Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
This is the 11th installment of a series on Chizuo Matsumoto, the founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult. After pounding on the door and shouting for those inside to open up, a team of police investigators poured into an Aum Supreme Truth cult facility in Tokyo on March 22, 1995.
After the police entered, a 39-year-old male member of the cult came out of the door into the glare of the lights of television cameramen.
The police quoted him as saying that none of the cult's leaders had warned him of the raid.
He said he thought at the time that the government was going to destroy Aum by any means necessary.
Now living in an Aum-related facility in the Kanto region, the man joined the cult several months before Aum's sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.
Though he continued working at a company job after joining Aum, the man later withdrew from the world at the exhortation of his wife, who had become an Aum believer earlier. The March 1995 raid by the Metropolitan Police Department came only a few days later.
Subsequently, one senior leader of Aum after another began strongly criticizing Aum's top leader Chizuo Matsumoto, alias Shoko Asahara, 48, as they were on trial for their alleged roles in a series of Aum-related incidents. The harsh criticism made in court by the senior leaders against Matsumoto led the man to seriously question his decision to join Aum.
Not sure what to do, he thought it might be better to quit the cult. In the end, however, he chose to stay in Aum.
Asked about the reason for that decision, he told a Yomiuri Shimbun reporter in January: "I didn't have any doubts about the Aum teachings themselves. In addition, leaving this religious organization would have meant that I'd have to have something to do with company superiors I hate."
He still remains unable to break his spiritual dependency on Aum, saying: "I'd really like to see Asahara tell the truth about the allegations of the series of incidents in question. Given the situation, I can never feel at ease."
Group offered an alternative
A man in his 30s was among the 100 participants in a nine-day intensive training course Aum held from late 2003 over the New Year's period at a cult facility in Yashio, Saitama Prefecture. He said he had come from a place far from the facility and had joined Aum about a year ago.
Having been frustrated by the difficulty of forging good relationships with others in corporate life, he had changed jobs more than 20 times before finding an Aum-published book in a bookstore one day.
He began to attend Aum training sessions more and more frequently to practice yoga, which made him feel nimble.
The idea began to crystallize in his mind that there was no alternative for him but to join Aum, "as I am disgusted with everything else in this world," he said.
Even if Matsumoto, the top Aum leader, were convicted, the man would not leave the cult, he said in a feeble voice, adding: "Crime is a thing of this world. The system of Aum teachings is quite another."
According to opinion surveys conducted by Kimiaki Nishida, 43, an associate professor at Shizuoka Prefectural University, Aum followers, unlike those of other cults, have a strong propensity to be positive about the truth of the cult's teachings and the virtues of Aum as a religious organization even after they quit Aum.
"Aum believers used to form a personal relationship with Matsumoto with the earnest aim of achieving what Aum preaches as true freedom," said the associate professor, "So most of them, even after bolting from Aum, find it extremely hard to adapt themselves anew to the realities of society, since their negative view of society is hard to change."
A typical example of this was a former female Aum follower in her 20s, whom Taido Kusumaya, a Nichiren Buddhist priest at Daimyoji temple in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, met to counsel about ways of severing her spiritual ties to Aum.
She joined Aum in 1993 and was arrested by police on suspicion of illegally entering a building and later brought back to her parents' home.
In the counseling session with Kusuyama in May 1995, she sat in a lotus position all the time, continuously reciting a mystical invocation while keeping track of the recitations with a counter she held firmly in her hand.
Even after the arrest of Matsumoto, the woman remained convinced of what she described as the infallibility of Aum teachings, stating enthusiastically, "For the cause of rescuing Japan from Armageddon, I'm determined to continue religious training in order to fulfill the goal of obtaining perfect freedom as taught by Aum."
After two months of counseling with Kusuyama, she at last quit the cult, but the counseling went on even after that.
Three years later, having become able to judge things on her own, she recently came across one of the Aum leaders on the active list. The leader tried to persuade her to rejoin the cult, saying, "You'll get a chance to enter paradise only if you stay with us."
The meeting and the leader's way of trying to persuade her made her feel the leader was living in a childishly naive world and led her to abandon her affection for the cult completely, she said.
Kusuyama said: "People who believed in Aum are mostly in the grip of a kind of dualism: The real world is evil, while Aum by contrast is the embodiment of good."
