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Born: Chizuo Matsumoto
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Founder of Japan's Buddhist religious group Aum Shinrikyo
Number of victims: 12
Date of murders: March 20, 1995
Date of birth: March 2, 1955
Victims profile: Men and women (subway commuters)
Method of murder: Poisoning (Sarin gas)
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Status: Sentenced to death on February 27, 2004
photo gallery

Shoko Asahara (born Chizuo Matsumoto) on March 2, 1955) is the founder of Japan's controversial Buddhist religious group Aum Shinrikyo (now known as Aleph).

Asahara has been convicted of masterminding the 1995 Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway and several other crimes, and has been sentenced to death. His legal team appealed the sentence, but the appeal has been declined.

Early years

Asahara was born into a large, poor family of tatami mat makers in Japan's remote Kumamoto Prefecture. Afflicted at birth with infantile glaucoma, he was blind in his left eye and only partially sighted in his right. As a child, Asahara was enrolled in a school for the blind. Some anecdotes describe Asahara as a bully toward other students while in school.

Asahara graduated in 1977 and turned to the study of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. He married in 1978. His religious quest reportedly started in these early times, when he was intensely working to support his family. He dedicated his free time to the study of various religious concepts, starting with Chinese astrology and Taoism. Later, Asahara practiced Indian esoteric yoga and Buddhism.

Relatively little is known about this period of Asahara's life.

Relentless religious search

Asahara's attitude toward religion was not typical among Japanese people. While religion does not play a significant daily role in the lives of ordinary Japanese people, except on days of religious ceremonies such as funerals and weddings, Asahara's goal was to "achieve the ultimate enlightenment" mentioned in multiple ancient religious texts. He tried various schools, meditations and approaches in order to find an effective way to this enlightenment.

An example may be found in his pursuit of Agonshu, a Buddhist religious group which he joined in the early 1980s. The most serious of its religious practices was the practice of 1000 consecutive days of offerings. Those who offered money daily throughout this period were promised enlightenment. Despite the financial hardships, Asahara completed the course, but enlightenment never came.

He later recalled the story to his disciples to illustrate the importance of faith: despite serious doubts regarding the effectiveness of practice and the religious organization itself, he continued to the very last day.

Several years passed and Asahara's efforts started to bring results. He continued to live in a small one-room apartment in Tokyo's Shibuya district with his wife and two daughters. It was during that period that he gained the support of his first, most loyal disciples. He started to teach them yoga. Financial hardship continued to constrain his efforts, as Asahara refused to accept any payment for his coaching; this was contradictory to the religious principles he had been taught — specifically, that only those who have achieved enlightenment may accept material offerings.

Birth of Aum Shinrikyo

In 1987 Asahara returned from a visit to India and explained to his disciples that he had attained his ultimate goal: enlightenment. His closest disciples offered him money, which he could now accept, and Asahara used this money to organize an intensive yoga seminar that lasted several days and attracted many people interested in spiritual development. Asahara himself coached the participants, and the group quickly started to grow. At the time, there was no monastic order as such.

That same year Shoko Asahara officially changed his name, and applied for government registration of the group Aum Shinrikyo. The authorities were initially reluctant to grant the status of a religious organization, but eventually granted legal recognition after an appeal in 1989. After this, the monastic order was established and many of the lay followers decided to join.

Aum Shinrikyo: the doctrine

The doctrine of Aum Shinrikyo is based on original Buddhist sutras (scriptures) known as the Pali Canon. Other than the Pali Canon, Aum Shinrikyo uses other texts such as Tibetan sutras, Yoga-Sutra by Patanjali, and Taoist scriptures. The sutras are studied together with comments written by Shoko Asahara himself. The learning system (kyogaku system) has several stages: only those who complete a preliminary stage may advance to further steps if they successfully pass the examination.

Shoko Asahara has written many religious books. The best known are Beyond the Life and Death, Mahayana Sutra and Initiation.

Asahara's teachings stress the importance of ascetic practice, similar to those of a Kargyudpa — a Tibetan Buddhist school. Modern technology, such as computers and CD players, can be used to complement the ancient meditations.

To justify the achievement of a certain stage of religious practice, practitioners must demonstrate signs such as cessation of oxygen consumption, reduction of heart activity and changes in the electromagnetic activity of the brain. The intensive practice (retreat) rooms are equipped with corresponding sensors.

Tokyo subway gas attack, accusations, and trial

On March 20, 1995, members of Aum attacked the Tokyo Subway System with the nerve gas Sarin. Twelve commuters died, and thousands more suffered from after-effects. After finding sufficient evidence, authorities accused Aum Shinrikyo of complicity in the attack, as well as in a number of smaller-scale incidents. Tens of disciples were arrested, Aum's facilities were raided, and the court issued an order for Shoko Asahara's arrest. Asahara was discovered in a very small, completely isolated room of the building belonging to Aum, meditating.

Shoko Asahara faced 27 murder counts in 13 separate indictments. The prosecution argued that Asahara "gave orders to attack the Tokyo Subway", in order to "overthrow the government and install himself in the position of king of Japan". Several years later, the prosecution introduced another theory — that the attacks were ordered to "divert police attention" (from Aum).

The prosecution also accused Asahara of masterminding the Matsumoto incident and the Sakamoto family murder. According to Asahara's defense team, a group of senior followers initiated the atrocities, keeping them a secret from Asahara.

Some of the disciples testified against Asahara, and he was found guilty on 13 of 17 charges (three were dropped) and sentenced to death by hanging on February 27, 2004.

The trial has been referred to as the "trial of the century" by the Japanese media. Yoshihiro Yasuda, the most experienced attorney on Shoko Asahara's defence team, was arrested and was unable to participate in his legal defence, though he was subsequently acquitted before the end of the trial. Human Rights Watch criticized Yasuda's isolation. Asahara was defended solely by court-appointed lawyers.

Shortly after the beginning of the trial, Shoko Asahara cooperated with his defence counsel and provided explanations regarding the doctrine of Aum Shinrikyo, aims of the organization, and other matters. Later he resigned from the post of Aum Shinrikyo representative in order to defend the group from forceful dissolution. Since then, Asahara has ceased to speak even with his family members and supposedly spends his days in meditation. Media reports have referred to Asahara "sitting with eyes closed" or "incoherently mumbling" during his trial hearings.

The legal team appealed the ruling on the grounds that Asahara was mentally unfit, and psychiatric examinations were undertaken. During these examinations, conducted by a team of psychiatrists, Asahara began to talk. Although he answered just a few of their questions, his answers were precise and relevant, which convinced the examiners that Asahara was maintaining his silence out of free will (as stated in the report). The appeal was declined.

Further reading

  • Shoko Asahara (1988). Supreme Initiation: An Empirical Spiritual Science for the Supreme Truth. AUM USA Inc. ISBN 0-945638-00-0.—highlights the main stages of Yogic and Buddhist practice, comparing Yoga-sutra system by Patanjali and the Eightfold Noble Path from Buddhist tradition.

  • Shoko Asahara (1993). Life and Death. Shizuoka: Aum.—focuses on the process of Kundalini-Yoga, one of the stages in Aum's practice.

  • Berson, Tom. "Are We Ready for Chemical Warfare?" News World Communications 22 Sept. 1997

  • Brackett, D W. Holy Terror: Armageddon in Tokyo. 1st ed. New York: Weatherhill, 1996.

  • Head, Anthony. "Aum's Incredible Journey Towards Armageddon." Japan Quartery Oct.-Nov. 1996: 92-95.

  • Kiyoyasu, Kitabatake. "Aum Shinrikyo: Society begets an aberration." Japan Quarterly Oct. 1995: 376-383.

  • Lifton, Robert J. Destroying the World to Save It. 1st ed. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999.

  • Murakami, Haruki. Underground : The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche. New York: Vintage Books, 2001.

  • Watt, Paul B. "A Poisonous Cocktail? Aum Shinrikyo's Path to Violence." The Journal of Asian Studies Aug. 1997: 802-803.


The God of Poison

Internet Crime Archives

April 13, 2000 - Media reports revealed that the Aum Shinri Kyo may have known top government secrets as members were involved in developing key software for the navy. The report said a member of the doomsday cult took part in developing software to keep track of all of the forces of the Maritime Self Defence Forces. The reports deal yet another blow to the government's computer security management following revelations in February that Aum took part in installing a computer system at the defence ministry. While that system was not connected to the ministry's classified information and its implementation was postponed due to the finding, the navy's software had been in operation since last year, media reports said.

Aum, whose computer business has been a major source of its income, was also involved in developing software used by a number of government ministries and major companies.

March 9, 2000 -The Tokyo District Court ordered seven former senior members of the AUM Shinrikyo cult to pay compensation to 41 plaintiffs, including some injured in the 1995 Tokyo subway trains gas attack. The plaintiffs had sought a total of 668 million yen from 15 members of the cult. Six of the 15 defendants have already been ordered by the court to pay compensation and two others have agreed to accept the plaintiffs' demand. This new ruling order the seven remaining members to pay up. The case between the plaintiffs and AUM Shinrikyo ended in December 1997 and the cult paid about 244 million yen in compensation for victims of the Tokyo subway gassing during the cult's bankruptcy proceedings.

Last December, AUM first admitted its culpability in the gas attack and other crimes, apologizing to victims and announcing its intention to compensate them. Then in January, the cult announced it renamed itself Aleph.

December, 1999 - Prompted by fears the cult was making a comeback, Japan's parliament passed new laws in December enabling authorities to put the cult under surveillance for three years, by inspecting its sites and obliging the group to submit details of its members and assets to authorities. The laws do not specify Aum by name but target the activities of any group that has engaged in "indiscriminate mass murder" in the past 10 years.

March 15, 1999 - As the fourth anniversary of the deadly Tokoy subway gas attack approaches, there are signs the Aum Shinri Kyo cult is coming back to life. The group has been buying up houses and other real estate across Japan to set up new offices and meeting centers in what authorities describe as an ominous effort to re-establish itself. Police say members are once again preparing for the Armageddon, which according to Shoko Asahara, will be coming this year.

Aum was stripped of its legal status and tax privileges as a religious organization, but the government concluded it was no longer a threat and stopped short of using an anti-subversion law to ban it. So members can still assemble, spread their ideas and raise money. Using profits from sales of computers and computer parts, for instance, the cult last year bought at least $1.65 million in real estate. Authorities see the real estate deals as just one element in a broader and more disconcerting effort by Aum to expand in a year that is of special significance to Asahara's followers.

According to the guru's teachings, Judgment Day will come on either Sept. 2 or 3 and only cult members will survive. Possibly in preparation, investigators say, the cult has set up several offices or meeting places around the Tokyo Detention Center, where Asahara is being held while on trial. According to a recent report compiled by the government's Public Security Investigation Agency, Aum followers have been instructed to worship the jail as a "holy place."

December 26, 1998 - Japan's Public Security Investigation Agency released a report stating that the Aum Shinri Kyo religious cult is regrouping and recruiting new members. According to the agency's report, "Aum is actively attempting to bring back former members and recruiting new members on a nationwide basis, while initiating advertising campaigns and acquiring necessary capital."

December 23, 1998 - Investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons oversaw the destruction by Japanese authorities of the factory used by the Aum Shinri Kyo cult to make the nerve gas used in the 1995 attack on Tokyo's subway system.

October 23, 1998 - The Tokyo District Court sentenced former Aum leader Kazuaki Okazaki, 38, to death for murdering four people in two separate attacks -- the November 4, 1989 strangling of Tsutsumi Sakamoto, an anti-cult lawyer, his wife and their infant son, and the murder a cult member who had tried to quit the religious group in February 1989.

October 8, 1998 - According to Japanese authorities the Aum Shinrikyo is making a comeback. The cult, known for it's deadly forays into chemical warfare, is regrouping, recruiting new members at home and abroad, and raising vast sums of money.

Though the Tokyo district court deprived the Aum of its legal religious status in 1995 and liquidated its assets after declaring it insolvent the following year, the Japanese government decided that the Justice Ministry had not proved that the group posed an "immediate or obvious threat" to Japanese society. It rejected a request from security officials to outlaw the sect under a 1952 law against subversive activities. As a result, despite security experts' warnings, the Aum has used the decision to rebound back into circulation.

According to reports from Japanese security officials and independent experts, the group now has about 5,000 followers, including 500 "monks." It operates 28 installations at 18 branches throughout the country.

Despite being banned in Russia, the group is still active there, as well as in Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. It maintains encrypted Web sites and chat rooms in Japanese, English and Russian and controls a network of electronic, computer and other stores that generated about $30 million in revenues in 1997.

