investigators from the Metropolitan Police Department and Shizuoka prefectural police searched the group's head office in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture, as well as the Tokyo head office and residence of the cult's leader, Hogen Fukunaga, 54. The former branch manager said he first attended a group training session in 1993. When he joined a training session in January 1995 it cost him 30,000 yen, but he became branch manager as a result.
His said his main task was to find new members for the training sessions. Recruits were called ``hearts'' and branch managers were paid up to 90,000 yen when they found new recruits. ``Many of the branch managers were already deep in debt because they had to donate millions of yen before they were allowed into managerial positions,'' the former member said. They therefore tried to collect as many `hearts' as possible, just so they repay their debts. The man reasoned thatevery time he collected a ``heart'' he had ``saved'' someone.
Meetings of branch managers were held almost once a month at the group's headquarters in Fuji, and the ``top 10 heart collectors'' received awards. Sometimes Fukunaga himself handed out prizes. There were several instances of managers competing for the same `heart,''' he said.
What passed for examining people's souls when acquiring ``hearts'' was nothing more than a blatant attempt to find out whether they could get their hands on money, the former cultist said. Potential new members were first asked to write down details of their life, prior to being given a ``consultation.'' If someone wrote that he or she was in debt, they were told they didn't have the ``soul'' to get any money. If a person wanted to marry, they were told, ``You will live out your life alone.''
Consultations supposedly about family history were conducted in the same manner. A person's big toe was said to represent his or her parents, and every other toe symbolized grandparents, great-grandparents and so on. ``So if there was any problem with your little toe, it meant your great-great-great-grandparents were responsible for your problem. This had nothing to do with religion.'' If a would-be ``heart'' got scared and asked what to do, they were told their only choice was to join a 5-day training course.
Branch managers would also ask what sum of money was important to the would-be followers. If the targeted person answered ``1 million yen,'' the manager will say ``Can you collect that money by tomorrow? You can't change your life if you don't.'' The chat would end with a manager shouting, ``Are you going to join, or not?'' An affirmative answer led to the branch manager telling the new recuit that he or she had made the right decision and should ``hang on.'' The next step in the process was key to the operation. ``Let them give away all their money immediately. Then call them every day, and encourage them to make money. If they say they haven't any more, they must be told to borrow from consumer loan firms.''
The former branch manager was successful in acquiring several ``hearts,'' but he started having doubts and quit the group in the spring of 1996. He filed a lawsuit with other former members to win back 2.8 million yen he gave to the group when he started. ``I joined the group to change my life for the better,'' he said. ``But all I had left was debts.''
(Kyodo News Service, December 5, 1999)
TOKYO, Dec. 6 (Kyodo) - The Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo religious group, being investigated by police for suspected swindling, raised money from its followers by promising them ''cosmic energy'' through Hogen Fukunaga, its founder, police sources said Monday.
The police sources said the group advertised that if people sent photographs of themselves and a fee of 20,000 yen for group members and 50,000 yen for nonmembers, Fukunaga would transmit the energy of the universe to the donors through the photographs.
The call for sending in the funds was issued after the sect canceled an event scheduled for Dec. 15 in Yokohama with 8,000 people expected to take part, in which the cosmic energy was to be transmitted for a similar fee, the sources said.
The event was canceled just before police raided Ho-no-Hana facilities last week on suspicion that the group had swindled three women out of millions of yen each.
Sources close to the group earlier said the fee for attending the event was to be 20,500 yen for members and 50,500 yen for nonmembers.
According to Ho-no-Hana, those attending the annual event would receive the energy of the universe through the 54-year-old Fukunaga.
Police last Wednesday and Saturday raided offices and other places linked to Ho-no-Hana on suspicion it tricked three women into paying large sums of money by falsely telling them they had serious illnesses and promising to cure them.
The police also plan to investigate companies owned by Ho-no-Hana.