"It's very hard for them to return to the realities of life unless they are provided with adequate psychological support from their families and others," the priest said.
He has met about 200 Aum followers so far for counseling, but only about 40 of them have severed their ties to the cult.
According to the Public Security Investigation Agency, the number of Aum followers currently stands at about 1,600, a figure that has remained unchanged for the past four years.
As guru of a doomsday cult, Shoko Asahara looked and sounded the part. Almost blind, his black beard flowing onto his chest, he claimed he could levitate, see into people's past lives and foretell the apocalypse.
On Friday, a Japanese court will decide whether he also commanded his disciples to murder, most terrifyingly in the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 12 people, sickened thousands and alerted the world to the threat of terrorism by mass slaughter.
Asahara faces the gallows if convicted of masterminding the subway deaths and 15 others, though he has the right to appeal. He also faces charges of attempted murder, kidnapping and illegal weapons production.
The closing of his trial is forcing Japan to revisit a horrifying moment in its modern history.
The shock of the attack and the Aum Shinrikyo cult behind it has been profound and long-lasting. A nation proud of its affluence and stability was confronted with the grisly spectacle of its brightest young minds bewitched into committing crimes of stunning savagery.
"The sarin attack shattered the image of Japan as a peaceful utopia," said Masaki Kito, a lawyer who has battled several cults in Japan. "This crime greatly increased the sense of crisis among the people."
It also had global ramifications: The cult's explosive alchemy of money, technical know-how and religious zeal flashed an early warning of the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the murderous potential of fanaticism.
Defense lawyers say Asahara - whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto - had lost control over his violent flock by the time of the attack, but many of his top lieutenants have testified to his puppet-master role.
In a country with a 99 percent conviction rate, his guilty verdict and death sentence are widely expected. Eleven of his disciples are already on death row, though none has been hanged yet.
"He's the most responsible for what happened," said Hiroyuki Nagaoka, the father of a former cult member. "Without Asahara's orders, cult members would not have become capable of killing."
Nagaoka, the head of an anti-Aum support group, was also a victim of the cult. An Asahara disciple sprayed him with VX nerve gas outside his home in January 1995, just two months before the subway attack.
Topping the list of Aum's chillingly calculated killings was the subway attack. On March 20, 1995, five cultists boarded morning rush-hour trains headed toward the government ministry district in central Tokyo.
At the appointed time, they pierced bags of sarin - a nerve gas developed by the Nazis - and let the deadly fumes spread in an assault meant as a pre-emptive strike against Japanese police planning raids on the cult.
Pandemonium struck. Panicked, sickened passengers stumbled from the cars, blood streaming from their noses, their vision darkened, their heads throbbing in excruciating pain.
For some, the convulsions were followed by death. Many survivors still suffer from headaches, breathing troubles and dizziness. The cult was ordered in separate court proceedings to pay 3.8 billion yen, or $36 million, in damages to the victims.
The guru is also accused of plotting a sarin gas attack the previous year in Matsumoto, central Japan, that killed seven people; ordering the murder of an anti-Aum lawyer and his family; and exterminating errant cult members.
The crackdown on the group opened a window to its bizarre rituals. Initiates paid hefty sums to drink Asahara's dirty bathwater, sip his blood and wear electric caps to keep their brain waves in sync with their master's.
He used a long list of drugs to sedate his abused acolytes into submission or dazzle them with hallucinatory visions. A huge microwave oven at the cult's Mount Fuji headquarters was used to incinerate the bodies of victims.
Flush with millions of dollars from members' savings, fees and businesses, the cult shopped around the world for technology, components and machinery to amass an arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons. Some cultists dreamed of a nuclear bomb.
David E. Kaplan, co-author of "The Cult and the End of the World: The Incredible Story of Aum," considers the cult to be "the blueprint" for subsequent terrorist groups like Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
"If you look at the firsts that they did, the first mass attack with a chemical weapon on a civilian population, the ability for a group - not a nation - to operate viable programs for weapons of mass destruction, it really is extraordinary," Kaplan said. "They were multinational, they were high-tech and they were incredibly destructive."