Still, the group's resurgence deeply troubles security officials, who say they monitor known followers and businesses 24 hours a day and continue searching for three of its leaders accused of involvement in earlier plots and deadly assaults. Signs of the group's resurgence abound. In May, more than 500 believers and others curious about the sect gathered at a resort near Mount Fuji to hear sermons and receive training in yoga, meditation and other activities. Security officials and private experts estimate that the group raised about 50 million yen, or about $350,000, from that meeting alone.

While the police say there is no evidence that the cult has resumed its efforts to make or buy weapons of mass destruction, the cult still worries them. Security officials expressed particular concern about the group's continued allure for young scientists, engineers and other well-educated people who might be able to reassemble an arms arsenal.

September 10, 1998 - The Tokyo High Court shaved six months off a seven-year jail term for the Aum Shinri Kyo cult member Eriko Iida, 37, convicted of helping abduct a man who later died. The court lowered the sentence after the Iida agreed to make compensation payments to another kidnapping victim of the doomsday cult.

June 12, 1998 - Takashi Tomita, a former member of the AUM Shirinkyo cult was sentenced to 17 years in prison for the deaths of seven people in a 1994 nerve gas attack in central Japan. Tomita, 40, admitted driving a vehicle equipped with a nerve-gas spraying device to a dormitory for court officials in Matsumoto. But he insisted he did not know the gas was lethal. The court, however, convicted him of conspiracy to commit murder.

May 27, 1998 - Japanese police said they unearthed eight cylinders containing 160 Kg. of hydrogen fluoride hidden on a mountain by members of the Aum Shinrikyo Investigators believed members of the sect buried the chemical in an attempt to conceal evidence the group produced sarin.

May 26, 1998 - Doomsday cult leader Ikuo Hayashi, 51, was spared the death penalty after being found guilty of murder in the nerve gas attack that killed 12 people on Tokyo's subways. In an unusually lenient sentence, Hayashi, a heart surgeon, was sentenced to life in prison, which means he will be able to apply for parole in about 20 years. In handing down the verdict Judge Megumi Yamamuro said Hayashi was criminally responsible for his actions but had shown he was sorry.

Prosecutors said Hayashi used electric shock to brainwash cult members and carried out plastic surgery on members' faces and fingertips to aid their escape from police. During his trail, a witness testified that in April 1990 the cult sent three trucks containing botulism microbes to spray clouds of mists on four sites, including American Navy operations in the city of Yokohama and the U.S. Navy base at Yokosuka.

May 15, 1998 - Tomoko Matsumoto, 39, the wife of Shoko Asahara, was jailed for seven years for participating with her husband in the plotting of the murder a fellow cult member.

April 30, 1998 - The AUM held a large meeting outside Tokyo raising fears that the group could be making a comeback. Japanese newspapers reported the meeting was mainly a fund raising event, saying the 200 members present paid up to $1,520 each to attend.

February 27, 1998 - The Tokyo District Court sentenced Aum Shinrikyo follower Makoto Goto to 10 years in prison for his involvement in the 1994 lynching of an errant cultist and the 1994 abduction of an innkeeper in Miyazaki Prefecture. Goto, 37, was found guilty of conspiring in the January 1994 slaying of Kotaro Ochida, 29, at the cult's compound in Kamikuishiki, Yamanashi Prefecture. According to the court, Goto and other cultists held Ochida down as the victim was strangled by Hideaki Yasuda.

In a related trial, prosecutors demanded a 10-year prison term for Tomoko Matsumoto -- Shoko's wife -- for conspiring in the 1994 lynching of Kotaro Ochida. Matsumoto pleaded innocent claiming she was not involved even though she was present when he was killed. According to prosecutors, she was the only person who could have challenged the guru's orders.

Throughout her trial, which began in December 1995, Matsumoto has stressed that, although she is married Asahara', she had no power over him. She said she was always worried about her husband's extramarital affair with another senior cultist. Queen of the fair-weathered-wife club, Tomoko told the court that she is considering divorcing the portly Shoko.

As for Shoko, his trial session was postponed because the he has been suffering a cold and high fever and has not been able to eat anything.

December 25, 1997 - A court-appointed trustee for the bankrupt Supreme Truth cult agreed to pay survivors and the families of those killed in the Tokyo subway gas attack a total of up to 1.12 billion yen ($8.62 million) in damages. Since the cult is under heaps of debt and there are so many other claims on its assets, the victims might end up with only 20 percent of what they won, a court official said. The settlement, mediated by the Tokyo District Court, wrapped up suits by 42 survivors and the families of the 12 people killed in the March 1995 attack in the Tokyo subways.

December 3, 1997 - Japanese prosecutors said on they would take the extremely rare step of speeding up the snail-paced murder trials of the doomsday cult guru Shoko Asahara. "The prolongation of Asahara's trials would sharply amplify public distrust in Japan's criminal justice," deputy chief prosecutor Kunihiro Matsuo told a news conference. "This is also an extremely serious issue in terms of maintaining order.

The prosecutors office said it would drastically reduce the number of people listed in the indictments as "injured" in the two separate gas attacks so that they could shorten court proceedings. The number of victims on whom prosecutors would need to present evidence and examine as witnesses would be slashed to only 18 from 3,938, thus cutting the length of the trial by up to eight years.

October 8, 1997 - The United States designated the Aum Shinrikyo and 29 other foreign groups as terrorist organizations.

September 8, 1997 - Lawyers for the portly cult guru grilled Kiyohide Hayakawa in the Tokyo Municipal Court about the events leading to the November 1989 murders of the anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family. According to Shoko's legal team the blind guru did not order his disciples to do the killings but that the cultists misinterpreted his words and acted on their own.

September 7, 1997 - Three monuments for the murdered lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife, and their one-year-old baby, were unveiled at the respective sites where their remains were found. Each body was found buried in a separate mountain locations in central Japan -- Nadachi in the Niigata Prefecture, Uozu in Toyama Prefecture and Omachi in Nagano Prefecture. The building of the monuments was financed by Japanese lawyers groups and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

September 5, 1997 - Testifying at the 48th hearing of Shoko's trial at the Tokyo District Court, Kiyohide Hayakawa, the former "construction minister" and de facto No. 2 man of the cult, said: "There was no person other than Asahara who could order 'poa,' for he was thought of as the Buddha." The 'poas' (murder in Sanskrit) in question were the killings of Yokohama lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family, as well as former cult member Shuji Taguchi.

August 26, 1997 - The Japanese Public Security Investigation Agency announced that the AUM has regained its organizational strength and expanded its activities since it was spared disbandment in January under the Antisubversive Activities Law. The group has established 10 new "departments" and reopened five regional chapters and one training center. Presently they have 26 facilities in Japan with about 500 live-in followers and some 5,000 others living on their own. Authorities suspects the cult has threatened former followers to rejoin, telling them they would go to hell or have to cut their fingers off if they don't.

July 7, 1997 - Former cultist Masahiro Tominaga testified at the Tokyo District Court that in June, 1994 Yoshinobu Aoyama -- a lawyer for the AUM --- planned to ship 21 tons of sarin nerve gas to the U.S. in ice and/or concrete sculptures. The attack, of course, was never carried out.

Tominaga, 28, also said the Tokyo subway attack was part of a holy war aimed at overthrowing Japan's government and installing Shoko Asahara as "king of Japan."

June 25, 1997 - Dubbed the "murder machine" of the AUM by Japanes media, Yasuo Hayashi pleaded guilty to murder charges in the Tokyo subway gassing. The last of five cult members accused in the attack to be arrested, Yasuo alone is believed to be responsible for eight of the 12 deaths and for about half the injuries.

Hayashi, 39, admitted in his first day at the Tokyo District Court that he stabbed three plastic bags containing sarin nerve gas with a sharpened tip of an umbrella inside a subway car. He also pleaded guilty to murder charges stemming from the Matsumoto nerve gas attack in June 1994, as well as a failed attempt to release cyanide gas in a Tokyo railway station in May 1996.

May 22, 1997 In what is now routine, Shoko Asahara was ordered not to interrupt court proceedings after he stood up during his trial and shouted, "I'm Shoko Asahara." The portly death cult guru also kept muttering while witnesses were testifying on allegations that he ordered the 1989 killings of Tsutsumi Sakamoto, an anti-cult lawyer, and his family.

April 24, 1997 In a barely intelligible statement Shoko Asahara said that he is not guilty of ordering the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system or any other crime he's been charged with. "I issued an order to stop (the attack) but was defeated (by my disciples)," Asahara told the Tokyo District Court. The statement was Asahara's first for the court record since his trial began a year ago. He also said that he "never ordered" the death of Tsutsumi Sakamoto, a Yokohama lawyer representing families who wanted to help their relatives leave the cult.

During the two-hour morning session Shoko addressed -- in Japanese and English -- nine of the 17 criminal counts against him. As usual, he started mumbling as soon as he took the defendant's seat and continued to mutter to himself while a prosecutor took 15 minutes to read out a summary of the indictments. On the witness stand Shoko switched from Japanese to English as he continued his "stream of conscience" defense. Court stenographers appeared at a loss when Asahara spoke in English. But even in Japanese, it was hard to discern his words.

By the end of his statement, Asahara claimed he has already been found not guilty in 16 of the 17 charges. He claimed that an order for his release had already been handed down because he has been detained for more than one year since his arrest. After listening to the statement, one of his lawyers asked him whether he recognizes that his trial is still continuing. Asahara said in English: "They say this is a court, but I think this is like a play."

April 23, 1997 - Yoshihiro Inoue, the cult's former intelligence chief, testified that the cult paid about $79,000 to Oleg Lobov, a former Russian security chief, for the blueprints of how to build a nerve gas plant. Police said they have evidence that cult experts made repeated trips to Russia, Australia and other countries to study the feasibility of obtaining a wide range of weapons and dangerous materials, including tanks and uranium.

April 16, 1997 - Japanese national Keiji Tanimura, a member of a Russian branch of the Aum Shinri Kyo, was arrested in Moscow and charged with distributing pornography and encroaching on citizens' rights.

In what seems to be an official crackdown on the cult, the arrest follows the February arrest of Ando Re, the co-leader of the cult's Russian branch. In March a Moscow judge closed down the Russian branches of the sect -- six in Moscow and seven in other cities -- and ordered a stop to radio and TV broadcasts of its programs. The judge also demanded the sect's Russian representatives to pay $4 million in punitive damages to a group of parents who sued it in June 1994.

April 10, 1997 - Judge Fumihiro Abe of the Tokyo District Court told Shoko Asahara to be prepared to comment on all charges against him and enter a plea at the April 24 session of his trial. Asahara responded to the judge's request by mumbling unintelligibly.

April 6, 1997 - In apparent response to the defense lawyers' one-day court boycott, the Tokyo District Court said it will cancel one of April's four scheduled court appearances for doomsday cult leader Shoko Asahara.

March 29, 1997 - Kazuo Konya, a former member of the Aum, told the Tokyo Municipal Court that in an 1988 initiation ritual he paid $8,100 to drink their guru's blood. Other former cult members have also testified they paid for blood, strands of Asahara's hair and his bath water. Some said they paid $2,400 for an intravenous injection of an unknown substance. Ironically, all throughout, Asahara preached to his followers that they should renounce materialism.

March 27, 1997 - The 12 defense lawyers for Shoko Asahara -- after skipping a March 14 court session to protest what they regard as too many court appearances too close together -- ended their one-day boycott and returned to work.

In court, Atsushi Toda, a Tokyo city official whose office approves religious corporations, testified on his run-ins with the cult. As usual, Asahara murmured to himself and was chided by his lawyers as he got louder, disturbing the witness.

March 20, 1997 - The two-year anniversary of the Tokyo subway Sarin gas attack that left 12 dead was commemorated at the Kasumigaseki Station by a group of survivors and relatives of the victims by handing out 500 copies of a 44-page compilation of their memories of how the tragedy unfolded.

"Those around us think it's history," said 50-year-old Shizue Takahashi, whose husband, Kazumasa, 51, an employee of the Teito Rapid Transit Authority, was killed in the attack while working at Kasumigaseki Station. "We just want people to know that many of us are still tormented, and that it could have happened to anyone." According to recent data compiled by Tokyo's St. Luke International Hospital, about 20 percent of the survivors who were treated there still show symptoms of disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Because medical services were not capable at the time of diagnosing such psychological damage, members of the victims' group claim that many of the sufferers have not been able to receive adequate medical attention.

March 19, 1997 - Satoru Hirata, 31, an ex-member of the Aum Shinri Kyo, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for attacking three perceived enemies of the cult with VX nerve gas resulting in one death, and helping in the February, 1995, kidnapping and murder of the notary clerk Kiyoshi Kariya.

Hirata and other cult members were accused of abducting Kariya -- who was reportedly trying to convince his sister not to give the cult all her assets -- and imprisoning him at their commune near Mount Fuji, where he died after being drugged.

