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Calls grow for Japan’s Kishida to fire minister as Unification Church saga weighs on potential election

Kishida is under growing pressure to fire Masahito Moriyama, the minister of education and culture, after it was confirmed that he received support from a group affiliated with the Unification Church during the 2021 election for the House of Representatives. Moriyama’s ministry has jurisdiction over religious organisations.

Moriyama compounded the problem of the church’s influence on Japanese politics – which many in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) believed had largely been dealt with last year – by claiming in testimony before the Diet on January 7 that he had not received support from the group, which has come under fire for allegedly pressuring followers to make huge donations.

Moriyama also denied signing any form of agreement with the church to promote its policies, although that denial was undermined when opposition politicians released photos of him holding a document detailing the arrangement.

Faced with the evidence, Moriyama weakly replied: “I faintly recall now.”

Hayashi, a former foreign minister under Kishida, admitted on February 7 that he also met representatives of the religious group in September 2021. He denied receiving any political support or financial donations from the group.

The revival of the Unification Church scandal comes at a time when Kishida is still trying to fend off criticism over dozens of LDP members illegally pocketing cash from the sale of tickets for fundraising events and failing to report the money to the party or to tax authorities, with criminal investigations under way against a number of senior politicians.

According to Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, Kishida’s administration was badly wounded.

“The Unification Church case