A cult led by a fugitive former Moonie wanted on rape charges coerced more than 300 Japanese members to wed in mass ceremonies modeled on South Korea's Unification Church, say former cultists.
They said cult founder Jung Myung Seok would interview prospective brides and sometimes sexually assaulted them. Jung, 61, apparently viewed mass weddings as a means of increasing the cult membership.
Jung founded the Setsuri (providence) cult around 1980 after breaking away from the Unification Church led by Sun Myung Moon.
Former Setsuri members said they were not allowed to date each other. Instead, Jung would give them a few days to choose life partners and then decide which couples could marry in a mass ceremony.
Six such events have been held since 1996, the same year that the Supreme Court ruled mass weddings performed by the Unification Church were invalid.
Hiroshi Watanabe, a lawyer who helps Setsuri members leave the cult, noted there are slight differences in the two group's approaches to mass weddings, but said it was obvious Jung just copied what Moon did.
Between 2000 and this spring, Setsuri organized five mass weddings.
According to former members, cult rules say that each bride or groom must be aged 27 or over and have recruited at least three new members.
Members are required to submit the results of health checks. Women are personally interviewed by Jung and asked about past romances.
Jung sometimes sexually assaulted the women during those interviews, former cultists said.
Members who pass the checks are allowed to join in parties where they must choose a marriage partner.
Once couples are formed, they are interviewed again by Jung. He sometimes told couples to separate based on what he heard from God, sources said.
At a July 2003 mass wedding, Jung was not there in person. Via a big-screen Internet connection, he urged the couples to have babies to increase the number of Setsuri members. He was wanted by South Korean authorities on rape charges at the time.
A man in his 30s who married in the 2003 ceremony has since left the cult and is now living in eastern Japan. He described the events leading up to the event.
In late December 2001, about 150 people gathered at a hotel near Mount Fuji.
Attending that party, Jung instructed the participants: "Choose your partner from among the people here. Converse with 10 people."
The deadline to choose was three days later, at midnight, Dec. 31, 2001.
Desperate to find a partner before the deadline, some members wept when they were unable to do so. Others collapsed from exhaustion.
The man found a wife and lived with her after the ceremony. He soon discovered they held different values.
After learning about the rape charges against Jung, the man left the cult and divorced his wife.