Life Space Movement

"The Corpse and the Cult: In a grisly case, police find a 'mummy' in a hotel room and blame the death on a healing guru"

by George Wehrfritz and Kay Itoi ("Newsweek International", December 6, 1999)

The guests in room 1272 gave workers at Marroad International Hotel near Tokyo the creeps. They refused maid service, hid for months like recluses and ignored management's polite requests to vacate. When police were finally called in on Nov. 11, they found a bathrobe-clad corpse lying on a bed in candlelight—attended by two members of a cult called Life Space. "Don't touch," one of them warned, "he's still alive." The stench of rancid flesh argued otherwise; investigators who removed the withered body described it as "mummified." Coroners concluded that the elderly man had been dead for as long as four months before police raided the room.
The "mummy" was quickly identified as Shinichi Kobayashi, a longtime Life Space follower. But key details of his death remain a mystery. Last June the 66-year-old engraver slipped in the bathroom in his Osaka residence and was knocked unconscious. At the hospital, doctors identified a life-threatening cerebral hemorrhage. Then, eight days after his accident, Kobayashi's 31-year-old son Kenji and two fellow cult members removed him from the Osaka facility against doctors' orders and took him to the Marroad. There the Life Space guru, 61-year-old Koji Takahashi, began treating Kobayashi with gentle touches called "shakty pats." Police say the old man died soon thereafter, but the Life Space leader claims his patient was alive until the coroner performed the autopsy. "I'm not as crazy as someone who would treat a dead man," Takahashi told NEWSWEEK during a rambling, three-hour interview. "Do you think I'm that crazy?"
Police in Japan don't buy the guru's explanation. Last week, they raided four Life Space facilities looking for the proof they need to prosecute group leaders for Kobayashi's death. They netted material that could implicate the guru directly. The gold nugget: a five-volume, 2,000-page account, authored by cult members under Takahashi's direction, of the guru's lengthy effort to help Kenji "revitalize" his father. Entitled "Father and Son's Bonds Are Connected at Once When the Son Nurses the Father," the series—a copy of which NEWSWEEK has obtained—rejects Japanese medicine, presents some of Takahashi's teachings and chronicles Takahashi's campaign to revive a man who, midway into volume 1, is clearly already dead. His "treatment" is administered by touching palms on the patient's head and body. The technique is borrowed from Indian guru Sai Baba, a healer whom Takahashi claims to have followed for 6,000 years through countless reincarnations.
Born at the outbreak of World War II, Takahashi is a chubby man with a willowy gray beard who lost vision in his right eye in an air-gun accident at 14. He was an accountant until he formed Life Space and began offering self-enlightenment seminars in 1983—charging participants up to $5,000 per course. These programs, in which participants role-played as beggars or blind people to experience different perspectives, attracted thousands, and over time Takahashi developed a core group of about 200 followers, including refugees from Japan's high-stress corporations and universities.
Written to vindicate the group in Kobayashi's death, the books appear to accomplish just the opposite. They show how the elderly man's son, acting largely at the urging of his guru, ushered an invalid away from quality medical care and made him, in effect, a cult guinea pig. In volume 1, for example, the book claims that the elder Kobayashi's chief doctor "understood, but could not consent to" Kenji's request to take him away—a refusal the cult ignored when it whisked the semiconscious man from the hospital in a wheelchair on July 2. Just six days later, after his first shakty pat therapy, a section by Kenji describes Kobayashi's alarming deterioration, by then probably postmortem. "My father looks like a decomposed body," Kenji observes. "He is not breathing, he has no pulse, the stench... is strong and his face is green."
For the next four months, entries show the guru maintains that the old man's rotting body is alive—as evidence to the contrary mounts. When assistants notice "three white insects" near the patient's nostrils on July 27, he identifies these bugs as "ascetic tics" that swarm around holy men on the shore of India's Ganges River. "When people die," he adds, "the insects they attract are yellow." On Sept. 23 the guru examines his patient, then reasons: "His hair does not come off, even if you pull. When people die, the hair drops off in three days." On Oct. 9 he asks: "Did you check his pulse?" "Yes," replies a follower, "but today we can't find it." To which the guru retorts: "It is something an amateur cannot recognize." The book's grisliest pages appear in volumes 2 and 4, where color photographs taken on Oct. 7 show close-ups of the body. Volume 5 ends on Oct. 28, two weeks before the police raid on the hotel room. The final sentence, an observation of a cult volunteer, exclaims: "Wow! Shinichi is smiling."
A concluding volume, which the group says is due out soon, will explain the cult's version of events through the autopsy. Police aren't waiting around. Investigators say they are rapidly amassing evidence against the Life Space guru and his followers. In Kobayashi's case, possible charges range from "abandonment of a corpse," a relatively minor offense, to "abandonment resulting in death," or even murder, according to Japanese legal experts. Last week's raids also turned up nine children between the ages of 9 and 17 who, authorities say, were living unsupervised in Life Space apartments. The children have been put in temporary custody at a child-welfare center. "We are not sure if we should call this maltreatment or neglect or abuse," says a center official.
Takahashi remains in a beachfront hotel suite near Tokyo, but Life Space is already losing in the courts. Last month an elderly couple on Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, successfully petitioned for custody of their 6-year-old granddaughter, a girl who had been left by her parents, both Life Space members, to live largely unsupervised with other "cult kids." "The girl was living in a hotel room with other children," says Shinya Uchida, a lawyer for the grandparents. "They were given a thousand yen [$10] a day to get their own food." The grandparents located the girl after she phoned them. Sadly, the elder Kobayashi was too frail to sound a similar alarm before he became his own cult's most gruesome experiment.