Aum counted on a core of driven, highly educated scientists from the country's finest universities for brains. Asahara provided the inspiration, concocting a mix of Hinduism, Buddhism and yoga and promising his cowed flock Armageddon followed by paradise on Earth.
The trial has taken nearly eight years, lengthened by Japan's chronic shortage of lawyers and judges, the complexity of the case and a six-month delay caused by Asahara's firing of his first attorney.
The verdict also comes amid fears that although Aum has renounced its violent past and renamed itself Aleph, its remnants show signs of greater allegiance to Asahara. Agents this month raided the offices of the group, which still claims 1,650 members in Japan and 300 in Russia - a shadow of the 10,000 members in Japan and 30,000 in Russia the group claimed at its height, but still a concern.
The sarin attack has had a long-lasting effect on Japan. Coming two months after a killer earthquake in the port city of Kobe and in the midst of an economic slump, it vanquished Japan's self-confidence of the 1980s and ushered in a lengthy bout of soul-searching over the country's troubled youth and moral decay.
The failure of law enforcement to stop the cult before the subway gassing triggered a push for greater police powers such as wiretapping. Some say the shock over the crimes has also encouraged Japan's drift toward conservatism over the past decade.
Despite the horrors of Aum, Japan remains a ripe breeding ground for eccentric religious groups. Police last year raided the headquarters of the Pana Wave Laboratory group, for example, on suspicion that members beat a fellow cultist to death. Five cultists were arrested in December.
Experts attribute the prevalence of cults in Japan to many causes: the country's strictly conformist culture, a pressure-cooker education system, the lack of spiritual awareness in a materialistic society.
For the victims of the subway attack and their families, however, the myriad causes are embodied in Asahara.
Their anger has only been inflamed by the guru's failure to do what's often expected of criminals in Japan: confess and apologize. Asahara has stayed mostly silent in court, save for occasional, incoherent rants in broken English.
"He hasn't given up his beliefs. He didn't say anything in the trial. He didn't apologize to the victims," said Shizue Takahashi, whose husband, a subway worker, died trying to help passengers reach safety above ground.
"So there's only the death penalty," she said. "I can't even think of any other sentence."
This is the 10th installment of a series on Chizuo Matsumoto, the founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult. Currently appealing a death sentence, Kazuaki Okamoto, 43, who was a leading member of the Aum Supreme Truth cult, sent a letter on Feb. 9 from the Tokyo Detention House to a Yomiuri Shimbun reporter to put his view on Chizuo Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, on record.
"I'd like to describe to you what I thought of Asahara's traits and temperament when I was one of his closest aides, and how such a monster came to exist and form a cult that renounced the world," he wrote.
Okamoto, who formerly held the cult's second-highest position, was sentenced to death for his involvement in the murder of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family among other offenses. Okamoto has appealed.
"Matsumoto had a lonely childhood after he was separated from his family at the age of 6," Okamoto wrote in the letter. "As a result, he nurtured hate toward his parents, siblings and grownups in general as well as schools and societies. Having failed a university entrance exam, he turned his back on the world and became the guru of the Aum kingdom, which he founded.
"He learned how to control people through manipulating his classmates at the school for the blind he attended as a child. To him, young people during the heyday of the bubble economy in the late 1980s and early 1990s must have appeared blind, wandering around searching for their souls.
"The concept that saving people's souls is possible drove the cult to commit criminal acts. Asahara isn't Buddha, nor is he a person who reached nirvana. He's just a paranoid control freak."
In the letter, he also mentioned Buddhist priest Shinzan Miyamae, 68, who understands the core reasons of why the cult committed crimes, according to Okamoto.
Miyamae is the head priest of a Zen Buddhist Rinzai sect temple, situated on the side of a mountain beside the Nagaragawa river in Seki, Gifu Prefecture, an area renowned for cormorant fishing.
"In one of his books, Asahara wrote about his experience of disembodiment. Actually, I had a similar experience myself," the priest said.
About 35 years ago, Miyamae meditated every day, only sleeping for a minimal amount of time. At one point during a meditation session, he could not feel his own body. After awhile, the feeling left him, but the experience was so intense that he believed he had finally become emancipated so that he could give up worldly desires.
"I came to think I was a worthy person," he said. "I wasn't afraid of death because I thought I had freed myself of worry. I felt as if I could do anything," he said.
