FUKUOKA-A cult that claims it can detect cancer by ``reading'' the soles of people's feet was ordered by a court Friday to pay 227 million yen as compensation to 27 former members who donated everything they had to join the sect.
The ruling in Fukuoka District Court was the first judicial decision against the Ho no Hana Sanpogyo cult.
In his verdict, Presiding Judge Motoaki Kimura said the activities of the cult itself were illegal.
``The sole examinations were vile measures designed to push individuals to join training sessions,'' Kimura said.
During training sessions, would-be followers would hear ``the voice of heaven.'' That, said the judge, was nothing more than a ploy to bilk people of money.
The 27 plaintiffs said they joined the cult after reading books written by cult founder Hogen Fukunaga and undergoing examinations of their soles.
The examinations supposedly told people their destiny. Fukunaga stepped down from a leadership position earlier this year.
Kimura also ruled that Fukunaga was personally responsible for the cult's illegal activities.
The court ruling included both the amounts the plaintiffs paid to the cult as well as 190 million yen as compensation.
Ho no Hana officials said they would appeal the ruling.
The plaintiffs said they paid 2.25 million yen each in fees to participate in a cult training session.
They were also asked to pay donations amounting to a maximum of 30 million yen for religious items that were given in response to the ``voice of heaven'' that was passed on by Fukunaga.
During court testimony, lawyers argued that the cult used fraudulent tactics and illegal threats in getting members to pay fees for training and other activities. Some prospective members were told they would develop cancer or other major illnesses and die soon if they did not join the group.
Some members even took out huge loans to finance the donations to the cult.
In response, the cult argued that the foot examinations helped to diagnose illnesses and there was nothing wrong with informing individuals of that fact.
They also argued that the donations were nothing other than regular alms to a religious organization.
According to lawyers working for individuals seeking compensation from the cult, eight suits have been filed district courts around Japan involving about 1,100 former cult members.
They are seeking a total of about 5.4 billion yen in compensation.
Friday's decision is expected to affect not only the other court cases, but also future activities for the Ho no Hana cult.
FUKUOKA - The Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo foot-reading cult was ruled as an illegal money-making machine by a court here Friday, and ordered to pay over 200 million yen in damages to former followers it had swindled. "[The order] was obviously only after profits ... and its activities were socially unacceptable as an ascetic practice and totally illegal," Presiding Judge Motoaki Kimura said at the Fukuoka District Court, ordering the cult to pay 227 million yen in compensation to 27 former cult followers. Kimura also dismissed the cult's foot-reading as "unreasonable."
The plaintiffs from Kyushu and Shikoku regions, a majority of whom suffer from illnesses or have domestic problems, had sued the foot-readers for damages, arguing that the cult made them fork out millions of yen by exploiting their anxieties.
Hogen Fukunaga, 55-year-old Ho-no-Hana founder and self-proclaimed oracle, took the lead in carrying out illegal moneymaking activities, the ruling said.
Through "reading" the soles of the followers, Fukunaga and senior cult members claimed that the plaintiffs suffered from cancer and other serious illnesses, or convinced them that they might kill themselves because of misfortunes in their lives.
Ho-no-Hana allegedly told them that their only salvation was to go through the cult's expensive training sessions and to buy lucky charms.
One of the plaintiffs, a 57-year-old man who wished to remain anonymous, paid over 7 million yen to the cult in a vain attempt to reverse his misfortune.
He sought Ho-no-Hana's advice in autumn 1995 after a series of personal disasters, including a diagnosis of acute hepatitis.
After the hepatitis, he had his finger chopped off in a workplace accident, then suffered severe facial injuries in a traffic accident. Doctors also spotted a polyp in his colon, his children began to behave violently at home and refused to attend school. Finally, the man's wife bolted from home.
Desperate to survive long enough so that he could look after his bed-ridden mother, he said he had the soles of his feet read by Fukunaga in Tokyo's Shibuya-ku in an attempt to escape from the misery.
As soon as Fukunaga had a glance at the man's sole, the founder allegedly told him his foot was "polluted" and he could die at any moment unless he attended training sessions to be held in the cult's headquarters in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture.
The man paid 2.25 million yen to participate in the sessions, which included day-long chanting of the cult mantras - Saiko-desu (I feel really good) and Okane ga tamarimasu (I'm going to make a lot of money) - recited while kneeling and blindfolded.
"A cult instructor made me shout 'saiko-desu' countless times, saying that my face was not 'saiko' enough," the man said.
A month later, he was informed by the cult that he had to pay 12 million yen or he would return to his miserable state. He borrowed 4 million yen from his employers and handed over the money, but severed ties with the cult, as his situation never improved.
He says he is still repaying the debt.
FUKUOKA, April 28 (Kyodo) - The Fukuoka District Court ordered the Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo religious group and its founder Hogen Fukunaga on Friday to pay 27 people 227.2 million yen in damages for swindling them of money in the name of ascetic practice fees.
