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Japan Police Raid Religious Group

December 1, 1999

TOKYO (AP) _ Police searching for evidence of fraud Wednesday raided the offices of a Japanese religious group that promised to cure diseases by examining the soles of people’s feet.

The headquarters of Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo, near the base of Mt. Fuji, 95 miles west from Tokyo, and 73 other spots nationwide were raided, police said.

Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo refused to comment. The name roughly translates as ``teaching of the flower-three teachings.″

Police said the raid was carried out on suspicion of crimes against three former believers who were allegedly defrauded the equivalent of $215,700.

Some followers paid as much as $980,000 to the group after being warned that they would die or get cancer unless they had the bottoms of their feet inspected, according to Japanese media reports.

The group also advocated that personality traits could be read by the shape of people’s feet _ short toes signified short tempers, fat toes foretold of fortunes.

Complaints against the group began about four years ago, and some 1,000 former group members have filed lawsuits, demanding the equivalent of $53 million in damages, Kyodo News service said.

Public alarm has been growing recently about the rise of dubious religious groups. Japanese have traditionally followed a loose mix of Buddhism and native Shinto, but there seems to be increasing interest in new cults.

Experts are divided over the reasons, but some say initiates are searching for spiritual meaning as the nation attains material wealth.

The leader and members of a doomsday cult called Aum Shinri Kyo are accused of pouring lethal nerve gas into Tokyo subways in 1995, killing 12 people and sickening thousands.

Last month, police took nine children into protective custody after inspecting an office and rented rooms used by Life Space, another cult, that kept a mummified corpse in an airport hotel. The followers complained when police took away the corpse because they believe that the man was still alive. Police do not suspect foul play.

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