Cult shocker

Mainichi Shimbun, Saturday 22 January 2000

MIYAZAKI—Leaders of a commune here where the mummified bodies of two children were found Thursday night repeatedly denied the father of one of the children access to his boy, police said Friday.

Junichiro Higashi, head of the commune he refers to as the Kaeda Cram School, apparently told the 35-year-old Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, man who fathered the 6-year-old boy that if he left the child alone, the boy would get better.

The Tokyo man had paid Higashi more than 1 million yen to take care of his boy.

The boy's mummified body was found at Higashi's commune Thursday night, together with the corpse of an infant boy.

Higashi, 55, and one of his followers, Akemi Togashi, 49, were arrested shortly afterward for the illegal disposal of a body.

Police are poised to conduct autopsies on the children's bodies next week to determine the cause of their deaths.

Commune members could face further charges depending on the outcome of the autopsies.

Police said that the Tokyo man, whose name has been withheld to protect his privacy, entrusted his son to Higashi's care in December 1997. The following month, he visited Miyazaki and saw the boy, but was unaware whether the child was still alive.

He asked Higashi if he could take the boy back to Tokyo, but the commune leader refused.

The Tokyo man said he had faith in Higashi's treatment methods and returned to the capital without reporting the incident to police.

The boy died later in January 1998 and though the father had visited Miyazaki on several occasions since then to try to see his child, he had been turned away each time.

Meanwhile, police also disclosed that a female commune member in her 30s is the mother of the infant boy whose mummified body was also found.

Higashi refers to the commune's members as cram school students. He is a former member of the Unification Church, whose members are often referred to as Moonies because the church was founded by South Korean Sun Myung Moon.

Members of Higashi's cult live a communal lifestyle, deriving a share of their funds from the sale of rice they receive from farmers and sell at a hefty price of about 10,000 yen per 10-kilogram bag.

The commune apparently also receives funds from the parents of entrusted children and runs a ramen shop.

Many of the commune's practices, such as group weddings, are said to have been derived from the Unification Church, much to the chagrin of that church's local followers.

[Higashi] was once registered as a member, but he's got nothing to do with us now, a Unification Church spokesman told the Mainichi on Friday. He has nothing to do with the Miyazaki branch of the Unification Church and his commune's teachings have nothing to do with ours. It's a right nuisance.

Police said that Higashi started the commune in the summer of 1995. Commune members call Higashi teacher.

The commune has an adult membership of about 50, who spend their days playing with or looking after children entrusted to the commune's care for such reasons as illness, protection from bullying, or because they refuse to attend school.

Higashi does not refer to the commune as a religious group and he has not attempted to register it as a religious or medical corporation.

Police raided the cult and an annex it operates in another part of Miyazaki, watched by about 20 commune members and children, all of whom wore distinctive yellow clothes.