March 14, 1997 - As warned, lawyers defending Shoko Asahara boycotted his trial saying they had not enough time to prepare their case. The demanded that their four court sessions per month be cut to three for Shoko to get a fair trial. Backing their position, they declared they were prepared to defend him for 10 years if necessary.

March 6, 1997 - The lawyers defending Shoko Asahara said they wanted to quit the case because they are not being given enough time to prepare for trial sessions. The trial has been proceeding at a pace of two all-day sessions every two weeks. However, most criminal trials in Japan tend to be even slower.

"This is our way of bitterly criticizing the basic attitude of the court toward this case, and the way it is being conducted," the frustrated lead defense attorney Osamu Watanabe told reporters. The 12 lawyers did not say why they need more time, but acknowledged that part of the problem was Asahara himself, who refuses to meet with them and keeps getting himself thrown out of court. According to Watanabe, the lawyers plan to boycott the Tokyo District Court starting in April unless Judge Abe slows down the pace.

February 14, 1997 - For the second day in a row another former high ranking member of the cult testified that Shoko Asahara ordered his lieutenants to murder lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family. Also for the second day in a row, the miffed guru was ejected from the courtroom.

Corroborating Kazuaki Okazaki's testimony, Kiyohide Hayakawa, 47, another former close aide to Asahara, testified that the blind guru ordered the murder of the Sakamotos because the attorney would "get in the way" of future cult activities. Sakamoto had been representing families of cult members who wanted to retrieve their loved ones and their money from the cult. Like Okazaki, Hayakawa admitted in his own Tokyo District Court trial that he was one of six cultists who took part in the November 4, 1989, death squad.

In what's become trademark behavior for the portly guru, Asahara mumbled incoherently and continually interrupted the testimony. At one point he turned to the gallery and said, "You are all hypnotized." He also told the court that as long as he was kept from entering a plea, the trial would be invalid. "Therefore, let me leave." 40 minutes after the session began the presiding judge did just that. As he was being escorted out of the courtroom he shouted, "I am being raped and abused, everyone can hear that."

February 14, 1997 - Following the large-scale investigation of the cult, police have been trying to locate a total of 54 followers who have been reported missing by their relatives. According to the National Police Agency, 18 members were confirmed to have died at a medical facility affiliated with the cult. Four others died at other hospitals. Eight followers were killed in "accidents during training." Six more are believed to have died at the hands of colleagues already indicted on murder. Only eight missing cultists were confirmed as being alive. Leaving 10 unaccounted for cultist, seven of which -- as suggested by their incarcerated leaders -- are possibly already dead.

February 13, 1997 - Kazuaki Okazaki, A former high-ranking cult member testified that Asahara ordered the November 4, 1989, murders of anti-cult lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and their 1-year-old son, in a meeting 24 hours before the killings.

The disgruntled ex-cult member said the portly guru ordered his followers to "poa" Sakamoto, which, in cult speak meant moving to a higher level of consciousness. However, for non cult members it "meant to separate his soul from his body. It meant to kill him."

Asahara immediately disputed the testimony, shouting to Okazaki, "You're not supposed to tell lies," and -- for the fourth time in the proceedings -- was thrown out of the courtroom.

Okazaki then testified he and the five other cultist broke into Sakamoto's apartment and murdered the family. They buried the bodies in three different locations in central Japan. When they returned to the cult's headquarters Asahara told them, "I am guilty as well, and we will all get the death sentence."

January 30, 1997 - The portly doomsday cult guru accused one of his former disciples of directing the 1995 Tokyo subway nerve gas attacks. "Yoshihiro Inoue was the leader in this case. Why do other people have to be arrested as accomplices?"

Inoue, the former "intelligence minister" of the Aum had testified two weeks earlier that Asahara indeed had masterminded the attacks. Inoue recalled being angered by a newspaper article that described how Asahara told police his disciples had carried out the subway attack on their own.

The cantankerous guru then demanded to be allowed to enter a plea, which he previously had refused to do. Judge Fumio Abe told him to make his plea at the proper time, not in the middle of the testimony of a witness. Later Asahara was ejected from the courtroom for talking and being a nuisance.

January 30, 1997 - An independent panel rejected the Japanese government's proposal to ban the doomsday cult saying the group no longer posed an "imminent danger" to society. However, the panel said the Aum remained potentially dangerous and its activities should be kept under strict surveillance.

January 15, 1997 - The Japanese government signaled that it would step back from invoking the never-before used Antisubversive Activities Law to outlaw the Aum.

January 6, 1997 - Following a purification ritual workers began demolishing the former headquarters of the AUM Supreme Truth at base of Mt. Fuji.

December 20 - The Tokyo District Court ordered eight members of the Aum Shinrikyo to pay 100 million yen in compensation for killing four people in the sarin gas attack in June, 1994, in Matsumoto.

December 11, 1996 - A former Ground Self-Defense Force officer who was a member of the religious cult Aum Supreme Truth was arrested for allegedly planting a bomb in Tokyo in March 1995.

December 9, 1996 - According to documents released by authorities, doomsday cult guru Shoko Asahara confessed last year to the police to ordering the murder of an anti-cult lawyer and his family.

December 3, 1996 - Tokyo Police arrested Yasuo Hayashi, 38, the most wanted member of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult still at large. Police were anxious to find Hayashi because he is suspected of placing nerve gas on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

Authorities had posted his picture and life-size models of him in train stations and post offices throughout the country. Police said Hayashi was accompanied by another Aum follower, Eiko Obora, 27, who was arrested on charges of helping hide a fugitive.

November 21, 1996 - The Aum opened to reporters what has been dubbed the cult's "new hideout" by the Public Security Investigation Agency. The two rooms in a four-story office complex in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward are now the Aum's public relations office and accommodations. A definite step down from their sprawling Mt. Fuji complex they recently vacated.

November 21, 1996 - Toru Toyoda, a cult physicist and ex disciple of the portly guru testified at the Tokyo District Court that Asahara gave the orders for the March, 1995, subway gas attack. As Toyoda testified that at the time he believed that the gas was intended to save people's souls, the guru, complaining of a fever, was not allowed to leave the courtroom, as he requested repeatedly through his lawyer.

November 14 , 1996 - Two Aum Shinrikyo fugitives were arrested in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture. Zenji Yagisawa turned himself in, saying he was tired of life as a fugitive. He provided information that led to the apprehension of Koichi Kitamura. Yagisawa is suspected of playing a key role in the bungled cyanide gas attack at Shinjuku Station in May 1995. Kitamura was wanted for alleged involvement in the Tokyo subway attack.

October 26, 1996 - Japanese media reported that investigators who heard a Tokyo police officer confess to shooting the country's top police official tried to keep the admission a secret.

October 25, 1996 - A 31-year-old officer, whose name has not been released, said he was a member of the Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult and that cult leaders had ordered him to kill Takaji Kunimatsu, the chief of Japan's National Police Agency.

Kunimatsu was shot and wounded outside his Tokyo apartment building on March 30, 1995, 10 days after a deadly nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. Kunimatsu was rushed to a hospital unconscious, but recovered after undergoing an eight-hour operation.

October 24, 1996 - In a fit of apocalyptic rage, Shoko Asahara was reportedly placed in protective custody after going berserk in his jail cell. Apparently Shoko had to be restrained after he repeatedly screamed and banged on his cell walls.

October 18, 1996 - In his latest court appearance, Shoko Asahara, Japan's portly doomsday guru, said the gods had spoken to him and told him they don't want Yoshihiro Inoue, a former senior leader of the cult, to take the stand. Shoko proceeded to shoulder full responsibility for the attacks in an attempt to stop the cross-examination by the defense which, the gods said, would harm the Inoue's soul. Caught by surprise, his lawyers didn't know how to explain his sudden admittance of guilt.

In a strangely talkative mood, the blind guru added: "I feel bitter thinking about the suffering people would face by tormenting such a great soul as Inoue." When Inoue approached the witness stand, Asahara abruptly said to him: "I may appear to be mentally disturbed, but will you try to float from where you are?"

Toward the end of the session, Asahara began twitching and asked that he be allowed to sit in the lotus position. The judge rejected the request. Then he started holding his head prompting the defense to explain that, "the defendant told us his head has been in danger of exploding since this morning, so he was trying to hold it down with his hands."

Asahara's convulsions got progressively worse and he started bouncing in his seat precipitating an early end to the hearing.

August 9, 1996 - Japanese authorities began the demolition of three buildings in the doomsday cult's facilities at the foot of Mt. Fuji. This Aum complex in the Yamanashi Prefecture includes the chemical plant where the sarin used in the 1995 subway attack was allegedly produced.

August 7, 1996 - The Tokyo District Court ordered Aum founder Shoko Asahara to pay 163 million yen in damages to the family of a public notary clerk allegedly killed by the cult.

July 25, 1996 - Bankruptcy administrators of the Aum closed three buildings at the Aum's main compound near Mt. Fuji in the Yamanashi Prefecture after all followers vacated the premises.

July 25, 1996 - Japanese police announced its continuing investigating 28 cases of Aum Shinrikyo members who are listed as missing or died of undetermined causes. Most of the 10 cultists missing disappeared in 1994. Some Aum members told police they were involved in "disposing of the bodies," but investigators have been unable to uncover evidence to prove their claims

The death certificates of 18 members who died at cult facilities were all prepared by Aum doctors. Police so far have investigated six deaths as homicides, and treated four as death from illnesses. Eight others are believed to have been accidents.

July 23, 1996 - Japanese academics and lawyers protested the Public Security Investigation Agency's move to apply the Antisubversive Activities Law against Aum Shinrikyo.

July 16, 1996 - Kozo Fujinaga, a top cult member, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for helping build the cult's sarin factory and modifying a car used to release the poisonous gas in the June 1994 attack in Matsumoto.

July 11, 1996 - Shoko Asahara again refused to enter a plea after six criminal cases against him were read by prosecutors. The cases include the 1995 kidnapping of a Tokyo notary public who allegedly died in captivity. Since the begining of his trial Shoko has refused to enter pleas in all 17 cases against him.

July 11, 1996 - The Japanese Justice Ministry and the Public Security Investigation Agency submitted a request to the Public Security Commission to have the Antisubversive Activities Law applied to the Aum Shinrikyo.

June 12, 1996 - 52-year-old Mitsuo Okada died in a Tokyo hospital after being in a coma since last year's nerve gas attack. His death raises the official death toll to 12 for the gas attack on five crowded subway lines.

May 16, 1996 - In his second court appearance the blind cult leader was charged with killing seven and wounding 144 people in a 1994 trial gas attack in Matsumoto, a town north of Tokyo. Prosecutors also presented evidence showing that the doomsday leader ordered his disciples to build a sarin plant to produce 70 tons of the lethal Nazi-invented gas. He also ordered the production of 1,000 automatic rifles and one million bullets in preparation for an attempt to topple the Japanese Government.

April 25, 1996 - In the opening day of his trial, Shoko Asahara, the leader of the deadly cult Aum Shinrikyo, refused to enter a plea to charges of masterminding the March 20, 1995 gas attack in the Tokyo subway that killed 11 people and sickened 4,000 others.

December 15 1995 - Japanese Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama approved the use of a Cold War law to disband the Aum Shinrikyo. Justice Minister Hiroshi Miyazawa said the cult posed a public safety threat due to its anti-state ideology and stockpiles of weapons and toxic chemicals. Many lawyers and social activist view the government's action as unconstitutional.


Shoko Asahara & Aum Supreme Truth (18+)

This apocalyptic sect and its charismatic, blind leader are suspected of releasing Sarin gas in five Tokyo subway stations the morning of March 20, 1995, killing 11 people and sickening more than 5,500 others. The religious cult is also suspected of a similar gas attack in June, 1994 in Matsumoto, a town north of Tokyo, that killed seven people and wounded 144. Furthermore they are suspected of a series of slayings and kidnappings of anti-cult activists and preparing to overthrow the Japanese government all in the name of "good karma."

Asahara justified indiscriminate mass murder through the religious belief "poa" -- a Tibetan Buddhist term for reincarnation to a higher existence. According to Shoko's twisted doomsday teachings, one can only save their soul through killing. Asahara taught his followers that a "poa" killing relieved victims from everyday life and the inevitable accumulation of more bad karma. Thus what we call cold blooded murder was regarded "as a beautiful 'poa,' and wise people would see that both the killer and the person killed would benefit."

In 1994 Shoko, seeing that his cult was entangled in all types of legal difficulties, ordered his disciples to mass produce deadly nerve gas and test its power in the streets of Matsumoto. It was the start of a doomsday plot to wipe out untold numbers of innocent people and his first volley in a war against the police and the Japanese government. The objective of the attack was to kill several judges staying at a courthouse dormitory who were due to rule against the sect in a property lawsuit. Seven people died and 144 were injured in the experiment. However, nothing happened to the judges.

