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Activities of Organizations for Anti-Cult Movements in Japan
Report on the Recent Movements

Nanako Tamaki (the Center for Information on Religion)
A paper presented at The 2001 Conference in London.

After the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult in 1995, there has been an increase in Anti-Cult Movements in Japan. This presentation will report on the recent activities of Anti-Cult Movements by lawyers, Christianity, traditional Buddhism, psychologists, anti-cult network "the Japan De-Cult Council," and the government, mainly since the Aum affair in 1995. In addition, special attention will be given to the basic ideas on which each organization depends for its cause; controversies relating to the idea and to the activities based on it; countermeasures and/or future perspectives for the problems.


One of the characteristics of cult-related problems in Japan is that, in most cases, cult victims have economic damage. Victims pay an extravagant amount of money for pottery, a set of seals, or engage in religious trainings out of fear as cult recruiters tell them that if they don't buy them or take the trainings, which have special spiritual power, they will be "spiritually afflicted." This type of sales is called "spiritual sales (reikan-shoho)." The background of the success of "spiritual sales" is that most Japanese people have a common folk idea that if they don't offer enough consolation to their ancestors, the ancestors would cause affliction to their descendants.

Typical "spiritual sales" cases are those committed by the Unification Church, of which problems started around the beginning of the 1980s and still has continued to this day. Another example is the case of Myokaku-ji temple group where priests charge a lot of money for exorcism. One of the recent events is Ho-no-hana Sampogyo known for its "foot-reading," of which the founder was arrested last year.

Because most cult-related problems happen as economic ones like this, it is often the case that lawyers get involved in these problems. In each case, alawyers’ association against the illegal sales was formed to deal with the problems.

As cult-related problems have become more diverse, including recruitment of members, treatment of members and staff, and religious liberty, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations set "the standards to judge human rights infringement related to religious activities" in 1999. The standards are not supposed to judge the legality of religious activities, rather it is intended for practical use as a barometer for lawyers and families to judge each case. Some religious organizations criticized the standards as claiming that there was a prejudice against religion and that the standards intend to regulate all the religious activities. The Japan Federation of Bar Association welcomes the response from the clergy, hoping the standards will be more sophisticated by mutual criticism in a constructive manner.

Christianity, Traditional Buddhism

The United Church of Christ in Japan and Christian ministers have tackled cult-related problems for the purpose of helping out those who misunderstand the Bible and Christianity and of leading them to the right track. They target the cult groups that use Christian ideas for their doctrine, such as the Unification Church or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Main anti-cult groups are The United Church of Christ in Japan, Liaison Committee on Unification Association, Lutherans Network, Word of Truth Ministries, Japan, and "return the Jehovah’s Witnesses to Christ” movement by a minister. In their movements, Christian ministers usually play a part of exit counselors. Christian ministers usually play a part of exit counselors.

In general, traditional Buddhism is often criticized about its relation to society including how to deal with cult-related problems. It is often pointed out that Buddhism does not keep up with contemporary society, failing to meet the people’s needs. In spite of such a criticism, some monks actively tackle cult problems by acting as counselors. Monks from Rinzai School opened "the Myoshin-ji temple counseling center for family and children." They take mental care of cult members, mainly from Buddhist cult groups and their family. "The Buddhism information center," which is run by more than ninety monks from many Buddhist Schools and volunteers, has a telephone counseling service as its main activity.

When serving as counselors, they often face various problems due to the recent changing situation regarding how to treat their clients. Sometimes the problem is about a group of which the doctrine is different from the counselor’s, or about seminars, which do not necessarily take a religious form. Their counseling activities are often misunderstood as a process of making the clients have their faiths. Cultists sue them for infringing religious liberty. In order to deal with these problems, last year the Japan De-cult Council (which I will discuss below) set counseling ethics guidelines, making regulations so as not to force clients to have the counselor’s religion, or not to start counseling before the member or the family of the member asks the counselor to do so.


Psychologists --especially, social psychologists-- turn their interest to cult-related problems, as they cannot ignore the dangerous use of the techniques of their field, such as the mind control. They explain how this technique works, and make clear its dangerous aspects to the public.

Recently, mind control theory proves partially effective in courts. For example, last year, mind control was in some measure taken into consideration in the trial case of an Aum member, who was involved in sarin gas attack. Mind control was also a focus at the so-called "Bring Back Our Youth" trial case, which was filed against the Unification Church last year. In this case, the Unification Church was charged consolation money for engaging the defendant its activities against his will.

In the academic field, however, scholars of religious studies and sociology of religion have been opposed to the idea as crucial concept for accusing cult groups. They say that it is difficult to judge whether a person joins because of mind control or of his or her own free will, and that so-called mind control theory may be used wrongly to normal organizations.

A social psychologist says that the degree to which mind control was applied should be discussed. Last year the Japan De-Cult Council made a checklist to examine to what extent a certain group is healthy or unhealthy as a barometer in terms of whether it violates basic human rights guaranteed by the Japanese Constitution. This will help judge each case along with "the standards" by the Japan Federation of Bar Association.