But he was admonished by his master.
"You may get all sorts of experiences while training, but you must not linger on them," his master told him. It took Miyamae about 10 years before he understood that lesson.
Many Aum followers were said to have used Matsumoto's "mystic experience" as one of the main motivations for joining the cult.
According to Miyamae, however, such an experience is only the beginning of a person's spiritual training.
"Asahara mistook the experience for a sign of emancipation. His mistake was that he didn't have a master," Miyamae said.
After the police began investigating the cult, more than 50 Aum followers visited Miyamae and nearly half of those quit.
Mind control techniques
At the end of January, a former Aum follower who had been involved in the production of sarin agreed to be interviewed by The Yomiuri Shimbun.
She said she had been aware of what she was making in the laboratory and became suspicious when Matsumoto told his followers that the cult was under the threat of a poison gas attack. Her faith in Matsumoto gradually waned, but she was unable to leave the cult.
"Even if you ran away, they'd bring you back," she said. "Then they'd lock you in a room and put you through harsh training sessions, which made me feel scared."
Cult members believed that a person could achieve salvation by bringing back a runaway follower. Soon her fear turned into resignation.
Another follower, Osamu Hashimoto, 36, who also was involved in the murder of the Sakamoto family, nearly drowned during the testing of an Aum experimental submarine that was made of steel drums.
"There are so many ridiculous stories that came out of the cult," he said.
Whenever one of these ridiculous incidents happened, he began to doubt Matsumoto, but then he would tell himself to think that the guru was aware of everything, including the ridiculous nature of the incidents, and had been testing him.
Hashimoto's defense lawyers held that it was as if Hashimoto could "autonomously" stop thinking while he was a member of the cult because "doubting Aum indicated a lack of devotion."
Matsumoto used techniques such as violence disguised as salvation and justifying unreasonable actions as tests of loyalty to secure his support base.
This is the ninth installment of a series on Chizuo Matsumoto, the founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult. Armored vehicles surrounded the Tokyo Detention House while hundreds of police officers patrolled on foot. It was May 15, 1996, a year after the arrest of Chizuo Matsumoto, now 48, also known as Shoko Asahara, and the Public Security Investigation Agency was about to start procedures to determine whether the Antisubversive Activities Law should apply to the cult.
All the windows of a training room in a detention center office building had been covered with steel sheets. Escorted by warders, Matsumoto awkwardly entered the room. Speaking hesitantly into a microphone, he began his testimony: "Er.... I'm sorry I'm a little nervous today. I beg your pardon if there are some parts I can't explain well," he said.
Concerning a cult doctrine that is said to justify murder, Matsumoto clearly said, "There is no danger in the cult's doctrines. But if they invite misunderstanding, I will abandon them forever."
As to the claim by the agency that the cult was trying to start a revolution, Matsumoto said, "When I heard the claim, I'm sorry, I laughed at it." He then went on to give a commentary on the cult's doctrines, sounding to observers as if he were giving a sermon to followers.
Matsumoto was talkative, seeming to be a totally different person from the man who spoke for only three minutes and then remained silent at his first trial hearing just three weeks earlier.
Social commentator Ryoko Ozawa, 66, who was a witness to Matumoto's testimony, said, "It seemed to me that he wanted attention more than he wanted to save himself or his cult."
It was in January 1996 that lawyer Katsuhiko Yoshinaga, who was appointed to represent the cult during the trial, went to the prison to meet Matsumoto for the first time.
Yoshinaga agreed to represent the cult on condition that Matsumoto did not continue to defend the group's criminal acts.
Matsumoto immediately agreed to the conditions: "I never had any intention of justifying the cult's behavior," he said. Matsumoto then begged the lawyer to represent him, and even promised Yoshinaga he would ask Aum members who were still at large to give themselves up.
During 50 subsequent meetings with Matsumoto, Yoshinaga said the cult leader was able to reel off excuses and alibis on the basis of his marvelous memory, unhindered by the fact that he was blind and unable to take notes.
"Matsumoto is a very smart person. He knows well how to argue with others. He is good at reading minds and knows how to unsettle people," Yoshinaga said.
