On a quiet hill dotted with summer cottages in the village of Oizumi, Yamanashi Prefecture, with Mount Fuji soaring above the southern Alps, a pair of geodesic domes are going up.
In late April, the weekly newsmagazine Shukan Bunshun began a series of articles calling the cottages “satyams,” a term the infamous Aum Shinrikyo coined for its residences. But these articles were about the cult Chino Shoho.
The articles appeared just as a mysterious group of people clad all in white began to attract nationwide media attention by wandering about central Japan in a caravan of white-painted vehicles, occasionally occupying mountain roads. The group called itself Pana Wave Laboratory and claimed to be Chino Shoho’s “scientific arm.”
Shukan Bunshun also speculated that the group was attempting to capture the popular stray seal Tama-chan from a river in Yokohama and bury it in their cottage compound in Oizumi.
The complex then came under constant monitoring by dozens of reporters seeking to uncover the connection between the landowner and Pana Wave — and what they had to do with the seal, which in March evaded capture by a U.S.-based animal protection group that had received financial support from the landowner, Chino Shoho member Eitaro Moriya.
The owner of a clothing retail chain of 12 stores in Niigata Prefecture, the 66-year-old Moriya began building the cottages last October. He said they were intended as a place where he and his wife and sons could spend their summers.
He said he wanted the villas to serve as quiet second homes, but the media frenzy and local residents’ fears over his connection with the group have stymied that plan.
As a senior follower of Chino Shoho, Moriya served as president of L.R. Publications in Tokyo, which has published books and magazines on messages by the cult’s founder, Yuko Chino, 69.
“We can no longer go out to restaurants in this village, as people look at us as if we are potential criminals,” Moriya said in an interview with The Japan Times. “What we believe and do may appear strange to the public, but why is it that a group that has not committed any crimes be subject to so much bashing?”
The roughly 40 members in the Pana Wave Laboratory caravan explained they were protecting Chino from electromagnetic waves and were moving from place to place to avoid them.
Moriya said the members dress in white from head to toe and drive white vehicles because this protects Chino from “persistent attacks by an unidentified enemy” armed with the “Scalar Wave,” which they also call “extended electromagnetic waves.”
Although Chino Shoho had no known connection with criminal activity, the cultists’ radical attire and Chino’s past doomsday messages meant it would not be long before the media associated it with Aum, whose members committed several heinous crimes, including the deadly 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system and a 1994 nerve gas attack.
‘Aum in its early days’
At the beginning of May, Hidehiko Sato, chief of the National Police Agency, said Pana Wave’s clothing and activities seem “fanatic” and resemble “Aum Shinrikyo in its early days.”
The intense media coverage that dogged the group’s every meandering move subsided once the Pana Wave caravan resettled at its headquarters in the city of Fukui in mid-May.
But Moriya said his business in Niigata suffered greatly after the local media featured photos and video footage of his shops there in their coverage of the cult.
“It has been more than a decade since our leader, Chino, began her exile, but (the caravan) previously had no trouble with the public or the media,” Moriya said. “I came to realize it is the essence of the media business to raise public hysteria.”
Moriya filed a suit against Shukan Bunshun late last month, demanding 10 million yen in damages.
To win local residents’ approval to stay in Oizumi, Moriya had to sign a written oath with the village office last month, promising he will never invite the all-white caravan and will allow villagers to look in on the cottages and use them for meetings and small events if they so wish.
The caravan also signed a similar oath with a residents’ group in Fukui, pledging not to host a large gathering at their headquarters and vowing to downsize the number of people living at the site from the current 50.
According to Moriya, Chino Shoho developed a distinctive identity under Yuko Chino, whom the cult regards as the “last messiah to succeed Buddha, Moses and Jesus.”
Though it is not registered as a publicly authorized religious organization, the sect has been around in one form or another since 1977, when Chino published her first book of messages.