Under Asahara's command, the doomsday cult built a sarin plant to produce 70 tons of the lethal Nazi-invented gas in order to wipe out the population of entire cities. On the side he also had plants manufacturing barbiturates and truth serum. Furthermore, he ordered the production of 1,000 automatic rifles and one million bullets in preparation for his war against the Japanese Government. Not the humble type, Asahara demanded that his followers treat him as a "living incarnation of God." He also allowed them, at a steep price, to drink his bathing water which would be a sure way to cleanse their souls. Shoko also had a habit of kidnapping and executing anti-cult activist. Prosecutors described how one rebel cult member, Kotaro Ochida, was strangled while Asahara looked on.

During the opening day of his trial the blind visionary's only words were: "I have nothing to say." Later he appeared to doze off and one of his lawyers had to wake him up. If convicted the blind doomsday cult leader could be sent to the gallows. Virtually all of the other top cult members- including Shoko's wife- have been arrested for crimes ranging from misdemeanours to helping to carry out the Tokyo subway murders. Until his arrest, the portly cultist predicted that the world would soon come to an end and only the Aum Supreme Truth would survive. Until then, they will all be in jail waiting for the apocalypse.


Court sentences Aum's Hayakawa to death

Yomiuri Shimbun

The Tokyo District Court on Friday sentenced former Aum Supreme Truth cult member Kiyohide Hayakawa to death for his role in two murder cases, including the 1989 killing of a lawyer and his family.

Presiding Judge Kaoru Kanayama said Hayakawa, 51, bore heavy responsibility for his role in both cases because he adhered to the cult's doctrine by which cult members justified committing crimes in defense of the cult.

Hayakawa already has appealed against the sentence to a higher court.

Cult members murdered the lawyer, Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife Satoko, and their 1-year-old son Tatsuhiko, at their home in Yokohama in November 1989.

Six cult members were indicted in the murder of the Sakamotos, including Hayakawa and the 45-year-old leader of the cult, Chizuo Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara.

Hayakawa, who was a senior member of the cult, is the third person to have received the death sentence in the case, following former senior cult member Kazuaki Okazaki, 39, and cult member Satoru Hashimoto, 33.

The judge said Asahara ordered Hayakawa and the others to kill Sakamoto and his family. The ruling recognized that the cult leader had masterminded the murder of the family, by assigning each of the members of the cult involved a specific role in the killings.

"The fact that the cult members killed all Sakamoto's family members for the sake of murdering the lawyer shows they had little respect for the lives of people outside the cult," the judge said.

The judge said the killings were systematic and premeditated because the cult members had to quickly change their original plan, which was to kill Sakamoto on his way home. However, the lawyer arrived home later than expected and so the cult members instead broke into his home while the lawyer and his family were asleep.

According to the ruling, Hayakawa was the first person to break into the house and made a signal to the other cult members to enter the Sakamotos' bedroom. The judge said he pinned down the lawyer's legs and strangled his wife Satoko.

Touching upon the allegation that Hayakawa and other cult members ignored Satoko's plea not to kill her baby, the judge said, "Hayakawa was lacking in morals and it was very cruel of him to do that."


AUM cultist sentenced to death for sarin attack

June 30, 2000

A former AUM Shinrikyo executive was sentenced to death Thursday for his leading role in the 1995 sarin gas attacks on Tokyo subways that killed 12 and sickened thousands.

Yasuo Hayashi, 42, a high-ranking member of the cult accused of killing eight people in the attack, received the death penalty for his actions in his sentencing at the Tokyo District Court.

During the trial, Presiding Judge Kiyoshi Kimura said that Hayashi had committed the crime with the intention of advancing his own interests in the cult, and acknowledged that he had played a leading role.

"His motives were selfish and conceited. The responsibility of the accused is indeed great, and he can face nothing but the maximum penalty," Kimura said as he handed down the ruling.

Hayashi, a senior member of the cult's science and technology section, earlier told the court he had expected to receive the death sentence for the crimes.

"I believe I will be sentenced to death regardless of my motives for the crimes," he was quoted as saying.

He also accepted the term "killing machine," as appropriate in light of his actions.

"When I look objectively at what I've done, I can see that I am just that," he said in reference to the term.

According to the ruling, Hayashi boarded a Hibiya Line train on March 20, 1995 with three bags filled with liquid sarin. After puncturing the bags with an umbrella, he got off at Akihabara Station, leaving the liquid to run onto the floor of the carriage, the judge said.

Hayashi said that as soon as he punctured the bags, he began hoping that the sarin would not have its desired effect.

Asked why he had taken a third bag of the liquid onto the train while other cult members took only two, the accused said, "If I refused, someone else would have had to take it."

Lawyers representing Hayashi defended his actions, saying he was simply following orders - under threat of death - of cult leader Shoko Asahara. They insisted that if Hayashi had defied Asahara's orders in the sarin attack, he would have been murdered by cult members.

Hayashi was one of five members of the doomsday cult accused of being directly involved in the gassing and the second member to be handed the death penalty.

Last September, the court sentenced Masato Yokoyama, 36, to death for his involvement in the attack. Ikuo Hayashi, a 53-year-old cult member, also was sentenced to life imprisonment in May 1998 for his supporting role in the crime.

Toru Toyoda and Kenichi Hirose, two other cult members who prosecutors say should receive the death penalty for their role in the gassing, are to be sentenced July 17.


The Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, usually referred to in the Japanese media as the subway sarin incident (地下鉄サリン事件, chikatetsu sarin jiken) was an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by members of Aum Shinrikyo on March 20, 1995.

In five coordinated attacks, the conspirators released sarin gas on several lines of the Tokyo Metro, killing twelve people, severely injuring fifty and causing temporary vision problems for nearly a thousand others. The attack was directed against trains passing through Kasumigaseki and Nagatacho, home to the Japanese government. This was (and remains, as of 2007) the most serious attack to occur in Japan since the end of the Second World War.


AUM Shinrikyo (オウム真理教, literally, "AUM the True Teaching") is the former name of a controversial group now known as Aleph.

The name AUM Shinrikyo derives from the Hindu syllable "aum" (pronounced "ohm") meaning "powers of creation and destruction of a universe," and the Japanese words "shinri" ("truth") and "kyō" ("teaching," "doctrine").

In 2000, after the attack, the organization changed its name to Aleph, which is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Their logo has also changed. Despite this, the group is still commonly referred to as AUM.

The Japanese police initially reported that the attack was the cult's way of hastening an apocalypse. The prosecution said that it was an attempt to bring down the government and install Shoko Asahara, the group's founder, as the "emperor" of Japan.

The most recent theory proposes that the attack was an attempt to divert attention from AUM when the group obtained some information indicating that police searches were planned (though contrary to this plan, it ended up leading to mass searches and arrests). Asahara's defence team claimed that certain senior members of the group independently planned the attack, but their motives for this are left unexplained.

Main perpetrators

Ten men were responsible for carrying out the attacks; five released the sarin, while the other five served as get-away drivers.

The teams were:

  • Ikuo Hayashi ( 郁夫 Hayashi Ikuo) and Tomomitsu Niimi (新見 智光 Niimi Tomomitsu)

  • Kenichi Hirose (広瀬 健一 Hirose Ken'ichi) and Koichi Kitamura (北村 浩一 Kitamura Kōichi)

  • Toru Toyoda (豊田 Toyoda Tōru) and Katsuya Takahashi (高橋 克也 Takahashi Katsuya )

  • Masato Yokoyama (横山 真人 Yokoyama Masato) and Kiyotaka Tonozaki (外崎 清隆 Tonozaki Kiyotaka)

  • Yasuo Hayashi ( 泰男 Hayashi Yasuo, no relation to Ikuo Hayashi) and Shigeo Sumimoto (杉本 繁郎 Sugimoto Shigeo)

Ikuo Hayashi

Prior to joining AUM, Hayashi was a senior medical doctor with "an active 'front-line' track record" at the Japanese Ministry of Science and Technology. Himself the son of a doctor, Hayashi graduated from Keio University, one of Tokyo's top schools. He was a heart and artery specialist at Keio Hospital, which he left to become head of Circulatory Medicine at the National Sanatorium Hospital in Tokai, Ibaraki (north of Tokyo).

In 1990, he resigned his job and left his family to join AUM in the monastic order Sangha, where he became one of Asahara's favourites and was appointed the group's Minister of Healing, as which he was responsible for administering a variety of "treatments" to AUM members, including sodium pentothal and electric shocks to those whose loyalty was suspect. These treatments resulted in several deaths. Hayashi was later sentenced to life imprisonment.

Tomomitsu Niimi, who was his get-away driver, received the death sentence.

Kenichi Hirose

Hirose was thirty years old at the time of the attacks. Holder of a postgraduate degree in Physics from prestigious Waseda University, Hirose became an important member of the group's Chemical Brigade in their Ministry of Science and Technology. Hirose was also involved in the group's Automatic Light Weapon Development scheme.

After releasing the sarin, Hirose himself showed symptoms of sarin poisoning. He was able to inject himself with the antidote (atropine sulphate) and was rushed to the AUM-affiliated Shinrikyo Hospital in Nakano for treatment. However, medical personnel at the given hospital had not been given prior notice of the attack and were consequently clueless regarding what treatment Hirose needed. When Kitamura faced the fact that he had driven Hirose to the hospital in vain, he instead drove to AUM's headquarter in Shibuya where Ikuo Hayashi gave Hirose first aid.

Hirose's appeal of his death sentence was rejected by the Tokyo High Court on Wednesday, July 28, 2003.

Koichi Kitamura was his get-away driver.

Toru Toyoda

Toyoda was twenty-seven at the time of the attack. He studied applied physics at Tokyo University's Science Department and graduated with honours. He also holds a master's degree, and was about to begin doctoral studies when he joined AUM, where he belonged to the Chemical Brigade in their Ministry of Science and Technology.

Toyoda was sentenced to death. The appeal of his death sentence was rejected by the Tokyo High Court on Wednesday, July 28, 2003, and he remains on death row.

Katsuya Takahashi was his get-away driver.

Masato Yokoyama

Yokoyama was thirty-one at the time of the attack. He was a graduate in applied physics from Tokai University's Engineering Department. He worked for an electronics firm for three years after graduation before leaving to join AUM, where he became Undersecretary at the group's Ministry of Science and Technology. He was also involved in their Automatic Light Weapons Manufacturing scheme. Yokoyama was sentenced to death in 1999.

Kiyotaka Tonozaki, a high school graduate who joined the group in 1987, was a member of the group's Ministry of Construction. He was Yokoyama's getaway driver. Tonozaki was sentenced to life in prison.

Yasuo Hayashi

Yasuo Hayashi was thirty-seven years old at the time of the attacks, and was the oldest person at the group's Ministry of Science and Technology. He studied artificial intelligence at Kogakuin University; after graduation he travelled to India where he studied yoga. He then became an AUM member, taking vows in 1988 and rising to the number three position in the group's Ministry of Science and Technology.

Asahara had at one time suspected Hayashi of being a spy. The extra packet of sarin he carried was part of "ritual character test" set up by Asahara to prove his allegiance, according to the prosecution.

Hayashi went on the run after the attacks; he was arrested twenty-one months later, one thousand miles from Tokyo on Ishigaki Island. He was later sentenced to death (he has appealed).

Shigeo Sugimoto was his get-away driver. His lawyers argued that he played only a minor role in the attack, but the argument was rejected, and he has been sentenced to death.

The attack

Monday, 20 March 1995 was for most a normal workday, though the following day was a national holiday. The attack came at the peak of the Monday morning rush hour on one of the world's busiest commuter transport systems. The Tokyo subway system transports millions of passengers daily; during rush hour, trains are frequently so crowded that it is nearly impossible to move.

The liquid sarin was contained in plastic bags which each team then wrapped in newspapers. Each perpetrator carried two packets of sarin totalling approximately one litre of sarin, except Yasuo Hayashi, who carried three bags. A single drop of sarin the size of the head of a pin can kill an adult.

Carrying their packets of sarin and umbrellas with sharpened tips, the perpetrators boarded their appointed trains; at prearranged stations, each perpetrator dropped his package and punctured it several times with the sharpened tip of his umbrella before escaping to his accomplice's waiting get-away car.

Chiyoda line

The Chiyoda line (千代田線) runs from Kita-senju (北千住) in northeast Tokyo to Yoyogi-uehara (代々木上原) in the west.

The team of Ikuo Hayashi and Tomomitsu Niimi were assigned to drop sarin packets on the Chiyoda Line. Niimi was the get-away driver.

Hayashi, wearing a surgical mask of the type commonly worn by Japanese people during cold and flu season, boarded the southwest bound 7:48am Chiyoda line train number A725K on the first car, and punctured his bag of sarin at Shin-ochanomizu Station (新御茶ノ水駅) in the central business district before making his escape.

