The surprising link between sushi and an AR-15-obsessed Christian sect

I've written here before the Rod of Iron Ministries Church, an off-shoot of the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, which went viral back in 2018 for hosting a group wedding vow renewal ceremony where people also married their guns. Earlier this year, Rod of Iron Ministries founder Pastor Hyung Jin "Sean" Moon bought a new compound for the church in Texas which further amplifies its creepy cult vibes; the family also owns a firearms manufacturing company, under the leadership of his elder brother, Justin.

The two Moons are the children of Sun Myung Moon, a Korean immigrant and self-proclaimed Messiah figure who also owned several successful business ventures and invested in many others. One of those investments — as I just learned from this delightful New York Times article about the secret history of sushi — was a company called True World Foods, founded by a member of the Unification Church named Takeshi Yashiro. Though sushi certainly existed before the founding of the Unification Church, Moon's business ventures helped to popularize the food in the United States:

By the time Yashiro and the other "fish pioneers" listened in the ballroom, Unification Church International had already poured more than $10 million into shipyards and seafood operations on every coast of the continental United States, including a processing plant in Alaska. It would go on to spend tens of millions more. But someone needed to sell the catch. Moon's idea, the pioneers say, was for them to peddle it door to door from refrigerated vans, and to proselytize at the same time.


It is tempting to perceive True World Foods as a profit-minded conglomerate with a colorful yet ultimately peripheral religious back story — the sushi equivalent of Marriott, which has been guided for decades by public shareholders and has sometimes made business decisions at odds with the Mormon beliefs of its founding family (by serving alcohol, for example). Instead, it's more accurate to imagine a fish company guided for most of its history by the equivalent of Joseph Smith and his immediate disciples. Throughout True World's existence, foundational aspects of its identity — who will lead, where and how and when to expand, messaging at annual meetings, what purpose the business should serve, what sacrifices employees should accept and why — have defied the business world's usual gravity and been shaped, directly or indirectly, by the pull of Moon.

It's a long, fascinating article, with lots to unpack about both the evolution of sushi, and about international trade, Korean and Japanese diaspora, and the questionable legal power of religious business entanglements. I recommend reading the whole thing. But mostly, it's pretty wild to think that a Christian Nationalist gun cult could be so intimately tied to the sushi industry.

The Untold Story of Sushi in America [Daniel Fromson / New York Times]

Image: Public Domain via PxHere

Full disclosure: I also write for Wirecutter, which is owned by The New York Times Company, which publishes the New York Times.