(born Chizuo Matsumoto) on March 2, 1955) is the founder
of Japan's controversial Buddhist religious group Aum Shinrikyo
(now known as Aleph).
been convicted of masterminding the 1995 Sarin gas attack on the
Tokyo subway and several other crimes, and has been sentenced to
death. His legal team appealed the sentence, but the appeal has
born into a large, poor family of tatami mat makers in Japan's
remote Kumamoto Prefecture. Afflicted at birth with infantile
glaucoma, he was blind in his left eye and only partially
sighted in his right. As a child, Asahara was enrolled in a
school for the blind. Some anecdotes describe Asahara as a bully
toward other students while in school.
graduated in 1977 and turned to the study of acupuncture and
Chinese medicine. He married in 1978. His religious quest
reportedly started in these early times, when he was intensely
working to support his family. He dedicated his free time to the
study of various religious concepts, starting with Chinese
astrology and Taoism. Later, Asahara practiced Indian esoteric
yoga and Buddhism.
little is known about this period of Asahara's life.
attitude toward religion was not typical among Japanese people.
While religion does not play a significant daily role in the
lives of ordinary Japanese people, except on days of religious
ceremonies such as funerals and weddings, Asahara's goal was to
"achieve the ultimate enlightenment" mentioned in multiple
ancient religious texts. He tried various schools, meditations
and approaches in order to find an effective way to this
An example may
be found in his pursuit of Agonshu, a Buddhist religious group
which he joined in the early 1980s. The most serious of its
religious practices was the practice of 1000 consecutive days of
offerings. Those who offered money daily throughout this period
were promised enlightenment. Despite the financial hardships,
Asahara completed the course, but enlightenment never came.
recalled the story to his disciples to illustrate the importance
of faith: despite serious doubts regarding the effectiveness of
practice and the religious organization itself, he continued to
the very last day.
passed and Asahara's efforts started to bring results. He
continued to live in a small one-room apartment in Tokyo's
Shibuya district with his wife and two daughters. It was during
that period that he gained the support of his first, most loyal
disciples. He started to teach them yoga. Financial hardship
continued to constrain his efforts, as Asahara refused to accept
any payment for his coaching; this was contradictory to the
religious principles he had been taught — specifically, that
only those who have achieved enlightenment may accept material
Birth of Aum
Asahara returned from a visit to India and explained to his
disciples that he had attained his ultimate goal: enlightenment.
His closest disciples offered him money, which he could now
accept, and Asahara used this money to organize an intensive
yoga seminar that lasted several days and attracted many people
interested in spiritual development. Asahara himself coached the
participants, and the group quickly started to grow. At the
time, there was no monastic order as such.
That same year
Shoko Asahara officially changed his name, and applied for
government registration of the group Aum Shinrikyo. The
authorities were initially reluctant to grant the status of a
religious organization, but eventually granted legal recognition
after an appeal in 1989. After this, the monastic order was
established and many of the lay followers decided to join.
Aum Shinrikyo: the doctrine
of Aum Shinrikyo is based on original Buddhist sutras
(scriptures) known as the Pali Canon. Other than the Pali Canon,
Aum Shinrikyo uses other texts such as Tibetan sutras,
Yoga-Sutra by Patanjali, and Taoist scriptures. The sutras are
studied together with comments written by Shoko Asahara himself.
The learning system (kyogaku system) has several stages: only
those who complete a preliminary stage may advance to further
steps if they successfully pass the examination.
has written many religious books. The best known are Beyond
the Life and Death, Mahayana Sutra and Initiation.
teachings stress the importance of ascetic practice, similar to
those of a Kargyudpa — a Tibetan Buddhist school. Modern
technology, such as computers and CD players, can be used to
complement the ancient meditations.
To justify the
achievement of a certain stage of religious practice,
practitioners must demonstrate signs such as cessation of oxygen
consumption, reduction of heart activity and changes in the
electromagnetic activity of the brain. The intensive practice
(retreat) rooms are equipped with corresponding sensors.
gas attack, accusations, and trial
On March 20,
1995, members of Aum attacked the Tokyo Subway System with the
nerve gas Sarin. Twelve commuters died, and thousands more
suffered from after-effects. After finding sufficient evidence,
authorities accused Aum Shinrikyo of complicity in the attack,
as well as in a number of smaller-scale incidents. Tens of
disciples were arrested, Aum's facilities were raided, and the
court issued an order for Shoko Asahara's arrest. Asahara was
discovered in a very small, completely isolated room of the
building belonging to Aum, meditating.
faced 27 murder counts in 13 separate indictments. The
prosecution argued that Asahara "gave orders to attack the Tokyo
Subway", in order to "overthrow the government and install
himself in the position of king of Japan". Several years later,
the prosecution introduced another theory — that the attacks
were ordered to "divert police attention" (from Aum).
prosecution also accused Asahara of masterminding the Matsumoto
incident and the Sakamoto family murder. According to Asahara's
defense team, a group of senior followers initiated the
atrocities, keeping them a secret from Asahara.
Some of the
disciples testified against Asahara, and he was found guilty on
13 of 17 charges (three were dropped) and sentenced to death by
hanging on February 27, 2004.
The trial has
been referred to as the "trial of the century" by the Japanese
media. Yoshihiro Yasuda, the most experienced attorney on Shoko
Asahara's defence team, was arrested and was unable to
participate in his legal defence, though he was subsequently
acquitted before the end of the trial. Human Rights Watch
criticized Yasuda's isolation. Asahara was defended solely by
the beginning of the trial, Shoko Asahara cooperated with his
defence counsel and provided explanations regarding the doctrine
of Aum Shinrikyo, aims of the organization, and other matters.
Later he resigned from the post of Aum Shinrikyo representative
in order to defend the group from forceful dissolution. Since
then, Asahara has ceased to speak even with his family members
and supposedly spends his days in meditation. Media reports have
referred to Asahara "sitting with eyes closed" or "incoherently
mumbling" during his trial hearings.
The legal team
appealed the ruling on the grounds that Asahara was mentally
unfit, and psychiatric examinations were undertaken. During
these examinations, conducted by a team of psychiatrists,
Asahara began to talk. Although he answered just a few of their
questions, his answers were precise and relevant, which
convinced the examiners that Asahara was maintaining his silence
out of free will (as stated in the report). The appeal was
Shoko Asahara (1988).
Supreme Initiation: An Empirical Spiritual
Science for the Supreme Truth.
AUM USA Inc. ISBN 0-945638-00-0.—highlights
the main stages of Yogic and Buddhist practice, comparing
Yoga-sutra system by Patanjali and the Eightfold Noble Path
from Buddhist tradition.
Shoko Asahara (1993).
Life and Death.
on the process of Kundalini-Yoga, one of the stages in Aum's
Tom. "Are We Ready for Chemical Warfare?" News World
Communications 22 Sept. 1997
D W. Holy Terror: Armageddon in Tokyo. 1st ed. New
York: Weatherhill, 1996.
Anthony. "Aum's Incredible Journey Towards Armageddon."
Japan Quartery Oct.-Nov. 1996: 92-95.
Kitabatake. "Aum Shinrikyo: Society begets an aberration."
Japan Quarterly Oct. 1995: 376-383.
Robert J. Destroying the World to Save It. 1st ed.
New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999.
Haruki. Underground : The Tokyo Gas Attack and the
Japanese Psyche. New York: Vintage Books, 2001.
B. "A Poisonous Cocktail? Aum Shinrikyo's Path to Violence."
The Journal of Asian Studies Aug. 1997: 802-803.
The God of Poison
Internet Crime Archives
April 13, 2000 - Media
reports revealed that the Aum Shinri Kyo may have known top
government secrets as members were involved in developing key
software for the navy. The report said a member of the doomsday
cult took part in developing software to keep track of all of
the forces of the Maritime Self Defence Forces. The reports deal
yet another blow to the government's computer security
management following revelations in February that Aum took part
in installing a computer system at the defence ministry. While
that system was not connected to the ministry's classified
information and its implementation was postponed due to the
finding, the navy's software had been in operation since last
year, media reports said.
Aum, whose computer
business has been a major source of its income, was also
involved in developing software used by a number of government
ministries and major companies.
March 9, 2000 -The Tokyo
District Court ordered seven former senior members of the AUM
Shinrikyo cult to pay compensation to 41 plaintiffs, including
some injured in the 1995 Tokyo subway trains gas attack. The
plaintiffs had sought a total of 668 million yen from 15 members
of the cult. Six of the 15 defendants have already been ordered
by the court to pay compensation and two others have agreed to
accept the plaintiffs' demand. This new ruling order the seven
remaining members to pay up. The case between the plaintiffs and
AUM Shinrikyo ended in December 1997 and the cult paid about 244
million yen in compensation for victims of the Tokyo subway
gassing during the cult's bankruptcy proceedings.
Last December, AUM first
admitted its culpability in the gas attack and other crimes,
apologizing to victims and announcing its intention to
compensate them. Then in January, the cult announced it renamed
December, 1999 - Prompted
by fears the cult was making a comeback, Japan's parliament
passed new laws in December enabling authorities to put the cult
under surveillance for three years, by inspecting its sites and
obliging the group to submit details of its members and assets
to authorities. The laws do not specify Aum by name but target
the activities of any group that has engaged in "indiscriminate
mass murder" in the past 10 years.
March 15, 1999 - As the
fourth anniversary of the deadly Tokoy subway gas attack
approaches, there are signs the Aum Shinri Kyo cult is coming
back to life. The group has been buying up houses and other real
estate across Japan to set up new offices and meeting centers in
what authorities describe as an ominous effort to re-establish
itself. Police say members are once again preparing for the
Armageddon, which according to Shoko Asahara, will be coming
Aum was stripped of its
legal status and tax privileges as a religious organization, but
the government concluded it was no longer a threat and stopped
short of using an anti-subversion law to ban it. So members can
still assemble, spread their ideas and raise money. Using
profits from sales of computers and computer parts, for
instance, the cult last year bought at least $1.65 million in
real estate. Authorities see the real estate deals as just one
element in a broader and more disconcerting effort by Aum to
expand in a year that is of special significance to Asahara's
According to the guru's
teachings, Judgment Day will come on either Sept. 2 or 3 and
only cult members will survive. Possibly in preparation,
investigators say, the cult has set up several offices or
meeting places around the Tokyo Detention Center, where Asahara
is being held while on trial. According to a recent report
compiled by the government's Public Security Investigation
Agency, Aum followers have been instructed to worship the jail
as a "holy place."
December 26, 1998 -
Japan's Public Security Investigation Agency released a report
stating that the Aum Shinri Kyo religious cult is regrouping and
recruiting new members. According to the agency's report, "Aum
is actively attempting to bring back former members and
recruiting new members on a nationwide basis, while initiating
advertising campaigns and acquiring necessary capital."
December 23, 1998 -
Investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of
Chemical Weapons oversaw the destruction by Japanese authorities
of the factory used by the Aum Shinri Kyo cult to make the nerve
gas used in the 1995 attack on Tokyo's subway system.
October 23, 1998 - The
Tokyo District Court sentenced former Aum leader Kazuaki
Okazaki, 38, to death for murdering four people in two separate
attacks -- the November 4, 1989 strangling of Tsutsumi Sakamoto,
an anti-cult lawyer, his wife and their infant son, and the
murder a cult member who had tried to quit the religious group
in February 1989.
October 8, 1998 -
According to Japanese authorities the Aum Shinrikyo is making a
comeback. The cult, known for it's deadly forays into chemical
warfare, is regrouping, recruiting new members at home and
abroad, and raising vast sums of money.
Though the Tokyo district
court deprived the Aum of its legal religious status in 1995 and
liquidated its assets after declaring it insolvent the following
year, the Japanese government decided that the Justice Ministry
had not proved that the group posed an "immediate or obvious
threat" to Japanese society. It rejected a request from security
officials to outlaw the sect under a 1952 law against subversive
activities. As a result, despite security experts' warnings, the
Aum has used the decision to rebound back into circulation.
According to reports from
Japanese security officials and independent experts, the group
now has about 5,000 followers, including 500 "monks." It
operates 28 installations at 18 branches throughout the country.
Despite being banned in
Russia, the group is still active there, as well as in Ukraine,
Belarus and Kazakhstan. It maintains encrypted Web sites and
chat rooms in Japanese, English and Russian and controls a
network of electronic, computer and other stores that generated
about $30 million in revenues in 1997.
Still, the group's
resurgence deeply troubles security officials, who say they
monitor known followers and businesses 24 hours a day and
continue searching for three of its leaders accused of
involvement in earlier plots and deadly assaults. Signs of the
group's resurgence abound. In May, more than 500 believers and
others curious about the sect gathered at a resort near Mount
Fuji to hear sermons and receive training in yoga, meditation
and other activities. Security officials and private experts
estimate that the group raised about 50 million yen, or about
$350,000, from that meeting alone.
