by tomokazu kosuga
illustrations by ami kaneko
translated by lena oishi
Aum leader Shoko Asahara
As if there were ever any cause for doubt, Japan’s absolute cultural superiority over America is by 1994 a total given. Our bathroom technology makes it look like you’re still shitting in cave holes, our rockabillies’ hair is on average four to five centimeters higher than yours, and our recession is thoroughly kicking your recession’s ass (in recession terms). Even our religious nuts are leaving you schlubs in the dust. So what if there are a hundred Texan child molesters holed up in a rural church with some guns and teenage brides? Right now, the Aum Supreme Truth cult is holed up at the base of Mt. Fuji, not only prophesying the end of the world but working around the clock to make it happen. And not in some Manson-family “let’s kill a couple movie stars and see if that kicks off a race war” way, either. We’re talking nuclear bombs, nerve gas, Tesla-style earthquake lasers, sinking continents—the works. What separates these stallions of crazy from the rest of the herd is they might actually pull it off.
Aum started as most things do here, with a bunch of pent-up nerds who couldn’t get laid. If you were a big reader of paranormal fanzines back in the early 80s, you may have come across an ad featuring a shirtless, levitating doofus named Chizuo Matsumoto for his “Aum Association of Mountain Wizards.” Chizuo’s wizard training more or less consisted of doing yoga and drinking dubious health tonics, and promised its adherents the powers of flight, mind-reading, X-ray vision, “trips to the fourth dimension,” and conversations with God. Evidently, during one of these chats, God told Chizuo to raise an army for the apocalypse and Chizuo said, “Sure.”
Sometime around ’87 or ’88, Chizuo Matsumoto changed his name to Shoko Asahara, retitled the Mountain Wizards
, and started cobbling together a religion from bits and pieces of Buddhism, Hinduism, the Christian Book of Revelation, and—100 percent seriously—the works of Isaac Asimov. According to one of the hundred-odd books, pamphlets, and manga (Japanese comic books for adults—think
) he and his followers have put out in the past five years, Shoko believes that two years from now Japan will be completely underwater and by 1999 China and the Western world will have nuked each other out of existence, leaving Aum to run the show. Despite confirmed newspaper reports that you have to give Aum direct access to your bank account and drink a cup of the Reverend Master’s blood in order to join, despite the fact that said master looks and sounds for all the world like a brain-damaged member of the Flower Travellin’ Band, and despite the fact that a friend of ours who got snookered into attending an introductory class told us that they tried to sell him chunks of Shoko’s beard, the group has taken off.
As of 1993, their membership in Japan is estimated at over 8,000. That may not sound like much compared with other East Asian cults like the Moonies or even our own screwy Buddhists, the Soka Gakkai, but it reputedly includes a brain trust of Japan’s brightest research scientists. How did a high-school-educated yoga teacher and literal snake-oil salesman persuade folks like Aum’s “science minister,” Hideo Murai, an astrophysicist with an IQ 20 points north of Einstein’s, to give up their jobs at the nation’s top industrial giants and follow him? Simple, he said he could get them laid. Just kidding, he said he could make them psychic.
During our last parliamentary elections in 1990, Shoko and 24 of his followers ran for seats in the House of Representatives on a platform of tax cuts and doomsday preparedness. In spite of semi-daily parades of supporters in unsettlingly realistic Shoko Asahara masks through downtown Tokyo, the Aumies lost. Rather than dwell on his defeat, Shoko took to the airwaves, making the rounds on the talk-show circuit and even hosting his own cult-TV segment,
Shoko Asahara’s Advice to Youth
, and a Vladivostok-based pirate radio program called
Evangelion Tes Basileias
The Gospel of the Kingdom
). Which isn’t to say he still didn’t dwell on his defeat. Whereas during the campaign Shoko seemed keen on guiding the Japanese people safely through Armageddon, his tone in the years following smacks heavily of “Tough shit, losers.”