Immediately before his second session of questioning on May 28, 1996, Matsumoto suddenly asked Yoshinaga to prepare and coordinate his testimony, and told the lawyer that he wanted to step down as the leader of Aum. It was the first time Matsumoto had ever expressed an intention to quit.
After Matsumoto started explaining his justification for his crimes, he declared that he would quit as the cult's guru and chief representative. "I have no relationship with the cult, so I think there is no requirement to apply the Antisubversive Activities Law to the cult," he said.
Matsumoto defended himself in two statements made over nine hours. The clarity of the testimony disappointed one of his lawyers, who said at the time, "We thought it ruined our strategy to seek psychiatric tests for Matsumoto."
In January 1997, the Public Security Examination Commission under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry decided not to apply the Antisubversive Activities Law to the cult. The judgment reflected a view that most of the cult members who had been at large already had been arrested, and that the danger posed by the group was now limited.
However, "When I told Matsumoto of the commission's decision he just kept muttering to himself as if he had no interest in the matter," Yoshinaga said. "I asked him, 'Do you hear me?' But he just kept talking to himself and showed no interest."
"Matsumoto was not delighted to hear the news, which led me to wonder if he had thought he would be released from prison if the Antisubversive Activities Law was not applied."
Since then, Matsumoto has dealt with court-appointed lawyers regarding his criminal trial. Matsumoto told the lawyers that if he was free to defend himself, he would be found not guilty. "Matsumoto was always convinced that he could persuade the authorities not to apply the Antisubversive Activities Law," one of the lawyers said.
In a hearing about two months after the commission's decision, Matsumoto continued attempts to disrupt the testimony of Aum members. Using his cult name, he said, "Shoko Asahara is the only person who can speak for the Aum Supreme Truth Cult." He seemed to have totally forgotten his promise to quit as the group's guru.
As ever, the need to flatter his own ego came before the needs of others.
This is the eighth installment of a series on Chizuo Matsumoto, the founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult. The superintendent general's office on the 11th floor of the Metropolitan Police Department in Sakuradamon, Tokyo, was somber on the night of March 20, 1995, when the city's subway system was attacked by sarin gas.
The superintendent general, the deputy superintendent general and three directors of the Criminal Investigation, Public Security and Security bureaus were making a crucial decision on how to raid the Aum Supreme Truth cult facilities.
The MPD and the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office held talks and agreed on March 16 to search all Aum facilities on March 22, including those in Kamikuishikimura, Yamanashi Prefecture. But after the cult's sarin gas threat proved real, the plan appeared difficult to execute.
Some at the meeting were cautious, saying the front line was too long to raid Kamikuishikimura, and that there were not enough officers. Such opinions were countered by Yukihiro Inoue, then MPD superintendent, who said: "They're trying to prevent us from coming to Kamikuishikimura. We'll lose if we yield. This is war."
"We can't understand why it was reported that sarin was produced from raw material for pesticides and fertilizers," Chizuo Matsumoto, 48, said in video footage filmed for a television news report after the religious group was searched.
He said the large amount of confiscated chemicals were only raw materials for producing pesticides and fertilizers.
Matsumoto reportedly was afraid of the raid. Aum members began destroying documents in the group's facility in Kamikuishikimura the day before the raid.
From his hideout in the back of the facility, Matsumoto reportedly ordered his followers who were directly involved in the sarin attack to flee.
A few days after the raid, a female follower in the Satian No. 1 building of the facility received a memo from the group's defense agency director general, saying Matsumoto was hiding in a secret room in Satian No. 6.
She was embarrassed and wished Matsumoto would show some dignity, she said.
Aum's intelligence minister, Yoshihiro Inoue, 34, was ordered by Matsumoto on April 16, to bomb an industrial complex and carry out terrorist attacks until the Cabinet was replaced and Self-Defense Forces staged a coup d'etat.
Aum followers were being arrested. The police were tightening the noose around the group. Matsumoto, who was in dire straits, tried to stage his final counteroffensive with his hard-core followers.
Meanwhile, the police were divided on what charges Matsumoto should be arrested on.
According to a then senior investigator, the MPD, which feared another terrorist attack, pushed for charges of preparing to commit murder by producing sarin because the charge was immediately applicable.
The Public Prosecutors Office, however, insisted that they wait until the murder charge, which may lead to the death penalty, could be applied to Matsumoto.