("Mainichi Shimbun", December 5, 1999)
The Ho no Hana Sanpogyo foot-reading cult canceled its biggest event of the year to be held in Yokohama on Dec. 15 - pulling the plug just a day before police raided it on Wednesday, the Mainichi has learned. The management of the Pacifico Yokohama complex, where the festival was to be held, said that in light of the police crackdown it would have had to bar the controversial cult anyway. Ho no Hana Sanpogyo claimed that, despite the last-minute cancelation, the festival would still go ahead on time, just at another venue. Until a few years ago, the "Tengyo-riki Taisai" ("Grand Festival of Heavenly Power)" was held every year at the Tokyo Dome in the capital's Bunkyo-ku, with around 10,000 people participating in the biggest moneymaking event on the cult's calendar, police said. According to Ho no Hana leader Hogen Fukunaga, tengyo-riki is heavenly power that gives life to all creations, and the taisai is the day that the power falls on the face of the Earth most strongly. Many "miracles," such as a case in which a wheelchair-bound person could walk again, regularly occurred during the grand festival, cult publications claim. All first-time participants of the event have to buy a tengyo-riki pocket diary - which the cult claims is a transmitter of the heavenly power to holders - with its price starting from 50,500 yen. Repeat participants can join the event for a participation fee of 20,000 yen or over, plus a 500 yen booking fee. This year's festival was scheduled to be held at a 6,000-capacity exhibition hall in the Pacifico Yokohama complex in Yokohama's Nishi-ku, which is partly owned by the Yokohama Municipal Government. The hall was booked for three days from Dec. 13 with a fee of about 2.2 million yen per day, according to the complex's semigovernmental management company. However, Ho no Hana officials canceled the booking on Nov. 30, a day before the first nationwide police crackdown was launched. "It's highly unusual for a booking to be canceled at such short notice, but considering the circumstances, we would have had to disallow (the cult) from using the facility even if it hadn't cancelled the booking," a company official said.
("Asahi Shimbun", December 5, 1999)
Police on Saturday searched 32 more facilities of the Ho no Hana Sanpogyo religious group suspected of swindling billions of yen from more than 1,000 of its followers. It was the second series of searches in less than a week. The most recent searches included the group's branch offices in Akita, Nagano and Miyazaki prefectures, and a sanatorium in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture. A private company in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, that is affiliated with the religious organization, was also targeted by police investigators. The 11-story sanatorium, named ``Ningen Yuin'' (house to cure humans), was formerly a members-only hotel. Ho no Hana Sanpogyo bought the hotel through its affiliate and uses it as a sanatorium for cult members. Saturday's search increased to 106 the number of group facilities visited by police nationwide. The group is based in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture, and is headed by Hogen Fukunaga, 54. Police executed the searches based on allegations that Fukunaga and other Ho no Hana Sanpogyo executives cheated three homemakers out of 22 million yen between November 1994 and June 1995. The trio gave the money to participate in the group's training sessions after being told they would contract cancer or face other unfortunate fates if they refused to pay. Police suspect that other followers could be added to the current list of victims who were bilked out of money. During Wednesday's search, authorities reportedly seized thousands of items that could be used as evidence against the group.
("Mainichi Shimbun", December 5, 1999)
The home of a former speaker of the Fuji Municipal Assembly in Shizuoka Prefecture and a resort hotel owned by the Ho no Hana Sampogyo cult were among the locations raided by police Saturday over the group's alleged fraud, investigators said. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and the Shizuoka Prefectural Police mobilized about 150 officers in their second round of raids on the cult - this time targeting 32 locations in Tokyo, Shizuoka and 10 other prefectures. Police said the search was necessary partly because the cult tried to destroy evidence prior to the first raids on 73 other locations in Tokyo, Shizuoka and seven other prefectures last Wednesday. The 63-year-old former assembly speaker denied any involvement in the cult's alleged fraud. "I can't think of any reason why my home was searched by police." "I'm not directly linked to the cult. But I served as a matchmaker for the daughter of the owner of a company that was commissioned by Ho no Hana to build its facilities," he said. Also among the premises targeted by police in Saturday's raids was Ningen Yuin (human healing house), a resort hotel owned by Ho no Hana, in the Shizuoka Prefecture city of Atami. Ho no Hana officials are named as executives of the hotel that the cult purchased from an Osaka real estate agency in September last year. One of the cult-related Web sites claims that the hotel is filled with "minus ions" produced by 50 tons of expensive binchotan charcoal stacked on its basement floor. Minus ions "purify" the whole hotel complex and increase natural healing power of human bodies, the home page claims. The raids were conducted on suspicion that cult founder Hogen Fukunaga, 54, and other senior members swindled three woman out of 22 million yen from November 1994 to June 1995.