Chino’s mother was a member of God Light Association, an occult group that expanded rapidly in the 1970s. After the group’s founder died in 1976, some of its members gathered under Chino to form a new cult.
Its publications say Chino is able to communicate with good spirits in celestial spheres. Her messages are distributed to members in the form of essays, articles and poems through the monthly magazine L.R.
Members of the group do not consider Chino Shoho a religion, arguing that it lacks collective discipline, never asks its members for donations and never encourages them to propagate their beliefs to outsiders.
The group currently has about 1,000 members who pay a 6,000 yen yearly subscription fee for the monthly magazine. About 200 of them, who have time or money, volunteer to carry out what Chino Shoho considers good deeds, such as joining the Pana Wave caravan, Moriya said.
Others lead regular lives and just read Chino’s message in the monthly magazine, he said.
UFOs, Satan, occult
In its publications, the group tries to explain scientifically Chino’s spiritual teachings. These sometimes include science fiction touches, such as references to UFOs, mentions of Atlantis, the occult tastes, as seen in comments on Satan and doomsday, and references to the Bible.
After Chino reportedly fell ill in the early 1990s, the group established Pana Wave Laboratory in Fukui in 1994 to conduct “scientific research on the Scalar Wave.” They believe electromagnetic waves are a key future energy source to replace fossil fuels and can be used as a weapon of mass-destruction, which, they claim, the United States and Russia have secretly developed as national projects.
Chino Shoho is also keen on conspiracy theories, claiming it has been attacked by communist agents and forces out to control the Scalar Wave.
It also runs an ultraconservative political organization and a mail-order firm for its members.
The strange combination of spiritualism, science fiction and political conservatism somehow coexist in the minds of the cultists, making it difficult for outsiders to share their views. The members said although their notions may appear strange, they are only exercising their freedom of thought and pose no threat to society.
Look out, Tama-chan
Their sphere of interest also includes the wayward seal.
“I guess we underestimated the popularity of Tama-chan,” said Moriya, who admitted he provided financial support for the failed operation to capture the seal in March.
Moriya said the operation was launched by a former member of Chino Shoho who “took very seriously (Yuko Chino’s) sympathy for the seal, which was living in polluted rivers.”
It was also based on advice from foreign environmentalists, he said, claiming the group had planned to take the seal to an aquarium in northern Japan with which it had been in contact.
Chino Shoho, Pana Wave and Aum Shinrikyo all embrace apocalyptic theories. Chino has often warned in her writings that doomsday is approaching, though the message sounds much less consistent and specific than the preachings of Aum guru Shoko Asahara, who is now on trial for mass murder.
The essence is that doomsday began in the 1970s and since then, every individual has been requested to follow their conscience before it is too late, according to Moriya’s 33-year-old son, also a Chino Shoho adherent.
Some members of the caravan also mentioned doomsday, reflecting their fear that the Scalar Wave, in the form of industrial pollutants, has been undermining the “Earth’s core,” the son said.
“Aum talked of doomsday to trigger public fears and boast its relevance, but have we ever attempted to appeal to the public for these purposes?” he asked.
Was police probe overkill?
On May 14, police launched a massive raid on Chino Shoho’s 12 facilities across the country, mobilizing about 250 investigators ostensibly to probe allegations that three Pana Wave vehicles had been falsely registered.
The suspected offense, widely seen as an excuse for police to gather information on the group, is that the cult had one of its former member register the vehicles under his name although they were to be used by the group.
Moriya said he and other key members of Chino Shoho have since been repeatedly questioned by police.
“After Aum, it seems both the government and public feel they can do anything they want to anyone they perceive as strange,” Moriya said. “But being unusual doesn’t necessarily mean being wrong, and I always believe what Chino says is right.”
The members claim Chino has long suffered from cancer as a result of constant electromagnetic wave attacks, and many of them believe she doesn’t have long to live.
“If our leader Chino passes away, we no longer need to wear white clothes, or to go on a journey of exile in the caravan,” Moriya’s son said.