ICSA e-Newsletter, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2009
The Japan Society for Cult Prevention and Recovery (JSCPR): An Introduction
Taro Takimoto, Esq.
A founding member of the Japan Society for Cult Prevention and Recovery (JSCPR) provides an overview of this organization, created in November 1995 in response to increasing concerns about the activities of potentially harmful religious groups/”cults, and especially the increasing media coverage and general publicity surrounding the group Aum Shinrikyo and its leader Asahara. JSCPR’s purpose, composition of members, organizational structure, and organized efforts to research and disseminate information about harmful groups and provide support to ex-members, their families, and the public in general are discussed.
The Japan Society for Cult Prevention and Recovery (JSCPR) was founded in November 1995. The JSCPR network consists of psychologists, members of the religious community, lawyers, psychiatrists, religious sociologists, counselors, and ex-members of “controversial groups” and their families.
The purpose of the JSCPR is to exchange information and conduct research about the various problems concerning destructive cults, the persons involved in such cults and their families, and cult prevention and rehabilitation; and to disseminate to the general population the knowledge gained. The JSCPR is not a counseling organization; but because many people seek advice, I as an individual member, for example, refer such persons to the appropriate specialists or authorities.
The JSCPR was originally called Japan De-Cult Council but adapted its present name on April 25, 2004, when ex-members and their families, who were treated as “supporting members,” were given full membership. As of May 16, 2008, the JSCPR had 167 private members and 10 private and corporate subscribers to its newsletter. Among the clergy members are Protestant parsons, Catholic priests, Buddhist monks from various sects, and some members of new religions.
The JSCPR office is located at my law office in Yamato-city, Kanagawa Prefecture, adjacent to Tokyo. We have no staff members or independent phone lines. The budget was about 5 million yen (about $50,000) in 2007; but excluding the attending fees for the General Assembly, the balance brought forward from the year before was about 3 million yen (about $30,000). The annual membership fee for JSCPR is 3,000 yen (about $30); other sources of income include sales of our publications, donations for lectures we provide, and general donations. It is our policy not to receive large donations from specific persons or groups, and we do not receive any public funding.
All JSCPR members must belong to one of the organization’s three committees: the Research Committee, the Counselors’ Committee, and the Family and Concerned Committee. The Counselors’ Committee membership is not limited to trained and certified mental health professionals but also includes clergy and lawyers and other persons who offer counseling service. To apply for a JSCPR membership, the applicant must be nominated by a member and a Board member before being subject to membership review by the Board of Directors. There have been cases in which applications were rejected.
The Board of Directors has 14 members, of which 7 are chosen by popular vote every 2 years; the elected 7 members choose the rest. The board elects a representative director and decides matters of operation via meetings and its mailing list. Representative directors include the following: from 1995 to 2003, Dr. Shingo Takahashi, a psychiatrist; from 2003 to 2005, Dr. Sadao Asami, a Harvard-educated Bible and theology scholar and professor emeritus at the Tohokugakuin University; and from 2005 till now , Taido Kusuyama, a priest of the Buddhist sect Nichiren-shu.
Why the JSCPR Came to Be
Media coverage of the police investigation against the Aum Shinrikyo group exposed the abnormity of the guru Asahara and also his followers’ bizarre activities. The concept of “mind control” relative to the group and its activities was used as an explanation in various instances. Consequently, many people were surprised when many of the followers who committed illegal acts after they had joined the Aum came from backgrounds that would be considered elite.
There are certain groups that attempt to destabilize the mind of the target individual at the time of the group’s proselytization, causing the target individual to abandon his or her common sense, replace it with the absolute values of the organization, and become willing to give up the world and commit crime for the group’s purposes. I call such groups “cults.” Even before Aum, there were incidents in which members of certain groups beat their comrades to death with sticks, committed mass suicide, or refused to bury or cremate their dead because they believed in resurrection.
And these problems were not limited to members destroying themselves and their lives. Families and other persons involved with members of these groups were sometimes damaged financially, and innocent bystanders sometimes became victims of the crimes.
The organized reaction toward this problem with cults began in the 1980s when the lawyers stood up against spiritual sales by the Unification Church (UC) and formed the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales. At about the same time, clergy and ex-members of the UC started to offer exit counseling to UC believers. It is said that several thousand or more members have left the UC since that time.
In reference to the Aum Shinrikyo group, now-deceased lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto organized the lawyers’ group against Aum, and the parents of the members organized a parents’ group on the advice from the lawyers. Since June of 1995, with the Aum Shinrikyo incident as the momentum, clergy, lawyers, counselors, psychiatrists, and religious sociologists have gathered on their own and begun the exchange of information. In the context of those events, the JSCPR came to be in November of 1995.
Activities for Members
The JSCPR held one-day general meetings every year from 1995 to 2003, and the numbers of attendees typically reached 40. Since 1997, we have held a two-day “lodge-together meeting,” with one day used for the general meeting. Currently, we hold two-day general meetings, twice a year, and one general meeting is combined with the annual plenary assembly. In March 2008, the 14th general assembly combined with the plenary assembly was held at the foot of Mt. Fuji. In addition, the Family and Concerned Committee holds its own meetings about twice a year.
At the general meeting, members or invited specialists deliver lectures, and sessions are held for participants to exchange information about controversial groups. The committees also hold individual sessions to suit their purposes, and there is an ex-members-only session, as well.
Members are encouraged to join the mailing list, by which information is exchanged and opinions are offered daily. Members also receive information via mail from the JSCPR several times a year.
