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Ho No Hana Sanpogyo
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Non-Christian Ho No Hana Sanpogyo

Also spelled Ho-no-hana Sampogyo

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The basic scam   Raided   Navel-gazing   Name-dropping   Lying encouraged    Recruit, or else   Tax evasion
Fukunaga and Clinton   Fukunaga Steps Down - Somewhat   Committee Behind ''Voice of Heaven''   Arrested   

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News about Ho No Hana Sanpogyo

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Intro

Japanese for-profit cult lead by multimillionaire Hogen Fukunaga, who established Ho-no-Hana, in 1987.

In the media, the name of the movement is written various ways: Ho No Hana Sanpagyo, Hono Hana Sanpagyo, Ho-No-Ha-Na Sanpagyo, sampogyo, etcetera. There also appears to be little consensus on the proper translation. A 1997 Daily Yomiuri news report translated it as "Flowers of Buddhist Teachings." London's Telegraph writes

The cult's name translates roughly as Flower of Law and the Three Law Practice but more people in Japan know it as Heavenly Energy, the slogan that shines out from huge red and white neon hoardings in key locations in Japanese cities.
Foot cult is sued over 500m 'to ward off strife'offsite, Electronic Telegraph, Dec. 2, 1999

Whatever the name, some 1,100 people are currently seeking over $500 million in damages...

The basic Scam

In a twist on palm reading, Fukunaga and other cult leaders read the soles of people's feet. Upon examination, victims are told they have a serious illness or will suffer misfortune. They are then urged to attend expensive training sessions, and to purchase high-priced scrolls and other ornaments that are said to ward off evil, cure illnesses, deliver from sin, and break family curses.

Police believe that Fukunaga and other high-ranking cult members cheated thousands of people by saying that the guru possessed supernatural healing power. Investigators also confirmed that claims of miraculous cures of terminal illnesses printed in the cult's book were all sham.

It was revealed during earlier court proceedings that a manual for examining the soles of the feet advised cult examiners to scare people by promptly concluding that they would suffer cancer, die young or go bankrupt. As a result, the cult was able to prey upon troubled people. They attended training sessions and bought scrolls or ornaments priced at millions of yen that supposedly brought fortunes to their buyers.
Police raid foot-reading cult, Mainichi Daily News, Dec. 2, 1999
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According to the Electronic Telegraph, in previous court cases Fukunaga has denied that members were forced to part with their money:

"Although we asked them to take part in our practices, they themselves made the decision to do so," he said in previous court cases. He said his own 20,000-a-month salary was dictated by heaven.

But many former followers complain that despite handing over thousands of pounds their problems were not solved.

One woman used her life savings and took out loans to pay 112,500 to the group to cure her daughter's chronic insomnia. When she failed to take part in a session held by Fukunaga he told her she was responsible for her daughter's suffering. According to lawyers, he said: "Because you didn't listen to the voice of heaven, your daughter received punishment from heaven."

In another case, a 60-year-old man was advised that he would get cancer if he did not attend seminars and was forced to buy a scroll that cost 62,000. He also bought a copy of the guru's handprint to help him recover. In fact, he was never ill.
Foot cult is sued over 500m 'to ward off strife'offsite, Electronic Telegraph, Dec. 2, 1999

Note: 1 British Pound = 1.6106 US Dollar (Dec. 6, 1999)

In 1987 the sect gained official recognition as a religious corporation. The sect submits new members to a harsh training regimen, part of which requires them to go without sleep for days on end as they roam the streets crying out such messages as: ''Kenko afureta tanoshii mainichi-desu'' (I am living a happy and healthy life) and ''Saiko-desu!'' (Fantastic!).

After the training, they would be taken separately into rooms where Fukunaga's henchmen would coerce them into paying large sums of money. The intimidation was often accompanied by a specific threat, according to the author.
Supreme and ugly truths, Asahi News, May 7, 2000

Raided

The cult - whose seminars sold for up to $45,000 - was raided by police in early December, 1999, looking for evidence connected with a law suit filed by three women who claim the cult defrauded them. In the past three years, some 1,100 such claims have been filed against Ho No Hana.

Hundreds of police yesterday launched raids across Japan on a wealthy religious cult suspected of swindling housewives by promising to diagnose their ailments by examining their feet.

Scores of plainclothes police swarmed over a sprawling temple complex near Mount Fuji, the heart of the Ho-no-hana Sanpogyo sect.

