17 Years Have Passed Since Japan's Most Shocking Crime
On this New Year's Day, Makoto Hirata turned himself in to police. He was one of the three fugitive members of the now-defunct Aum Shinrikyo cult
organization along with Naoko Kikuchi who was arrested on June 6 and Katsuya Takahashi who fell into the hands of the law on June 14. Their 16 years of fugitive life was brought to an end.
However, that does not mean all problems involved have been finally resolved.
The cult that gained international notoriety in 1995 for its sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway has changed its name to Aleph and is still busy converting
younger generations who have no knowledge of its background by capitalizing on the current spiritual boom in Japan. The court trial of its leader Shoko Asahara alias Chizuo Matsumoto looks likely
to become prolonged. What did make Aum come into being and why did it cause such social phenomenon in the 1990's?
The movement was founded by Asahara in 1984, initially as a yoga and meditation class. His self-proclaimed supernatural power, his words to express the
Buddhist concept of impermanence: “People will die, People never fail to die, People cannot escape death,” and his apocalyptic view like Nostradamus' prophecies attracted many young
Japanwas full of vigor in the late 80's at the height of its bubble economy. But young people couldn't
find their aim and started doubting about the world that sought a life of indulgence and luxury. As more people shared the value system that “materialistic affluence brought by economic growth
can lead to happiness,” younger generations lost themselves and began to seek something spiritual. They couldn't find the value of their life amid the lack of organic human bondage. Many of them
joined Aum, wishing to be connected to other people in what they saw as a hollow world. Among them were a good number of highly-educated persons.
In 1990, Asahara organized a political party named “Shinrito.” He himself and many of his followers ran for the House of
Representatives but all of them were defeated. The humiliating outcome inflated Asahara’s paranoia, making him more hostile to society.
He and his followers began committing a number of heinous crimes. They thought of causing a big incident in the metropolis
in 1995 in an attempt to distract police and carried out the nerve gas attack on the subway on March 20 that year. This terrorism was reported in many countries and the Time magazine featured
Asahara on its front cover with the title “Cult of Doom.”
All these happened in only 10 years. The social structure prevalent then in
Japan might have been related to the cult organization’s rapid growth during the short period. Those people who hated their unsatisfied life chose the daily icon of subway and resorted to an
unusual action with a chemical weapon to “poa” (meaning kill) innocent citizens of this world.
Quite a few people today seem to think Aum is a thing of the past. But is it really so? Even in today’s materially affluent
society, we cannot escape death and isolation. For us who live in this empty society, a cult may be a place where we can seek human contact. However, there is no knowing when it will run mad as