Publications and Social Activities
The JSCPR tries to publish newsletters several times a year, but so far only 14 have been published. For example, we have taken on topics such as “End of the Century and Cults”; “Cults or Religion?”; “Featuring Aum”; “Self-Enlightenment Seminar”; “Spirituality Boom”; and “Mini Cults.” We publish about 1,000 copies of each newsletter, and we distribute them to the National Police Agency, the Ministry of Health and Labor, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Agency for Cultural Affairs, and other related government agencies. The JSCPR’s Internet homepage, with some content in English, is http://www.jscpr.org/
As members of the JSCPR, we consider prevention to be the best countermeasure against controversial groups, and each year we distribute 30,000 to 40,000 copies of the pamphlet “Beware of Such Soliciting” (created in March 2003) to universities and other educational institutions for a small fee of 20 yen (20 cents) per copy. We also have distributed 3,200 copies of the Handbook on Keeping Yourself Mentally Healthy (created in 1996) to mental health professionals, 1,700 copies of the video Beyond the Illusion (made in 1998), and 630 copies of the video When Your Family Member Joins a Cult (made in 2003). We still need to work on distributing more of these publications, videos, and other related information.
Since 2000, we have been holding symposiums and training courses that are open to the public every other year. We usually have about 200 to 300 participants each time.
Also, since 2000, the Board members have been meeting and exchanging information with officials of various government agencies, as well as making inquiries concerning policies or legislation related to controversial groups that are engaging in illegal activities.
In other efforts, the JSCPR has also made five official requests to the Ministry of Justice. On January 18, 1996, and September 30 of the same year, we officially requested that the Subversive Activities Prevention Law not be applied to Aum Shinrikyo. On May 14, 1997. we officially requested that special considerations be made concerning visitation to incarcerated Aum ex-members; and on February 1, 2000, we officially requested that special policies and measures be enacted to support the ex-members of Aum. We also are continuously petitioning the Ministry of Justice not to carry out the death sentences of the convicted 12 Aum members, excluding Asahara.
Activities of Individual Members
Individual members of JSCPR are working on the problems of cults based on their own capabilities. For example, member counselors provide their skills at schools, corporations and clinics; scholars do the same at universities and in academia; lawyers represent their clients in individual cases and lawyers’ groups; clergy provide assistance within the religions they belong to; and families render assistance to other families and ex-members. Many members also have Web pages or blogs that deal with the topic of cults.
Members have visited Aum defendants in prisons, and some have represented ex-members as their defense counsel. Other members have testified as expert witnesses and had great influence on the outcome of the trials.
The National Network of Lawyers against Spiritual Sales started out to work on the problem of spiritual sales by the UC, but this organization handles legal issues concerning other groups, as well. Many of our JSCPR members from the legal community are also members of the Network, and others of our members work closely with the Network.
The non-profit corporation Inochi no Ie (House of Life) is a resident-type rehabilitation center for ex-members of cultic groups. Many other concerned groups that consist of ex-members, clergy, counselors, and the like work on problems of certain groups, such as UC, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Aum, Setsuri (Morning Star), and so on.
In Japan, the JSCPR, the National Network of Lawyers against Spiritual Sales, and other groups such as I have mentioned above have strong influence on the issue of cultic problems. The JSCPR always has several members who attend the ICSA conferences. At the same time, we are restrained from attending conferences concerning cults held by the Chinese government because freedom of religion is limited there, although some members have attended as individuals.
At least two results of all these efforts can be described as benchmarks of progress. First, Dr. Kimiaki Nishida and his group created the “JSCPR Group Health Check List, version 1.0” on February 13, 1999. This checklist uses the quantitative approach in an attempt to determine the “social healthiness” of a group. For example, the question “Is this group a cult?” is not a yes or no question, but instead a question of degree.
The JSCPR Group Health Check List contains 114 questions based on the basic human-rights provisions in the Constitution of Japan; these criteria enable us to make a precise evaluation of a group from the perspectives of degree of psychological manipulation, human rights violations, and continuous violations of the law, with our intent being for the “greater good” and not to identify a heretical problem.
The results reveal that the rights violated differ greatly from group to group, and the same can be said for the various groups’ methods of recruiting. It can be said that the greater the discrepancy is in the evaluation results between current and ex-members of a group, the “more cultic” the organization is.
On January 22, 2000, the JSCPR created the “Agreement of those involved in counseling concerning problems of destructive cults,” which is an agreement aimed at setting the minimum ethics guidelines for counselors, thus increasing and enhancing the effectiveness of counseling with ex-members and their families, and of exit counseling specifically.
Controversial Groups in Japan
As mentioned earlier, the question “Is this group a cult?” is not a yes or no question, but a question of degree. At the same time, one cannot deny that certain groups are more often brought up in our discussions and activities than others.
The UC, Aum Shinrikyo, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Kensho-kai are almost always a topic of discussion and concern. Kensho-kai, like the Sokka-Gakkai (SGI), is an offshoot of the Nichiren-shoshu (different from Nichiren-shu), a Buddhist sect, and is similar in its practice of a lengthy and coercive method of proselytization to what the Sokka-Gakkai did in the 1980s.
In the past 13 years, Setsuri (Morning Star), an offshoot of the UC, and Hikari no wa (Circle of Light), an offshoot of Aum Shinrikyo, have joined the scene, and some nearly 100 groups have come to our attention. There are large organizations such as the Church of Scientology; Sokka-Gakkai; agricultural groups with religious backgrounds; Shinran-kai, an off shoot of the traditional Buddhist sect Jodo-shinshu; and several other commercial cults. But most are relatively small groups that range from several to several hundred members, and that have fortune tellers and shamans and the like as their leaders. And there are some cases in which the clergy of a traditional religion have allowed their temples or churches to turn cultic.