While the police say there
is no evidence that the cult has resumed its efforts to make or
buy weapons of mass destruction, the cult still worries them.
Security officials expressed particular concern about the
group's continued allure for young scientists, engineers and
other well-educated people who might be able to reassemble an
September 10, 1998 - The
Tokyo High Court shaved six months off a seven-year jail term
for the Aum Shinri Kyo cult member Eriko Iida, 37, convicted of
helping abduct a man who later died. The court lowered the
sentence after the Iida agreed to make compensation payments to
another kidnapping victim of the doomsday cult.
June 12, 1998 - Takashi
Tomita, a former member of the AUM Shirinkyo cult was sentenced
to 17 years in prison for the deaths of seven people in a 1994
nerve gas attack in central Japan. Tomita, 40, admitted driving
a vehicle equipped with a nerve-gas spraying device to a
dormitory for court officials in Matsumoto. But he insisted he
did not know the gas was lethal. The court, however, convicted
him of conspiracy to commit murder.
May 27, 1998 - Japanese
police said they unearthed eight cylinders containing 160 Kg. of
hydrogen fluoride hidden on a mountain by members of the Aum
Shinrikyo Investigators believed members of the sect buried the
chemical in an attempt to conceal evidence the group produced
May 26, 1998 - Doomsday
cult leader Ikuo Hayashi, 51, was spared the death penalty after
being found guilty of murder in the nerve gas attack that killed
12 people on Tokyo's subways. In an unusually lenient sentence,
Hayashi, a heart surgeon, was sentenced to life in prison, which
means he will be able to apply for parole in about 20 years. In
handing down the verdict Judge Megumi Yamamuro said Hayashi was
criminally responsible for his actions but had shown he was
Prosecutors said Hayashi
used electric shock to brainwash cult members and carried out
plastic surgery on members' faces and fingertips to aid their
escape from police. During his trail, a witness testified that
in April 1990 the cult sent three trucks containing botulism
microbes to spray clouds of mists on four sites, including
American Navy operations in the city of Yokohama and the U.S.
Navy base at Yokosuka.
May 15, 1998 - Tomoko
Matsumoto, 39, the wife of Shoko Asahara, was jailed for seven
years for participating with her husband in the plotting of the
murder a fellow cult member.
April 30, 1998 - The AUM
held a large meeting outside Tokyo raising fears that the group
could be making a comeback. Japanese newspapers reported the
meeting was mainly a fund raising event, saying the 200 members
present paid up to $1,520 each to attend.
February 27, 1998 - The
Tokyo District Court sentenced Aum Shinrikyo follower Makoto
Goto to 10 years in prison for his involvement in the 1994
lynching of an errant cultist and the 1994 abduction of an
innkeeper in Miyazaki Prefecture. Goto, 37, was found guilty of
conspiring in the January 1994 slaying of Kotaro Ochida, 29, at
the cult's compound in Kamikuishiki, Yamanashi Prefecture.
According to the court, Goto and other cultists held Ochida down
as the victim was strangled by Hideaki Yasuda.
In a related trial,
prosecutors demanded a 10-year prison term for Tomoko Matsumoto
-- Shoko's wife -- for conspiring in the 1994 lynching of Kotaro
Ochida. Matsumoto pleaded innocent claiming she was not involved
even though she was present when he was killed. According to
prosecutors, she was the only person who could have challenged
the guru's orders.
Throughout her trial,
which began in December 1995, Matsumoto has stressed that,
although she is married Asahara', she had no power over him. She
said she was always worried about her husband's extramarital
affair with another senior cultist. Queen of the
fair-weathered-wife club, Tomoko told the court that she is
considering divorcing the portly Shoko.
As for Shoko, his trial
session was postponed because the he has been suffering a cold
and high fever and has not been able to eat anything.
December 25, 1997 - A
court-appointed trustee for the bankrupt Supreme Truth cult
agreed to pay survivors and the families of those killed in the
Tokyo subway gas attack a total of up to 1.12 billion yen ($8.62
million) in damages. Since the cult is under heaps of debt and
there are so many other claims on its assets, the victims might
end up with only 20 percent of what they won, a court official
said. The settlement, mediated by the Tokyo District Court,
wrapped up suits by 42 survivors and the families of the 12
people killed in the March 1995 attack in the Tokyo subways.
December 3, 1997 -
Japanese prosecutors said on they would take the extremely rare
step of speeding up the snail-paced murder trials of the
doomsday cult guru Shoko Asahara. "The prolongation of Asahara's
trials would sharply amplify public distrust in Japan's criminal
justice," deputy chief prosecutor Kunihiro Matsuo told a news
conference. "This is also an extremely serious issue in terms of
The prosecutors office
said it would drastically reduce the number of people listed in
the indictments as "injured" in the two separate gas attacks so
that they could shorten court proceedings. The number of victims
on whom prosecutors would need to present evidence and examine
as witnesses would be slashed to only 18 from 3,938, thus
cutting the length of the trial by up to eight years.
October 8, 1997 - The
United States designated the Aum Shinrikyo and 29 other foreign
groups as terrorist organizations.
September 8, 1997 -
Lawyers for the portly cult guru grilled Kiyohide Hayakawa in
the Tokyo Municipal Court about the events leading to the
November 1989 murders of the anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto
and his family. According to Shoko's legal team the blind guru
did not order his disciples to do the killings but that the
cultists misinterpreted his words and acted on their own.
September 7, 1997 - Three
monuments for the murdered lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife,
and their one-year-old baby, were unveiled at the respective
sites where their remains were found. Each body was found buried
in a separate mountain locations in central Japan -- Nadachi in
the Niigata Prefecture, Uozu in Toyama Prefecture and Omachi in
Nagano Prefecture. The building of the monuments was financed by
Japanese lawyers groups and the Japan Federation of Bar
September 5, 1997 -
Testifying at the 48th hearing of Shoko's trial at the Tokyo
District Court, Kiyohide Hayakawa, the former "construction
minister" and de facto No. 2 man of the cult, said: "There was
no person other than Asahara who could order 'poa,' for he was
thought of as the Buddha." The 'poas' (murder in Sanskrit) in
question were the killings of Yokohama lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto
and his family, as well as former cult member Shuji Taguchi.
August 26, 1997 - The
Japanese Public Security Investigation Agency announced that the
AUM has regained its organizational strength and expanded its
activities since it was spared disbandment in January under the
Antisubversive Activities Law. The group has established 10 new
"departments" and reopened five regional chapters and one
training center. Presently they have 26 facilities in Japan with
about 500 live-in followers and some 5,000 others living on
their own. Authorities suspects the cult has threatened former
followers to rejoin, telling them they would go to hell or have
to cut their fingers off if they don't.
July 7, 1997 - Former
cultist Masahiro Tominaga testified at the Tokyo District Court
that in June, 1994 Yoshinobu Aoyama -- a lawyer for the AUM ---
planned to ship 21 tons of sarin nerve gas to the U.S. in ice
and/or concrete sculptures. The attack, of course, was never
Tominaga, 28, also said
the Tokyo subway attack was part of a holy war aimed at
overthrowing Japan's government and installing Shoko Asahara as
"king of Japan."
June 25, 1997 - Dubbed the
"murder machine" of the AUM by Japanes media, Yasuo Hayashi
pleaded guilty to murder charges in the Tokyo subway gassing.
The last of five cult members accused in the attack to be
arrested, Yasuo alone is believed to be responsible for eight of
the 12 deaths and for about half the injuries.
Hayashi, 39, admitted in
his first day at the Tokyo District Court that he stabbed three
plastic bags containing sarin nerve gas with a sharpened tip of
an umbrella inside a subway car. He also pleaded guilty to
murder charges stemming from the Matsumoto nerve gas attack in
June 1994, as well as a failed attempt to release cyanide gas in
a Tokyo railway station in May 1996.
May 22, 1997 In what is
now routine, Shoko Asahara was ordered not to interrupt court
proceedings after he stood up during his trial and shouted, "I'm
Shoko Asahara." The portly death cult guru also kept muttering
while witnesses were testifying on allegations that he ordered
the 1989 killings of Tsutsumi Sakamoto, an anti-cult lawyer, and
April 24, 1997 In a barely
intelligible statement Shoko Asahara said that he is not guilty
of ordering the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system
or any other crime he's been charged with. "I issued an order to
stop (the attack) but was defeated (by my disciples)," Asahara
told the Tokyo District Court. The statement was Asahara's first
for the court record since his trial began a year ago. He also
said that he "never ordered" the death of Tsutsumi Sakamoto, a
Yokohama lawyer representing families who wanted to help their
relatives leave the cult.
During the two-hour
morning session Shoko addressed -- in Japanese and English --
nine of the 17 criminal counts against him. As usual, he started
mumbling as soon as he took the defendant's seat and continued
to mutter to himself while a prosecutor took 15 minutes to read
out a summary of the indictments. On the witness stand Shoko
switched from Japanese to English as he continued his "stream of
conscience" defense. Court stenographers appeared at a loss when
Asahara spoke in English. But even in Japanese, it was hard to
discern his words.
By the end of his
statement, Asahara claimed he has already been found not guilty
in 16 of the 17 charges. He claimed that an order for his
release had already been handed down because he has been
detained for more than one year since his arrest. After
listening to the statement, one of his lawyers asked him whether
he recognizes that his trial is still continuing. Asahara said
in English: "They say this is a court, but I think this is like
April 23, 1997 - Yoshihiro
Inoue, the cult's former intelligence chief, testified that the
cult paid about $79,000 to Oleg Lobov, a former Russian security
chief, for the blueprints of how to build a nerve gas plant.
Police said they have evidence that cult experts made repeated
trips to Russia, Australia and other countries to study the
feasibility of obtaining a wide range of weapons and dangerous
materials, including tanks and uranium.
April 16, 1997 - Japanese
national Keiji Tanimura, a member of a Russian branch of the Aum
Shinri Kyo, was arrested in Moscow and charged with distributing
pornography and encroaching on citizens' rights.
In what seems to be an
official crackdown on the cult, the arrest follows the February
arrest of Ando Re, the co-leader of the cult's Russian branch.
In March a Moscow judge closed down the Russian branches of the
sect -- six in Moscow and seven in other cities -- and ordered a
stop to radio and TV broadcasts of its programs. The judge also
demanded the sect's Russian representatives to pay $4 million in
punitive damages to a group of parents who sued it in June 1994.
April 10, 1997 - Judge
Fumihiro Abe of the Tokyo District Court told Shoko Asahara to
be prepared to comment on all charges against him and enter a
plea at the April 24 session of his trial. Asahara responded to
the judge's request by mumbling unintelligibly.
April 6, 1997 - In
apparent response to the defense lawyers' one-day court boycott,
the Tokyo District Court said it will cancel one of April's four
scheduled court appearances for doomsday cult leader Shoko
March 29, 1997 - Kazuo
Konya, a former member of the Aum, told the Tokyo Municipal
Court that in an 1988 initiation ritual he paid $8,100 to drink
their guru's blood. Other former cult members have also
testified they paid for blood, strands of Asahara's hair and his
bath water. Some said they paid $2,400 for an intravenous
injection of an unknown substance. Ironically, all throughout,
Asahara preached to his followers that they should renounce
March 27, 1997 - The 12
defense lawyers for Shoko Asahara -- after skipping a March 14
court session to protest what they regard as too many court
appearances too close together -- ended their one-day boycott
and returned to work.
In court, Atsushi Toda, a
Tokyo city official whose office approves religious
corporations, testified on his run-ins with the cult. As usual,
Asahara murmured to himself and was chided by his lawyers as he
got louder, disturbing the witness.
March 20, 1997 - The
two-year anniversary of the Tokyo subway Sarin gas attack that
left 12 dead was commemorated at the Kasumigaseki Station by a
group of survivors and relatives of the victims by handing out
500 copies of a 44-page compilation of their memories of how the
"Those around us think
it's history," said 50-year-old Shizue Takahashi, whose husband,
Kazumasa, 51, an employee of the Teito Rapid Transit Authority,
was killed in the attack while working at Kasumigaseki Station.
"We just want people to know that many of us are still
tormented, and that it could have happened to anyone." According
to recent data compiled by Tokyo's St. Luke International
Hospital, about 20 percent of the survivors who were treated
there still show symptoms of disorders such as Post Traumatic
Stress Syndrome. Because medical services were not capable at
the time of diagnosing such psychological damage, members of the
victims' group claim that many of the sufferers have not been
able to receive adequate medical attention.
March 19, 1997 - Satoru
Hirata, 31, an ex-member of the Aum Shinri Kyo, was sentenced to
15 years in prison for attacking three perceived enemies of the
cult with VX nerve gas resulting in one death, and helping in
the February, 1995, kidnapping and murder of the notary clerk
Hirata and other cult
members were accused of abducting Kariya -- who was reportedly
trying to convince his sister not to give the cult all her
assets -- and imprisoning him at their commune near Mount Fuji,
where he died after being drugged.