Presiding Judge Motoaki Kimura said in handing down the ruling that the conduct of Fukunaga and the cult members is beyond the limit allowed as ascetic practice and is illegal.
The judge said Fukunaga and the cult members forced the plaintiffs to pay huge amounts of cash by plunging them into anxiety.
The plaintiffs had demanded 236.9 million yen.
Some 1,100 people nationwide have filed similar suits against Ho-no-Hana at seven district courts, seeking a total of 5.2 billion yen in damages. Friday's ruling was the first in these cases.
According to the ruling, Fukunaga, 55, and senior cult members defrauded the plaintiffs by falsely diagnosing serious ailments such as cancer based on inspections of the soles of people's feet and claiming that payments of millions of yen would cure the illnesses.
They defrauded the plaintiffs out of 1.2 million yen to 35.69 million yen each between 1989 and 1997, by telling them to undergo expensive training sessions and selling them religious goods such as hanging scrolls to cure
the alleged illnesses, the ruling said.
The plaintiffs include housewives and workers from seven prefectures who contacted the group after reading Fukunaga's books.
Ho-no-Hana said it will appeal the ruling to a higher court.
The group was founded by Fukunaga around 1980. In 1987, it was recognized by the Shizuoka prefectural government as a religious group eligible for preferential tax treatment.
Ho-no-Hana has an estimated 2,000 regular followers. It is said to have collected some 100 billion yen from believers.
Police have questioned a senior member of the group as part of their investigations of suspected fraud.
TOKYO, April 28 (Reuters) - A Japanese cult that cheated followers by getting them to pay for ``cures'' after claiming cancer and other ailments could be diagnosed by examining their feet was ordered to pay compensation on Friday.
The Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo cult and its leader Teruyoshi Fukunaga, 55, were ordered to pay 227.2 million yen ($2.14 million) to 27 followers, said a court official in Fukuoka, western Japan.
Believers were told to buy religious goods and have expensive training to ensure they were cured, the court had heard.
More than 1,000 other followers have sued the cult -- whose name means Flower of Law and Three Law Practice -- for around five billion yen in damages.
Fukunaga and his disciples, whose headquarters are at the foot of Mount Fuji, have no licence to practise medicine but say they can diagnose people's health and predict their future by examining their feet.
Kyodo news agency said the group would appeal after its argument that such actions were religious was rejected.
The ruling comes amid persistent public anxiety in Japan over cults. Last November, police found the mummified body of a 66-year-old follower of the Life Space cult in a hotel.
His family claimed he was still alive and being treated for a brain haemorrhage by getting pats on the head from guru Koji Takahashi, who was later arrested and charged with murder.
Police raids on that cult's buildings found children who had apparently been kept from school and fed only once a day.
In 1995, a nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinri Kyo, or Supreme Truth, cult killed 12 people and injured thousands.
TOKYO, April 25 (Kyodo) - The Metropolitan Police Department and Shizuoka prefectural police began Tuesday questioning senior members of the Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo religious group about suspected fraud cases.
The members, said to have been behind the group's management since 1998 when it was certified by the Shizuoka prefectural government as a religious group, appeared voluntarily for the questioning. The police hope to trace the group's large flow of capital and details of its management.
Police said they expect to question first the senior members, who are said to be well-versed in activities such as reading of the soles of devotees' feet, training, and recruitment of followers, before they question the 55-year-old cult leader Hogen Fukunaga.
According to investigations, the group, based in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture in central Japan, is suspected to have swindled about 100 billion yen as ''training fees'' from thousands of followers.
Fukunaga and the other senior members are suspected of swindling three women out of a total of 22 million yen by reading the soles of their feet between November 1994 and June 1995, ostensibly to help cure illnesses of their family members, the police said.
People were told they would get cancer if they did not undergo the group's training sessions, according to the police.
Last December, police raided the cult's facilities, confiscated documents and questioned group members.
(Kyodo News Service, April 21, 2000)
TOKYO, April 21 (Kyodo) - Police will question Hogen Fukunaga and other senior members of the Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo religious cult beginning early next week in connection with fraud and other cases, investigative sources said Friday.
The sources said Ho-no-Hana members destroyed secret documents about the cult's management and financial papers in preparation for a police raid on its facilities in December last year.
These secret documents included money transmittal records and decisions made by cult founder Fukunaga, 55, the sources said.
The cult, headquartered in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture, is said to have collected about 100 billion yen as ''training fees'' and other pretexts.
Fukunaga and other senior members are suspected of defrauding three housewives of a total of 22 million yen by reading the soles of their feet between November 1994 and June 1995 ostensibly to help cure illnesses of their family members and relatives.
Fukunaga announced his resignation as the cult's chief and named a new leadership in January, an act seen as an attempt to deflect public hostility against the group.
About 1,100 people have filed damages suits seeking a total of 5.4 billion yen. The Fukuoka District Court will rule on the first of the damages suits on April 28.
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