The Japan De-Cult Council

The former body of Japan De-Cult Council is "parents’ association" organized by parents whose children had become Aum members. After the Aum affair in 1995, lawyers, clergy, psychologists, who had dealt with cult problems individually, --as I have stated-- got together, and started to exchange information. These links of people created a network and this network developed into JDCC. The members are psychologists, psychiatrists, lawyers, clergy, university professors and former cult members and their family, etc.. It is not a consulting organization, but rather a research group network, which aims to eliminate cult victims through the activities of sharing information on cults, examining counseling skills, and lobbying other organizations.

JDCC is the most active anti-cult group. They have worked for the education of the youth by making and distributing leaflets and videos at colleges so that they would not be victimized by cult groups. They also made the checklist and the counseling ethics as I have stated before. It can be said that because it takes a form of network, many measures have been taken, which could not have been done at an individual level.

The Government?

The Japanese government took measures focusing on Aum after the Aum incident. In terms of legislation, Religious Organization Law was partially revised, and in 1996 enforcement of Subversive Activities Prevention Law, which has not been finally adopted, was discussed. At the end of 1999, the Control of Organization Law and Relief of Victims Law took effect. With the enforcement of the former law, Aum members became under the surveillance of Public Security Investigation Agency.

The government established a network of related ministries for Aum-related problems, such as residence, employment, and discrimination. But the measurements were not effective enough. For example, the Ministry of Justice opened "the human rights counseling center for Aum Shinrikyo," but members rarely came there. They would rather choose to go to private organizations such as the Japan De-Cult Council for help.

As this example shows, there is a concern about whether the government's measurements and legislation are really effective in promoting cult members to leave their groups and return to society. Although oppressive measurements look powerful and effective, they may end up making the group's members hide their activities, which is more of a threat to the public.

As this situation was expected, last year, the government set up "a research group on psychiatric and psychological support for the former members of certain groups (cult groups such as Aum)" with the cooperation of the National Police Agency, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Health and Welfare. The group says that, in order for members or ex-members to be detached from cult groups, it is necessary to perform the mental manipulation to them, which is reverse to the one used to join the groups. They also say that it is necessary to establish a total care management service system, and a "cult research center" in order to collect information on cult groups and check their illegal activities. Another research group of the Ministry of Health and Welfare aims to develop skills to prevent involvement with cults and undo mind control for practical use. I hope that government research groups cooperate with other private groups, such as the Japan De-Cult Council, which has already accumulated a lot of counseling experiences of cult members.

One concern is that the group of the Ministry of Health and Welfare takes the former cult members as pathological cases, which is characteristic of recent youth who commit cruel crimes, from psychiatric point of view. Although it is important to consider the background of cult members' mentality, it is unknown whether their mentality before joining the group is really pathological. It might brand them with abnormal cases.


Anti-Cult Movements' attempt, in a sense, is to pin down the problematic aspects of cult groups to some ideas, such as mind control, pathology, or legal matters away from religious values.

They are correct approaches in the sense that because it is impossible to discuss religious values when they deal with cult problems, and all we can do is to judge from its visible aspects, that is, the result of the practice of the group seen through the members actions in society. When the visible aspects --members’ practice-- violate the law, it should be judged according to the law.

However, it is difficult to judge whether the members of a cult group join it from mind control or from their free will, or whether members' mentality is pathological or not. Maybe, in some cases, yes, and in other cases, no, or both. In the end, it is a matter of degree to which these ideas can be applied. Situational use in each case or revised version of the theory, through discussion, is expected.

There is also a risk of reducing religious values to just mind control, pathology, or legal matters. This is what the clergy and scholars of religious studies are concerned about. But, at the same time, the clergy is required to show religious values they believe to the public through their action in society. This will help people cultivate religious sense, which is necessary to choose their religion.

Moreover, what we need is to examine cult issues in a more objective and wider perspective. Studies on cult groups and the mentality and social background of cult members are important. We should also ask ourselves whether our society seems attractive enough for the members to return to.


Tokutei Shudan kara no Ridatsusha ni taisuru Seishin’igakuteki, Sinrigakuteki Shien no Arikata ni tsuiteno Kenkyukai Hokokusho [Report by the Research Group on the Psychiatric and Psychological Support for the Former Members of Certain Groups], 2000

Nishida Kimiaki, Mind Cntorol ron Saiko [Rethinking of Debate “mind control”] http://nursing.u-shizuoka-ken.ac.jp/~nishidak/MCrevise.htm (as of April 2001) Yamaguchi Hiroshi, Takimoto Taro, Kito Masaki, Shukyo Toraburu 110 ban
[Emergency Call for Religious troubles], Minjiho-kenkyukai 1999.

The Committee of Consumer Affair at the Japan Federation of Bar Association, Shukyo Tarobauru no Yobo, Kyusai no Tebiki [Prevention and Relief Guidebook for Religious Troubles], 1999, Kyoiku Shiryo Shuppan-kai, 1999.

Yamaguchi Hiroshi, Nakamura Shuji, Kito Masaki, Shukyo Toraburu, Karuto Shukyo no Toraburu Taisaku [Measures towards Troubles of Cults], Kyoiku Shiryo Shuppan-kai, 2000

*All other information is based on the Religious Database of the Center for Information on Religion.


The Spiritual Supermarket: Religious Pluralism in the 21st Century

April 19-22, 2001

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