‘Hirata Makoto desu. Shuttō shite kimashita.” (「平田信です。出頭してきました」”I am Makoto Hirata. I’ve come to give myself up”).

Sure you are! said the first officer he spoke to, in effect. He thought it was an akushitsu na itazura (悪質ないたずら, a malicious prank). Never mind that Hirata was one of Japan’s most notorious tōbōsha (逃亡者, fugitives), his photo on tehai posutā (手配ポスター, wanted posters) plastered all over the country in connection with his alleged role in crimes committed by the religious group Aum Shinrikyo in the 1990s.

How did he manage to elude a nationwide police dragnet for 17 years? Why, having done so, did he suddenly give himself up? The case is, as several commentators have noted, nazo darake (謎だらけ, full of riddles).

Giving yourself up can be surprisingly difficult, Hirata discovered. It was New Year’s Eve. Later he reportedly told police he’d been planning on surrendering for some time. “Jiken ni kugiri wo tsuketakatta” (「事件に区切りをつけたかった」”I wanted to put the [Aum] affair behind me”), he was quoted as saying. The March 11 earthquake and ensuing horrors were a factor. “Shinsai de fujōri na koto wo ooku mite jibun no tachiba wo aratamete kangaeta” (「震災で不条理なことを多く見て自分の立場を改めて考えた」”I saw so many absurd things in the earthquake disaster; I came to see my own situation in a new light”). But “nakanaka fungiri ga tsukazu” (「なかなか踏ん切りがつかず」”I couldn’t seem to make up my mind”).

When at last he did, he went first to a police station in Osaki, Tokyo, the one nearest the scene of the crime police primarily link him to — the February 1995 rachi (拉致, kidnapping) and kankin (監禁, confinement) of a Tokyo notary whose sister had fled Aum over its demands that she surrender her property to the group. The notary was subsequently drugged to death, though Hirata has not been charged with the murder. Three weeks later there occurred the atrocity which sealed Aum Shinrikyo’s place in crime history — the chikatetsu sarin jiken (地下鉄サリン事件, subway sarin gas affair) which left 13 Tokyo-subway commuters dead and 6,300 ill. In that too, Hirata is not considered implicated.

Unable somehow to find the station entrance, Hirata next tried to phone a police Aum hotline, but it kept ringing busy. He dialed 110, the police emergency number, and asked where the office handling the Aum affair was. Directed to Metro Police headquarters, he proceeded there, only to be taken for a New Year’s Eve prankster. The officer he spoke to said, “Marunouchi-sho ka koban e iku yo ni” (「丸の内署か交番へ行くように」 “Go to the Marunouchi Police Station or to a police box”).

At Marunouchi, finally, he was taiho sareta (逮捕された, arrested).

“Fujōri” (「不条理」”absurd”), Hirata said of the March 11 tragedy — but few episodes in modern times are as eerily 不条理 as the Aum Shinrikyo affair. How a religious group seeking enlightenment through meditation and various other austerities evolved, under the leadership of its near-blind, vaguely charismatic kyōso (教祖, guru), called Shoko Asahara (real name Chizuo Matsumoto), into a perpetrator of remorseless individual and mass murder is as 謎だらけa question as Hirata’s sudden surfacing.

Who would have the best answers? Philosophers? Psychiatrists? Criminologists? The court process has not elucidated much. Since 1995, 189 Aum members have been kiso sareta (起訴された, indicted), with 13, including Asahara, shikei wo senkoku sareta (死刑を宣告された, sentenced to death). How could civilized, well-educated people (as most of the indicted were) descend to this? Were they, as many said, sennō sareta (洗脳された, brainwashed)? How?

Hirata, under police torishirabe (取り調べ, questioning), said little about his 17-year tōbō seikatsu (逃亡生活, life on the run), other than, “Kokunai ni ita (国内にいた , I was in Japan”). He reportedly repudiated his Aum past. “Aum wo shinkō shite inai (オウムを信仰していない, I don’t believe in Aum”), he was quoted as saying. Moreover, “Kyōso no shikei wa atarimae no koto (教祖の死刑は当たり前のこと, The guru’s death penalty is appropriate”).

Not everyone takes this at face value. One investigator, expressing a fairly widespread suspicion, told the media, “Hirata yōgisha ga itteiru koto wa subete uso da” (「平田容疑者が言っていることはすべて嘘だ」”Everything the suspect Hirata says is a lie”). Far from having turned his back on his Aum past and on Asahara, the doubters say, “Matsumoto shikeishū no shikei shikkō wo okuraseru nerai ga aru” (「松本死刑囚の死刑執行を遅らせる狙いがある」”His aim is to delay the execution of death-row prisoner Matsumoto’s death sentence”).

Hirata’s court proceedings could take years, and Asahara is considered unlikely to be executed before they are completed.

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