Officers, who swooped on 74 sect buildings in Fuji city, suspect the cult persuaded the women to hand over about 22 million yen (HK$1.7 million) in return for "health advice".
(...)

Separately, about 1,100 former followers are suing the cult for a total of 5.4 billion yen in damages.
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Navel-Gazing

In addition to supposedly diagnosing people's health by examining their feet, Hogen Fukunaga - who does not have a license to practice medicine - also engages in navel-gazing. A 1995 Wall Street Journal story on the popularity of belly-button reconstruction among the Japanese, mentions Fukunaga's views:

Japan is so umbilicus-conscious because the navel goes to the core of Japaneses culture, says author Hogen Fukunaga. "The navel is the core of everything about the person," writes Mr. Fukunaga in a book about how a navel's shape can diagnose one's ills.
Reconstruction Boom in Tokyo: Perfecting Imperfect Bellybuttons Wall Street Journal,
Oct. 4, 1995
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Name-dropping

Like a number of other cults, Ho No Hana Sanpogyo attempted to gain acceptance through meetings with celebrities and politicians, including Pope John Paul II, the late mother Theresa, Bill Clinton, and Margaret Thatcher.

These meetings were played up in cult leader Fukunaga's books.

Ho no Hana Sanpogyo leader Hogen Fukunaga, who allegedly defrauded thousands of people through his dodgy foot-readings, had set up meetings with international celebrities, including Pope John Paul II, in an attempt to add some luster to the cult's image, the Mainichi has learned.
(...)

Stories of those high-profile meetings were mentioned in numerous books written by Fukunaga, many of which were distributed free of charge near hospitals, to impress and lure people to undergo "sole-examinations" and attend training sessions, police said.
Sole man gladhanded rich and famous, Mainichi Daily News, Dec. 3, 1999

The meeting with Pope John Paul II was misrepresented by the cult:

In September 1995, the acquaintance asked a friend scheduled to meet with the pope to introduce Fukunaga to the religious leader. During the meeting, Fukunaga presented the pope with two rings purchased in Rome beforehand and asked the pope to wear one of them while he wore the other.
(...)

Ho-no-Hana Sanpogyo played up the meeting and published a false story that was carried with a photograph of the meeting.

"The pope presented two rings, giving one to our leader while wearing the other as an expression of solidarity in efforts to achieve world peace," the story read. "Our leader then heard the voice of God say that the spirit of Jesus Christ's salvation dwells in the ring."

Following the publication of a similar story in its newsletter, Sakura Shimbun, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan lodged a protest against the group, claiming that the pope had simply been photographed with Fukunaga and did not have any connection to him.

"Although their meeting was intended as a photo opportunity, (Fukunaga) fabricated a story that was circulated for publicity," the acquaintance said.

According to former group members, such publicity attracted many followers.
Guru lured members by chasing celebrities, Daily Yomiuri, Dec. 3, 1999
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Some other cults, noticeably the Church of Scientology and Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, also engage in the pursuit of celebrities.

Lying encouraged

Not surprisingly, Fukunaga is also alleged to have encouraged his staff members to lie:

Hogen Fukunaga, leader of the Ho-no-Hana Sanpogyo religious group, who is under suspicion of committing fraud, told his staff to lure participants to special training sessions by any means, including lying, sources close to the group said Saturday.
(...)

Staff members eagerly studied Fukunaga's methods of threatening people to make them enroll in special training sessions, the sources said.
(...)

At these meetings, Fukunaga repeatedly said that lying was acceptable to lure people to enroll in the special training.
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Recruit, or else

Strict recruitment goals were set, and those who did not produce met with the leader's outrage. In one place, followers were told a local volcano would not erupt if a certain number of people were recruited...

The leader of the Ho-no-Hana Sanpogyo religious group, whose offices and facilities were searched by police Wednesday on suspicion of fraud, set cult members strict recruitment goals in a bid to swell the group's ranks, a source said Friday.

The goals included having a book on the group read by 10 million people, and having 3,000 people a month attend the group's religious training program, according to a former follower. Hogen Fukunaga, 54, also ordered his followers to try to entice 300,000 visitors to the group's headquarters in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture, the source said.

The recruitment performances of followers were reported to the self-styled guru, who was reportedly outraged when goals were not met.
(...)