(Kyodo News Service, December 4, 1999)
TOKYO, Dec. 4 (Kyodo) - Police on Saturday searched 32 locations in 12 prefectures linked to the Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo religious sect for evidence of suspected fraud, the second nationwide search of the cult's facilities.
Some 150 officers from the Metropolitan Police Department and the Shizuoka prefectural police searched a hotel in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, some firms related to the group in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, and its local offices in various prefectures.
The officers completed their search of the Atami hotel, called Atami Ningen Yuin (Atami facility to cure humans), at about 3 p.m.
This is the second nationwide police search, following one Wednesday, of facilities related to the sect, which is suspected of swindling large sums of money from believers in the name of curing illnesses, according to the police.
On Wednesday, police raided the group's headquarters in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture, as well as 73 other premises in Shizuoka, Tokyo and seven other prefectures, including a Tokyo headquarters and the house of Hogen Fukunaga, founder of the group, both in Shibuya Ward.
The police said Saturday's raids were carried out partly because the sect is believed to have destroyed evidence.
Before Wednesday's raids, members of the sect were seen removing a large number of cardboard boxes containing documents, the police said. The raids yielded several large bags of shredded paper.
Police are set to investigate companies owned by Ho-no-Hana, alleging that the sect may have gained some 100 billion yen in income.
According to hotel industry sources, the Atami hotel is used mainly by people traveling on tours organized by Ho-no-Hana.
The sources said those who are not Ho-no-Hana members can also stay in the hotel, which is run by people related to the sect.
A hotel employee said, however, ''I don't know much (about relations between the hotel and Ho-no-Hana).''
According to the police, Fukunaga, 54, and other senior members of the group took 22 million yen from November 1994 to June 1995 from three women who contacted the group after reading Fukunaga's books.
Senior sect members falsely diagnosed serious ailments such as cancer, based on inspections of the soles of the clients' feet, and told them that payments of millions of yen would cure the illnesses, according to the police.
They told the women their family members would suffer from cancer unless they underwent expensive five-day training sessions at the group's Fuji headquarters, the police said.
The women had read a book written by Fukunaga, which cited examples of people who had been cured of illness by training, but all the examples turned out to be spurious, the police said.
The senior sect members also swindled some followers out of several million yen each by selling them hanging scrolls, ornaments and other goods, after warning the followers that they will die young, or their company would go bankrupt if they did not buy the goods, they said.
("Mainichi Shimbun", December 3, 1999)
Ho no Hana Sanpogyo leader Hogen Fukunaga, who allegedly defrauded thousands of people through his dodgy foot-readings, had set up meetings with international celebrities, including Pope John Paul II, in an attempt to add some luster to the cult's image, the Mainichi has learned.
The whereabouts of Fukunaga, 54, are still unknown following Wednesday's nationwide raids on the foot-reading cult's facilities by police.
Fukunaga held talks with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in October 1991, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev four years later to discuss global environmental issues, according to magazines published by Ho no Hana.
The guru then made trips to the Vatican and India in the autumn of 1995, where he met the pontiff, the late Mother Theresa, and Sathya Sai Baba, a religionist who once appeared frequently on Japanese television.
Fukunaga, who claims to be an oracle, seems to have enjoyed his meeting with the Pope the most, and mentioned the occasion in several magazines and books.
He handed the cult's canon, "Tensei-Seisho (Scripture of heavenly voice)," to the Pope, and was given a ring in return.
In giving the ring to Fukunaga, the Pope said "please take care of things after I'm gone," three times, the cult leader claimed in one of his books.
Ho no Hana magazines also had regular columns devoted to Fukunaga interviewing domestic celebrities such as television personalities and sports people.
Stories of those high-profile meetings were mentioned in numerous books written by Fukunaga, many of which were distributed free of charge near hospitals, to impress and lure people to undergo "sole-examinations" and attend training sessions, police said.
According to investigators, Ho no Hana had a quota system in place for its high-ranking members, who are called "heaven's employees" and "heaven's servants," to bring in a certain amount of money to the cult.
A notice with the heading "the final oracle" and signed by Fukunaga was distributed to around 240 executive members in June last year. It ordered them to collect up to 4.5 million yen in six days by inviting people to the cult's various training sessions.