Two people were killed in this attack.

Marunouchi line


Two men, Kenichi Hirose and Koichi Kitamura, were assigned to release sarin on the westbound Marunouchi line (丸ノ内線) destined for Ogikubo (荻窪).

Hirose boarded the third car of Train A777, and released his sarin at Ochanomizu Station.

Despite two passengers being removed from the train at Nakano-sakaue Station, the train continued on to its destination, car three still soaked with liquid sarin. At Ogikubo, new passengers boarded the now eastbound train, and they too were affected by sarin, until the train was finally taken out of service at Shin-koenji Station.

This attack resulted in one death.


Two members were assigned to release sarin on the Ikebukuro (池袋)-bound Marunouchi line, Masato Yokoyama and Kiyotaka Tonozaki. Tonozaki was the get-away driver.

Yokoyama boarded the 7:39am B801 train at Shinjuku (新宿) on the fifth car. He released his sarin at Yotsuya (四谷).

Yokoyama only succeeded in puncturing one of his packets, and only made one hole, resulting in the sarin being released relatively slowly. The train reached its destination at 8:30am, and returned to Ikebukuro as the B901. At Ikebukuro the train was evacuated and searched, but the searchers failed to discover the sarin packets, and the train departed Ikebukuro at 8:32 as the Shinjuku-bound A801.

As the train was returning to the city center passengers asked staff to remove the foul smelling objects from the train. At Hongo-san-chome, staff removed the sarin packets and mopped the floor, but the train continued to Shinjuku, and then returned again to Ikebukuro as the B901. The train was finally put out of service at Kokkai-gijidomae Station at 9:27, one hour and forty minutes after the sarin was released.

This attack resulted in no fatalities.

Hibiya line

Departing Naka-meguro

The team of Toru Toyoda and Katsuya Takahashi were assigned to release sarin on the northeast bound Hibiya line (日比谷線). Takahashi was the get-away driver.

Toyoda boarded the first car of the 7:59am B711T train bound for Tōbu-dōbutsukoen (東武動物公園駅) and punctured his sarin packet at Ebisu. Three stops later passengers had begun to panic, and several were removed from the train at Kamiyacho and taken to hospital. Still, the train continued to Kasumigaseki, though the first car was empty. The train was evacuated and taken out of service at Kasumigaseki.

One person died in this attack.


Yasuo Hayashi and Shigeo Sugimoto were assigned to the southwestbound Hibiya line departing Kita-senjū for Naka-meguro.

Hayashi received, at his own insistence on in an apparent bid to allay suspicions and prove his loyalty to the group, three packets of sarin while everyone else was given two. He boarded the third car of the 7:43 A720S train from Kita-senjū at Ueno Station (上野駅). He released his sarin two stops later, at Akihabara (秋葉原), making the most punctures of any of the perpetrators.

Passengers began to be affected immediately. At the next station, Kodenmacho, a passenger kicked the packet onto the platform; four people waiting at that station died as a result. A puddle of sarin, however, remained on the train floor as the train continued its route. At 8:10 a passenger pressed the emergency stop button, but as the train was in a tunnel at the time, it proceeded to Tsukiji Station (築地駅). When the doors opened at Tsukiji, several passengers collapsed onto the platform, and the train was immediately taken out of service.

This train made five stops after the gas was released; along the way, eight people died.


On the day of the attack ambulances transported 688 patients, and nearly five thousand people reached hospitals by other means. Hospitals saw 5,510 patients, seventeen of whom were deemed critical, thirty-seven severe, and 984 moderately ill. The cases classified as moderately ill complained of vision problems. Most of those reporting to hospitals were the "worried well," who had to be distinguished from those that were ill.

By mid-afternoon, the mildly affected victims had recovered their eyesight and were released from hospital. Most of the remaining patients were well enough to go home the following day, and within a week only a few critical patients remained in hospital. The death toll on the day of the attack was eight, and it eventually rose to twelve.

The injured

Witnesses have said that subway entrances resembled battlefields. In many cases, the injured simply lay on the ground, many unable to breathe. Several of those affected by sarin went to work in spite of their symptoms, some not realizing that they had been exposed to sarin gas. Most of the victims sought medical treatment as the symptoms worsened and as they learned of the actual circumstances of the attacks via news broadcasts.

Several of those affected were exposed to sarin only by helping those who had been directly exposed. Among these were passengers on other trains, subway workers and health care workers.

Recent surveys of the victims (in 1998 and 2001) show that many are still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In one survey, twenty percent of 837 respondents complained that they feel insecure whenever riding a train, while ten percent answered that they try to avoid any gas-attack related news. Over sixty percent reported chronic eyestrain and said their vision has worsened.

Emergency services

Emergency services including police, fire and ambulance services were criticised for their handling of the attack and the injured, as were the media (some of whom, though present at subway entrances and filming the injured, hesitated when asked to transport victims to the hospital) and the Subway Authority, which failed to halt several of the trains despite reports of passenger injury. Health services including hospitals and health staff were also criticised: one hospital refused to admit a victim for almost an hour, and many hospitals turned victims away.

Sarin poisoning was not well-known at the time, and many hospitals only received information on diagnosis and treatment because a professor at Shinshu University's school of medicine happened to see reports on television. Dr. Nobuo Yanagisawa had had experience with treating sarin poisoning after the Matsumoto incident; he recognized the symptoms, had information on diagnosis and treatment collected, and led a team who sent the information to hospitals throughout Tokyo via fax.

Defended by new religions scholars

In May 1995, after the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, American scholars James R. Lewis and J. Gordon Melton flew to Japan to hold a pair of press conferences in which they announced that the chief suspect in the murders, religious group Aum Shinrikyo, could not have produced the sarin that the attacks had been committed with. They had determined this, Lewis said, from photos and documents provided by the group.

However, the Japanese police had already discovered at Aum's main compound back in March a sophisticated chemical weapons laboratory that was capable of producing thousands of kilograms a year of the poison. Later investigation showed that Aum not only created the sarin used in the subway attacks, but had committed previous chemical and biological weapons attacks, including a previous attack with sarin that had killed seven and injured 144.

During the Aum Shinrikyo incident Lewis and Gordon's bills for travel, lodging and accommodations were paid for by AUM, according to The Washington Post. Lewis openly disclosed that "AUM [...] arranged to provide all expenses [for the trip] ahead of time", but claimed that this was "so that financial considerations would not be attached to our final report".

AUM/Aleph today

The sarin gas attack was the most serious terrorist attack in Japan's modern history. It caused massive disruption and widespread fear in a society that had previously been perceived as virtually free of crime.

Shortly after the attack, AUM lost its status as a religious organization, and many of its assets were seized. However, the Diet (Japanese parliament) rejected a request from government officials to outlaw the group. The Public Security Committee, an organization similar to America's CIA, received increased funding to monitor the group.

In 1999, the Diet gave the Committee broad powers to monitor and curtail the activities of groups that have been involved in "indiscriminate mass murder" and whose leaders are "holding strong sway over their members", a bill custom-tailored to Aum Shinrikyo.

About twenty of Aum's members, including its founder Asahara, are either standing trial or have already been convicted for crimes related to the attack. As of July 2004, eight Aum members have received death sentences for their roles in the attack.

Asahara was sentenced to death by hanging on February 27, 2004, but lawyers immediately appealed the ruling. The Tokyo High Court postponed their decision on the appeal until results were obtained from a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, which was issued to determine whether or not Asahara was fit to stand trial.

In February of 2006, the court ruled that Asahara was indeed fit to stand trial, and on March 27, rejected the appeal against his death sentence. Japan's Supreme Court upheld this decision on September 15, 2006. (Japan does not announce dates of executions, which are by hanging, in advance of them being carried out.)

The group reportedly still has about 2,100 members, and continues to recruit new members under the new name "Aleph". Though the group has renounced its violent past, it still continues to follow Asahara's spiritual teachings. Members operate several businesses, though boycotts of known Aleph-related businesses, in addition to searches, confiscations of possible evidence and picketing by protest groups, have resulted in closures.

AUM/Aleph remains on the US State Department's list of terrorist groups, but has not been linked to any further terrorist acts, or any terrorist acts in the US. Aleph has announced a change of its policies, apologized to victims of the subway attack, and established a special compensation fund. AUM members convicted in relation to the attack or other crimes are not permitted to join the new organization, and are referred to as "ex-members" by the group.

Many Japanese municipal governments have refused to allow known members to register as city residents; Aleph has successfully sued some of these governments, and Human Rights Watch has included criticism of these government actions in some of its annual reports. Some businesses refuse to sell goods or provide services to known Aleph followers; some landlords refuse to rent to members; and some cities have spent public money to persuade Aleph members to leave town; some high schools and universities reject the children of Aum followers.


Sarin, also known by its NATO designation of GB (O-Isopropyl methylphosphonofluoridate) is an extremely toxic substance whose sole application is as a nerve agent. As a chemical weapon, it is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations according to UN Resolution 687, and its production and stockpiling was outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993.

Chemical characteristics

Sarin is similar in structure and biological activity to some commonly used insecticides, such as Malathion, and is similar in biological activity to carbamates used as insecticides such as Sevin, and medicines such as Mestinon, Neostigmine, and Antilirium.

At room temperature, sarin is a colorless, odorless liquid. Its relatively high vapor pressure means that it evaporates quickly (about 36 times faster than tabun, another common chemical nerve agent). Its vapor is also colorless and odorless. It can be made more persistent through the addition of certain oils or petroleum products.

Sarin can be used as a binary chemical weapon; its two precursors are methylphosphonyl difluoride and a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and isopropyl amine. The isopropyl amine binds the hydrogen fluoride generated during the chemical reaction.

Shelf life

Sarin has a relatively short shelf life, and will degrade after a period of several weeks to several months. The shelf life may be greatly shortened by impurities in precursor materials. According to the CIA, in 1989 the Iraqis destroyed 40 or more tons of sarin that had decomposed, and that some Iraqi sarin had a shelf life of only a few weeks owing mostly to impure precursors.

Like other nerve agents, Sarin can be chemically deactivated with a strong alkali. Typically an 18 percent aqueous solution of sodium hydroxide is used to destroy sarin.

Efforts to lengthen shelf life

Nations stockpiling sarin have tried to overcome the problem of its short shelf life in three ways:

  • The shelf life of unitary (i.e., pure) sarin may be lengthened by increasing the purity of the precursor and intermediate chemicals and refining the production process.

  • Incorporating a stabilizer chemical called tributylamine. Later this was replaced by diisopropylcarbodiimide (di-c-di), which allowed for GB nerve agent to be stored in aluminium casings.

  • Developing binary chemical weapons, where the two precursor chemicals are stored separately in the same shell, and mixed to form the agent immediately before or when the shell is in flight. This approach has the dual benefit of making the issue of shelf life irrelevant and greatly increasing the safety of sarin munitions. However, experts still refuse to put the shelf life of this type of weapon past 5 years.

Biological effects

Like other nerve agents, sarin attacks the nervous system of a living organism. It is an irreversible cholinesterase inhibitor.

When a functioning motor neuron or parasympathetic neuron is stimulated it releases the neurotransmitter acetylcholine to transmit the impulse to a muscle or organ. Once the impulse has been sent, the enzyme acetylcholinesterase breaks down the acetylcholine in order to allow the muscle or organ to relax.

Sarin is an extremely potent organophosphate compound that disrupts the nervous system by inhibiting the cholinesterase enzyme by forming a covalent bond with the particular serine residue in the enzyme which forms the site where acetylcholine normally undergoes hydrolysis; the fluorine of the phosphonyl fluoride group reacts with the hydroxyl group on the serine side-chain, forming a phosphoester and releasing HF. With the enzyme inhibited, acetylcholine builds up in the synapse and continues to act so that any nerve impulses are, in effect, continually transmitted.

Initial symptoms following exposure to sarin are a runny nose, tightness in the chest and constriction of the pupils. Soon after, the victim has difficulty breathing and experiences nausea and drooling. As the victim continues to lose control of bodily functions, he vomits, defecates and urinates. This phase is followed by twitching and jerking. Ultimately, the victim becomes comatose and suffocates in a series of convulsive spasms.

Sarin is a highly volatile liquid. Inhalation and absorption through the skin pose a great threat. Even vapour concentrations immediately penetrate the skin. People who absorb a nonlethal dose but do not receive immediate appropriate medical treatment may suffer permanent neurological damage.

Even at very low concentrations, sarin can be fatal. Death may follow in one minute after direct ingestion of about 0.01 milligram per kilogram of body weight if antidotes, typically atropine and pralidoxime, are not quickly administered. Atropine, an acetylcholine inhibitor, is given to treat the physiological symptoms of poisoning. Pralidoxime can regenerate cholinesterases if administered within approximately five hours.