Senior officials of the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, Tokyo District High Public Prosecutors Office and Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office held a meeting on April 25. They agreed to apply murder charges for Matsumoto.
They also agreed that the Aum Supreme Truth Cult was a fanatical organization that said its crimes were justified. It was agreed that the murder charge would be used to imply the termination of the group, to alarm the followers and urge them to disclose the activities of the organization.
As if to mock the arrest plan initiated by prosecutors, Inoue and others attacked Shinjuku railway station with hydrocyanic acid gas on May 5 after Matsumoto ordered them to continue conducting terrorist attacks.
Ikuo Hayashi, 57, convicted for launching the sarin attack on the subway system, confessed to committing the crime to police late on the following night. Hayashi admitted to the entire story, which included reporting the attack to Matsumoto.
Masami Tsuchiya and Seiichi Endo who were key in producing the sarin gas, began their confession, giving the basis for arresting Matsumoto on a murder charge.
"The guru and executives weren't arrested and terrorism continued," a prosecutor said. "We didn't know whether we could win the war or not, but we confronted the suspects under the pressure of the whole nation of Japan."
This is the seventh installment of a series on Chizuo Matsumoto, founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult. The sound of heavy machinery was constant during the construction of Aum Supreme Truth's facilities in Naminoson, Kumamoto Prefecture, where young people wearing dirty T-shirts patrolled the wasteland that was hidden behind blue sheets. The small village has a population of about 2,000, and is situated at the foot of Mt. Aso.
In May 1990, the cult bought a 15-hectare block of land in Naminoson to build its "utopia."
Harushige Iwase, 82, who was the deputy village chief at the time, said: "We couldn't understand why they wanted to build here. The villagers were suspicious of the group's motives and wondered if it would take over the village."
Whenever residents asked the cult for an explanation, they were turned away. In response, the village's government refused to accept the group's notification of residency.
At the time, Satians (the cult's religious facilities) were built in Kamikuishikimura, Yamanashi Prefecture. The villagers were worried about the liquid waste and foul-smelling smoke emitted from the buildings. When Toshihiro Yamaguchi, 48, a dairy farmer near the facilities, lodged a complaint, the cult told him, "If you have a grievance, blame the wind."
The Aum Supreme Truth cult started to withdraw from society, becoming more secretive.
"(You're) going to hell, (you're) going to hell..." The ominous voices of Aum members repeated the phrase to villagers during a skirmish on a forest road in Naminoson at midnight on Aug. 12, 1990. About 500 Aum members and villagers fought when villagers attempted to stop the cult's bus from entering an area that was closed to traffic.
Takashige Nasuno, 56, one of the villagers on the road that night, said he could not forget it. "It was in absolute darkness. I was totally paralyzed with fear," he said.
At night three days later, Chizuo Matsumoto, 48, wearing religious attire and guarded by his followers, went to see village government officials who were patrolling the forest road.
Matsumoto told them, "Why does the village government refuse to accept our residency registration? If you accept it, you will be repenting the sins you committed in past lives."
Kunioki Iwase, 61, one of the government officials, responded, "Are you threatening us?"
"I'm not threatening you. We remain consistent in our commitment to nonviolence," Matsumoto answered in a polite but imperious tone.
"Looking back now, how dare Matsumoto refer to nonviolence?" Iwase said.
A resident was questioned by Kumamoto prefectural police concerning the sale of the land in Naminoson to the cult. Matsumoto lectured the man, telling him, "Even if you are questioned by police, you shouldn't worry. If you ignore the police three times, the police will give up."
Matsumoto, mentioning his arrest for violating the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law, advised him to deny the allegation: "It was wrong of you to confess. It's not good for you to tell the truth."
After listening to Matsumoto, the man became suspicious of him and decided that he could no longer believe in the group.
In Kamikuishikimura, Matsumoto criticized residents for spitting on his Mercedes Benz during a meeting with the village chief in January 1992. But he praised the village chief as an "understanding person," who was "respectable and kind."
Seiichi Takeuchi, 75, who had been a member of the anti-Aum movement in the village at the time and also had sat with the village chief when he met with Matsumoto, said: "I felt Matsumoto was trying to divide the village government and the residents. He was good at controlling other people's minds. I think he used mind control on the younger members."