("Japan Times", December 1, 1999)
Police raided offices and gathering spots Wednesday linked to Honohana Sanpogyo over allegations that the religious sect duped thousands of people into paying large sums to cure serious illnesses it diagnosed through reading the soles of their feet.
Some 100 investigators from the Metropolitan Police Department and Shizuoka Prefectural Police searched the group's head office in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture, shortly after 7:30 a.m.
Investigators also searched 73 other offices and gathering spots in nine prefectures, including a Tokyo head office in Shibuya Ward and the house of guru Hogen Fukunaga.
Police sources said the group's leaders, including Fukunaga, 54, will face questioning.
Fukunaga and other leaders are suspected of falsely diagnosing serious ailments such as cancer after reading the soles of people's feet. They are also suspected of claiming that multimillion yen payments for special "training" sessions would ward off the illnesses.
The sources said the probe's focus will be on whether investigative authorities can prove the cult was a mere money-grabbing concern under the guise of religion.
Authorities must challenge the cult's claims that massive funds raised from followers came from religious activities with their consent, the sources said.
Some 1,100 people nationwide have filed civil suits against the group, seeking a total of 5.4 billion yen in damages, according to the group.
More alleged victims will soon file a criminal accusation against Honohana Sanpogyo with the MPD, the sources said.
According to police sources, Fukunaga and other senior sect members between November 1994 and June 1995 collected 22 million yen from three women who contacted the group after reading the guru's books.
The senior members warned the women that they would die young, suffer from cancer or face company bankruptcy unless they underwent expensive training sessions at the group's Fuji headquarters, the sources said.
They bilked the three women by selling them hanging scrolls, ornaments and other goods at exorbitant prices, the sources alleged.
Using a similar scam, the cult leaders swindled other followers out of some 100 million yen each, the sources claimed.
The group has told courts hearing the suits that it collected 61 billion yen from 30,000 followers.
The group was founded by Fukunaga around 1980. In 1987, it was recognized as a religious group eligible for preferential tax treatment by the Shizuoka Prefectural Government.
It has an estimated 2,000 regular followers.
Investigators plan to shed light on the activities of the group, which police believe collected some 100 billion yen from its followers. They plan to confiscate documents showing the cult's leaders ordered rank-and-file members to collect money and will seek depositions that the sole-reading was a scam to rake in funds, the sources said.
Since around 1993, the sect has used part of its funds to start businesses, including those dealing in publishing, travel and grocery retailing, but many have been unsuccessful and some have failed, the sources said.
In 1997, Fukunaga and firms related to the cult were fined 4.7 billion yen in penalties and back taxes for failing to properly file taxes.
"It is a problem in itself that (Honohana) operated profit-seeking businesses by taking advantage of tax breaks given to religious organizations," a police official said.
Katsumi Fujimori, chief attorney for a nationwide group of lawyers supporting victims of the cult's alleged fraud, told a news conference in Shizuoka the group hopes the investigation will reveal the cult's illegal activities and criminal liability.
A Tokyo lawyers' group supporting Honohana victims also released a statement Wednesday that the action by investigative authorities this time will prevent others from falling victim to the sect and forestall any future damage the cult might inflict. Cult manual resembles scare tactic bible Honohana Sanpogyo's so-called foot diagnosticians used a manual to persuade people to undergo the religious sect's expensive "training" sessions, informed sources alleged Wednesday.
The manual was submitted to the Tokyo District Court during a damages suit by former followers, claiming it is evidence of the systematic fraud the cult engaged in.
Honohana is currently being sued by 1,100 former followers.
The document, "A training manual for foot diagnosticians," instructs the diagnosticians to instill fear in the people whose soles they are "reading" by claiming they may commit suicide or suffer cancer if they do not take the sect's training sessions, which cost more than 2 million yen to join, the sources alleged.
The manual also suggests that it is important to "stun people" by looking at their feet and telling them their blood is bad.
It also suggests that diagnosticians tell people their bodies cannot be placed in coffins when they die, their businesses will fail in a few months or their lives will be unsuccessful, unless they undergo the cult's sessions.
According to the manual, the soles of feet provide an insight into physical conditions, state of mind, future well-being and the lives of ancestors.
It recommends that people be urged to "take one's head off," or abandon their ego, through the sessions, in order to solve all their problems.
The cult has denied the manual was systematically used, claiming it was written privately by one of the group's senior members.
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