Around the same time, the cult’s Mt. Fuji compound became plagued by reports of disappearing members. In nearby Yokohama prefecture, Tsutsumi Sakamoto, a lawyer working on a suit against Aum for the families of several members, went missing, along with his wife and son. The local police claim there’s no evidence linking the cult to Sakamoto’s disappearance, but his colleagues have claimed in the press that the real reason the cops won’t go after them is that they don’t want to be seen as religiously intolerant. By the way, you think political correctness is out of control in the West? Try coupling that with a crippling sense of national manners and fear of losing face and see where you end up. It’s gotten so bad that not only have the national police refused to investigate any of the numerous claims of rampant abuse of Aum members for fear of being labeled Aumophobes, this August when cops and firefighters tried to respond to a mysterious gas leak at the Fuji compound that sickened its neighbors, they were driven back by armed cult members.
All this Keystone Kops business might be a little funny if it weren’t for an incident three months ago in the city of Matsumoto. On June 27, 1994, seven residents—and two dogs!—of the Kita-Fukashi neighborhood died in excruciating pain from acute “sarin” poisoning. More than 600 others had to be treated for uncontrollable vomiting, seizures, and blackout-inducing headaches. Sarin is a WWII-era nerve gas that ranks up with Zyklon-B on the terrible-ways-to-die scale. Matsumoto police blame 38-year-old metal-shop worker Yoshiyuki Kono for the toxin’s release, claiming he told the ambulance crew who treated him and his dying wife that he’d made a mistake while mixing some pesticides. If so, this means that in one night a machine worker accidentally created a massive batch of what took Nazi scientists decades to develop.
According to an employee at an industrial chemical lab who spoke to us on the condition of us not getting him fired, the recipe for synthesizing sarin is a complicated, extremely dangerous process known only to an very limited set of military bigwigs. “Most legitimate munition labs who make sarin do so using the binary method,” he told us. “Meaning separate teams produce the two chemical precursors to the gas and load them into a divided delivery system that only fuses them together once it’s en route to its target. It’s safer that way, but more importantly, only the person overseeing the operation ever knows the full process.” In other words, you’ve basically got a better chance of getting struck by lightning while figuring out the last episode of
than this poor schmuck ever had of whipping together a whole town’s worth of sarin.
So, if not poor Kono, who would have the wherewithal to come up with the stuff? Perhaps a group of apocalypse aficionados containing some of Japan’s smartest men and a leader who has mentioned sarin by name in at least three sermons over the past three years? Maybe a cult whose headquarters periodically emits clouds of poison gas and who won’t let officials or reporters in to see what’s going on? Last month, at least two of Japan’s major newspapers received an anonymous letter titled “Speculation Regarding the Matsumoto Sarin Incident,” which so far no one’s been willing to publish. An old friend of ours, who once again wouldn’t let us identify him or his employer for fear of becoming the next Kono, let us take a secret look at his paper’s copy.
Over the course of 11 pages, the writer provides several details of the incident that were never released to the press, says roughly the same thing as our chemist did about the difficulty and danger of making sarin, and then explicitly points the finger at Aum Shinrikyo: “Only Aum has the people, the know-how, the money, and the motive to make and use this mad weapon.”
The motive in question involves an eviction order against an Aum facility in Matsumoto that Shoko has been trying (unsuccessfully) to get overturned. The judge on the case lives right across the street from Kono’s house, which is probably not a coincidence.
The editors at my friend’s paper want to confirm the letter writers’ identity before saying anything against Aum, but all we’d like confirmation on is that this is just a huge,
nightmare we’re about to wake up from on a urine-soaked bed. Most terror cells, like, say, the Islamic fundamentalists who took out the bottom levels of New York’s World Trade Center in February of ’93, tend to favor more rudimentary death contraptions, like stuffing a shitload of bombs inside a car—which is horrible enough. But if these guys are willing to use chemical weapons on civilians over a housing dispute, then what the fuck is going to happen when Shoko’s predicted Judgment Day comes rolling around?
Right after their big political bust, right when Shoko started mentioning sarin at his services and Hideo Murai started bringing up his fascination with death rays and microwave cannons and earthquake guns during interviews, Aum had a major recruitment drive at their recently opened Moscow branch, which they claim netted them upward of 30,000 new Russian disciples. In case you haven’t been watching the news, Russia is that place where the entire military infrastructure of the former Soviet Union is gradually slipping onto the black market. According to a brief report in
, Aum has spent at least $50 million to date wining and dining the heads of the Russian science community and defense industry. I don’t even think the term “cult” works at this point. They are basically a Bond villain.