Shouts of jubilation emanated from police stations in Tokyo, along with exchanges of high fives on June 15, as Tatsuya Takahashi (age 54), the last wanted fugitive member of the Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult was apprehended. Two weeks earlier, a female cult member also wanted by police on various charges, Naoko Kikuchi, 40, was turned in by an informer who had noted her resemblance to the 17-year-old photographs on police wanted posters.
“At the time Takahashi was apprehended, he was found to have in his possession photos of guru Shoko Asahara, more than 10 books published by the cult and voice tapes containing sermons,” says a news reporter assigned to cover the Tokyo police. “Moreover, in his cell, he assumes the lotus position and chants mantras. During interrogation, he referred to Asahara as ‘sonshi’ (the holy master) and has stated ‘I still believe, even now.’”
For six years from 1989, the cult had engaged in a number of vicious crimes, beginning in 1989 with the murder of human rights attorney Tsutsumi Sakamoto, 33, his wife and infant son, who were abducted from their Yokohama apartment by senior cult members and buried in a remote mountain area. In June 1994, the cult—aiming to postpone an unfavorable court ruling in a real estate dispute—released the toxic nerve gas sarin in a residential neighborhood in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, killing eight people and injuring some 660. Then 10 months later on March 20, 1995, the cult’s coordinated nerve gas attacks on five Tokyo subway lines killed 13 and injured some 6,300.
Despite these and other horrific criminal acts, reports Shukan Taishu (July 9), some believers have not only remained loyal to Asahara, but also still adhere to his precepts.
“After the Tokyo subway incident, Aum changed its name and split into two groups, Aleph and Hikari no Wa,” says a reporter for a national newspaper who covers public security news. “According to the public security police, in 2007, 54 members joined the two groups. Last year, membership jumped by 213 new members. As a result, Aleph currently boasts 1,300 members and Hikari no Wa has about 200.”
“Following the Great East Japan Earthquake last year, leaders of the cult had warned believers that unless they reverted to the doctrine of guru Shoko Asahara, death would be imminent,” the reporter points out.
Makoto Hirata, another Aum fugitive who turned himself into police on the last day of 2011, is currently incarcerated at the same Kosuge detention facility as his guru, Asahara. Hirata is said to chant prayers while facing in the direction of Asahara’s cell on death row.
One Aleph commune occupies a 4-story building in Iriya, Adachi Ward.
“Looking beyond the window curtains, we can see the walls festooned with Asahara’s photos,” says a local resident. “It doesn’t look like the cult has really changed, and that’s disturbing.”
“Aleph has produced a manual on use of SNSs for protelyziation,” says attorney Masanori Kito, author of the recently published book titled “Mind Control.” “Their recruitment efforts focus on pliable young people ranging from late teens through their early 20s.”
According to a former member of the cult, recruitment techniques include setting up “study groups” on college campuses. Cultists also organize yoga classes, social events serving meals of curry and mixed couples parties.
But how is it that the demented cult, whose murderous leader and a dozen of his minions await execution on death row, is still able to attract new adherents? In 1995, political journalist Shojiro Watanabe had urged that Aum be disbanded under the subversive activities law.
“People born in 1995 are in high school now,” Watanabe explains. “Those who were under age 10 when the cult commited its crimes are in their 20s. They have no memories of what happened. The problems that confront these young people today are just as bad if not worse than what we had to deal with at that time, so their attraction to the world of spiritualism is understandable.”