March 14, 1997 - As
warned, lawyers defending Shoko Asahara boycotted his trial
saying they had not enough time to prepare their case. The
demanded that their four court sessions per month be cut to
three for Shoko to get a fair trial. Backing their position,
they declared they were prepared to defend him for 10 years if
March 6, 1997 - The
lawyers defending Shoko Asahara said they wanted to quit the
case because they are not being given enough time to prepare for
trial sessions. The trial has been proceeding at a pace of two
all-day sessions every two weeks. However, most criminal trials
in Japan tend to be even slower.
"This is our way of
bitterly criticizing the basic attitude of the court toward this
case, and the way it is being conducted," the frustrated lead
defense attorney Osamu Watanabe told reporters. The 12 lawyers
did not say why they need more time, but acknowledged that part
of the problem was Asahara himself, who refuses to meet with
them and keeps getting himself thrown out of court. According to
Watanabe, the lawyers plan to boycott the Tokyo District Court
starting in April unless Judge Abe slows down the pace.
February 14, 1997 - For
the second day in a row another former high ranking member of
the cult testified that Shoko Asahara ordered his lieutenants to
murder lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family. Also for the
second day in a row, the miffed guru was ejected from the
Okazaki's testimony, Kiyohide Hayakawa, 47, another former close
aide to Asahara, testified that the blind guru ordered the
murder of the Sakamotos because the attorney would "get in the
way" of future cult activities. Sakamoto had been representing
families of cult members who wanted to retrieve their loved ones
and their money from the cult. Like Okazaki, Hayakawa admitted
in his own Tokyo District Court trial that he was one of six
cultists who took part in the November 4, 1989, death squad.
In what's become trademark
behavior for the portly guru, Asahara mumbled incoherently and
continually interrupted the testimony. At one point he turned to
the gallery and said, "You are all hypnotized." He also told the
court that as long as he was kept from entering a plea, the
trial would be invalid. "Therefore, let me leave." 40 minutes
after the session began the presiding judge did just that. As he
was being escorted out of the courtroom he shouted, "I am being
raped and abused, everyone can hear that."
February 14, 1997 -
Following the large-scale investigation of the cult, police have
been trying to locate a total of 54 followers who have been
reported missing by their relatives. According to the National
Police Agency, 18 members were confirmed to have died at a
medical facility affiliated with the cult. Four others died at
other hospitals. Eight followers were killed in "accidents
during training." Six more are believed to have died at the
hands of colleagues already indicted on murder. Only eight
missing cultists were confirmed as being alive. Leaving 10
unaccounted for cultist, seven of which -- as suggested by their
incarcerated leaders -- are possibly already dead.
February 13, 1997 -
Kazuaki Okazaki, A former high-ranking cult member testified
that Asahara ordered the November 4, 1989, murders of anti-cult
lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and their 1-year-old son, in
a meeting 24 hours before the killings.
The disgruntled ex-cult
member said the portly guru ordered his followers to "poa"
Sakamoto, which, in cult speak meant moving to a higher level of
consciousness. However, for non cult members it "meant to
separate his soul from his body. It meant to kill him."
disputed the testimony, shouting to Okazaki, "You're not
supposed to tell lies," and -- for the fourth time in the
proceedings -- was thrown out of the courtroom.
Okazaki then testified he
and the five other cultist broke into Sakamoto's apartment and
murdered the family. They buried the bodies in three different
locations in central Japan. When they returned to the cult's
headquarters Asahara told them, "I am guilty as well, and we
will all get the death sentence."
January 30, 1997 - The
portly doomsday cult guru accused one of his former disciples of
directing the 1995 Tokyo subway nerve gas attacks. "Yoshihiro
Inoue was the leader in this case. Why do other people have to
be arrested as accomplices?"
Inoue, the former
"intelligence minister" of the Aum had testified two weeks
earlier that Asahara indeed had masterminded the attacks. Inoue
recalled being angered by a newspaper article that described how
Asahara told police his disciples had carried out the subway
attack on their own.
The cantankerous guru then
demanded to be allowed to enter a plea, which he previously had
refused to do. Judge Fumio Abe told him to make his plea at the
proper time, not in the middle of the testimony of a witness.
Later Asahara was ejected from the courtroom for talking and
being a nuisance.
January 30, 1997 - An
independent panel rejected the Japanese government's proposal to
ban the doomsday cult saying the group no longer posed an
"imminent danger" to society. However, the panel said the Aum
remained potentially dangerous and its activities should be kept
under strict surveillance.
January 15, 1997 - The
Japanese government signaled that it would step back from
invoking the never-before used Antisubversive Activities Law to
outlaw the Aum.
January 6, 1997 -
Following a purification ritual workers began demolishing the
former headquarters of the AUM Supreme Truth at base of Mt.
December 20 - The Tokyo
District Court ordered eight members of the Aum Shinrikyo to pay
100 million yen in compensation for killing four people in the
sarin gas attack in June, 1994, in Matsumoto.
December 11, 1996 - A
former Ground Self-Defense Force officer who was a member of the
religious cult Aum Supreme Truth was arrested for allegedly
planting a bomb in Tokyo in March 1995.
December 9, 1996 -
According to documents released by authorities, doomsday cult
guru Shoko Asahara confessed last year to the police to ordering
the murder of an anti-cult lawyer and his family.
December 3, 1996 - Tokyo
Police arrested Yasuo Hayashi, 38, the most wanted member of the
Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult still at large. Police were anxious
to find Hayashi because he is suspected of placing nerve gas on
the Tokyo subway in 1995.
Authorities had posted his
picture and life-size models of him in train stations and post
offices throughout the country. Police said Hayashi was
accompanied by another Aum follower, Eiko Obora, 27, who was
arrested on charges of helping hide a fugitive.
November 21, 1996 - The
Aum opened to reporters what has been dubbed the cult's "new
hideout" by the Public Security Investigation Agency. The two
rooms in a four-story office complex in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward are
now the Aum's public relations office and accommodations. A
definite step down from their sprawling Mt. Fuji complex they
November 21, 1996 - Toru
Toyoda, a cult physicist and ex disciple of the portly guru
testified at the Tokyo District Court that Asahara gave the
orders for the March, 1995, subway gas attack. As Toyoda
testified that at the time he believed that the gas was intended
to save people's souls, the guru, complaining of a fever, was
not allowed to leave the courtroom, as he requested repeatedly
through his lawyer.
November 14 , 1996 - Two
Aum Shinrikyo fugitives were arrested in Tokorozawa, Saitama
Prefecture. Zenji Yagisawa turned himself in, saying he was
tired of life as a fugitive. He provided information that led to
the apprehension of Koichi Kitamura. Yagisawa is suspected of
playing a key role in the bungled cyanide gas attack at Shinjuku
Station in May 1995. Kitamura was wanted for alleged involvement
in the Tokyo subway attack.
October 26, 1996 -
Japanese media reported that investigators who heard a Tokyo
police officer confess to shooting the country's top police
official tried to keep the admission a secret.
October 25, 1996 - A
31-year-old officer, whose name has not been released, said he
was a member of the Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult and that
cult leaders had ordered him to kill Takaji Kunimatsu, the chief
of Japan's National Police Agency.
Kunimatsu was shot and
wounded outside his Tokyo apartment building on March 30, 1995,
10 days after a deadly nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway
system. Kunimatsu was rushed to a hospital unconscious, but
recovered after undergoing an eight-hour operation.
October 24, 1996 - In a
fit of apocalyptic rage, Shoko Asahara was reportedly placed in
protective custody after going berserk in his jail cell.
Apparently Shoko had to be restrained after he repeatedly
screamed and banged on his cell walls.
October 18, 1996 - In his
latest court appearance, Shoko Asahara, Japan's portly doomsday
guru, said the gods had spoken to him and told him they don't
want Yoshihiro Inoue, a former senior leader of the cult, to
take the stand. Shoko proceeded to shoulder full responsibility
for the attacks in an attempt to stop the cross-examination by
the defense which, the gods said, would harm the Inoue's soul.
Caught by surprise, his lawyers didn't know how to explain his
sudden admittance of guilt.
In a strangely talkative
mood, the blind guru added: "I feel bitter thinking about the
suffering people would face by tormenting such a great soul as
Inoue." When Inoue approached the witness stand, Asahara
abruptly said to him: "I may appear to be mentally disturbed,
but will you try to float from where you are?"
Toward the end of the
session, Asahara began twitching and asked that he be allowed to
sit in the lotus position. The judge rejected the request. Then
he started holding his head prompting the defense to explain
that, "the defendant told us his head has been in danger of
exploding since this morning, so he was trying to hold it down
with his hands."
Asahara's convulsions got
progressively worse and he started bouncing in his seat
precipitating an early end to the hearing.
August 9, 1996 - Japanese
authorities began the demolition of three buildings in the
doomsday cult's facilities at the foot of Mt. Fuji. This Aum
complex in the Yamanashi Prefecture includes the chemical plant
where the sarin used in the 1995 subway attack was allegedly
August 7, 1996 - The Tokyo
District Court ordered Aum founder Shoko Asahara to pay 163
million yen in damages to the family of a public notary clerk
allegedly killed by the cult.
July 25, 1996 - Bankruptcy
administrators of the Aum closed three buildings at the Aum's
main compound near Mt. Fuji in the Yamanashi Prefecture after
all followers vacated the premises.
July 25, 1996 - Japanese
police announced its continuing investigating 28 cases of Aum
Shinrikyo members who are listed as missing or died of
undetermined causes. Most of the 10 cultists missing disappeared
in 1994. Some Aum members told police they were involved in
"disposing of the bodies," but investigators have been unable to
uncover evidence to prove their claims
The death certificates of
18 members who died at cult facilities were all prepared by Aum
doctors. Police so far have investigated six deaths as
homicides, and treated four as death from illnesses. Eight
others are believed to have been accidents.
July 23, 1996 - Japanese
academics and lawyers protested the Public Security
Investigation Agency's move to apply the Antisubversive
Activities Law against Aum Shinrikyo.
July 16, 1996 - Kozo
Fujinaga, a top cult member, was convicted and sentenced to 10
years in prison for helping build the cult's sarin factory and
modifying a car used to release the poisonous gas in the June
1994 attack in Matsumoto.
July 11, 1996 - Shoko
Asahara again refused to enter a plea after six criminal cases
against him were read by prosecutors. The cases include the 1995
kidnapping of a Tokyo notary public who allegedly died in
captivity. Since the begining of his trial Shoko has refused to
enter pleas in all 17 cases against him.
July 11, 1996 - The
Japanese Justice Ministry and the Public Security Investigation
Agency submitted a request to the Public Security Commission to
have the Antisubversive Activities Law applied to the Aum
June 12, 1996 -
52-year-old Mitsuo Okada died in a Tokyo hospital after being in
a coma since last year's nerve gas attack. His death raises the
official death toll to 12 for the gas attack on five crowded
May 16, 1996 - In his
second court appearance the blind cult leader was charged with
killing seven and wounding 144 people in a 1994 trial gas attack
in Matsumoto, a town north of Tokyo. Prosecutors also presented
evidence showing that the doomsday leader ordered his disciples
to build a sarin plant to produce 70 tons of the lethal
Nazi-invented gas. He also ordered the production of 1,000
automatic rifles and one million bullets in preparation for an
attempt to topple the Japanese Government.
April 25, 1996 - In the
opening day of his trial, Shoko Asahara, the leader of the
deadly cult Aum Shinrikyo, refused to enter a plea to charges of
masterminding the March 20, 1995 gas attack in the Tokyo subway
that killed 11 people and sickened 4,000 others.
December 15 1995 -
Japanese Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama approved the use of a
Cold War law to disband the Aum Shinrikyo. Justice Minister
Hiroshi Miyazawa said the cult posed a public safety threat due
to its anti-state ideology and stockpiles of weapons and toxic
chemicals. Many lawyers and social activist view the
government's action as unconstitutional.
Shoko Asahara & Aum
Supreme Truth (18+)
This apocalyptic sect and its charismatic, blind leader are
suspected of releasing Sarin gas in five Tokyo subway stations
the morning of March 20, 1995, killing 11 people and sickening
more than 5,500 others. The religious cult is also suspected of
a similar gas attack in June, 1994 in Matsumoto, a town north of
Tokyo, that killed seven people and wounded 144. Furthermore
they are suspected of a series of slayings and kidnappings of
anti-cult activists and preparing to overthrow the Japanese
government all in the name of "good karma."
indiscriminate mass murder through the religious belief "poa" --
a Tibetan Buddhist term for reincarnation to a higher existence.