Fukunaga reportedly said that the figure of 300,000 was given to him by a heavenly voice. (...) In 1992, Fukunaga visited Nagasaki Prefecture--the year after the Fugen volcano in the Unzen Mountains erupted --and told local followers, "If 7,000 people in the prefecture underwent training for one year, there would be no more eruptions."
Cult leader set tough goals for followers, Daily Yomiuri, Dec. 4, 1999
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Tax evasion

In 1997, lawsuits by some 500 former followers seeking the return of "training fees," prompted tax authorities to investigate the group's finances. Tax officials concluded Ho No Hana Sanpogyo had failed to report income, but the cult's leader suggested foot-reading is a nontaxable religious activity...

A controversial religious group in Shizuoka Prefecture has failed to report some 4.7 billion yen in income, tax officials said May 8.
(...)

Most of this money has gone toward personal expenses, they said. Ho-no-Hana claimed 600 million yen that Fukunaga earned by "examining the soles" of followers' feet "to judge their health conditions" is nontaxable because the practice is a religious activity. But tax authorities concluded it constitutes Fukunaga's personal business, whose profits are subject to taxation.

In another case, an affiliated company that publishes books written by Fukunaga allegedly sold the books to the religious group for almost nothing. Tax authorities consider such sales as de facto donations to the group. Most donations of this type are not tax deductible, and investigators have concluded the publisher failed to report about 1.5 billion yen in income from 1992 to 1995, the officials said.
Religious group Ho-no-Hana failed to report income, Japan Times, May, 1997
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Fukunaga and Clinton

Christian newsweekly WORLD,in writing about the Clinton White House fundraising scandal, reported:

In May 1996, a fundraising dinner organized by [DNC fund raiser - awh] Mr. Huang was held at the Sheraton Carlton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Yogesh Gandhi, a distant relative of Mahatma Gandhi, paid for his ticket and that of a friend, Dr. Hogen Fukunaga, with a $325,000 contribution. (At the dinner, Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Fukunaga presented Mr. Clinton the 1996 "Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Award.") Mr. Fukunaga, leader of a Japanese religious sect known as Ho no Hana Sanpogyo, is a multimillionaire, while Mr. Gandhi, a naturalized American, is a man of little means, indeed a "pauper", according to papers filed in his recent divorce case. After The Los Angeles Times reported in October the details of Mr. Gandhi's lowly economic status, the DNC concluded that the $325,000 he had donated probably never belonged to him and returned "his" money.
The power of The purseoffsite, WORLD, Jan. 25, 1997, Vol. 11, Nr. 33
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Mother Jones offers a closer look:

The story, reported largely by the Los Angeles Times, begins in 1995, when Gandhi allied himself with another opportunist by the name of Dr. Hogen Fukunaga, a Japanese multimillionaire, self-help author, and preacher of Tensei, an empty-pockets-at-the-door sort of sect. (Among Fukunaga's spiritual insights: The navel is "the core of everything about the person.") When Fukunaga became the subject of hundreds of his followers' legal complaints in Japan, he sought to expand the faith to the U.S., where he met Yogesh Gandhi.

To polish Fukunaga's image, Gandhi arranged his appearances at high-profile events with prominent figures including Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa. Then came Bill Clinton's turn: Gandhi contacted the White House requesting an official presentation of the "Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Award" (a bust of Mohandas K. Gandhi and $100,000 in cash) to Clinton for his remarkable contribution to the "betterment of mankind."

The White House declined, but word got around to Huang at the DNC, and soon Gandhi, Fukunaga and friends were welcomed to a May 1996 fundraiser in Washington. The price: $5,000 a plate. Gandhi's contribution: a colossal $325,000, more than half the total raised at the event. So moved by the gift was Huang that he arranged a quickie award ceremony in a private room with President Clinton and the Gandhi party, memorialized in a now-infamous photo. The DNC, after some hesitation, banked the check.