It is estimated that sarin is more than 500 times as toxic as cyanide.

The short- and long-term symptoms experienced by those affected included:

  • bleeding from the nose and mouth

  • coma

  • convulsions

  • death

  • difficulty breathing

  • disturbed sleep and nightmares

  • extreme sensitivity to light

  • foaming at the mouth

  • high fevers

  • influenza-like symptoms

  • loss of consciousness

  • loss of memory

  • nausea and vomiting

  • paralysis

  • post-traumatic stress disorder

  • respiratory problems

  • seizures

  • uncontrollable trembling

  • vision problems, both temporary and permanent


The following is the specific history of sarin, which is closely linked to the history of similar nerve agents also discovered in Germany during or soon after World War II. That broader history is detailed in Nerve Agent: History .


Sarin was discovered in 1938 in Wuppertal-Elberfeld in Germany by two German scientists while attempting to create stronger pesticides; it is the most toxic of the four G-agents made by Germany. The compound, which followed the discovery of the nerve agent tabun, was named in honor of its discoverers: Gerhard Schrader, Ambros, Rüdiger and Van der LINde.

Sarin in Nazi Germany during World War II

In mid-1939, the formula for the agent was passed to the Chemical Warfare section of the German Army Weapons Office, which ordered that it be brought into mass production for wartime use. A number of pilot plants were built, and a high-production facility was under construction (but was not finished) by the end of World War II. Estimates for total sarin production by Nazi Germany range from 500 kg to 10 tons.

Though sarin, tabun and soman were incorporated into artillery shells, Germany ultimately decided not to use nerve agents against Allied targets. German intelligence was unaware that the Allies had not developed similar compounds, but they understood that unleashing these compounds would lead the Allies to develop and use chemical weapons of their own, and they were concerned that the Allies' ability to reach German targets would prove devastating in a chemical war.

Sarin after World War II

  • 1950s (early): NATO adopts sarin as a standard chemical weapon, and both the U.S.S.R and the United States produce sarin for military purposes.

  • 1953: 20-year old Ronald Maddison, a Royal Air Force engineer from Consett, County Durham, died in human testing of sarin at the Porton Down chemical warfare testing facility in Wiltshire. Maddison had been told that he was participating in a test to "cure the common cold." Ten days after his death an inquest was held in secret which returned a verdict of "misadventure". In 2004 the inquest was reopened and, after a 64-day inquest hearing, the jury ruled that Maddison had been unlawfully killed by the "application of a nerve agent in a non-therapeutic experiment." "Nerve gas death was 'unlawful'", BBC News Online, November 15, 2004. 

  • 1956: Regular production of sarin ceased in the United States, though existing stocks of bulk Sarin were re-distilled until 1970.

  • 1978: Michael Townley in a Sworn declaration indicates that Sarin was produced by the secret police of the Chile Pinochet regime DINA, by Eugenio Berríos, it indicates that it was used to assassinate the real state archives custodian Renato León Zenteno and the Army Corporal Manuel Leyton.

  • 1980-1988: Iraq employed sarin against Iran during the 1980-88 war. During the 1990-91 Gulf War, Iraq still had large stockpiles available which were found as coalition forces advanced north.

  • 1988: Over the span of two days in March, the ethnic Kurd city of Halabja in northern Iraq (population 70,000) was bombarded with twenty chemical and cluster bombs, which included sarin. An estimated 5,000 people died.

  • 1991: UN Resolution 687 establishes the term "weapon of mass destruction" and calls for the immediate destruction of chemical weapons in Iraq, and eventual destruction of all chemical weapons globally.

  • 1993: The United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention is signed by 162 member countries, banning the production and stockpiling of many chemical weapons, including sarin. It goes into effect on 29 April 1997, and calls for the complete destruction of all specified stockpiles of chemical weapons by April 2007.

  • 1994: The Japanese religious sect Aum Shinrikyo releases an impure form of sarin in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.

  • 1995: Aum Shinrikyo sect releases an impure form of sarin in the Tokyo subway. (see Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway)

  • 1998: In its June 15 issue Time Magazine runs a story entitled "Did The U.S. Drop Nerve Gas?". The story is broadcast June 7 on the CNN program NewsStand. The Time article alleges that U.S. Air Force A-1E Skyraiders engaged in a covert operation called Operation Tailwind, in which they deliberately dropped CBU-15 Cluster Bomb Units containing submunitions that were filled with sarin on defected U.S. troops in Laos. The report causes a scandal, and The Pentagon launches a study that concludes no nerve gas use took place. After an internal investigation, CNN and Time magazine (both owned by the media conglomerate Time Warner) retract the story and fired the two producers primarily responsible for it.

  • 2004: May 14 Iraqi insurgency fighters in Iraq detonate a 155 mm shell containing several litres of binary precursors for sarin. The shell is designed to mix the chemicals as it spins during flight. The detonated shell released only a small amount of sarin gas, either because the explosion failed to mix the binary agents properly or because the chemicals inside the shell had degraded significantly with age. Two United States soldiers were treated for exposure after displaying the early symptoms.


The Matsumoto incident (松本サリン事件, Matsumoto Sarin Jiken) was an occurrence of sarin poisoning that happened in Matsumoto, Japan, in Nagano prefecture, on the evening of June 27 and the morning of June 28, 1994.

Seven people were killed and over 200 were harmed by sarin gas that was released from several sites in the Kaichi Heights neighborhood. The first calls to emergency officials occurred around 11:00 p.m.; by 4:15 a.m. the following morning, six people had died from the poison.

On July 3, officials announced that the toxic agent had been identified as sarin by gas chromatography. After the incident, police focused their investigation on one of the victims, Yoshiyuki Kouno. Kouno was dubbed by the media "the Poison Gas Man" and received hate mail, death threats, and intense legal pressure.

After the attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, the blame was shifted to the cult Aum Shinrikyo and the police and media publicly apologised to Kouno.

The Matsumoto incident preceded the better-known attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995. Several Aum Shinrikyo members were found guilty of masterminding both incidents. These two instances are the only known uses of chemical agents by a terrorist group. Combined, the attacks resulted in 19 deaths and thousands hospitalizations or outpatient treatment.

Sakamoto family murder

On October 31, 1989, Tsutsumi Sakamoto (坂本 Sakamoto Tsutsumi April 8, 1956 - November 4, 1989), a lawyer working on a class action lawsuit against Aum Shinrikyo, Japan's controversial Buddhist group, was murdered, along with his wife and child, by perpetrators who broke into his apartment. Six years later it was established that the assassins had been members of Aum Shinrikyo at the time of the crime.

Tsutsumi Sakamoto: anti-cult lawyer

At the time of his murder, Sakamoto was known as an anti-cult lawyer. He had previously successfully led a class-action suit against the Unification Church on behalf of relatives of Unification Church members. In the suit the plaintiffs sued for assets transferred to the group, and for harm inflicted by worsened family relationships. A public relations campaign in which protesters demanded public attention to their cause was instrumental to Sakamoto's plan, and the Unification Church suffered a serious financial blow.

By organizing a similar anti-Aum public relations campaign, Sakamoto apparently sought to demonstrate that Aum members, similar to members of the UC, did not join the group voluntarily but were lured in by deception and were probably being held against their will by threats and manipulations.

Furthermore, religious items were being sold at prices far greater than their market value, draining money out of the households of members. If a judgment was handed down in his clients' favor, Aum could become bankrupted, thus greatly weakening or destroying the group.

In 1988, in order to pursue the class action suit, Sakamoto initiated the establishment of Aum Shinrikyo Higai Taisaku Bengodan ("Coalition of Help for those affected by Aum Shinrikyo"). This was later renamed: Aum Shinrikyo Higaisha-no-kai or "Aum Shinrikyo Victims' Association". The group still operates under this title as of 2006.

Circumstances of the murder

On October 31, 1989, Sakamoto was successful in persuading Aum leader Shoko Asahara to submit to a blood test to test for the "special power" that the leader claimed was present throughout his body. He found no sign of anything unusual. A disclosure of this could be potentially embarrassing or damaging to Asahara.

Several days later, on November 3, 1989, several Aum Shinrikyo members, including Hideo Murai, chief scientist, Satoro Hashimoto, a martial arts master, and Tomomasa Nakagawa, drove to Yokohama, where Sakamoto lived. They carried a pouch with 14 hypodermic syringes and a supply of potassium chloride.

According to court testimony provided by the perpetrators later, they planned to use the chemical substance to kidnap Sakamoto from Yokohama's Shinkansen train station, but, contrary to expectations, he did not show up--it was a holiday (Bunka no hi, or "Culture Day"), so slept in with his family, at home.

At 3 A.M., the group entered Sakamoto's apartment through an unlocked door. Tsutsumi Sakamoto was struck on the head with a hammer. His wife, Satoko Sakamoto (坂本都子 Sakamoto Satoko, 29 years old), was beaten. Their their infant son Tatsuhiko Sakamoto (坂本竜彦 Sakamoto Tatsuhiko, 14 months old), was injected with the potassium chloride and then his face was covered with a cloth.

While the two adults struggled, they were also injected with the potassium chloride. Satoko died from the poison, but Tsutsumi Sakamoto did not die as quickly of the injection, and died of strangulation. The family's remains were placed in metal drums and hidden in three separate rural areas. Their bed-sheets were burned and the tools were dropped in the ocean. The victims' teeth were smashed to frustrate identification. Their bodies were not found until the perpetrators revealed the locations after they were captured.

Sakamoto affair: the aftermath

Evidence of Aum Shinrikyo's involvement in the murders was uncovered six years later, after a number of senior followers were arrested on other charges, most notably in connection with theTokyo subway gas attack. All of those implicated in the Sakamoto murders have received death sentences.

The court found that the murder was committed by order of the group's founder, Shoko Asahara, although not all of the perpetrators testified to this effect, and Asahara continues to deny involvement. Asahara's legal team claims that blaming him is an attempt to shift personal responsibility to a higher authority.

The motive for the murder is not certain: Background information on Sakamoto's legal practice contradicts the 'blood test' theory, according to which Asahara ordered the murder to prevent the disclosure of his blood test that showed no special substance in his blood. A second theory is that the murder was designed to intimidate lawyers and plaintiffs, and end the potentially financially crippling lawsuit against Aum.

Whether Sakamoto's death changed the legal climate around Aum Shinrikyo is a matter of debate. No more class-action lawsuits were filed against it in the six years following the murders. Individual unfavourable rulings have harmed the group financially to a lesser degree.

Aleph, a successor group to Aum Shinrikyo, condemned the above described atrocities in 1999 and announced a change in its policies, including the establishment of a special compensations fund. Members involved in incidents such as the Sakamoto family murders are not permitted to join Aleph and are referred to as "ex-members" by the group.


  • Haruki Murakami, Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, Vintage, ISBN 0-375-72580-6, LoC BP605.O88.M8613


Aum Shinrikyo, now known as Aleph, is a Japanese religious group founded by Shoko Asahara. The group gained international notoriety in 1995, when several of its followers carried out a Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subways.

The name "Aum Shinrikyo" (Japanese: オウム真理教 Ōmu Shinrikyō), sometimes written "Aum Shinrikiyo," derives from the Hindu syllable Aum (which represents the universe), followed by Shinrikyo written in kanji, roughly meaning "religion of Truth". In 2000 the organization changed its name to "Aleph" (the first letter of the Hebrew and Arabic alphabet), changing its logo as well.

In 1995 the group had 9,000 members in Japan, and as many as 40,000 worldwide. As of 2004 Aum Shinrikyo/Aleph membership is estimated at 1,500 to 2,000 people.


The core of Aum doctrine are Buddhist scriptures included in the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism. Other religious texts are also used, including a number of Tibetan Buddhist sutras, Hindu yogic sutras, and Taoist scriptures. However, there is controversy as to whether Aum is a Buddhist group or to apply other definitions, such as a 'doomsday cult'.


Some of the scholars of new religious movements view Aum's doctrine as a pastiche of various traditions, citing various reasons to justify their viewpoints. Perhaps the most widespread of the arguments is a notion that the primary deity revered by Aum followers is Shiva, the Hindu deity symbolizing the power of destruction. The Aleph's Lord Shiva (also known as Samantabhadra, Kuntu-Zangpo, or Adi-Buddha) derives from Tibetan Vajrayana tradition and has no connection to the Hindu Shiva.

There is also controversy as to what role Christianity plays in Aleph's doctrine, since it was mentioned in some of Shoko Asahara's speeches and books. Asahara himself referred to Aum's doctrine as 'truth', arguing that 'while various Buddhist and yogic schools lead to the same goal by different routes, the goal remains the same' and insisting that the world's major religions are closely related.