According to Shoko's twisted doomsday teachings, one can only
save their soul through killing. Asahara taught his followers
that a "poa" killing relieved victims from everyday life and the
inevitable accumulation of more bad karma. Thus what we call
cold blooded murder was regarded "as a beautiful 'poa,' and wise
people would see that both the killer and the person killed
In 1994 Shoko, seeing that
his cult was entangled in all types of legal difficulties,
ordered his disciples to mass produce deadly nerve gas and test
its power in the streets of Matsumoto. It was the start of a
doomsday plot to wipe out untold numbers of innocent people and
his first volley in a war against the police and the Japanese
government. The objective of the attack was to kill several
judges staying at a courthouse dormitory who were due to rule
against the sect in a property lawsuit. Seven people died and
144 were injured in the experiment. However, nothing happened to
Under Asahara's command,
the doomsday cult built a sarin plant to produce 70 tons of the
lethal Nazi-invented gas in order to wipe out the population of
entire cities. On the side he also had plants manufacturing
barbiturates and truth serum. Furthermore, he ordered the
production of 1,000 automatic rifles and one million bullets in
preparation for his war against the Japanese Government. Not the
humble type, Asahara demanded that his followers treat him as a
"living incarnation of God." He also allowed them, at a steep
price, to drink his bathing water which would be a sure way to
cleanse their souls. Shoko also had a habit of kidnapping and
executing anti-cult activist. Prosecutors described how one
rebel cult member, Kotaro Ochida, was strangled while Asahara
During the opening day of
his trial the blind visionary's only words were: "I have nothing
to say." Later he appeared to doze off and one of his lawyers
had to wake him up. If convicted the blind doomsday cult leader
could be sent to the gallows. Virtually all of the other top
cult members- including Shoko's wife- have been arrested for
crimes ranging from misdemeanours to helping to carry out the
Tokyo subway murders. Until his arrest, the portly cultist
predicted that the world would soon come to an end and only the
Aum Supreme Truth would survive. Until then, they will all be in
jail waiting for the apocalypse.
Court sentences Aum's
Hayakawa to death
The Tokyo District Court
on Friday sentenced former Aum Supreme Truth cult member
Kiyohide Hayakawa to death for his role in two murder cases,
including the 1989 killing of a lawyer and his family.
Presiding Judge Kaoru
Kanayama said Hayakawa, 51, bore heavy responsibility for his
role in both cases because he adhered to the cult's doctrine by
which cult members justified committing crimes in defense of the
Hayakawa already has
appealed against the sentence to a higher court.
Cult members murdered the
lawyer, Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife Satoko, and their 1-year-old
son Tatsuhiko, at their home in Yokohama in November 1989.
Six cult members were
indicted in the murder of the Sakamotos, including Hayakawa and
the 45-year-old leader of the cult, Chizuo Matsumoto, also known
as Shoko Asahara.
Hayakawa, who was a senior
member of the cult, is the third person to have received the
death sentence in the case, following former senior cult member
Kazuaki Okazaki, 39, and cult member Satoru Hashimoto, 33.
The judge said Asahara
ordered Hayakawa and the others to kill Sakamoto and his family.
The ruling recognized that the cult leader had masterminded the
murder of the family, by assigning each of the members of the
cult involved a specific role in the killings.
"The fact that the cult
members killed all Sakamoto's family members for the sake of
murdering the lawyer shows they had little respect for the lives
of people outside the cult," the judge said.
The judge said the
killings were systematic and premeditated because the cult
members had to quickly change their original plan, which was to
kill Sakamoto on his way home. However, the lawyer arrived home
later than expected and so the cult members instead broke into
his home while the lawyer and his family were asleep.
According to the ruling,
Hayakawa was the first person to break into the house and made a
signal to the other cult members to enter the Sakamotos'
bedroom. The judge said he pinned down the lawyer's legs and
strangled his wife Satoko.
Touching upon the
allegation that Hayakawa and other cult members ignored Satoko's
plea not to kill her baby, the judge said, "Hayakawa was lacking
in morals and it was very cruel of him to do that."
AUM cultist sentenced to
death for sarin attack
June 30, 2000
A former AUM Shinrikyo
executive was sentenced to death Thursday for his leading role
in the 1995 sarin gas attacks on Tokyo subways that killed 12
and sickened thousands.
Yasuo Hayashi, 42, a
high-ranking member of the cult accused of killing eight people
in the attack, received the death penalty for his actions in his
sentencing at the Tokyo District Court.
During the trial,
Presiding Judge Kiyoshi Kimura said that Hayashi had committed
the crime with the intention of advancing his own interests in
the cult, and acknowledged that he had played a leading role.
"His motives were selfish
and conceited. The responsibility of the accused is indeed
great, and he can face nothing but the maximum penalty," Kimura
said as he handed down the ruling.
Hayashi, a senior member
of the cult's science and technology section, earlier told the
court he had expected to receive the death sentence for the
"I believe I will be
sentenced to death regardless of my motives for the crimes," he
was quoted as saying.
He also accepted the term
"killing machine," as appropriate in light of his actions.
"When I look objectively
at what I've done, I can see that I am just that," he said in
reference to the term.
According to the ruling,
Hayashi boarded a Hibiya Line train on March 20, 1995 with three
bags filled with liquid sarin. After puncturing the bags with an
umbrella, he got off at Akihabara Station, leaving the liquid to
run onto the floor of the carriage, the judge said.
Hayashi said that as soon
as he punctured the bags, he began hoping that the sarin would
not have its desired effect.
Asked why he had taken a third bag of the liquid onto the train
while other cult members took only two, the accused said, "If I
refused, someone else would have had to take it."
Hayashi defended his actions, saying he was simply following
orders - under threat of death - of cult leader Shoko Asahara.
They insisted that if Hayashi had defied Asahara's orders in the
sarin attack, he would have been murdered by cult members.
Hayashi was one of five
members of the doomsday cult accused of being directly involved
in the gassing and the second member to be handed the death
Last September, the court
sentenced Masato Yokoyama, 36, to death for his involvement in
the attack. Ikuo Hayashi, a 53-year-old cult member, also was
sentenced to life imprisonment in May 1998 for his supporting
role in the crime.
Toru Toyoda and Kenichi
Hirose, two other cult members who prosecutors say should
receive the death penalty for their role in the gassing, are to
be sentenced July 17.
The Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway,
usually referred to in the Japanese media as the subway sarin
was an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by members of Aum
Shinrikyo on March 20, 1995.
In five coordinated attacks,
the conspirators released sarin gas on several lines of the
Tokyo Metro, killing twelve people, severely injuring fifty and
causing temporary vision problems for nearly a thousand others.
The attack was directed against trains passing through
Kasumigaseki and Nagatacho, home to the Japanese government.
This was (and remains, as of 2007) the most serious attack to
occur in Japan since the end of the Second World War.
literally, "AUM the True Teaching") is the former name of a
controversial group now known as Aleph.
The name AUM Shinrikyo
derives from the Hindu syllable "aum" (pronounced "ohm") meaning
"powers of creation and destruction of a universe," and the
Japanese words "shinri" ("truth") and "kyō" ("teaching,"
In 2000, after the attack,
the organization changed its name to Aleph, which is
the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Their logo has also
changed. Despite this, the group is still commonly referred to
The Japanese police initially
reported that the attack was the cult's way of hastening an
apocalypse. The prosecution said that it was an attempt to bring
down the government and install Shoko Asahara, the group's
founder, as the "emperor" of Japan.
The most recent theory
proposes that the attack was an attempt to divert attention from
AUM when the group obtained some information indicating that
police searches were planned (though contrary to this plan, it
ended up leading to mass searches and arrests). Asahara's
defence team claimed that certain senior members of the group
independently planned the attack, but their motives for this are
Ten men were responsible for
carrying out the attacks; five released the sarin, while the
other five served as get-away drivers.
The teams were:
Ikuo Hayashi (林
Hayashi Ikuo) and
Tomomitsu Niimi (新見
Kenichi Hirose (広瀬
and Koichi Kitamura (北村
Toru Toyoda (豊田
Toyoda Tōru) and
Katsuya Takahashi (高橋
Masato Yokoyama (横山
and Kiyotaka Tonozaki (外崎
Yasuo Hayashi (林
Hayashi Yasuo, no
relation to Ikuo Hayashi) and Shigeo Sumimoto (杉本
Prior to joining AUM, Hayashi
was a senior medical doctor with "an active 'front-line' track
record" at the Japanese Ministry of Science and Technology.
Himself the son of a doctor, Hayashi graduated from Keio
University, one of Tokyo's top schools. He was a heart and
artery specialist at Keio Hospital, which he left to become head
of Circulatory Medicine at the National Sanatorium Hospital in
Tokai, Ibaraki (north of Tokyo).
In 1990, he resigned his job
and left his family to join AUM in the monastic order Sangha,
where he became one of Asahara's favourites and was appointed
the group's Minister of Healing, as which he was responsible for
administering a variety of "treatments" to AUM members,
including sodium pentothal and electric shocks to those whose
loyalty was suspect. These treatments resulted in several
deaths. Hayashi was later sentenced to life imprisonment.
Tomomitsu Niimi, who was his
get-away driver, received the death sentence.
Hirose was thirty years old
at the time of the attacks. Holder of a postgraduate degree in
Physics from prestigious Waseda University, Hirose became an
important member of the group's Chemical Brigade in their
Ministry of Science and Technology. Hirose was also involved in
the group's Automatic Light Weapon Development scheme.
After releasing the sarin,
Hirose himself showed symptoms of sarin poisoning. He was able
to inject himself with the antidote (atropine sulphate) and was
rushed to the AUM-affiliated Shinrikyo Hospital in Nakano for
treatment. However, medical personnel at the given hospital had
not been given prior notice of the attack and were consequently
clueless regarding what treatment Hirose needed. When Kitamura
faced the fact that he had driven Hirose to the hospital in
vain, he instead drove to AUM's headquarter in Shibuya where
Ikuo Hayashi gave Hirose first aid.
Hirose's appeal of his death
sentence was rejected by the Tokyo High Court on Wednesday, July
Koichi Kitamura was his
Toyoda was twenty-seven at
the time of the attack. He studied applied physics at Tokyo
University's Science Department and graduated with honours. He
also holds a master's degree, and was about to begin doctoral
studies when he joined AUM, where he belonged to the Chemical
Brigade in their Ministry of Science and Technology.
Toyoda was sentenced to
death. The appeal of his death sentence was rejected by the
Tokyo High Court on Wednesday, July 28, 2003, and he remains on
Katsuya Takahashi was his
Yokoyama was thirty-one at
the time of the attack. He was a graduate in applied physics
from Tokai University's Engineering Department. He worked for an
electronics firm for three years after graduation before leaving
to join AUM, where he became Undersecretary at the group's
Ministry of Science and Technology. He was also involved in
their Automatic Light Weapons Manufacturing scheme. Yokoyama was
sentenced to death in 1999.
Kiyotaka Tonozaki, a high
school graduate who joined the group in 1987, was a member of
the group's Ministry of Construction. He was Yokoyama's getaway
driver. Tonozaki was sentenced to life in prison.
Yasuo Hayashi was
thirty-seven years old at the time of the attacks, and was the
oldest person at the group's Ministry of Science and Technology.
He studied artificial intelligence at Kogakuin University; after
graduation he travelled to India where he studied yoga. He then
became an AUM member, taking vows in 1988 and rising to the
number three position in the group's Ministry of Science and
Asahara had at one time
suspected Hayashi of being a spy. The extra packet of sarin he
carried was part of "ritual character test" set up by Asahara to
prove his allegiance, according to the prosecution.
Hayashi went on the run after
the attacks; he was arrested twenty-one months later, one
thousand miles from Tokyo on Ishigaki Island. He was later
sentenced to death (he has appealed).
Shigeo Sugimoto was his
get-away driver. His lawyers argued that he played only a minor
role in the attack, but the argument was rejected, and he has
been sentenced to death.
Monday, 20 March 1995 was for
most a normal workday, though the following day was a national
holiday. The attack came at the peak of the Monday morning rush
hour on one of the world's busiest commuter transport systems.
The Tokyo subway system transports millions of passengers daily;
during rush hour, trains are frequently so crowded that it is
nearly impossible to move.
The liquid sarin was
contained in plastic bags which each team then wrapped in
newspapers. Each perpetrator carried two packets of sarin
totalling approximately one litre of sarin, except Yasuo
Hayashi, who carried three bags. A single drop of sarin the size
of the head of a pin can kill an adult.
Carrying their packets of
sarin and umbrellas with sharpened tips, the perpetrators
boarded their appointed trains; at prearranged stations, each
perpetrator dropped his package and punctured it several times
with the sharpened tip of his umbrella before escaping to his
accomplice's waiting get-away car.
The Chiyoda line (千代田線)
runs from Kita-senju (北千住)
in northeast Tokyo to Yoyogi-uehara (代々木上原)
in the west.
The team of Ikuo Hayashi and
Tomomitsu Niimi were assigned to drop sarin packets on the
Chiyoda Line. Niimi was the get-away driver.
