One notch beyond obsessional behaviours, are obsessional behaviours that follow a credo. Some may call them cults. In Japan, despite the average salaryman’s more apparent devotion to material forms of devoutness, there are over 180,000 legally registered religions that he may, if the spirit moves him, sign on with. The objects of their worship vary widely; many are simply bizarre.
There is the now defunct Ho No Hana Sampogyo ‘Flower Of Buddhist Teaching’ foot-reading cult of Hogen Fukunaga, the successor of Jesus and Buddha, who targeted housewives and hospital patients for huge sums of reflexological cash, for the privilege of getting the ‘powers of heaven’ flowing again.
There is Ajiki Tenkei’s Yamato No Miya ‘Temple Of Japan’ water cult, who not only heard Buddha ordering her to save mankind, but received a message from a Venusian alien named Telebeyt (messenger of A Lah, ruler of the universe), who taught her how to make ‘pyramid-powered water,’ from a sacred spring in her hometown, and a most lucrative mind-cleansing gift for the more earthbound.
There is chicken farmer Miyozo Yamagishi’s rural utopian hippie ‘Yamagishi Society’ legume cult, whose resident adherents are required to sell organic vegetables and dairy products, donate all their earthly possessions, and relinquish their children over the age of five, when samurai education began, to live in a self-regulating segregated all-kids commune. Bathing is optional.
There is the PL Kyodan ‘Church Of Perfect Liberty’ golf cult, whose members are taught to express themselves artistically. It has numerous golf ranges, with an all-girl dormitory at its headquarters, where female students work as part-time caddies to support themselves through high school.
There is the ‘Life Space Movement’ dead body cult of accountant Koji Takahashi, who followed an Indian healer through six thousand years of countless reincarnations, to learn the craft. Unfortunately, in 1999, he tried to heal a long-time cult member who had become comatose, and then died, from a cerebral hemorrhage. Takahashi had the victim’s son transfer him from the hospital to a hotel room, where he continued therapy. Decomposition was interpreted as part of the recovery process. Four months later, hotel staff called police, who found a cult vigil, and a mummified corpse. A judge sentenced Takahashi to prison, for the crime of failing basic biology.
There is the ‘Pana-Wave Laboratory’ cult founded by a former English teacher Yuko Chino, who combined elements of Christianity, Buddhism and science fiction into a doomsday paranoia that communist electromagnetic waves would cause a change in the planet’s poles, and environment disaster. In 2002, members wearing white sheets and surgical masks for protection, travelled across the country in a caravan of white vans (their steering wheels bandaged in white), eating only cup-ramen, and never bathing. They occupied a road in a mountainous area west of Tokyo, lined trees and bushes and guardrails and damn near everything else with white fabric and protective stickers, and prepared for the coming apocalypse. Television crews were allowed to approach only if similarly garbed in white. It never happened.
There is the Sokka Gakkai quasi-Buddhist tearful Tina Turner cult, whose ex-members are followed and harassed by church members, the Kofuku-No-Kagaku ‘Happy Science’ Japanese Buddhist-materialist military cult of businessman Ryuho Okawa, the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front bombing cult, and their attack on Mitsubishi company headquarters which killed eight people, and the Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyodan ‘World True Light Civilization Religious Organization,’ whose ancient Japanese emperor had apparently taught the Jews to speak Hebrew.
The mother of all Japanese cults, however, was the Aum Shinrikyo ‘Supreme Truth’ sect. It was founded, initially and not inappropriately, in 1984, as a syncretism of Yoga, Nostradamus, and Christianity, by Shoko Asahara, in his
one-bedroom apartment in Tokyo's Shibuya ward, with Asahara playing the role of Christ. But Jesus saw dark conspiracies everywhere, promulgated by the Dutch, the British Royal Family, Freemasons, rival Japanese religions, and of course, the Jews. Asahara would take upon himself the world’s sins, and, in fact, other worlds as well, particularly enamoured with Isaac Asimov's science fiction Foundation Trilogy ‘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.’ His supposedly humble lifestyle included an armoured Mercedes-Benz, which he needed for ‘traffic safety.’
Bizarre initiation rituals often involved the use of hallucinogens, shock therapy, being hung upside down, and one in which they paid to drink Asahara’s dirty bathwater, otherwise known as Miracle Pond.