"Cultists protest loss of children"

("Mainichi Daily News", November 27, 1999)

Members of a cult visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Office on Friday and presented a letter demanding an explanation as to why police took the children of some of its members into protective care.
On Wednesday, nine children were taken from facilities of the Shakty Pat Guru Foundation in police raids.
Officials told the cult members that the children had been taken to the Metropolitan Child Center because they had been prevented from attending schools as part of the generally undesirable living conditions they were forced to endure at the group's facilities.
The cultists denied the allegation, saying that their children receive proper education at their facilities.
The foundation is affiliated with the controversial cult Life Space, who hit the headlines recently after a member's mummified body was found at a hotel in Narita.

"Cult raided"

("Mainichi Shimbun", November 25, 1999)

Controversial cult Life Space was hit with nationwide police raids on Wednesday and nine children found at its facilities in Tokyo were taken into official care, investigators said. The raids were connected to the recent finding of the mummified body of a cultist in a Narita hotel room.
Six of the children were found at the headquarters of a cult-affiliated group called Shakty Pat Guru Foundation in Shinjuku-ku, and the other three were spotted in a Life Space office in Bunkyo-ku, both in Tokyo, police said.
No exact ages of the children were known, but they were believed to be from elementary to high school age.
The children would be taken into temporary care at a metropolitan child welfare center in Shinjuku-ku before police contacted their families.
If social workers determine that the children's families could not provide them with a suitable environment, they may be sent to children's homes, center officials said.
Many Life Space cultists are reportedly not letting their children attend schools, and police are probing the children's cases carefully to see whether child welfare laws have been breached.
The children were found during police raids on Life Space offices and its related facilities in Tokyo and Nagoya. A hotel in Ibaraki's Oarai, where the cult's accountant-turned-guru, Koji Takahashi, 61, and other members were staying, was also raided.
Police said they searched the locations in connection with the death of Shinichi Kobayashi. He was a cult member from Kawanishi in Hyogo Prefecture whose mummified body was found at the Narita hotel on Nov. 11.
Kobayashi died because he was unable to receive proper treatment for a brain hemorrhage he suffered in June this year, police believe.
He was transferred from a hospital in Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, to the Narita hotel by his 31-year-old son, who is also a cult member, after only two weeks of hospitalization. He was to receive "spiritual healing" called "shakty pat" from Takahashi.
The healing reportedly involves the guru patting patients' heads.
Kobayashi's son and other Life Space members insist that Kobayashi was alive and recovering from his illness until police took the body away for postmortem examination.
In April last year, another 43-year-old follower of the cult died from his illness, after refusing to receive hospital treatment.
Takahashi founded Life Space, which started out as a self-enlightenment group, in 1983 in Suita, Osaka Prefecture.
The group reportedly charges its members as much as 5 million yen to attend a single seminar.
At its peak from the late 1980s until the early 1990s, the group drew nearly 10,000 people to its seminars, but recently the number has dwindled to around 150, sources said.