Hayashi, wearing a surgical
mask of the type commonly worn by Japanese people during cold
and flu season, boarded the southwest bound 7:48am Chiyoda line
train number A725K on the first car, and punctured his bag of
sarin at Shin-ochanomizu Station (新御茶ノ水駅)
in the central business district before making his escape.
Two people were killed in
Two men, Kenichi Hirose and
Koichi Kitamura, were assigned to release sarin on the westbound
Marunouchi line (丸ノ内線)
destined for Ogikubo (荻窪).
Hirose boarded the third car
of Train A777, and released his sarin at Ochanomizu Station.
Despite two passengers being
removed from the train at Nakano-sakaue Station, the train
continued on to its destination, car three still soaked with
liquid sarin. At Ogikubo, new passengers boarded the now
eastbound train, and they too were affected by sarin, until the
train was finally taken out of service at Shin-koenji Station.
This attack resulted in one
Two members were assigned to
release sarin on the Ikebukuro (池袋)-bound
Marunouchi line, Masato Yokoyama and Kiyotaka Tonozaki. Tonozaki
was the get-away driver.
Yokoyama boarded the 7:39am
B801 train at Shinjuku (新宿)
on the fifth car. He released his sarin at Yotsuya (四谷).
Yokoyama only succeeded in
puncturing one of his packets, and only made one hole, resulting
in the sarin being released relatively slowly. The train reached
its destination at 8:30am, and returned to Ikebukuro as the
B901. At Ikebukuro the train was evacuated and searched, but the
searchers failed to discover the sarin packets, and the train
departed Ikebukuro at 8:32 as the Shinjuku-bound A801.
As the train was returning to
the city center passengers asked staff to remove the foul
smelling objects from the train. At Hongo-san-chome, staff
removed the sarin packets and mopped the floor, but the train
continued to Shinjuku, and then returned again to Ikebukuro as
the B901. The train was finally put out of service at
Kokkai-gijidomae Station at 9:27, one hour and forty minutes
after the sarin was released.
This attack resulted in no
The team of Toru Toyoda and
Katsuya Takahashi were assigned to release sarin on the
northeast bound Hibiya line (日比谷線).
Takahashi was the get-away driver.
Toyoda boarded the first car
of the 7:59am B711T train bound for Tōbu-dōbutsukoen (東武動物公園駅)
and punctured his sarin packet at Ebisu. Three stops later
passengers had begun to panic, and several were removed from the
train at Kamiyacho and taken to hospital. Still, the train
continued to Kasumigaseki, though the first car was empty. The
train was evacuated and taken out of service at Kasumigaseki.
One person died in this
Yasuo Hayashi and Shigeo
Sugimoto were assigned to the southwestbound Hibiya line
departing Kita-senjū for Naka-meguro.
Hayashi received, at his own
insistence on in an apparent bid to allay suspicions and prove
his loyalty to the group, three packets of sarin while everyone
else was given two. He boarded the third car of the 7:43 A720S
train from Kita-senjū at Ueno Station (上野駅).
He released his sarin two stops later, at Akihabara (秋葉原),
making the most punctures of any of the perpetrators.
Passengers began to be
affected immediately. At the next station, Kodenmacho, a
passenger kicked the packet onto the platform; four people
waiting at that station died as a result. A puddle of sarin,
however, remained on the train floor as the train continued its
route. At 8:10 a passenger pressed the emergency stop button,
but as the train was in a tunnel at the time, it proceeded to
Tsukiji Station (築地駅).
When the doors opened at Tsukiji, several passengers collapsed
onto the platform, and the train was immediately taken out of
This train made five stops
after the gas was released; along the way, eight people died.
On the day of the attack
ambulances transported 688 patients, and nearly five thousand
people reached hospitals by other means. Hospitals saw 5,510
patients, seventeen of whom were deemed critical, thirty-seven
severe, and 984 moderately ill. The cases classified as
moderately ill complained of vision problems. Most of those
reporting to hospitals were the "worried well," who had to be
distinguished from those that were ill.
By mid-afternoon, the mildly
affected victims had recovered their eyesight and were released
from hospital. Most of the remaining patients were well enough
to go home the following day, and within a week only a few
critical patients remained in hospital. The death toll on the
day of the attack was eight, and it eventually rose to twelve.
Witnesses have said that
subway entrances resembled battlefields. In many cases, the
injured simply lay on the ground, many unable to breathe.
Several of those affected by sarin went to work in spite of
their symptoms, some not realizing that they had been exposed to
sarin gas. Most of the victims sought medical treatment as the
symptoms worsened and as they learned of the actual
circumstances of the attacks via news broadcasts.
Several of those affected
were exposed to sarin only by helping those who had been
directly exposed. Among these were passengers on other trains,
subway workers and health care workers.
Recent surveys of the victims
(in 1998 and 2001) show that many are still suffering from
post-traumatic stress disorder. In one survey, twenty percent of
837 respondents complained that they feel insecure whenever
riding a train, while ten percent answered that they try to
avoid any gas-attack related news. Over sixty percent reported
chronic eyestrain and said their vision has worsened.
Emergency services including
police, fire and ambulance services were criticised for their
handling of the attack and the injured, as were the media (some
of whom, though present at subway entrances and filming the
injured, hesitated when asked to transport victims to the
hospital) and the Subway Authority, which failed to halt several
of the trains despite reports of passenger injury. Health
services including hospitals and health staff were also
criticised: one hospital refused to admit a victim for almost an
hour, and many hospitals turned victims away.
Sarin poisoning was not
well-known at the time, and many hospitals only received
information on diagnosis and treatment because a professor at
Shinshu University's school of medicine happened to see reports
on television. Dr. Nobuo Yanagisawa had had experience with
treating sarin poisoning after the Matsumoto incident; he
recognized the symptoms, had information on diagnosis and
treatment collected, and led a team who sent the information to
hospitals throughout Tokyo via fax.
Defended by new religions scholars
In May 1995, after the sarin
gas attack on the Tokyo subway, American scholars James R. Lewis
and J. Gordon Melton flew to Japan to hold a pair of press
conferences in which they announced that the chief suspect in
the murders, religious group Aum Shinrikyo, could not have
produced the sarin that the attacks had been committed with.
They had determined this, Lewis said, from photos and documents
provided by the group.
However, the Japanese police
had already discovered at Aum's main compound back in March a
sophisticated chemical weapons laboratory that was capable of
producing thousands of kilograms a year of the poison. Later
investigation showed that Aum not only created the sarin used in
the subway attacks, but had committed previous chemical and
biological weapons attacks, including a previous attack with
sarin that had killed seven and injured 144.
During the Aum Shinrikyo
incident Lewis and Gordon's bills for travel, lodging and
accommodations were paid for by AUM, according to The Washington
Post. Lewis openly disclosed that "AUM [...] arranged to provide
all expenses [for the trip] ahead of time", but claimed that
this was "so that financial considerations would not be attached
to our final report".
The sarin gas attack was the
most serious terrorist attack in Japan's modern history. It
caused massive disruption and widespread fear in a society that
had previously been perceived as virtually free of crime.
Shortly after the attack, AUM
lost its status as a religious organization, and many of its
assets were seized. However, the Diet (Japanese parliament)
rejected a request from government officials to outlaw the
group. The Public Security Committee, an organization similar to
America's CIA, received increased funding to monitor the group.
In 1999, the Diet gave the
Committee broad powers to monitor and curtail the activities of
groups that have been involved in "indiscriminate mass murder"
and whose leaders are "holding strong sway over their members",
a bill custom-tailored to Aum Shinrikyo.
About twenty of Aum's
members, including its founder Asahara, are either standing
trial or have already been convicted for crimes related to the
attack. As of July 2004, eight Aum members have received death
sentences for their roles in the attack.
Asahara was sentenced to
death by hanging on February 27, 2004, but lawyers immediately
appealed the ruling. The Tokyo High Court postponed their
decision on the appeal until results were obtained from a
court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, which was issued to
determine whether or not Asahara was fit to stand trial.
In February of 2006, the
court ruled that Asahara was indeed fit to stand trial, and on
March 27, rejected the appeal against his death sentence.
Japan's Supreme Court upheld this decision on September 15,
2006. (Japan does not announce dates of executions, which are by
hanging, in advance of them being carried out.)
The group reportedly still
has about 2,100 members, and continues to recruit new members
under the new name "Aleph". Though the group has renounced its
violent past, it still continues to follow Asahara's spiritual
teachings. Members operate several businesses, though boycotts
of known Aleph-related businesses, in addition to searches,
confiscations of possible evidence and picketing by protest
groups, have resulted in closures.
AUM/Aleph remains on the US
State Department's list of terrorist groups, but has not been
linked to any further terrorist acts, or any terrorist acts in
the US. Aleph has announced a change of its policies, apologized
to victims of the subway attack, and established a special
compensation fund. AUM members convicted in relation to the
attack or other crimes are not permitted to join the new
organization, and are referred to as "ex-members" by the group.
Many Japanese municipal
governments have refused to allow known members to register as
city residents; Aleph has successfully sued some of these
governments, and Human Rights Watch has included criticism of
these government actions in some of its annual reports. Some
businesses refuse to sell goods or provide services to known
Aleph followers; some landlords refuse to rent to members; and
some cities have spent public money to persuade Aleph members to
leave town; some high schools and universities reject the
children of Aum followers.
also known by its NATO designation of GB (O-Isopropyl
methylphosphonofluoridate) is an extremely toxic substance whose
sole application is as a nerve agent. As a chemical weapon, it
is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United
Nations according to UN Resolution 687, and its production and
stockpiling was outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of
is similar in structure and biological activity to some commonly
used insecticides, such as Malathion, and is similar in
biological activity to carbamates used as insecticides such as
Sevin, and medicines such as Mestinon, Neostigmine, and
At room temperature, sarin is
a colorless, odorless liquid. Its relatively high vapor pressure
means that it evaporates quickly (about 36 times faster than
tabun, another common chemical nerve agent). Its vapor is also
colorless and odorless. It can be made more persistent through
the addition of certain oils or petroleum products.
Sarin can be used as a binary
chemical weapon; its two precursors are methylphosphonyl
difluoride and a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and isopropyl
amine. The isopropyl amine binds the hydrogen fluoride generated
during the chemical reaction.
Sarin has a relatively short
shelf life, and will degrade after a period of several weeks to
several months. The shelf life may be greatly shortened by
impurities in precursor materials. According to the CIA, in 1989
the Iraqis destroyed 40 or more tons of sarin that had
decomposed, and that some Iraqi sarin had a shelf life of only a
few weeks owing mostly to impure precursors.
Like other nerve agents,
Sarin can be chemically deactivated with a strong alkali.
Typically an 18 percent aqueous solution of sodium hydroxide is
used to destroy sarin.
Efforts to lengthen
stockpiling sarin have tried to overcome the problem of its
short shelf life in three ways:
Developing binary chemical
weapons, where the two precursor chemicals are stored
separately in the same shell, and mixed to form the agent
immediately before or when the shell is in flight. This
approach has the dual benefit of making the issue of shelf
life irrelevant and greatly increasing the safety of sarin
munitions. However, experts still refuse to put the shelf
life of this type of weapon past 5 years.
Like other nerve agents,
sarin attacks the nervous system of a living organism. It is an
irreversible cholinesterase inhibitor.
When a functioning motor
neuron or parasympathetic neuron is stimulated it releases the
neurotransmitter acetylcholine to transmit the impulse to a
muscle or organ. Once the impulse has been sent, the enzyme
acetylcholinesterase breaks down the acetylcholine in order to
allow the muscle or organ to relax.
Sarin is an extremely potent
organophosphate compound that disrupts the nervous system by
inhibiting the cholinesterase enzyme by forming a covalent bond
with the particular serine residue in the enzyme which forms the
site where acetylcholine normally undergoes hydrolysis; the
fluorine of the phosphonyl fluoride group reacts with the
hydroxyl group on the serine side-chain, forming a phosphoester
and releasing HF. With the enzyme inhibited, acetylcholine
builds up in the synapse and continues to act so that any nerve
impulses are, in effect, continually transmitted.
Initial symptoms following
exposure to sarin are a runny nose, tightness in the chest and
constriction of the pupils. Soon after, the victim has
difficulty breathing and experiences nausea and drooling. As the
victim continues to lose control of bodily functions, he vomits,
defecates and urinates. This phase is followed by twitching and
jerking. Ultimately, the victim becomes comatose and suffocates
in a series of convulsive spasms.
Sarin is a highly volatile
liquid. Inhalation and absorption through the skin pose a great
threat. Even vapour concentrations immediately penetrate the
skin. People who absorb a nonlethal dose but do not receive
immediate appropriate medical treatment may suffer permanent
Even at very low
concentrations, sarin can be fatal. Death may follow in one
minute after direct ingestion of about 0.01 milligram per
kilogram of body weight if antidotes, typically atropine and
pralidoxime, are not quickly administered. Atropine, an
acetylcholine inhibitor, is given to treat the physiological
symptoms of poisoning. Pralidoxime can regenerate
cholinesterases if administered within approximately five hours.
