The fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by the son of a follower of the Unification Church has put increased attention on the issue of Japanese parents who force their children to adhere to religious faiths through psychological or even physical abuse.

In some cases, these so-called "second-generation" followers of what many describe as religious cults say they are forced to not only blindly follow their parents' religious beliefs from a young age but also to endure financial hardship or curbs on their freedoms.

The issue tends to be glossed over by Japanese society as a private problem and children find themselves in dire situations where it is virtually impossible to speak their minds because of their broken parental relationships.

But iidabii, a rapper and slam poet who is the son of a Jehovah's Witnesses follower, has bravely recounted his painful childhood experiences through spoken word performances and songs that outline in graphic detail the abuse he withstood from his devoutly evangelical Christian mother.

Iidabii performs spoken word in a poetry slam. (Supplied by iidabii)

Since around 2018, he has brought the issue center stage at live houses and other venues where young people gather, performing "poetry readings" in which he speaks in a way he believes can reach people who have been scarred like he was when growing up the victim of his mother's religious fervor in Saitama Prefecture, near Tokyo.

In his spoken piece, also performed as a song, titled "Witness of Abuse," iidabii, 31, tells those who believe they have no choice but to view the world as it is presented to them through the narrow view of religion that they have an option to lead a new life if they take a stand.

Iidabii performs spoken word in a poetry slam. (Supplied by iidabii)(Kyodo)
In Japan, there is freedom of religion
You can live your faith
Or you can live another way
No one can force you
You have the right to say what you want
To act as you want
You have the right to live

Abe's accused murderer Tetsuya Yamagami, who is being detained while his mental fitness is assessed ahead of an indictment, has told investigators he held a grudge against the Unification Church because his mother had donated large sums of money to the organization, resulting in bankruptcy and his family's ruin.

As a motive for allegedly killing Abe, the 42-year-old Yamagami has said he targeted the former prime minister because of his links to the church, now formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

The suspect's troubled upbringing was revealed in the media, and iidabii says he was shocked by the dreadful details.

Although it was difficult for him to make a direct comparison to Yamagami's experience since their mothers were indoctrinated into different faiths, iidabii says he could still imagine the pain of a situation in which a parent has been gripped by an exploitative theology.

"I think that part was the same as my own," he said. Memories of his own childhood came rushing back.

Iidabii was born the youngest of four siblings to a mother who was already a devout follower of the Jehovah's Witnesses. His earliest memories are of his mother taking him to religious meetings -- gatherings that occurred three times a week. From age 5, he was going door to door on his own, handing out religious literature.

Iidabii is pictured in Saitama, near Tokyo, in July 2022. (Kyodo)

Whenever he would get sleepy during a meeting or defy the accepted religious doctrine, his mother would say, "You are doing a bad thing against God." These admonishments were invariably followed by beatings with a whip.

"Those (beatings) really hurt," said iidabii with a grimace, recalling his mother's punishments that continued unabated until he began quietly obeying her commands around the time he entered the third grade of elementary school.

In "Witness of Abuse," he details a speech impediment he developed as a result of his treatment, rapping, "I lost words...that was the beginning of the stuttering problem that still continues into my adult life."

Because the teachings of the faith forbid blood transfusions -- even in the case of life-threatening medical situations -- iidabii says he needed to explain this to his elementary school teacher and have "No Blood Transfusion" printed on the back of his name tag.

He could not participate in mock-jousting battles at sports festivals, cheering competitions or even sing the school anthem. At home, he was banned from watching any anime or playing video games.

But in junior high school, he was stunned by the difference between himself and his classmates. Although they openly talked about their dreams of becoming teachers or doctors, his mother made it abundantly clear that he was to engage in missionary work and hold a part-time job after graduating high school.

As the sect discouraged college enrollment at the time, iidabii was convinced he had no alternative despite harboring an overwhelming desire to be "normal." There came a time when he would bottle up his true feelings -- or more aptly, shake them off -- and devote himself ever more fervently to his religious activities.

He noticed at one point he had even forgotten how to laugh. But iidabii came to a crossroads in his third year of junior high school one day when he confessed to his mother of wanting to "play music in a band." His feelings of repression erupted as his mother admonished him for the "absurdity of music."

When he told her outright he no longer wished to practice the religious faith, iidabii says, amid tears, she said he was "possessed by demons" and "a devil child." They yelled at each other and got into a scuffle. From that day onward, he stopped attending meetings. "We weren't a family from the beginning," he raps.

Afterward, he would only speak a bare minimum with his mother. When she discovered he had been dating girls in his second year of high school, iidabii was excommunicated from the religion -- a disciplinary action called "disfellowshipping" as retribution for violating the faith's doctrine.

To avoid contact with his mother, he would leave the house early in the morning and not return till late at night. After high school graduation, he began living alone in a town a little way from his parents' home. Since "associations with 'shunned individuals' is not allowed," as his mother puts it, he hardly ever sees her to this day.

In Part II of this series, iidabii begins to emerge from his adolescent misery and finds the courage to write and perform poetry detailing the torment he experienced to help others stand up to abuse in the name of religion.

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