"Man wins battle for Life Space kid"

("Mainichi Shimbun", November 24, 1999)

SAPPORO - A man received custody of his granddaughter from a family court in Hokkaido because her parents, members of the controversial cult Life Space, had not been taking sufficient care of her, court sources have revealed. The court made the man the legal guardian of his 6-year-old granddaughter after learning that she had been taken away from her parents, forced to live with about 20 other children under minimal adult supervision and given a daily allowance of 1,000 yen, which she was to use to buy her own food.
The girl's parents accused the grandfather of kidnapping the child, but the court rejected their arguments, saying that "the girl wanted to return to live with her grandfather of her own volition and that doing so was better for her welfare."
The names of those involved in the case and the location of the family court that awarded the man custody of the girl have been withheld to protect the child's identity.
Court sources said the girl's parents took her from Hokkaido first to Osaka, then to Tokyo to live in a hotel with other followers of the Life Space cult. The girl was separated from her parents and made to live with other Life Space children. The children were given a 1,000 yen daily food allowance and told to buy food for themselves.
The girl frequently made collect calls to her grandfather. The grandfather arranged to meet the girl at a railway station in Nagoya in October last year, then spirited her away. Soon after, the grandfather's lawyer contacted the girl's parents to inform them of their daughter's safety and that she was living with the older man.
The parents demanded their child be returned to the Tokyo hotel, but the grandfather refused.
When the two parties were unable to reach an amicable agreement, the grandfather decided to take the case to the courts. In July this year, the grandfather applied to a Hokkaido family court for legal guardianship over the girl. The parents objected, but earlier this month the family court sided with the older man.
Meanwhile, in Narita, Life Space leader and self-professed guru Koji Takahashi said he had not ordered the removal from hospital of a seriously ill male follower whose mummified corpse was found in a hotel room occupied by the group near Narita Airport earlier this month.
"I didn't give any orders," Koji Takahashi, 61, said.
The body was identified as that of Shinichi Kobayashi, 66, a resident of Itami, Osaka Prefecture, who had been hospitalized after a cerebral hemorrhage in late June.
"When Kobayashi's son came to see me on June 29 for advice on his treatment, I only said to him that if he was determined (to remove the father from the hospital), I would welcome it," Takahashi said.
A group member said he and six others accompanied Kobayashi to pick up his father early on the morning of July 2.
"We brought Kobayashi out in a wheelchair with consent from his doctor. A medic relayed the consent," the member said.
The members are believed to have brought the elder Kobayashi to Narita airport from Osaka Airport and to have checked in to the hotel and holed up in the room where the man's corpse was found Nov. 11.
Police believe Kobayashi had been dead for a couple of months when his corpse was found.
However, his son and other members of Takahashi's group insist he was alive until the police took the body away from the room.

"Life Space sites raided; children taken into custody"

("Japan Times", November 24, 1999)

CHIBA -- Chiba Prefectural Police raided several locations Wednesday linked to the self-enlightenment group Life Space.
The searches were conducted in connection with a mummified body of one of its members found earlier this month in a hotel room in Narita, Chiba Prefecture. The search warrants did not identify any suspect but were based on charges of abandoning a corpse.
During the raids, authorities said they found nine children inside some of the Life Space facilities and took them in to protective custody under the Child Welfare Law because they were determined to be receiving "inappropriate care."
A preliminary checkup determined that the children are in good health. Authorities said the children were wearing clean clothes and that there were no bruises or other visible signs of physical abuse.
A total of nine children were taken into custody, Tokyo Metropolitan Government welfare officials said.
Police found six girls aged between 13 and 17 in a small, one-room apartment in a condominium complex in Bunkyo Ward. Two girls and one boy between the ages of 9 and 11 were found in a two-room apartment in Shinjuku Ward that had a photograph of Life Space leader Koji Takahashi hanging on the wall.
The three grade-school age children were with four adults when police entered the Shinjuku apartment. There was no food in the refrigerator, and the only futon in the room was being used by an elderly woman, welfare officials said.
According to officials, the children made no move to resist when taken into custody. A few, however, told police they were hungry.
The nine children were taken to a child-care center in Shinjuku Ward, where they were given sandwiches and bowls of vegetable soup, authorities said.
Under the Child Welfare Law, authorities may temporarily detain children without guardians, those who do not attend school or youngsters in an "inappropriate or detrimental environment."
The sites raided included the offices of Life Space as well as those of a support group, Shakty Pat Guru Foundation, located in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward. A hotel in Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture, where Takahashi and other followers are staying was also searched.
The raids were the investigators' first on the group since they found the mummified body of Shinichi Kobayashi, a former company employee from Kawanishi, Hyogo Prefecture, on Nov. 11.
According to police, Kobayashi, 61, collapsed in late June after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage and was taken to a hospital in Itami, Hyogo Prefecture.
Life Space members, including Kobayashi's son, removed him from the hospital on July 2 and took him to the Narita hotel, where the man is believed to have died.
Prefectural police sources said they believe Kobayashi died because Life Space followers did not give him proper medical care. The authorities were trying to establish a criminal case.
However, investigators were proceeding with caution to determine how to interpret the group's claims that they were "treating" the man and that he was still alive when police carted the mummified body away.
Life Space organizes self-enlightenment seminars. It was founded by Takahashi in 1983 in Suita, Osaka Prefecture. At its peak, it is said to have attracted nearly 10,000 people to its seminars, but that has dropped to around 150.