It is estimated that sarin is
more than 500 times as toxic as cyanide.
The short- and
long-term symptoms experienced by those affected included:
bleeding from the nose and
disturbed sleep and nightmares
extreme sensitivity to light
foaming at the mouth
loss of consciousness
loss of memory
nausea and vomiting
post-traumatic stress disorder
vision problems, both
temporary and permanent
The following is the specific
history of sarin, which is closely linked to the history of
similar nerve agents also discovered in Germany during or soon
after World War II. That broader history is detailed in Nerve
Agent: History .
Sarin was discovered in 1938
in Wuppertal-Elberfeld in Germany by two German scientists while
attempting to create stronger pesticides; it is the most toxic
of the four G-agents made by Germany. The compound, which
followed the discovery of the nerve agent tabun, was named in
honor of its discoverers: Gerhard Schrader, Ambros,
Rüdiger and Van der LINde.
Sarin in Nazi Germany
during World War II
In mid-1939, the formula for
the agent was passed to the Chemical Warfare section of the
German Army Weapons Office, which ordered that it be brought
into mass production for wartime use. A number of pilot plants
were built, and a high-production facility was under
construction (but was not finished) by the end of World War II.
Estimates for total sarin production by Nazi Germany range from
500 kg to 10 tons.
Though sarin, tabun and soman
were incorporated into artillery shells, Germany ultimately
decided not to use nerve agents against Allied targets. German
intelligence was unaware that the Allies had not developed
similar compounds, but they understood that unleashing these
compounds would lead the Allies to develop and use chemical
weapons of their own, and they were concerned that the Allies'
ability to reach German targets would prove devastating in a
Sarin after World War II
1953: 20-year old Ronald
Maddison, a Royal Air Force engineer from Consett, County
Durham, died in human testing of sarin at the Porton Down
chemical warfare testing facility in Wiltshire. Maddison had
been told that he was participating in a test to "cure the
common cold." Ten days after his death an inquest was held
in secret which returned a verdict of "misadventure". In
2004 the inquest was reopened and, after a 64-day inquest
hearing, the jury ruled that Maddison had been unlawfully
killed by the "application of a nerve agent in a
non-therapeutic experiment." "Nerve gas death was
'unlawful'", BBC News Online, November 15, 2004.
1978: Michael Townley in a
Sworn declaration indicates that Sarin was produced by the
secret police of the Chile Pinochet regime DINA, by
Eugenio Berríos, it indicates that it was used to
assassinate the real state archives custodian Renato León
Zenteno and the Army Corporal Manuel Leyton.
1980-1988: Iraq employed sarin
against Iran during the 1980-88 war. During the 1990-91 Gulf
War, Iraq still had large stockpiles available which were
found as coalition forces advanced north.
1988: Over the span of two
days in March, the ethnic Kurd city of Halabja in northern
Iraq (population 70,000) was bombarded with twenty chemical
and cluster bombs, which included sarin. An estimated 5,000
1993: The United Nations
Chemical Weapons Convention is signed by 162 member
countries, banning the production and stockpiling of many
chemical weapons, including sarin. It goes into effect on 29
April 1997, and calls for the complete destruction of all
specified stockpiles of chemical weapons by April 2007.
1998: In its June 15 issue
Time Magazine runs a story entitled "Did The U.S. Drop Nerve
Gas?". The story is broadcast June 7 on the CNN program
NewsStand. The Time article alleges that U.S. Air Force A-1E
Skyraiders engaged in a covert operation called Operation
Tailwind, in which they deliberately dropped CBU-15 Cluster
Bomb Units containing submunitions that were filled with
sarin on defected U.S. troops in Laos. The report causes a
scandal, and The Pentagon launches a study that concludes no
nerve gas use took place. After an internal investigation,
CNN and Time magazine (both owned by the media
conglomerate Time Warner) retract the story and fired the
two producers primarily responsible for it.
2004: May 14 Iraqi insurgency
fighters in Iraq detonate a 155 mm shell containing several
litres of binary precursors for sarin. The shell is designed
to mix the chemicals as it spins during flight. The
detonated shell released only a small amount of sarin gas,
either because the explosion failed to mix the binary agents
properly or because the chemicals inside the shell had
degraded significantly with age. Two United States soldiers
were treated for exposure after displaying the early
Matsumoto incident (松本サリン事件,
Matsumoto Sarin Jiken)
was an occurrence of sarin poisoning that happened in Matsumoto,
Japan, in Nagano prefecture, on the evening of June 27 and the
morning of June 28, 1994.
Seven people were killed and over 200 were harmed by sarin gas
that was released from several sites in the Kaichi
Heights neighborhood. The first calls to emergency officials
occurred around 11:00 p.m.; by 4:15 a.m. the following morning,
six people had died from the poison.
On July 3, officials
announced that the toxic agent had been identified as sarin by
gas chromatography. After the incident, police focused their
investigation on one of the victims, Yoshiyuki Kouno. Kouno was
dubbed by the media "the Poison Gas Man" and received hate mail,
death threats, and intense legal pressure.
After the attack on the Tokyo
subway in 1995, the blame was shifted to the cult Aum Shinrikyo
and the police and media publicly apologised to Kouno.
The Matsumoto incident
preceded the better-known attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.
Several Aum Shinrikyo members were found guilty of masterminding
both incidents. These two instances are the only known uses of
chemical agents by a terrorist group. Combined, the attacks
resulted in 19 deaths and thousands hospitalizations or
Sakamoto family murder
On October 31, 1989, Tsutsumi
April 8, 1956 - November 4, 1989), a lawyer working on a class
action lawsuit against Aum Shinrikyo, Japan's controversial
Buddhist group, was murdered, along with his wife and child, by
perpetrators who broke into his apartment. Six years later it
was established that the assassins had been members of Aum
Shinrikyo at the time of the crime.
Tsutsumi Sakamoto: anti-cult lawyer
At the time of his murder,
Sakamoto was known as an anti-cult lawyer. He had previously
successfully led a class-action suit against the Unification
Church on behalf of relatives of Unification Church members. In
the suit the plaintiffs sued for assets transferred to the
group, and for harm inflicted by worsened family relationships.
A public relations campaign in which protesters demanded public
attention to their cause was instrumental to Sakamoto's plan,
and the Unification Church suffered a serious financial blow.
By organizing a similar anti-Aum
public relations campaign, Sakamoto apparently sought to
demonstrate that Aum members, similar to members of the UC, did
not join the group voluntarily but were lured in by deception
and were probably being held against their will by threats and
Furthermore, religious items
were being sold at prices far greater than their market value,
draining money out of the households of members. If a judgment
was handed down in his clients' favor, Aum could become
bankrupted, thus greatly weakening or destroying the group.
In 1988, in order to pursue
the class action suit, Sakamoto initiated the establishment of
Aum Shinrikyo Higai Taisaku Bengodan ("Coalition of Help
for those affected by Aum Shinrikyo"). This was later renamed:
Aum Shinrikyo Higaisha-no-kai or "Aum Shinrikyo Victims'
Association". The group still operates under this title as of
Circumstances of the murder
On October 31, 1989, Sakamoto
was successful in persuading Aum leader Shoko Asahara to submit
to a blood test to test for the "special power" that the leader
claimed was present throughout his body. He found no sign of
anything unusual. A disclosure of this could be potentially
embarrassing or damaging to Asahara.
Several days later, on
November 3, 1989, several Aum Shinrikyo members, including Hideo
Murai, chief scientist, Satoro Hashimoto, a martial arts master,
and Tomomasa Nakagawa, drove to Yokohama, where Sakamoto lived.
They carried a pouch with 14 hypodermic syringes and a supply of
According to court testimony
provided by the perpetrators later, they planned to use the
chemical substance to kidnap Sakamoto from Yokohama's Shinkansen
train station, but, contrary to expectations, he did not show
up--it was a holiday (Bunka no hi, or "Culture Day"), so
slept in with his family, at home.
At 3 A.M., the group entered
Sakamoto's apartment through an unlocked door. Tsutsumi Sakamoto
was struck on the head with a hammer. His wife, Satoko
29 years old), was beaten. Their their infant son Tatsuhiko
14 months old), was injected with the potassium chloride and
then his face was covered with a cloth.
While the two adults
struggled, they were also injected with the potassium chloride.
Satoko died from the poison, but Tsutsumi Sakamoto did not die
as quickly of the injection, and died of strangulation. The
family's remains were placed in metal drums and hidden in three
separate rural areas. Their bed-sheets were burned and the tools
were dropped in the ocean. The victims' teeth were smashed to
frustrate identification. Their bodies were not found until the
perpetrators revealed the locations after they were captured.
Sakamoto affair: the aftermath
Evidence of Aum Shinrikyo's
involvement in the murders was uncovered six years later, after
a number of senior followers were arrested on other charges,
most notably in connection with theTokyo subway gas attack. All
of those implicated in the Sakamoto murders have received death
The court found that the
murder was committed by order of the group's founder, Shoko
Asahara, although not all of the perpetrators testified to this
effect, and Asahara continues to deny involvement. Asahara's
legal team claims that blaming him is an attempt to shift
personal responsibility to a higher authority.
The motive for the murder is
not certain: Background information on Sakamoto's legal practice
contradicts the 'blood test' theory, according to which Asahara
ordered the murder to prevent the disclosure of his blood test
that showed no special substance in his blood. A second theory
is that the murder was designed to intimidate lawyers and
plaintiffs, and end the potentially financially crippling
lawsuit against Aum.
Whether Sakamoto's death
changed the legal climate around Aum Shinrikyo is a matter of
debate. No more class-action lawsuits were filed against it in
the six years following the murders. Individual unfavourable
rulings have harmed the group financially to a lesser degree.
Aleph, a successor group to
Aum Shinrikyo, condemned the above described atrocities in 1999
and announced a change in its policies, including the
establishment of a special compensations fund. Members involved
in incidents such as the Sakamoto family murders are not
permitted to join Aleph and are referred to as "ex-members" by
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche,
Vintage, ISBN 0-375-72580-6, LoC BP605.O88.M8613
Aum Shinrikyo, now
known as Aleph, is a Japanese religious group founded by
Shoko Asahara. The group gained international notoriety in 1995,
when several of its followers carried out a Sarin gas attack in
the Tokyo subways.
The name "Aum Shinrikyo"
sometimes written "Aum Shinrikiyo," derives from the Hindu
syllable Aum (which represents the universe), followed by
Shinrikyo written in kanji, roughly meaning "religion of
Truth". In 2000 the organization changed its name to "Aleph"
(the first letter of the Hebrew and Arabic alphabet), changing
its logo as well.
In 1995 the group had 9,000
members in Japan, and as many as 40,000 worldwide. As of 2004
Aum Shinrikyo/Aleph membership is estimated at 1,500 to 2,000
The core of Aum doctrine are
Buddhist scriptures included in the Pali Canon of Theravada
Buddhism. Other religious texts are also used, including a
number of Tibetan Buddhist sutras, Hindu yogic sutras, and
Taoist scriptures. However, there is controversy as to whether
Aum is a Buddhist group or to apply other definitions, such as a
Some of the scholars of new
religious movements view Aum's doctrine as a pastiche of various
traditions, citing various reasons to justify their viewpoints.
Perhaps the most widespread of the arguments is a notion that
the primary deity revered by Aum followers is Shiva, the Hindu
deity symbolizing the power of destruction. The Aleph's Lord
Shiva (also known as Samantabhadra, Kuntu-Zangpo, or Adi-Buddha)
derives from Tibetan Vajrayana tradition and has no connection
to the Hindu Shiva.
There is also controversy as
to what role Christianity plays in Aleph's doctrine, since it
was mentioned in some of Shoko Asahara's speeches and books.
Asahara himself referred to Aum's doctrine as 'truth', arguing
that 'while various Buddhist and yogic schools lead to the same
goal by different routes, the goal remains the same' and
insisting that the world's major religions are closely related.
The 'true religion' in his
view shouldn't only offer the path but should also lead to the
final destination by its own specific 'route' which may differ
considerably due to differences in those who follow it (what the
religion terms 'Final Realization'). This way, a religion for
modern Japanese or Americans will be different from a religion
for ancient Indians.
