The March 1995 sarin attack on Tokyo’s subway system perpetrated by the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo changed Shizue Takahashi forever. Had it not been for the attack, she would have continued on as an ordinary housewife who enjoyed making sweets.
The Japanese terrorist attack, which killed her husband and 12 other people and left more than 6,000 others injured, drove her to establish a support group for the victims and to speak publicly about her experience.
The 70-year-old representative has even moved the central government to act.
She is often asked how she can be so tough.
“For my husband,” she replies, noting that she is spending a day living that Kazumasa Takahashi could not.
On the morning of March 20, 1995, her husband, who was then the 50-year-old deputy stationmaster at Kasumigaseki Station, passed out after cleaning up plastic bags on a train that, unbeknownst to him, were used to release the deadly nerve agent sarin. He never woke up.
Takahashi kept asking herself, “Why did my husband have to die?”
She attended the Tokyo district and high court trials of the Aum defendants, including that of Aum founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.
In December 2011, when the trials of the cult’s major members concluded with the finalization of the life sentence of Seiichi Endo, 57, Takahashi sold her condo in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward, filled with memories of her husband, and discarded his belongings. She also said she would step down as representative of the victims and their families.
Takahashi, however, was stirred to action again in 2012 when three Aum fugitives were arrested, starting with 52-year-old senior member Makoto Hirata. Takahashi attended both the first and second trials of Hirata and Katsuya Takahashi, 59.
In a courtroom at the Tokyo District Court on March in 2015, when it was her turn to ask defendant Takahashi a direct question for the first time, she said in a calm tone of voice: “You’re a Takahashi too.”
The accused just kept looking down on the witness stand.
Crime victims became able to participate in trials in 2008 in response to calls from people including Shizue Takahashi. Takahashi also pushed for a law mandating that compensation be paid to crime victims and their families by the central government, arguing that the cult balked on its promise to pay redress to its victims.
When Takahashi was questioning Aum defendant Takahashi, she asked him whether there was anything he regrets. He only said: “I have regrets coming and going in my mind.”
Takahashi said after the court session that she wished the defendant had had a sense of remorse.
Having participated in the trials of Takahashi and Hirata as a victim, she plans to pass on her experience to younger generations. She plans to hold a discussion in March to give college students an opportunity to exchange opinions about the attack.
“I have the feelings of the Aum victims and their families on my shoulders,” Takahashi said at a news conference Friday. “I have not found a sense of peace yet.”
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