Japan minister admits he may have signed document linked to religious group

Japan's education and culture minister Moriyama Masahito has admitted he may have signed out of carelessness a document which was essentially a policy agreement with the religious group formerly called the Unification Church.

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper had reported that the minister received a letter of recommendation and campaign support from an organization linked to the group during the 2021 Lower House election.

The newspaper also reported on Wednesday that Moriyama signed the document confirming the recommendation.

The minister was asked at a session of the Lower House Budget Committee on Wednesday whether he received the letter of recommendation.

He said he had forgotten about it until the newspaper report, but when he saw the photo he started to vaguely recall that it may have happened.

Moriyama added that he was invited to a rally by voters in his constituency, and that he may have been unexpectedly asked to sign the document at the event's closing.

He said he may have put his name on the letter without reading it thoroughly, which he noted was a careless thing to do.

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio rejected a demand from the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party for Moriyama's dismissal.

Kishida said he made Cabinet appointments on the assumption that ministers currently have no relations whatsoever with the religious group, whether or not they were linked to it in the past.

Under Moriyama, the education and culture ministry requested a court order last October to revoke the group's status as a religious corporation.

The move followed allegations that the group solicited large donations from its followers, and engaged in dubious sales practices.

Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hayashi Yoshimasa on Wednesday revealed he may have met an individual from an organization linked to the religious group three years ago in his home prefecture of Yamaguchi.

Hayashi told reporters he has not received campaign support or donations from the group or affiliated bodies, but that he rechecked past meetings when he was contacted by a weekly magazine.

He said it appears that a meeting with the individual was arranged by political staffers in September 2021.

He added it was just one of many meetings, and it is not clear at this point who the individual was and what they talked about.