The 'true religion' in his view shouldn't only offer the path but should also lead to the final destination by its own specific 'route' which may differ considerably due to differences in those who follow it (what the religion terms 'Final Realization'). This way, a religion for modern Japanese or Americans will be different from a religion for ancient Indians.

The more custom-tailored to the audience the religion is, the more effective it becomes, Asahara argued. His other conviction was that once a disciple chose whom to learn from, he should maintain focus in order not to add confusion arising from contradictions between different 'routes' to the ultimate goal, the Enlightenment. Asahara quoted Indian and Tibetan religious figures in support of these viewpoints.

Influence of Buddhism

According to Aum, the route to Final Realization (in Shakyamuni Buddha's words, 'the state where everything is achieved and there is nothing else worth achieving') entails a multitude of small enlightenments each elevating the consciousness of a practitioner to a higher level, thus making him or her a more intelligent and 'better', more developed person by getting closer to its 'true self' (or 'atman').

As Asahara believed the Buddhist path to be the most effective, he selected original Shakyamuni Buddha sermons as a foundation for Aum doctrine; however, he also added various elements from other traditions, such as Chinese gymnastics (said to improve overall bodily health) or yogic asanas (to prepare for keeping a meditation posture).

He also translated much of traditional Buddhist terminology into modern Japanese, and later changed the wording to make the terms less confusing and easier to memorize and understand. He defended his innovations by referring to Shakyamuni who chose Pali instead of Sanskrit in order to make sermons accessible for the ordinary population, who couldn't understand the language of ancient Indian educated elite.

In Asahara's view, Aum's doctrine encompassed all three major Buddhist schools: Theravada (aimed at personal enlightenment), Mahayana (the "great vehicle," aimed at helping others), and tantric Vajrayana (the "diamond vehicle," which involves secret initiations, secret mantras, and advanced esoteric meditations).

In his own book Initiation he compares the stages of enlightenment according to the famous Yoga Sutra by Patanjali with the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path, arguing that these two traditions discuss exactly the same experiences although in different words.

Asahara has also authored a number of other books, among which the best known are Beyond Life and Death and Mahayana-Sutra. The books explain the process of attaining various stages of enlightenment provided in ancient scriptures and compares it with the experiences of Asahara and his followers.

He also published commentaries to ancient scriptures. On top of these, Asahara's sermons dedicated to specific themes (from ways to keep the proper meditation posture to methods of raising a healthy child) are studied by Aum followers. Some of the sermons seem quite simple in terms of wording and deal with everyday matters such as unhappiness arising from problems in human relationships.

Others use sophisticated language and discuss matters more interesting for an educated elite. Full-time renunciates mostly study the sermons dealing with aspects considered 'advanced' while lay followers concentrate on 'wordly stuff' more. Some of the sermons, considered 'pre-entry level' are not being studied (a good example of these are television interviews or recorded brief broadcasts of Aum's radio station, 'Evangelion Tes Basileias').

To maintain and improve thinking abilities, Asahara suggested that his followers refrain from consuming 'low-quality' and 'degrading' information from sources such as entertainment magazines and comic shows and advised them to read scientific literature instead. This approach which was dubbed 'information intake control' became a source of media criticism.

Organizational structure

Aum applied specific methodologies and arranged the doctrine studies in accordance with a special kogaku (Japanese: learning) system. In kogaku, each new stage is reached only after examinations are passed successfully, imitating the familiar Japanese entrance exam paradigm. Meditation practice is combined with and based upon theoretic studies.

Theoretical studies, Asahara maintained, serve no purpose if 'practical experience' is not achieved. He therefore advised not to explain anything which was not actually experienced on one's own and to suggest reading Aum's books instead.

Followers are divided into two groups: lay practitioners and "samana" (a Pali word for monks but also used to include "nuns"), which comprise a "sangha" (monastic order). The former live with their families; the latter lead ascetic lifestyles, usually in groups.

According to Aum's classification, a follower can attain the following invented stages by religious practice: Raja Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Mahamudra (sometimes called Jnana Yoga), Mahayana Yoga, Astral Yoga, Causal Yoga and the ultimate stage, the Ultimate Realization. The overwhelming majority of such alleged attainers were monks, though there were some lay Raja Yoga and Kundalini Yoga attainers.

For a follower to be considered an attainer, specific conditions had to be met before senior sangha members would recognize them as such. For instance, the "Kundalini Yoga" stage requires demonstration of reduction in oxygen consumption, changes in electromagnetic brain activity, and reduction of heart rate (measured by corresponding equipment).

A follower who demonstrates such changes is considered to have entered the "samadhi" state and thus deserved the title and permission to teach others. Each stage has its own requirements. Advancements in theoretical studies did not give followers the right to teach others anything except the basic doctrine. According to Asahara, real meditation experience could be the only criterion for deciding the actual ability to coach.

Aum also inherited the Indian esoteric yoga tradition of Shaktipat, also mentioned in Mahayana Buddhist texts. The Shaktipat, which is believed to allow a direct transmission of spiritual energy from a teacher to a disciple, was practiced by Asahara himself and several of his top disciples, including Fumihiro Joyu and Hisako Ishii. Fumihiro Joyu also performed a shaktipat-like ceremony at the beginning of the XXI century.

Following the formal closure of Aum Shinrikyo, a number of steps were undertaken that changed some of the aspects that concerned both the society and authorities. Some of the most controversial parts of the doctrine (see below for details) were removed, while the basic, general aspects remained intact. For this reason, the information on religious doctrine provided in this article remains largely relevant to the new organization Aleph as well.


The movement was founded by Shoko Asahara in his one-bedroom apartment in Tokyo's Shibuya ward in 1984, starting off as a Yoga and meditation class known as Aum-no-kai ("Aum club") and steadily grew in the following years. It gained the official status as a religious organization in 1989. It attracted such a considerable number of young graduates from Japan's elite universities that it was dubbed a "religion for the elite".


Asahara also traveled abroad on multiple occasions and met various notable yogic and Buddhist religious teachers and figures, such as the 14th Dalai Lama and Kalu Rinpoche, a patriarch of the Tibetan Kagyupa school. Aum's activities aimed at the popularization of Buddhist texts were also noted by the governments of Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the Tibetan government-in-exile located in Dharamsala, India.

While Aum was considered a rather controversial phenomenon in Japan, it was not yet associated with serious crimes. It was during this period that Asahara received rare Buddhist scriptures and was awarded a stupa with remains of the Shakyamuni Buddha.

Aum's PR activities included publishing. In Japan, where comics and animated cartoons enjoy unprecedented popularity among all ages, Aum attempted to tie religious ideas to popular anime and manga themes - space missions, extremely powerful weapons, world conspiracies and conquest for ultimate truth.

Followers were discouraged from consuming Aum's publications like Enjoy the Happiness and Vajrayana Sacca, which were aimed primarily at the outside world; researchers later misinterpreted the ideas as being part of Aum's internal belief system.

One of their most extraordinary publications about ninja traced the origins of martial arts and espionage to ancient China and linked the supernatural abilities ninja were rumored to possess with religious spiritual practices, concluding that the "true ninja" was interested in "preserving peace" in times of military conflict.

Science fiction novels by Isaac Asimov were referenced "depicting as it does an elite group of spiritually evolved scientists forced to go underground during an age of barbarism so as to prepare themselves for the moment ... when they will emerge to rebuild civilization."

Also, they used Buddhist ideas to impress the shrewd and picky educated Japanese not attracted to boring, purely traditional sermons. (Lifton, p258) Later, the discussions about pre-requisites of Aum appeal factor resulted in some traditional Japanese Buddhist shrines adapting the Aum 'weekend meditation seminars' format. The necessity to 'modernize' the traditional Buddhist approach towards followers also became the common refrain.

Aum Shinrikyo had started as a quiet group of people interested in yogic meditation, but later transformed into a very different organization. According to Asahara, he needed "to demonstrate charisma" to attract the modern audience. Following his decision, Aum underwent a radical image change.

The rebranded Aum looked less like an elite meditation boutique and more like an organization attractive to a broader, larger population group. Public interviews, bold controversial statements, and vicious opposition to critique were incorporated into the religion's PR style.

In private, both Asahara and his top disciples continued their humble lifestyles, the only exception being the armored Mercedes gifted by a wealthy follower concerned over his Guru's traffic safety. In rather rare footage, Asahara is seen on the street in front of a large clown doll resembling himself, smiling happily. He never ceased repeating that personal wealth or fame were of little importance to him, but he had to be known in order to attract more people.

Intense advertising and recruitment activities, dubbed the 'Aum Salvation plan' included curing physical illnesses with yoga health improvement techniques, realizing life goals by improving intelligence and positive thinking, and concentrating on what was important at the expense of leisure and spiritual advancement.

This was accomplished by practicing the ancient teachings, accurately translated from original Pali sutras (these three were referred to as 'threefold Salvation'). Extraordinary efforts resulted in Aum becoming the fastest-growing religious group in Japan's history.

With ambitious young graduates from Japan's top universities, Aum's 'department' system also changed its name. Thus 'medical department' became 'ministry of health', 'scientific group' became 'ministry of science' and people with martial-arts or military backgrounds were organized into a 'ministry of intelligence'. Female renunciates involved in the care of children were assigned to the 'ministry of education' accordingly.

Incidents before 1995

The cult started attracting controversy in the late 1980s with accusations of deception of recruits, and of holding cult members against their will and forcing members to donate money. A murder of a cult member who tried to leave is now known to have taken place in February 1989.

In October 1989, the group's negotiations with Tsutsumi Sakamoto, an anti-cult lawyer threatening a lawsuit against them which could potentially bankrupt the group, failed. In the same month, Sakamoto recorded an interview for a talk show on the Japanese TV station TBS, which was not broadcast following protests from the group. The following month Sakamoto, his wife and his child went missing from their home in Yokohama.

The police were unable to resolve the case at the time, although some of his colleagues publicly voiced their suspicions of the group. It was not until 1995 that they were known to have been murdered and their bodies dumped by cult members. (See Sakamoto family murder).

In 1990 Asahara and 24 other members stood unsuccessfully for the General Elections for the House of Representatives under the banner of Shinri-tō (Supreme Truth Party). Asahara made a couple of appearances on TV talk shows in 1991, however at this time the attitude of the cult's doctrine against society started to grow in hostility.

In 1992 Aum's "Construction Minister" Kiyohide Hayakawa published a treatise called Principles of a Citizen's Utopia which has been described as a "declaration of war" against Japan's constitution and civil institutions. At the same time, Hayakawa started to make frequent visits to Russia to acquire military hardware, including AK47's, a MIL Mi-17 military helicopter, and reportedly an attempt to acquire components for a nuclear bomb.

The cult is known to have considered assassinations of several individuals critical of the cult, such as the heads of Buddhist sects Soka Gakkai and The Institute for Research in Human Happiness and the controversial cartoonist Yoshinori Kobayashi in 1993.

At the end of 1993 the cult started secretly manufacturing the nerve agent sarin and later VX gas. They also attempted to manufacture 1000 automatic rifles but only managed to make one. Aum tested their sarin on sheep at a remote ranch in Western Australia, killing 29 sheep. Both sarin and VX were then used in several assassinations (and attempts) over 1994-1995.

Most notably on the night of 27th June 1994, the cult carried out the world's first use of chemical weapons in a terrorist attack against civilians when they released sarin in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto. This Matsumoto incident killed seven and harmed 200 more. However, police investigations focused only on an innocent local resident and failed to implicate the cult.

In February 1995 several cult members kidnapped Kiyoshi Kariya, a 69-year old brother of a member who had escaped, from a Tokyo street and took him to one of their compounds at Kamikuishiki near Mount Fuji, where he was killed with an overdose and his body destroyed in a microwave-powered incinerator before being disposed of in Lake Kawaguchi. Before Kariya was abducted, he had been receiving threatening phone calls demanding to know the whereabouts of his sister, and he had left a note saying "If I disappear, I was abducted by Aum Shinrikyo".

Police made plans to simulteneously raid cult facilities across Japan in March 1995.

1995 Tokyo sarin gas attacks and related incidents

On the morning of 20th March 1995, Aum members released sarin in a co-ordinated attack on five trains in the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 commuters, seriously harming 54 and affecting 980 more. Prosecutors allege that Asahara was tipped off about planned police raids on cult facilities by an insider, and ordered an attack in central Tokyo to divert attention away from the group.

The plan evidently backfired, and the police conducted huge simultaneous raids on cult compounds across the country. Over the next week, the full scale of Aum's activities was revealed for the first time.

At the cult's headquarters in Kamikuishiki on the foot of Mount Fuji, police found explosives, chemical weapons and biological warfare agents, such as anthrax and Ebola cultures, and a Russian MIL Mi-17 military helicopter. There were stockpiles of chemicals which could be used for producing enough sarin to kill four million people.

