A person may offer help when seeing someone in despair, or instead opt to benefit from that desperation by taking advantage of it.
For 76-year-old Yutaka Takayama, offering his apartments in the Karasuyama district of Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward to 38 Aum Shinrikyo members is “killing two birds with one stone,” satisfying humanitarian instincts and bringing financial benefit.
The cultists have been in need of a Good Samaritan, having been forced to move from one community to another, away from neighbors who resent and fear their presence. Aum members have been ostracized since some cultists were arrested over the 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways and the 1994 gassing in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture. A total of 19 people were killed.
When asked why he decided to invite the cultists, Takayama initially pointed to somewhat idealistic motives before revealing a more mercenary nature.
“The country is getting too ugly on issues related to Aum, as seen in local residents’ hysteria,” he said. “By providing Aum members with homes, I wanted to protect the country’s democracy and freedom of speech.”
The cultists, including top-ranking Aum leader Fumihiro Joyu, 38, started occupying 13 rooms in three buildings in the district in December at Takayama’s invitation.
The rental agreement has allowed Joyu and the other cultists to step away from their nomadic lifestyle, forced upon them by local protests and municipalities’ refusal to accept their residency status.
But other residents in the complex believe Takayama’s explanations disguise his real intentions.
“Inviting the cult, which committed heinous crimes, to live in the complex is the ultimate phase in Takayama’s efforts to force us to sell our properties to him,” said Ichitaka Yamaoka, who owns one of the units.
Residents claim it is one of at least two tactics Takayama is employing in an attempt to force their hand. They also complain that the view from one of the buildings is obscured by four rusty train carriages, an old boat and construction material.
Takayama would certainly profit were the other residents to leave the complex. Two of the buildings are wholly owned by Takayama, while the third was built 23 years ago under a contract in which Takayama provided the land and real estate developer Niizeki Construction Co. handled the construction.
According to the contract, the first and second floors of the five-story building belong to Takayama and have been rented out, while 18 rooms from the third floor up, with partial land ownership rights, were sold by the developer.
Takayama himself freely admits he is searching for profit.
“I’d like to buy them all cheap and maybe sell the entire plot of land for a good price,” Takayama said.
He added that collectively renting his three apartment buildings to Aum, which currently pays around 1.5 million yen per month for the 13 rooms, would be quite a lucrative business.
“If I successfully force the current tenants and apartment owners out, I can rent them to Aum for around 4 million yen,” he said.
Takayama’s strategy is proving effective, as one of the apartment owners said he was told by a real estate agent that his property, which his family purchased 23 years ago for 30 million yen, is now almost worthless.
“My neighbor had a contract to sell his unit before Aum moved in, but it was soon canceled after the buyer became aware that Aum moved into the same building,” he said. Takayama’s other two buildings are for lease, and the majority of their residents left after Aum members moved in.
Takayama also claimed the apartment building has some crucial defects due to shoddy construction work, and he wants to kick other residents out for their own safety.
“I don’t want the residents to get hurt in the event of a disaster,” he said.
But residents and Niizeki Construction Co. said Takayama’s explanations are lies that only serve to justify his “fraudulent business,” noting that the building cleared inspections by the Setagaya Ward Office upon completion.
Regardless of motive, Takayama’s actions are welcomed by the cult itself.
In January, Joyu announced he had found a more permanent residence, while other Aum members said they would stay at Takayama’s apartments until their five-year contracts expire.
“When he offered us his apartments, I just could not believe it,” Aum spokesman Hiroshi Araki said.
Describing Takayama as a “person with his own creed,” Araki said his presence is “very encouraging” to the group. He added that Aum has been striving to gain acceptance from the communities they have lived in through dialogue.
While Aum members are not necessarily unaware of their landlord’s ulterior motive, they seem hesitant to express their doubts to Takayama after years of drifting.
The 38 Aum members who settled in Karasuyama have still not been granted residency status by Setagaya Ward and live without the social benefits that come with residency, such as health insurance.
“Considering what he did for us, I can’t say anything about his true intention,” one cultist said. “We are just so tired of being pushed around by our neighbors and local governments.”
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