The more custom-tailored to
the audience the religion is, the more effective it becomes,
Asahara argued. His other conviction was that once a disciple
chose whom to learn from, he should maintain focus in order not
to add confusion arising from contradictions between different
'routes' to the ultimate goal, the Enlightenment. Asahara quoted
Indian and Tibetan religious figures in support of these
Influence of Buddhism
According to Aum, the route
to Final Realization (in Shakyamuni Buddha's words, 'the state
where everything is achieved and there is nothing else worth
achieving') entails a multitude of small enlightenments each
elevating the consciousness of a practitioner to a higher level,
thus making him or her a more intelligent and 'better', more
developed person by getting closer to its 'true self' (or
As Asahara believed the
Buddhist path to be the most effective, he selected original
Shakyamuni Buddha sermons as a foundation for Aum doctrine;
however, he also added various elements from other traditions,
such as Chinese gymnastics (said to improve overall bodily
health) or yogic asanas (to prepare for keeping a meditation
He also translated much of
traditional Buddhist terminology into modern Japanese, and later
changed the wording to make the terms less confusing and easier
to memorize and understand. He defended his innovations by
referring to Shakyamuni who chose Pali instead of Sanskrit in
order to make sermons accessible for the ordinary population,
who couldn't understand the language of ancient Indian educated
In Asahara's view, Aum's
doctrine encompassed all three major Buddhist schools: Theravada
(aimed at personal enlightenment), Mahayana (the "great
vehicle," aimed at helping others), and tantric Vajrayana (the
"diamond vehicle," which involves secret initiations, secret
mantras, and advanced esoteric meditations).
In his own book
Initiation he compares the stages of enlightenment
according to the famous Yoga Sutra by Patanjali with the
Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path, arguing that these two traditions
discuss exactly the same experiences although in different
Asahara has also authored a
number of other books, among which the best known are Beyond
Life and Death and Mahayana-Sutra. The books explain
the process of attaining various stages of enlightenment
provided in ancient scriptures and compares it with the
experiences of Asahara and his followers.
He also published
commentaries to ancient scriptures. On top of these, Asahara's
sermons dedicated to specific themes (from ways to keep the
proper meditation posture to methods of raising a healthy child)
are studied by Aum followers. Some of the sermons seem quite
simple in terms of wording and deal with everyday matters such
as unhappiness arising from problems in human relationships.
Others use sophisticated
language and discuss matters more interesting for an educated
elite. Full-time renunciates mostly study the sermons dealing
with aspects considered 'advanced' while lay followers
concentrate on 'wordly stuff' more. Some of the sermons,
considered 'pre-entry level' are not being studied (a good
example of these are television interviews or recorded brief
broadcasts of Aum's radio station, 'Evangelion Tes Basileias').
To maintain and improve
thinking abilities, Asahara suggested that his followers refrain
from consuming 'low-quality' and 'degrading' information from
sources such as entertainment magazines and comic shows and
advised them to read scientific literature instead. This
approach which was dubbed 'information intake control' became a
source of media criticism.
Aum applied specific
methodologies and arranged the doctrine studies in accordance
with a special kogaku (Japanese: learning) system. In
kogaku, each new stage is reached only after examinations
are passed successfully, imitating the familiar Japanese
entrance exam paradigm. Meditation practice is combined with and
based upon theoretic studies.
Theoretical studies, Asahara
maintained, serve no purpose if 'practical experience' is not
achieved. He therefore advised not to explain anything which was
not actually experienced on one's own and to suggest reading
Aum's books instead.
Followers are divided into
two groups: lay practitioners and "samana" (a Pali word for
monks but also used to include "nuns"), which comprise a
"sangha" (monastic order). The former live with their families;
the latter lead ascetic lifestyles, usually in groups.
According to Aum's
classification, a follower can attain the following invented
stages by religious practice: Raja Yoga, Kundalini Yoga,
Mahamudra (sometimes called Jnana Yoga), Mahayana Yoga, Astral
Yoga, Causal Yoga and the ultimate stage, the Ultimate
Realization. The overwhelming majority of such alleged attainers
were monks, though there were some lay Raja Yoga and Kundalini
For a follower to be
considered an attainer, specific conditions had to be met before
senior sangha members would recognize them as such. For
instance, the "Kundalini Yoga" stage requires demonstration of
reduction in oxygen consumption, changes in electromagnetic
brain activity, and reduction of heart rate (measured by
A follower who demonstrates
such changes is considered to have entered the "samadhi" state
and thus deserved the title and permission to teach others. Each
stage has its own requirements. Advancements in theoretical
studies did not give followers the right to teach others
anything except the basic doctrine. According to Asahara, real
meditation experience could be the only criterion for deciding
the actual ability to coach.
Aum also inherited the Indian
esoteric yoga tradition of Shaktipat, also mentioned in Mahayana
Buddhist texts. The Shaktipat, which is believed to allow a
direct transmission of spiritual energy from a teacher to a
disciple, was practiced by Asahara himself and several of his
top disciples, including Fumihiro Joyu and Hisako Ishii.
Fumihiro Joyu also performed a shaktipat-like ceremony at the
beginning of the XXI century.
Following the formal closure
of Aum Shinrikyo, a number of steps were undertaken that changed
some of the aspects that concerned both the society and
authorities. Some of the most controversial parts of the
doctrine (see below for details) were removed, while the basic,
general aspects remained intact. For this reason, the
information on religious doctrine provided in this article
remains largely relevant to the new organization Aleph as well.
The movement was founded by
Shoko Asahara in his one-bedroom apartment in Tokyo's Shibuya
ward in 1984, starting off as a Yoga and meditation class known
as Aum-no-kai ("Aum club") and steadily grew in the
following years. It gained the official status as a religious
organization in 1989. It attracted such a considerable number of
young graduates from Japan's elite universities that it was
dubbed a "religion for the elite".
Asahara also traveled abroad
on multiple occasions and met various notable yogic and Buddhist
religious teachers and figures, such as the 14th Dalai Lama and
Kalu Rinpoche, a patriarch of the Tibetan Kagyupa school. Aum's
activities aimed at the popularization of Buddhist texts were
also noted by the governments of Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the
Tibetan government-in-exile located in Dharamsala, India.
While Aum was considered a
rather controversial phenomenon in Japan, it was not yet
associated with serious crimes. It was during this period that
Asahara received rare Buddhist scriptures and was awarded a
stupa with remains of the Shakyamuni Buddha.
Aum's PR activities included
publishing. In Japan, where comics and animated cartoons enjoy
unprecedented popularity among all ages, Aum attempted to tie
religious ideas to popular anime and manga themes - space
missions, extremely powerful weapons, world conspiracies and
conquest for ultimate truth.
Followers were discouraged
from consuming Aum's publications like Enjoy the Happiness
and Vajrayana Sacca, which were aimed primarily at the
outside world; researchers later misinterpreted the ideas as
being part of Aum's internal belief system.
One of their most
extraordinary publications about ninja traced the origins of
martial arts and espionage to ancient China and linked the
supernatural abilities ninja were rumored to possess with
religious spiritual practices, concluding that the "true ninja"
was interested in "preserving peace" in times of military
Science fiction novels by
Isaac Asimov were referenced "depicting as it does an elite
group of spiritually evolved scientists forced to go underground
during an age of barbarism so as to prepare themselves for the
moment ... when they will emerge to rebuild civilization."
Also, they used Buddhist
ideas to impress the shrewd and picky educated Japanese not
attracted to boring, purely traditional sermons. (Lifton, p258)
Later, the discussions about pre-requisites of Aum appeal factor
resulted in some traditional Japanese Buddhist shrines adapting
the Aum 'weekend meditation seminars' format. The necessity to
'modernize' the traditional Buddhist approach towards followers
also became the common refrain.
Aum Shinrikyo had started as
a quiet group of people interested in yogic meditation, but
later transformed into a very different organization. According
to Asahara, he needed "to demonstrate charisma" to attract the
modern audience. Following his decision, Aum underwent a radical
The rebranded Aum looked less
like an elite meditation boutique and more like an organization
attractive to a broader, larger population group. Public
interviews, bold controversial statements, and vicious
opposition to critique were incorporated into the religion's PR
In private, both Asahara and
his top disciples continued their humble lifestyles, the only
exception being the armored Mercedes gifted by a wealthy
follower concerned over his Guru's traffic safety. In rather
rare footage, Asahara is seen on the street in front of a large
clown doll resembling himself, smiling happily. He never ceased
repeating that personal wealth or fame were of little importance
to him, but he had to be known in order to attract more people.
Intense advertising and
recruitment activities, dubbed the 'Aum Salvation plan' included
curing physical illnesses with yoga health improvement
techniques, realizing life goals by improving intelligence and
positive thinking, and concentrating on what was important at
the expense of leisure and spiritual advancement.
This was accomplished by
practicing the ancient teachings, accurately translated from
original Pali sutras (these three were referred to as 'threefold
Salvation'). Extraordinary efforts resulted in Aum becoming the
fastest-growing religious group in Japan's history.
With ambitious young
graduates from Japan's top universities, Aum's 'department'
system also changed its name. Thus 'medical department' became
'ministry of health', 'scientific group' became 'ministry of
science' and people with martial-arts or military backgrounds
were organized into a 'ministry of intelligence'. Female
renunciates involved in the care of children were assigned to
the 'ministry of education' accordingly.
Incidents before 1995
The cult started attracting
controversy in the late 1980s with accusations of deception of
recruits, and of holding cult members against their will and
forcing members to donate money. A murder of a cult member who
tried to leave is now known to have taken place in February
In October 1989, the group's
negotiations with Tsutsumi Sakamoto, an anti-cult lawyer
threatening a lawsuit against them which could potentially
bankrupt the group, failed. In the same month, Sakamoto recorded
an interview for a talk show on the Japanese TV station TBS,
which was not broadcast following protests from the group. The
following month Sakamoto, his wife and his child went missing
from their home in Yokohama.
The police were unable to
resolve the case at the time, although some of his colleagues
publicly voiced their suspicions of the group. It was not until
1995 that they were known to have been murdered and their bodies
dumped by cult members. (See Sakamoto family murder).
In 1990 Asahara and 24 other
members stood unsuccessfully for the General Elections for the
House of Representatives under the banner of Shinri-tō
(Supreme Truth Party). Asahara made a couple of appearances on
TV talk shows in 1991, however at this time the attitude of the
cult's doctrine against society started to grow in hostility.
In 1992 Aum's "Construction
Minister" Kiyohide Hayakawa published a treatise called
Principles of a Citizen's Utopia which has been described as
a "declaration of war" against Japan's constitution and civil
institutions. At the same time, Hayakawa started to make
frequent visits to Russia to acquire military hardware,
including AK47's, a MIL Mi-17 military helicopter, and
reportedly an attempt to acquire components for a nuclear bomb.
The cult is known to have
considered assassinations of several individuals critical of the
cult, such as the heads of Buddhist sects Soka Gakkai and The
Institute for Research in Human Happiness and the controversial
cartoonist Yoshinori Kobayashi in 1993.
At the end of 1993 the cult
started secretly manufacturing the nerve agent sarin and later
VX gas. They also attempted to manufacture 1000 automatic rifles
but only managed to make one. Aum tested their sarin on sheep at
a remote ranch in Western Australia, killing 29 sheep. Both
sarin and VX were then used in several assassinations (and
attempts) over 1994-1995.
Most notably on the night of
27th June 1994, the cult carried out the world's first use of
chemical weapons in a terrorist attack against civilians when
they released sarin in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto.
This Matsumoto incident killed seven and harmed 200 more.
However, police investigations focused only on an innocent local
resident and failed to implicate the cult.
In February 1995 several cult
members kidnapped Kiyoshi Kariya, a 69-year old brother of a
member who had escaped, from a Tokyo street and took him to one
of their compounds at Kamikuishiki near Mount Fuji, where he was
killed with an overdose and his body destroyed in a
microwave-powered incinerator before being disposed of in Lake
Kawaguchi. Before Kariya was abducted, he had been receiving
threatening phone calls demanding to know the whereabouts of his
sister, and he had left a note saying "If I disappear, I was
abducted by Aum Shinrikyo".
Police made plans to
simulteneously raid cult facilities across Japan in March 1995.
1995 Tokyo sarin gas
attacks and related incidents
On the morning of 20th March
1995, Aum members released sarin in a co-ordinated attack on
five trains in the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 commuters,
seriously harming 54 and affecting 980 more. Prosecutors allege
that Asahara was tipped off about planned police raids on cult
facilities by an insider, and ordered an attack in central Tokyo
to divert attention away from the group.
The plan evidently backfired,
and the police conducted huge simultaneous raids on cult
compounds across the country. Over the next week, the full scale
of Aum's activities was revealed for the first time.
At the cult's headquarters in
Kamikuishiki on the foot of Mount Fuji, police found explosives,
chemical weapons and biological warfare agents, such as anthrax
and Ebola cultures, and a Russian MIL Mi-17 military helicopter.
There were stockpiles of chemicals which could be used for
producing enough sarin to kill four million people.
Police also found
laboratories to manufacture drugs such as LSD, methamphetamines,
and a crude form of truth serum, a safe containing millions of
dollars worth in cash and gold, and cells, many still containing
prisoners. During the raids, Aum issued statements claiming that
the chemicals were for fertilizers. Over the next 6 weeks, over
150 cult members were arrested for a variety of offences.
