Aum may be gone in name but guru still has following

Cult's spinoffs seen lacking sense of sincerity, find little public trust

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

Judicial proceedings for Aum Shinrikyo figures effectively came to an end Monday as Seiichi Endo became the 13th member of the doomsday cult to have his death sentence finalized by the Supreme Court.

But while Aum’s criminal masterminds await the hangman’s noose on death row, splinter groups remain active and are showing signs of loyalty to guru Shoko Asahara.

“Aleph is operating under Aum’s old teachings. They are taking a defiant attitude,” Kazuyuki Furuma, a resident of Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, told The Japan Times on Monday. Furuma heads a group that wants Aum-related groups ousted from the ward.

Following Aum’s dismantlement, former members quickly reorganized into a group called Aleph in 2002. Its headquarters was in Setagaya’s Karasuyama area until 2010, when it bought a new facility in Adachi Ward.

Aleph reportedly celebrates Asahara’s birthday with special events. Its facilities also reportedly display pictures of Asahara and promote his teachings to a following that has already reached 1,300.

Furuma’s group worked hard to remove Aleph from Setagaya, but Hikari no Wa (Circle of Rainbow Light), a splinter group headed by former senior Aum member Fumihiro Joyu, remains active in the ward.

“Joyu claims that his group works under a different belief today, and to prove that he has called his former guru only by his last name, Asahara, and not with his title. But we don’t quite buy it,” Furuma said.

He believes the group will do anything to put an end to the government’s strict surveillance.

“Our efforts to keep a close watch on the group will continue” even though the court trials have come to an end, Furuma said.

Meanwhile, victims of Aum’s hideous acts have yet to receive full compensation.

Following Asahara’s arrest and the cult’s court-ordered breakup, lawyer Saburo Abe was picked to act as Aum’s trustee in 1996 and to collect the cult’s assets to provide compensation. But the bankruptcy proceedings for Aum came to an end in March 2008 with only 40 percent of the ¥3.8 billion owed paid out.

“We’ve done everything we can,” Abe said in 2008, explaining that the bankruptcy process had reached its limit because of the huge size of Aum’s debts.

The rest of the redress process was taken over by an organization led by lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya, acting on behalf of Aum’s victims.

A law was also enacted allowing the government to pay about ¥3 billion to some 6,000 victims, with Aum-related groups obligated to pay the government back. That debt remains unpaid.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations released a statement Monday saying that despite the substantial payments that have so far been made via bankruptcy proceedings and the government aid, “efforts continue even now to assist the victims” financially.

So far, only Hikari no Wa has agreed to make annual payments to Aum’s victims, although the payments have been a pittance — ¥2.5 million in 2010 and ¥500,000 so far this year.

Defiant Aleph, on the other hand, hasn’t agreed to make any payments, drawing criticism even from Hikari no Wa.

“Aleph at this point has effectively refused to sign an agreement to repay compensation to the group of victims of Aum Shinrikyo’s crimes. We are troubled with the situation and want Aleph to reach an agreement quickly” with the concerned parties, Hikari no Wa says on its website.

“Obviously Aleph has the money. But they aren’t using it to pay the victims of Aum’s crimes,” said Furuma of Setagaya Ward.

Site stands empty

Kyodo
KOFU, Yamanashi Pref.

The land where Aum Shinrikyo had a complex in Yamanashi Prefecture is now vacant except for a small monument to mourn the people the cult murdered, including its own members.

The village of Kamikuisshiki, the Aum stronghold where it produced the sarin gas for the 1995 Tokyo subway attack, no longer exists in name after its neighboring municipalities merged parts of the village in 2006.

Local resident Seiichi Takeuchi, 83, who led efforts to drive out the cult from the village, expressed mixed feelings about the end of the Aum trials Monday.

“I still wonder why this village had to be the production center of the sarin gas. I don’t want to let the Aum trials fade with time,” Takeuchi said.