The cult repeatedly brought criminal charges against residents. The number of civil and criminal actions totaled 20.
The cult pretended to abide by the law, but its members committed vicious crimes, including killing some of its own members and the murder of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family.
In October 1990, Kumamoto prefectural police searched the cult's general headquarters in Shizuoka Prefecture on suspicion that the group had violated the National Land Use Planning Law.
When the police searched the headquarters, Matsumoto asked a police officer who showed him a search warrant, "What on earth are you thinking, coming all the way from Kumamoto over such a tiny incident?"
This is the sixth installment of a series on Chizuo Matsumoto, the founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult. In spring 1984, a serious looking woman in her late 20s stood in front of a Tokyo condominium with a sign on the door reading "Hookeirinkan" and pressed the bell.
Her spiritual adviser, 28-year-old Chizuo Matsumoto, opened the door of the fifth-floor corner condo in the seven-story building located at the end of a multipurpose structure south of JR Shibuya Station.
About 18 months earlier, Matsumoto had been arrested and fined for selling bogus drugs.
Matsumoto invited the woman into his apartment. He asked her to write down her name and birthdate and used a magnifying glass to read her handwriting.
The woman talked on and on about problems with her boyfriend and what she perceived as her weak points, letting out her feelings and telling him things she could not confide even to her family members and friends.
While she spoke, Matsumoto only listened and nodded without speaking.
When she was finished Matsumoto said, "Why don't you start practicing yoga?"
"He was about my age, but he had the broad-mindedness to understand other people," she recalled.
Working women who learned of Matsumoto through word of mouth at the time later became aides to Matsumoto and played a key role in the Aum Supreme Truth cult.
In summer 1985, working women armed with copies of a photo showing Matsumoto apparently levitating visited many occult magazines.
The photo showed Matsumoto with his legs crossed and jaw clenched, "floating" in the air.
Intrigued by the photo, one magazine editor went to Matsumoto's condo in Shibuya with a photographer.
Matsumoto talked for more than two hours about religion and did a handstand but did not levitate, citing a lack of preparation.
The photo had been taken by a female follower at the exact moment when Matsumoto with his legs crossed bounced up in the Shibuya condo.
The "levitation" photo captured wide attention after several magazines carried it.
Many senior followers later testified that they learned of Matsumoto through such magazine exposure.
The Hookeirinkan sign was replaced by one reading "Aum Shinsen no Kai" (Aum supernatural beings association).
In summer 1986, Matsumoto claimed he was the only enlightened man in Japan, and his followers began calling him guru.
He also started preaching that killing could be justified.
By the end of 1988, Matsumoto's followers numbered about 3,000.
In April 1989, Matsumoto and 200 of his disciples descended on the Tokyo metropolitan government building, upset by the government's delay in recognizing Aum as a religious corporation.
He asked his followers to go with him, saying he had to go in person to the metropolitan government building because he could not leave the matter to his followers.
They talked with government officials, and some of his followers made phone calls to the home of the vice governor and other government officials.
Four months later, the government determined that there was no evidence Aum had violated laws and recognized Aum Supreme Truth as a religious corporation.
Immediately after the recognition, Matsumoto went to the office of the weekly magazine Sunday Mainichi to complain about an article critical of the cult's activities.
Taro Maki, the editor in chief, said that a religion should not ask minors to make donations ranging from 300,000 yen to 400,000 yen.
Matsumoto looked angry, asked Maki how much he thought would be acceptable, and departed.
With criticism of Aum mounting, Matsumoto told his followers that the cult had to do something big to withstand attacks by society.
He ran in the February 1990 House of Representatives election, but failed to win a seat, garnering only 1,783 votes. The defeat triggered departures from the cult.
In April the same year, at a seminar on Ishigakijima island, Okinawa Prefecture, Matsumoto instructed those with special expertise and knowledge to take up residence at Aum facilities right away. He also confidently predicted that Japan would sink into the sea.
At about the same time, He ordered senior followers to culture botulinus, the poisonous bacteria that causes botulism, which would be sprayed by followers in Tokyo.
One of the senior followers testified at court that the seminar was conducted to help followers protect themselves from the virus in the event it was sprayed.
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