In the late 1980s, the group began attracting accusations of deception of recruits, holding cult members against their will, and extorting money from them. Asahara had begun his destructive career as a peddler of make believe when he made $200,000 by selling Almighty Medicine- tangerine peel in alcohol- at $7000 a dose to desperately ill elderly people. His hospital patients were forced to pay exorbitant medical bills.
After one of the believers was murdered in 1989, an anti-cult lawyer, Tsutsumi Sakamoto, and his wife and child went missing from their Yokohama home. They had been injected with potassium chloride, strangled, teeth smashed to frustrate identification, and hidden in metal drums in three separate rural areas in three different prefectures. Their bed sheets were burned, and the tools dropped in the ocean. Their bodies would not be found until the perpetrators revealed the locations after their capture six years later.
In 1992, Aum's ‘Construction Minister,’ Kiyohide Hayakawa, began frequent visits to Russia, to acquire military hardware, including AK74s, a Mi-17 military helicopter, and components for a nuclear bomb. The following year, the cult purchased the million Australian acres of Banjawarn Station, on the edge of the Great Victoria Desert, and then it got weird. On the night of 28 May 1993, a ‘huge red coloured flare’ shot skyward into the dark sky. A loud explosive blast was heard over 250 kilometres away, and the ground shook so violently that the few long-distance truck driver and gold prospector witnesses were knocked to the ground while standing around a campfire. The event had the force of two thousand tons of TNT, 170 times larger than the largest mining explosion ever recorded in the Australian region, a seventh of the blast power that leveled Hiroshima. Bill Bryson, apparently not quite as humorous as your humble story-teller, had said of Australia that it was a country ‘so vast and empty that a band of amateur enthusiasts could conceivably set off the world's first non-governmental atomic bomb on its mainland and almost four years would pass before anyone noticed.’
A month later the local aboriginal community chairwoman living near the sheep station, Phyllis Thomas, said that she and other Aborigines saw five people wearing full-length protective suits and helmets. A month after that a team of Aum scientists landed in Australia with mining equipment (a mechanical ditch digger, picks, petrol generators, gas masks,
respirators, and shovels) and an assortment of chemicals (hydrochloric acid and ammonium chloride and sodium sulphate and perchloric acid) in mislabeled containers marked as hand soap. They paid over $20,000 in excess baggage fees and a Customs duty of over $15,000. The chemicals were seized, but a new supply of chemicals, and computers and laboratory equipment were purchased in Australia.
By the end of 1993, the cult was manufacturing the nerve agents sarin and VX. Long after they sold Banjawarn Station in October 1994, 29 sheep carcasses were discovered, with sarin residue.
By 1995, Aum Shinrikyo could claim 40,000 members worldwide, and over 9,000 members in Japan, a considerable number of which were young graduates from Japan's elite universities. In February, a 69 year-old brother of a disciple was kidnapped off a Tokyo street, taken to an Aum compound near Mount Fuji, his body destroyed in a microwave-powered incinerator before being disposed of in a nearby lake.
During the Monday morning rush hour of 20 March 1995, Aum released sarin gas in a coordinated attack on five trains of the Tokyo subway, killing 13 commuters, seriously injuring 54, and affecting 980 more. One woman, whose contact lenses fused to her pupils had to have both her eyes surgically removed. Police conducted huge simultaneous raids on cult compounds across the country. At the group’s headquarters at the foot of Mount Fuji, they found the Russian Mi-17 military helicopter, explosives, biological warfare agents (including anthrax and Ebola from Zaire), and chemical stockpiles that could have potentially produced enough sarin to kill four million people. Police also found laboratories to manufacture LSD, methamphetamine, and a crude form of truth serum, a safe containing millions of dollars in gold and cash, and lockup cells, many still containing prisoners.
But it wasn’t over. On 30 March 1995, the chief of the National Police Agency, Takaji Kunimatsu, was shot four times near his house in Tokyo. On April 23, one of Yamaguchi-gumi’s organic vegetables stabbed to death the head of Aum’s ‘Ministry of Science,’ in front of the cameras and notepads of a hundred reporters. Twelve days later, a burning bag was discovered in a toilet in Tokyo’s Shinjuku station. It contained a hydrogen cyanide device which, had it not been extinguished, would have released enough gas into the ventilation system to kill 20,000 commuters. Several other undetonated cyanide devices were found at other locations in the subway. A day after that the cult mailed a parcel bomb to Yukio Aoshima, the governor of Tokyo, blowing off the fingers of his secretary's hand, and the police finally found Shoko Asahara, hiding within a wall of a cult building.