National

Asahara’s No. 3 daughter writes on life during, after cult

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo

Rika Matsumoto, the 31-year-old daughter of Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara, who is on death row, realizes her father’s notoriety has made it impossible for her to live a normal life.

Instead, the third daughter of the guru has come forward in public with her own story, published in a memoir on March 20 — the 20th anniversary of the doomsday cult’s 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

Asahara, 60, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, has been sentenced to hang for a number of crimes, including masterminding the Tokyo sarin gas attack, which killed 13 people and left more than 6,000 injured.

As a child, Rika Matsumoto herself used to draw public attention as one of the highest-ranking disciples in the cult, called an “acharya,” a term derived from Sanskrit meaning a religious teacher or spiritual guide.

After her father was arrested when she was 12, her family broke up, and her mother, Tomoko, who was a senior Aum member, was convicted of murdering another follower. Asahara has reportedly fathered at least 15 children, six of them, including Rika, with Tomoko.

In a recent interview, Matsumoto said she has found it difficult even to find a place to live.

“High schools and colleges rejected me, and I was dismissed from part-time jobs once they knew who I was,” she said.

Rather than seeking to evade the public’s gaze, she recently produced her memoir for major publisher Kodansha Co., titled “Tomatta Tokei” (“A Clock That Has Stopped”), with a prominent picture of her on the cover.

In the book, she chronicles her life from the day she was born in 1983 to her treatment by the family and the cult, and her struggle to get into college to study psychology.

She also argues that her father, now a babbling prisoner unable to communicate even with his lawyers, has a mental illness and should undergo treatment so people can hear what he has to say about the crimes Aum perpetrated.

Matsumoto met her father, who uses a wheelchair, at the Tokyo Detention House in 2004 for the first time since his arrest in May 1995. Afterward she saw him nearly 30 times through 2008, but was “never able to communicate with him,” she said.

In November 2007, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations urged the detention facility to immediately have Asahara examined by a psychiatrist, saying he was suffering from a mental illness resulting from his long stint behind bars. Others, though, say he is faking illness to avoid being held liable for his crimes and to avoid being hanged.

The JFBA said failing to provide Asahara with medical attention violates his fundamental human rights.

“I do not intend to say my father is innocent, but I want to know the truth — if or how he was involved in the crimes,” Matsumoto said. “I want to hear from him in his own words what really happened.”

In the book, Matsumoto charts what she sees as the organizational flaws of Aum that led it down its anti-social path.

The cult became alienated from society because of the “lack of exposure to life among Aum followers, including high-level ones, and growing criticism” of some of its more unusual aspects, including the live-in system for followers, she said.

The cult gradually became blind to the outside world, with followers urging others to borrow money and make donations to the group, saying the debts would be canceled in the wake of what they thought was the coming Armageddon, Matsumoto writes.

Followers “gradually underestimated their ties with society,” she wrote.

“People in Aum depended, more or less, upon my father.”

They believed her father “would take care of them in the present world and even the afterworld. They believed he would assume complete responsibility for whatever they do,” she writes.

Aum renamed itself Aleph in 2000, but she decided not to join “as I could not place my hope in it,” partly because she found several differences between the new group and its predecessor, according to the book.

“Aum was just like my hometown, where I was raised by my father and his followers,” she said in the interview. “But I lost it when he was arrested.”

Aleph and another successor group, Hikari no Wa (Circle of Rainbow Light), are still under surveillance by the Public Security Intelligence Agency. While denying any intention to form her own religious group, Matsumoto said: “My father is still a person of religion to me. If people call my love of him ‘faith,’ that’s fine.”

She has broken off ties with her mother and some of her siblings. Asahara and his wife have four daughters and two sons.

In contrast, her younger sister recently said in an interview that “My father should absolutely be executed.”

In addition to her father, 12 former Aum members have been sentenced to death over the sarin attack and other crimes so far. Five others have been given life imprisonment.

The trials of some cultists are still in progress following the arrest of three in 2012 who had been on the run for years.

“I hope this society will be a place where even a daughter of Asahara can live her life,” Matsumoto said, looking back on her checkered life. “I will now think about what I can do as a person who was inside Aum in its turbulent days. For example, I may try to find out what happened to Aum members as a group.”

On the publication of the memoir, her editor at Kodansha said, “It is testimony by a woman who lived in a reclusive community, and valuable material on the Aum incidents that have not yet been fully explained.”