On 30th March, Takaji
Kunimatsu, chief of the National Police Agency, was shot four
times near his house in Tokyo, seriously wounding him. Many
suspect Aum involvement in the shooting, but as of September
2006, nobody has been charged.
Asahara, while on the run,
issued statements, one claiming that the Tokyo attacks were a
ploy by the US military to implicate the cult, and another
threatening a disaster that "would make the Kobe earthquake seem
as minor as a fly landing on one's cheek." to occur on April 15.
The authorities took the threat seriously, declaring a state of
emergency, stocking up hospitals with antidotes to nerve gas
while chemical warfare specialists of the Self-Defence Force
were put on standby. However, the day came and went with no
On April 23, Murai Hideo, the
head of Aum's Ministry of Science, was stabbed to death outside
the cult's Tokyo headquarters amidst a crowd of about 100
reporters, in front of cameras. Although the man responsible - a
Korean member of Yamaguchi-gumi - was arrested and eventually
convicted of the murder, whether or not anyone was behind the
assassination remains a mystery.
On the evening of 5 May a
burning paper bag was discovered in a toilet in Shinjuku station
in Tokyo, the busiest station in the world. Upon examination it
was revealed that it was a hydrogen cyanide device which, had it
not been extinguished in time, would have released enough gas
into the ventilation system to potentially kill 20,000
commuters. Cyanide devices were found several more times in the
Tokyo subway but none detonated.
During this time, numerous
cult members were arrested for various offences, but arrests of
the most senior members on the charge of the subway gassing did
not yet take place.
Shoko Asahara was finally
found hiding within a wall of a cult building known as "The 6th
Satian" in the Kamikuishiki complex on May 16th and was
arrested. On the same day, the cult mailed a parcel bomb to the
office of Yukio Aoshima, the governor of Tokyo, blowing the
fingers off his secretary's hand.
Asahara was initially charged
with 23 counts of murder as well as 16 other offences. The
trial, dubbed "the trial of the century" by the press, ruled
Asahara guilty of masterminding the attack and sentenced him to
death. The indictment was appealed unsuccessfully. A number of
senior members accused of participation, such as Masami
Tsuchiya, also received death sentences.
The reasons why a small
circle of mostly senior Aum members committed atrocities and the
extent of personal involvement by Asahara remain unclear to this
day, although several theories have attempted to explain these
events. In response to the prosecution's charge that Asahara
ordered the subway attacks to distract the authorities' away
from Aum, the defense maintained that Asahara was not aware of
events, pointing to his deteriorating health condition.
Shortly after his arrest,
Asahara abandoned the post of organization's leader and since
then has maintained silence, refusing to communicate even with
lawyers and family members. Many believe the trials failed to
establish truth behind the events.
On October 10, 1995, Aum
Shinrikyo was ordered to be stripped of its official status as a
"religious legal entity" and was declared bankrupt in early
1996. However the group continues to operate under the
constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, funded by a
successful computer business and donations, and under strict
surveillance. Attempts to ban the group altogether under the
1952 Subversive Activities Prevention Law were rejected by the
Public Security Examination Commission in January 1997.
The group underwent a number
of transformations in the aftermath of Asahara's arrest and
trial. It re-grouped under the new name of Aleph in
February 2000. It has announced a change in its doctrine:
religious texts related to controversial Vajrayana Buddhist
doctrines that authorities claimed were "justifying murder" were
The group apologized to the
victims of the sarin gas attack and established a special
compensations fund. Provocative publications and activities that
alarmed the society during Aum times are no longer in place.
Fumihiro Joyu, one of the few
senior leaders of the group under Asahara who did not face
serious charges, became official head of the organization in
In July 2000, Russian police
arrested Dmitri Sigachev, an ex-KGB former Aum Shinrikyo member,
and four more former Russian Aum members, for stockpiling
weapons in preparation for attacking Japanese cities in a bid to
free Asahara. In response, Aleph issued a statement saying they
"do not regard Sigachev as one of its members".
In August, 2003, a woman
believed to be an ex-Aum Shinrikyo member took refuge in North
Korea via China.
A June 2005 report by the
National Police Agency showed that Aleph has approximately 1650
members, of which 650 live communally in cult facilities. The
group operates 26 facilities in 17 prefectures, as well as about
120 residential facilities.
An article on the Mainichi
Shimbun on September 11, 2002 showed that the Japanese public
still distrusts Aleph, and cult facilities distributed
throughout Japan are usually surrounded by protest banners from
local residents demanding they leave.
There have been numerous
cases where local authorities have refused to accept resident
registration for cult members when it is discovered that Aleph
has set up a facility within their jurisdiction. (This
effectively denies cult members social benefits such as health
insurance, and a total of five cases were taken to court by cult
members, who won every time).
Local communities have also
tried to drive the cult away by trying to prevent cultists from
finding jobs, or to keep cult children out of universities and
schools. Right-wing groups also frequently conduct marches near
Aum-related premises such as apartments rent by Aum followers
with extremely loud music broadcast over loudspeakers installed
on minivans, which add to their neighbors' displeasure.
Monitoring of Aleph
In January 2000, the group
was placed under surveillance for a period of three years under
an anti-Aum law, in which the group is required to submit a list
of members and details of assets to the authorities. (Highlights
of the bill) In January 2003, Japan's Public Security
Investigation Agency received permission to extend the
surveillance for another three years, as they have found
evidence which suggests that the group still reveres Asahara.
According to the Religious News Blog report issued in April
2004, the authorities still considers the group "a threat to
In January 2006, the Public
Security Investigation Agency was able to extend the
surveillance for another three years. Despite the doctrinal
changes and banning of Vajrayana texts, the PSIA advocates an
increase of surveillance and increases in funding of the agency
itself; periodically, the group airs concerns that texts are
still in place, and that danger remains while Asahara remains
leader. Aleph leaders carefully insert passages into almost
everything they say or write to prevent misinterpretation,
including karaoke songs.
On September 15, 2006, Shoko
Asahara lost his final appeal against the death penalty imposed
on him after his trial for the sarin attacks. The following day
Japanese police raided the offices of Aleph in order to "prevent
any illegal activities by cult members in response to the
confirmation of Asahara's death sentence", according to a police
So far, 11 cult members have
been sentenced to death, although none of the sentences has been
According to the Public
Security Investigation Agency, as of December 2005 the group is
split over a dispute over its future; a large number of members,
including senior members would like to keep the organization as
close to pre-1995 structure as realistically possible.
Previously, the group was led
by six senior executives (the so-called Chorobu), who
transferred the decision-making power to Joyu. Joyu and his
numerically larger faction advocate a milder course aimed at
re-integration to society. Matters such as whether Asahara's
portraits should be retained or abandoned remain the cornerstone
The fundamentalist faction
reportedly refuses to comply with Joyu's decisions, and they are
reportedly attempting to influence the sympathizers not to
communicate at all with Joyu, who still remains the official
leader of the group.
In 2006 Joyu and a number of
supporters split from Aleph followers and occupied another
building where they currently reside. According to Joyu, most of
the higher-rank renunciates are his supporters already, while
'many others cannot announce [their agreement with Joyu's ideas]
at this moment'. A number of essays by Joyu explain the basis
The appeal to abandon the
viewpoint that 'Aum people are chosen people' and the society
that opposes it is 'evil' with determination to 'hold on' and
endure persecution (which Joyu considers 'fundamentalist ideas')
is facing fierce opposition from more dogmatic followers while
Joyu's tolerance to Aum followers who travel to India or Tibet
to learn from meditation masters other than Asahara attract
accusations of disloyalty. Joyu is nevertheless optimistic.
'This is a process and at the circumstances it cannot be
accomplished by some order from above,' he explains. He
criticizes the 'loyalty' argument saying that 'reintegrating
into society' is not 'abandoning the faith' but rather elevating
it to the next level and quotes Asahara's sermons where he
speaks about 'egoistic desire to get separated from others by
way of monkhood'.
On March 8, 2007, former Aum Shinrikyo
spokesman and later one of the group's leaders, Fumihiro Joyu,
formally announced a long-expected split
Aum Shinrikyo has had several overseas
branches: in Sri Lanka, in Bonn, Germany (Spokesperson: Jürgen
Schöfer) and, several small ones in New York City, United States
and Moscow, Russia.
The EU has designated Aum Shinrikyo as a
On December 11, 2002, The Canadian government
added Aum to its list of banned terrorist groups.
The United States also maintains Aum on its
list of foreign terrorist groups.
References in popular culture
Books, documentaries, and fiction attempting
to explain the Aum phenomena became best-sellers not only in
Japan, but overseas as well. Below are characteristic examples:
'A' and 'A2', documentary
movies by filmmaker Tatsuya Mori that demonstrate day-to-day
ordinary lives of Aleph members, reportedly caused disbelief
with many of the Japanese attending the limited screenings:
unwilling to believe what they were seeing, some even
accused him in using professional actors to 'make everything
Underground, a documentary
book by popular author Haruki Murakami consisting mainly of
interviews with victims of the gas attacks. Murakami later
apologized to its Japanese readers who 'misunderstood' his
intentions and published a sequel containing interviews with
Aum members. Both sets of interviews are included in the
The grindcore band Agoraphobic
Nosebleed has a song titled "Aum Shinrikyo" on their cd
"Altered States of America", and several songs on the same
album deal lyrically with the Sarin gas attacks on Tokyo
Ghostwritten, a fiction novel
by author David Mitchell, contains a short story about a
"terrorist cult member in Okinawa" that is loosely based on
the sarin attacks.
Comments on other faiths
In several of his lectures
more related to economy and politics than religion itself,
Asahara also made comments about Jewish people, such as:
According to Asahara's prophecies, 'the future Buddha Maitreia'
(the Buddhist 'Savior' who comes at the End of Times to save the
humanking by spiritual guidance) 'will come surrounded by asuras'
(while he also has said that 'Jewish people have a very strong
asura factor'). It is also 'unclear yet if the Jews will
ultimately come to my side'. Jewish people, in Asahara's
judgement have a 'strong desire to achieve happiness not in
material, but in a spiritual sense' and their ancestry is
'divine' (another quotation: '[..]therefore they are demi-gods'.
He also noted that the
Kabbalah teaches 'the secret science' (previously kept secret)
that will surface from within Jewish nation at the End of Times.
(from book 'Vajrayana Sutra', which was removed from circulation
by the group's leadership in 1999 as Japans PSIA agency
criticized the book as 'justifying violence').
Speaking of more tradional
religious groups, on number of occasions Asahara criticized them
for 'degrading into traditionalism and losing the essence' [i.e.
evolutionary path to Enlightenment]. 'What was left are just
religious ceremonies and things necessary in order to make you
become a religious robot and that's all'. He spoke highly
however of H.H.Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism in general.
Before 1995 Aum Shinrikyo has
criticized the Soka Gakkai, Japan's largest new religious group
tied to a series of scandals which also controls New Komeito, a
fraction in Japan's Parliament. Asahara accused SG in malicious
interfering in its affairs and provocations aimed at creating
difficultied to its activities.
Shoko Asahara, Supreme
Initiation: An Empirical Spiritual Science for the Supreme
Truth, 1988, AUM USA Inc, ISBN 0-945638-00-0. Highlights
the main stages of Yogic and Buddhist practice, comparing
Yoga-sutra system by Patanjali and the Eightfold Noble Path
from Buddhist tradition.
---- Life and Death,
(Shizuoka: Aum, 1993). Focuses on the process of Kundalini-Yoga,
one of the stages in Aum's practice.
---- Disaster Approaches
the Land of the Rising Sun: Shoko Asahara's Apocalyptic
Predictions, (Shizuoka: Aum, 1995). A controversial
book, later removed by Aum leadership, speaks about possible
destruction of Japan.
Ikuo Hayashi, Aum to
Watakushi (Aum and I), Tokyo: Bungei Shunju, 1998. Book
about personal experiences by former Aum member.
Robert Jay Lifton,
Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic
Violence, and the New Global Terrorism, Henry Holt, ISBN
0-8050-6511-3, LoC BP605.088.L54 1999
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche,
Vintage, ISBN 0-375-72580-6, LoC BP605.O88.M8613 2001
Interviews with victims.
Global Proliferation of Weapons of Mass
Destruction: A Case Study on the Aum Shinrikyo,
[USA] Senate Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on
Investigations, October 31, 1995.
David E. Kaplan, and Andrew
Marshall, The Cult at the End of the World: The
Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways
of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia, 1996, Random
House, ISBN 0-517-70543-5. An account of the cult from its
beginnings to the aftermaths of the Tokyo subway attack,
including details of facilities, weapons and other
information regarding Aum's followers, activities and
Ian Reader, Religious
Violence in Contemporary Japan: The Case of Aum Shinrikyo,
2000, Curzon Press