"Police search cult facilities. The searches stem from the discovery of a body at a hotel in Narita"

("Asahi Shimbun", November 24, 1999)

Investigators this morning searched the facilities of a self-enlightenment cult that kept the mummified body of a follower at a hotel near Narita airport, Chiba police said.
At about 9:05 a.m., seven to eight police officers searched the hotel where members of the Life Space group, also known as the Shakty Pat Guru Foundation (SPGF), were staying in Ooarai, Ibaraki Prefecture.
Ten investigators arrived at SPGF's publishing facility in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, at the same time. They left the site around 10:10 a.m. with six girls who appeared to be elementary or junior high school age.
Police also searched an eatery in Nagoya where SPGF leader Koji Takahashi, 61, is said to have kept his belongings.
The searches were conducted on suspicion that the cult abandoned a dead body.
On Nov. 11, police found the mummified body of Shinichi Kobayashi, 66, who was a member of the group, in a hotel in the Narita airport vicinity.
Kobayashi had been hospitalized for cerebral hemmorhage in Itami, Hyogo Prefecture. But authorities learned that on July 2, Kobayashi was transported from the hospital to the hotel by his 31-year-old son and other cultists.
Police suspect that a lack of proper medical treatment led to Kobayashi's death. The cult kept Kobayashi's body and photo records at the hotel.
Life Space officials insist that Kobayashi was alive when police entered the hotel.
They said they removed Kobayashi from the hospital to give him proper care.
Kobayashi's family paid 8 million yen for Life Space's treatment. Life Space has been involved in similar cases.
In April 1998, a 43-year-old university employee visited a cult facility in Tokyo for treatment of a kidney problem. He died after refusing hospital treatment.
Four years ago, a 22-year-old college student died while taking part in a group seminar.
The parents were awarded 28 million yen in compensation.


"9 minors found in 'Life Space' cult's facility"

("Kyodo News Service", November 24, 1999)

CHIBA, Japan, Nov. 24 (Kyodo) - Police took into protective custody Wednesday nine juveniles found at a facility related to the ''Life Space'' group, a cult that was involved in a vigil over a corpse in a hotel near Narita airport in Chiba Prefecture.
The minors, taken into custody under the Child Welfare Law, are a 9-year-old boy and eight girls between 10 and 17, police said.
The Chiba prefectural police searched the facility in Tokyo after suspecting the cult was involved in the abandonment of a body, but they did not identify any suspects.
The body, discovered in a room at the hotel Nov. 11, was identified as that of Shinichi Kobayashi, 66, a resident of Kawanishi, Hyogo Prefecture, who was hospitalized in Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, after a cerebral hemorrhage in late June.
Police raided several locations, including the office of a support group for Life Space guru Koji Takahashi, 61. The support group, called the Shakty Pat Guru Foundation, is based in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward.
They also searched a hotel in Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture, where Takahashi and other cult members are currently staying, and a related facility in Nagoya's Higashi Ward.
According to police, Kobayashi was taken to the hotel room where his body was later found, after being checked out of hospital by his son and other Life Space members. They believe Kobayashi died in the hotel room several months ago.
Kobayashi's son and other members of Life Space insist he was alive until police took the body away earlier this month.
Life Space, which organizes self-enlightenment seminars, was founded by Takahashi in 1983 in Suita, Osaka Prefecture. At its peak, it is said to have drawn nearly 10,000 people to its seminars, but currently the number has dropped to around 150.
The support group publicizes Takahashi's views through print publications and a Web site.


"Japan Police to Search Cult Office Over Body, Asahi Says"

("Bloomberg", November 24, 1999)

Police in Japan's Chiba prefecture will search the office of the Life Space cult, as well as a hotel in neighboring Ibaraki prefecture where its leader is staying, in connection with a mummified body linked with the group, the Asahi newspaper reported, without citing sources. The body of 66-year-old Shinichi Kobayashi was discovered in another hotel earlier this month; members of the cult insisted that Kobayashi was still alive, and that he would be killed if an autopsy were performed. Police may bring charges of abandonment of a body, although they did not specify a suspect, the report said.
The national government earlier this month submitted a bill to curb the activities of another cult, Aum Supreme Truth, which is suspected of masterminding the 1995 Tokyo subway gassing that killed 12 people.

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