Three months later Gandhi was in court, accused of failing to pay wages to a foundation employee. He testified that he was not a U.S. citizen, that he had no assets in the U.S., and that he was living off his brother's credit card. Had the DNC run a computer check on his name (a routine dropped in 1994) it would have found that his foundation hadn't filed the required tax returns for years and that a grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi had accused Yogesh of using the family name for "non-Gandhian purposes." Two days after the election, the DNC returned Ghandi's donation because he declined to offer proof that it was his own money.
Returned to Spenderoffsite, by Keith Hammond and Laurel Druley. Mother Jones, April 17, 1997

A timeline developed during production research for PBS' FRONTLINE special, "Washington's Other Scandal," says:

5/13/95 Gandhi Yogesh Gandhi arrives in DC with a bust of Mohandas Gandhi, whom he claims is his great grand-uncle and tries to meet the President to present the bust/award. Gandhi paid $325,000 to attend DNC fundraising dinner that night, with 13 guests. Later, in a private room, Hogen Fukunaga, a 52-year-old Japanese citizen who leads a religious sect called Tensei, presented Clinton with the bust. There are still photos of this. (Huang involved). Before check is cashed, Gandhi gets a $500,000 wire transfer from Tanaka's Tokyo bank.

Mr. Gandhi eventually pled guilty to mail fraud, tax evasion and federal election law violation. According to the Digital Hindustan Times he had made the donation "with his own funds," but on behalf of someone who was "trying to promote the worldwide status of (...) Hogen Fukunaga.":

Yogesh Gandhi, who claims to be a distant relative of Mahatma Gandhi, pleaded guilty on Friday to mail fraud, tax evasion and federal election law violation over a $325,000 contribution to the Democratic Party, the US justice department said. Gandhi as a US citizen contributed with his own funds, but the donation was unlawful because Gandhi made it on behalf of a Japanese national, Yoshio Tanaka, who was trying to promote the worldwide status of another Japanese citizen, Hogen Fukunaga. Gandhi gave the money to the Democratic National Committee to attend a 1996 fundraiser attended by President Bill Clinton. However, the Democratic Party later returned the money. Gandhi also admitted in federal court in San Francisco that he had failed to file an income tax return for 1996, and attempted to evade Income taxes that year. He also pleaded guilty to mail fraud in an application in 1995 for corporate American Express credit cards for him, his wife and a business associate. He signed the associate's name on the application without his permission and also used the associate's credit rating to get a credit card in his own name.
Digital Hindustan Times, June 29, 1999

According to minutes of an April 30, 1998 Campaing Finance Reform Investigation meeting, Fukunaga was among 18 non-American witnesses who refused to be interviewed by investigators.
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Fukunaga Steps Down - Somewhat

The head of a religious organization that was searched by police last month on suspicion of defrauding followers of money said Thursday that he will step down. Hogen Fukunaga, 54, leader of Ho no Hana Sanpogyo, made the announcement at the organization's New Year's ceremony. He also said he will dismiss six other executives from their posts.

Fukunaga added, however, that he will remain as "the only symbol who conveys the voices of heaven."

Those who filed lawsuits against Ho no Hana Sanpogyo said Fukunaga's plan to resign was part of an effort to preserve the organization.
Ho No Hana Leader To Step Down, Asahi News, Jan. 7, 2000
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Committee Behind ''Voice of Heaven''

The ''voice of heaven'' that drove followers to part with huge donations to Ho no Hana Sanpogyo was apparently a committee effort, according to sources familiar with the investigation of the cult's activities.

Cult leaders had denied they made fraudulent claims to get money from donors, the sources said Sunday. The basic line was that they could receive hanging scrolls and other religious bric-a-brac imbued with a ''voice of heaven'' heard only by Hogen Fukunaga, founder of the cult.

Investigators have determined since, however, that the messages were drawn up by high-ranking cultists at occasional cult policy meetings.
[...more...]
Foot cultists heard a committee's voice, Asahi News (Japan), May 8, 2000
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Arrested

The Metropolitan Police Department arrested Hogen Fukunaga, the founder of the foot-reading cult Honohana Sanpogyo, and 11 other senior cult members Tuesday on suspicion of fraud.
(...)

The action culminates nearly four years of police investigations into the Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture-based cult, which is believed to have defrauded at least 30,000 people out of more than 87 billion yen since it was officially recognized as a religious group by the Shizuoka Prefectural Government in March 1987.

Fukunaga, 55, born Teruyoshi Fukunaga, started preaching religion in 1980, claiming he is the world's final savior after Jesus Christ and the Buddha. He based his claim on what he called the ''voice of heaven.''

However, this ''voice of heaven'' -- often directives to followers to purchase expensive goods from the cult or recruit members -- resulted from meetings of senior cult members, and the cult was basically swindling people, police sources said.
[...more...]
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