Police also found laboratories to manufacture drugs such as LSD, methamphetamines, and a crude form of truth serum, a safe containing millions of dollars worth in cash and gold, and cells, many still containing prisoners. During the raids, Aum issued statements claiming that the chemicals were for fertilizers. Over the next 6 weeks, over 150 cult members were arrested for a variety of offences.

On 30th March, Takaji Kunimatsu, chief of the National Police Agency, was shot four times near his house in Tokyo, seriously wounding him. Many suspect Aum involvement in the shooting, but as of September 2006, nobody has been charged.

Asahara, while on the run, issued statements, one claiming that the Tokyo attacks were a ploy by the US military to implicate the cult, and another threatening a disaster that "would make the Kobe earthquake seem as minor as a fly landing on one's cheek." to occur on April 15. The authorities took the threat seriously, declaring a state of emergency, stocking up hospitals with antidotes to nerve gas while chemical warfare specialists of the Self-Defence Force were put on standby. However, the day came and went with no incident.

On April 23, Murai Hideo, the head of Aum's Ministry of Science, was stabbed to death outside the cult's Tokyo headquarters amidst a crowd of about 100 reporters, in front of cameras. Although the man responsible - a Korean member of Yamaguchi-gumi - was arrested and eventually convicted of the murder, whether or not anyone was behind the assassination remains a mystery.

On the evening of 5 May a burning paper bag was discovered in a toilet in Shinjuku station in Tokyo, the busiest station in the world. Upon examination it was revealed that it was a hydrogen cyanide device which, had it not been extinguished in time, would have released enough gas into the ventilation system to potentially kill 20,000 commuters. Cyanide devices were found several more times in the Tokyo subway but none detonated.

During this time, numerous cult members were arrested for various offences, but arrests of the most senior members on the charge of the subway gassing did not yet take place.

Shoko Asahara was finally found hiding within a wall of a cult building known as "The 6th Satian" in the Kamikuishiki complex on May 16th and was arrested. On the same day, the cult mailed a parcel bomb to the office of Yukio Aoshima, the governor of Tokyo, blowing the fingers off his secretary's hand.

Asahara was initially charged with 23 counts of murder as well as 16 other offences. The trial, dubbed "the trial of the century" by the press, ruled Asahara guilty of masterminding the attack and sentenced him to death. The indictment was appealed unsuccessfully. A number of senior members accused of participation, such as Masami Tsuchiya, also received death sentences.

The reasons why a small circle of mostly senior Aum members committed atrocities and the extent of personal involvement by Asahara remain unclear to this day, although several theories have attempted to explain these events. In response to the prosecution's charge that Asahara ordered the subway attacks to distract the authorities' away from Aum, the defense maintained that Asahara was not aware of events, pointing to his deteriorating health condition.

Shortly after his arrest, Asahara abandoned the post of organization's leader and since then has maintained silence, refusing to communicate even with lawyers and family members. Many believe the trials failed to establish truth behind the events.

After 1995

On October 10, 1995, Aum Shinrikyo was ordered to be stripped of its official status as a "religious legal entity" and was declared bankrupt in early 1996. However the group continues to operate under the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, funded by a successful computer business and donations, and under strict surveillance. Attempts to ban the group altogether under the 1952 Subversive Activities Prevention Law were rejected by the Public Security Examination Commission in January 1997.

The group underwent a number of transformations in the aftermath of Asahara's arrest and trial. It re-grouped under the new name of Aleph in February 2000. It has announced a change in its doctrine: religious texts related to controversial Vajrayana Buddhist doctrines that authorities claimed were "justifying murder" were removed.

The group apologized to the victims of the sarin gas attack and established a special compensations fund. Provocative publications and activities that alarmed the society during Aum times are no longer in place.

Fumihiro Joyu, one of the few senior leaders of the group under Asahara who did not face serious charges, became official head of the organization in 1999.

In July 2000, Russian police arrested Dmitri Sigachev, an ex-KGB former Aum Shinrikyo member, and four more former Russian Aum members, for stockpiling weapons in preparation for attacking Japanese cities in a bid to free Asahara. In response, Aleph issued a statement saying they "do not regard Sigachev as one of its members".

In August, 2003, a woman believed to be an ex-Aum Shinrikyo member took refuge in North Korea via China.

Current activities

A June 2005 report by the National Police Agency showed that Aleph has approximately 1650 members, of which 650 live communally in cult facilities. The group operates 26 facilities in 17 prefectures, as well as about 120 residential facilities.

An article on the Mainichi Shimbun on September 11, 2002 showed that the Japanese public still distrusts Aleph, and cult facilities distributed throughout Japan are usually surrounded by protest banners from local residents demanding they leave.

There have been numerous cases where local authorities have refused to accept resident registration for cult members when it is discovered that Aleph has set up a facility within their jurisdiction. (This effectively denies cult members social benefits such as health insurance, and a total of five cases were taken to court by cult members, who won every time).

Local communities have also tried to drive the cult away by trying to prevent cultists from finding jobs, or to keep cult children out of universities and schools. Right-wing groups also frequently conduct marches near Aum-related premises such as apartments rent by Aum followers with extremely loud music broadcast over loudspeakers installed on minivans, which add to their neighbors' displeasure.

Monitoring of Aleph

In January 2000, the group was placed under surveillance for a period of three years under an anti-Aum law, in which the group is required to submit a list of members and details of assets to the authorities. (Highlights of the bill) In January 2003, Japan's Public Security Investigation Agency received permission to extend the surveillance for another three years, as they have found evidence which suggests that the group still reveres Asahara. According to the Religious News Blog report issued in April 2004, the authorities still considers the group "a threat to society."

In January 2006, the Public Security Investigation Agency was able to extend the surveillance for another three years. Despite the doctrinal changes and banning of Vajrayana texts, the PSIA advocates an increase of surveillance and increases in funding of the agency itself; periodically, the group airs concerns that texts are still in place, and that danger remains while Asahara remains leader. Aleph leaders carefully insert passages into almost everything they say or write to prevent misinterpretation, including karaoke songs.

On September 15, 2006, Shoko Asahara lost his final appeal against the death penalty imposed on him after his trial for the sarin attacks. The following day Japanese police raided the offices of Aleph in order to "prevent any illegal activities by cult members in response to the confirmation of Asahara's death sentence", according to a police spokesperson.

So far, 11 cult members have been sentenced to death, although none of the sentences has been carried out.

Disagreements within Aleph

According to the Public Security Investigation Agency, as of December 2005 the group is split over a dispute over its future; a large number of members, including senior members would like to keep the organization as close to pre-1995 structure as realistically possible.

Previously, the group was led by six senior executives (the so-called Chorobu), who transferred the decision-making power to Joyu. Joyu and his numerically larger faction advocate a milder course aimed at re-integration to society. Matters such as whether Asahara's portraits should be retained or abandoned remain the cornerstone of disagreements.

The fundamentalist faction reportedly refuses to comply with Joyu's decisions, and they are reportedly attempting to influence the sympathizers not to communicate at all with Joyu, who still remains the official leader of the group.

In 2006 Joyu and a number of supporters split from Aleph followers and occupied another building where they currently reside. According to Joyu, most of the higher-rank renunciates are his supporters already, while 'many others cannot announce [their agreement with Joyu's ideas] at this moment'. A number of essays by Joyu explain the basis for disagreement.

The appeal to abandon the viewpoint that 'Aum people are chosen people' and the society that opposes it is 'evil' with determination to 'hold on' and endure persecution (which Joyu considers 'fundamentalist ideas') is facing fierce opposition from more dogmatic followers while Joyu's tolerance to Aum followers who travel to India or Tibet to learn from meditation masters other than Asahara attract accusations of disloyalty. Joyu is nevertheless optimistic. 'This is a process and at the circumstances it cannot be accomplished by some order from above,' he explains. He criticizes the 'loyalty' argument saying that 'reintegrating into society' is not 'abandoning the faith' but rather elevating it to the next level and quotes Asahara's sermons where he speaks about 'egoistic desire to get separated from others by way of monkhood'.


On March 8, 2007, former Aum Shinrikyo spokesman and later one of the group's leaders, Fumihiro Joyu, formally announced a long-expected split

Overseas presence

Aum Shinrikyo has had several overseas branches: in Sri Lanka, in Bonn, Germany (Spokesperson: Jürgen Schöfer) and, several small ones in New York City, United States and Moscow, Russia.

International opposition

The EU has designated Aum Shinrikyo as a terrorist organization.

On December 11, 2002, The Canadian government added Aum to its list of banned terrorist groups.

The United States also maintains Aum on its list of foreign terrorist groups.

References in popular culture

Books, documentaries, and fiction attempting to explain the Aum phenomena became best-sellers not only in Japan, but overseas as well. Below are characteristic examples:

  • 'A' and 'A2', documentary movies by filmmaker Tatsuya Mori that demonstrate day-to-day ordinary lives of Aleph members, reportedly caused disbelief with many of the Japanese attending the limited screenings: unwilling to believe what they were seeing, some even accused him in using professional actors to 'make everything up'.
  • Underground, a documentary book by popular author Haruki Murakami consisting mainly of interviews with victims of the gas attacks. Murakami later apologized to its Japanese readers who 'misunderstood' his intentions and published a sequel containing interviews with Aum members. Both sets of interviews are included in the English translation.
  • The grindcore band Agoraphobic Nosebleed has a song titled "Aum Shinrikyo" on their cd "Altered States of America", and several songs on the same album deal lyrically with the Sarin gas attacks on Tokyo Subways.
  • Ghostwritten, a fiction novel by author David Mitchell, contains a short story about a "terrorist cult member in Okinawa" that is loosely based on the sarin attacks.

Comments on other faiths

In several of his lectures more related to economy and politics than religion itself, Asahara also made comments about Jewish people, such as: According to Asahara's prophecies, 'the future Buddha Maitreia' (the Buddhist 'Savior' who comes at the End of Times to save the humanking by spiritual guidance) 'will come surrounded by asuras' (while he also has said that 'Jewish people have a very strong asura factor'). It is also 'unclear yet if the Jews will ultimately come to my side'. Jewish people, in Asahara's judgement have a 'strong desire to achieve happiness not in material, but in a spiritual sense' and their ancestry is 'divine' (another quotation: '[..]therefore they are demi-gods'.

He also noted that the Kabbalah teaches 'the secret science' (previously kept secret) that will surface from within Jewish nation at the End of Times. (from book 'Vajrayana Sutra', which was removed from circulation by the group's leadership in 1999 as Japans PSIA agency criticized the book as 'justifying violence').

Speaking of more tradional religious groups, on number of occasions Asahara criticized them for 'degrading into traditionalism and losing the essence' [i.e. evolutionary path to Enlightenment]. 'What was left are just religious ceremonies and things necessary in order to make you become a religious robot and that's all'. He spoke highly however of H.H.Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism in general. (lectures, 1990-1993)

Before 1995 Aum Shinrikyo has criticized the Soka Gakkai, Japan's largest new religious group tied to a series of scandals which also controls New Komeito, a fraction in Japan's Parliament. Asahara accused SG in malicious interfering in its affairs and provocations aimed at creating difficultied to its activities.

Further reading

  • Shoko Asahara, Supreme Initiation: An Empirical Spiritual Science for the Supreme Truth, 1988, AUM USA Inc, ISBN 0-945638-00-0. Highlights the main stages of Yogic and Buddhist practice, comparing Yoga-sutra system by Patanjali and the Eightfold Noble Path from Buddhist tradition.

  • ---- Life and Death, (Shizuoka: Aum, 1993). Focuses on the process of Kundalini-Yoga, one of the stages in Aum's practice.

  • ---- Disaster Approaches the Land of the Rising Sun: Shoko Asahara's Apocalyptic Predictions, (Shizuoka: Aum, 1995). A controversial book, later removed by Aum leadership, speaks about possible destruction of Japan.

  • Ikuo Hayashi, Aum to Watakushi (Aum and I), Tokyo: Bungei Shunju, 1998. Book about personal experiences by former Aum member.

  • Robert Jay Lifton, Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism, Henry Holt, ISBN 0-8050-6511-3, LoC BP605.088.L54 1999

  • Haruki Murakami, Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, Vintage, ISBN 0-375-72580-6, LoC BP605.O88.M8613 2001 Interviews with victims.

  • Global Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Case Study on the Aum Shinrikyo, [USA] Senate Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, October 31, 1995.

  • David E. Kaplan, and Andrew Marshall, The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia, 1996, Random House, ISBN 0-517-70543-5. An account of the cult from its beginnings to the aftermaths of the Tokyo subway attack, including details of facilities, weapons and other information regarding Aum's followers, activities and property.

  • Ian Reader, Religious Violence in Contemporary Japan: The Case of Aum Shinrikyo, 2000, Curzon Press


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