Recruiters for a cult headed by a fugitive wanted by Interpol have been targeting elite students at over 50 universities nationwide, sources say.
The universities rank among the country's most prestigious, and include the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University and Waseda University, according to those who quit the "Setsuri" (providence) cult and their lawyers.
"I was instructed to solicit elite students first," said a 32-year-old man who recruited at a university in the Tohoku region before quitting the cult.
"I believe it was because they are expected to bring in large donations and help raise the cult's status as employees of major businesses or government entities in the future."
The cult, once known as the Morning Star church, was founded by Jung Myung Seok, 61, in South Korea around 1980.
Jung, a former Moonie, is wanted by Interpol on suspicion of sexually abusing his female followers.
In Japan, about 2,000 people are registered followers, 60 percent of whom live in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
Lawyers helping Japanese members leave the cult said more than 100 women have been sexually abused by Jung. They said they are considering criminal complaints.
Other universities hit were Chiba University, the University of Tsukuba, Osaka University and Kansai University.
According to accounts of ex-members, followers are instructed to approach students pretending they represent Bible societies, sports groups or campus dancing clubs.
A former student at Kwansei Gakuin University in Hyogo Prefecture was first invited to join a sports group in April 2000 when he was a freshman.
He played volleyball and basketball with the group for about half a year before being invited to a Bible study session, where he was brainwashed with the cult's teachings.
It was not until then that he learned his friends were cult members, and their apartment was a "church."
"I could not easily leave (the cult) because I did not want to lose friends," said the man, who eventually quit at the urging of relatives after he graduated from university.
Ex-members say recruiting on campus started on Jung's orders in the mid-1990s.
"It's a fraudulent activity, as they conceal the group's identity in luring members," a lawyer said.
An ex-member in his 30s said he and other cultists were deprived of sleep--forced to work late into the night and then wake up early to listen to Jung's videotaped preaching.
"I gradually lost my power of judgment," he told a news conference Saturday in Tokyo.
Universities so far have done little to guard students from cults for fear of infringing freedom of religion.
But Teruo Maruyama, a Buddhist priest and commentator, warns that campuses could be hotbeds for the growth of destructive cults.
"Universities must alert their students against such cults on the assumption they are always trying to encroach upon them," he said