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Aum Shinrikyo fugitive surrenders after 16 years
January 1, 2012 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Makoto Hirata, a senior member of doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo and one of three remaining fugitives from the group, has turned himself in to police after more than sixteen years on the run, leading to questions about the timing of his surrender now, after all these years. While Aum is best known as the group responsible for the deadly sarin-gas attack on Tokyo's subway system that killed 13 people and injured more than 6000, Hirata is wanted on suspicion of taking part in a different crime, the kidnapping and murder of Kiyoshi Kariya, the brother of an ex-Aum member who had left the group. Despite the fact that police stations and koban (police boxes) throughout Japan have prominently displayed wanted posters of the three Aum Shinrikyo fugitives for the past 16 years, Hirata had remained at large and hadn't had plastic surgery, leading to police speculation that he must have been helped by others while on the run.
posted by Umami Dearest (22 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

Rather than there being a big mysterious underground network, it's just as possible that his support base finally dried up.
posted by clarknova at 12:31 PM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Good read: The Cult at the End of the World: The Incredible Story of Aum
posted by jcruelty at 1:27 PM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another good read on the subject, for those not already familiar, is Haruki Murakami's Underground. His interviews with people who survived the sarin gas attack are pretty remarkable, but the interviews with people from Aum are downright chilling.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:10 PM on January 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

Oh, and incidentally: this group is still in operation.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:34 PM on January 1, 2012

Oh, and incidentally: this group is still in operation.

Fumihiro Joyu was interviewed on tv yesterday about Hirata. The guy is a bastard and it's hard to believe he walks free.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:02 PM on January 1, 2012

The guy is a bastard and it's hard to believe he walks free.

I'm no expert on the Japanese legal system, but the police and the courts seem to run very hot or very cold. Japan has the death penalty, and the condemned are often not told when their final day will be; guards just show up one day and take you to the gallows. The police detained members of Aum Shinrikyo and blocked their access to lawyers in the hopes of extracting confessions. At the same time, the police and the courts can seem to be very reluctant to drop the hammer on people involved with criminal activities if there's a chance they'd look bad in the press doing so. At least, that's how it looks to me from the outside. Joyu seems like the kind of slick, well-tefloned, charismatic guy who could get away with murder - or, you know, being an accessory to murder.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:28 PM on January 1, 2012

Fumihiro Joyu was interviewed on tv yesterday about Hirata.

Shame on whatever TV network gave him a platform.

I remember that during the very tense weeks after the subway attack but before Aum headquarters were raided, Joyu was on TV nearly every day denying any Aum involvement in the attacks. Meanwhile during those weeks there were several copycat incidents (tear gas being sprayed on subways) and at least one thwarted attack in Shinjuku station that came very close to killing more people. It wasn't a pleasant time to have to ride the Tokyo subway every day.
posted by Umami Dearest at 4:50 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

As an aside, Umami Dearest is one of the best user names of all time.
posted by dejah420 at 5:14 PM on January 1, 2012 [11 favorites]

In 1994-96 I worked for a small, American-run language school in Fukui prefecture that was very dysfunctional, and an all-around weird, nightmarish place to work. The Japanese office staff nicknames for the president (from Boston) and vice president (from Canada) were"Asahara and Joyu".
posted by KokuRyu at 5:40 PM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Still the high-water mark for weird cults. I remember the Aum space invaders too well, being 30 minutes late for one of the subway lines they gassed. The fact that they were allowed to operate both before (when everyone knew they'd gotten rid of the poor lawyer trying to help some of their victims) and after (as in KokuRyu's link to news about the alleged heartthrob Joyu) strikes me as one more of those "only in Japan" things.
posted by ecourbanist at 7:02 PM on January 1, 2012

A little about the Aum Shinrikyo cult.

Christopher Hitchens wrote about the Dalai Lama's endorsement of the leader/founder of the cult, Asahara Shoko, alleging Asahara donated over a million dollars to the Dalai Lama and using his connection with the Dalai Lama to get tax free status in Japan.

Japanese sarin victim hired by spinoff of Aum Shinrikyo

A documentarian refocuses on Aum Shinrikyo | more about the documentary with a YouTube clip | another clip on YouTube.

Real support for sarin victims sadly lacking
posted by nickyskye at 7:33 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

As for the criminal justice thing here, the courts have an absurdly high (around 96-98% conviction rate), but that's not entirely an accurate portrayal of the system. For the most part, people are only charged with crimes that the police feel certain they can get a conviction on. One of the main tools of the police in securing convictions has historically been confessions, and while there are rumblings of change in the distance, it is very, very easy to get confessions when you can hold someone without charging them for, what is it, 21 or 23 days?

If they can't get the confession, or have less than a concrete case, police tend to let things slide. It's more than just a little fucked up.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:41 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

This cult is really really much crazier than you realize if you just know about the sarin attacks. Def. check out some of the links above. At one point they were supplying like 50% of the world's LSD!
posted by jcruelty at 9:03 PM on January 1, 2012

One of my students was in hospital for a month due to those attacks. I myself rode the same line, stopping at one of the affected stations a few hours after the attacks. Perhaps this is partly responsible for my intolerance for kooks.
posted by Dodecadermaldenticles at 9:29 PM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Marisa stole already covered this partially, but don't they still have an office somewhere in Tokyo? I remember reading about it being somewhere really obvious like Harajuku or Shibuya a few years ago.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 5:30 AM on January 2, 2012

Does someone have another source for Christopher Hitchens' claim that the Dalai Lama met with Shoko Asahara?
posted by lukemeister at 12:37 PM on January 2, 2012

Does someone have another source for Christopher Hitchens' claim that the Dalai Lama met with Shoko Asahara?

The only other sources I'm seeing for this claim are various conspiracy sites, the official website of Lyndon LaRouche, and the Chinese English-language media. So ... yeah.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:23 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does someone have another source for Christopher Hitchens' claim that the Dalai Lama met with Shoko Asahara?

In the book Cult at the End of the World it mentions that he did technically meet the Dalai Lama. citation here
posted by jcruelty at 3:13 PM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's a Wired article of the same name and by the same author as the book jcruelty mentions- I gather the article is basically the short version of the book, which I'm planning to read soon.

I've recently been reading up on Aum Shinrikyo, and have come to the conclusion that they might very well have been the scariest organization that we've seen in modern times. As I understand it, their ultimate goal was to kill off the Japanese government, take over Japan in the chaos caused by the vacuum, and begin a nuclear war which would wipe out all of humanity but them. And they had a lot of followers (40,000 of them at one point, apparently), a lot of money, and converts and connections within all levels of the Japanese establishment- government, business, military, academia, and more. (As the Wired article describes, they specifically targeted the elites of society for conversion, and had much success in that- and their appeal wasn't limited to Japan, as they also made a bunch of Russian converts.) In many ways they were in more of a position to cause mass death and destruction than al-Qaeda, and they had an end goal that made al-Qaeda's look sane, humane, and rational. As far as I can tell, the only thing which really stopped them from doing even more damage than they did was their own impatience and bad luck (bad luck for them, anyway, good luck for everyone else in the world), and considering that Asahara was working within the context of a new religion rather than within any established part of society, they were already working against massive disadvantages, which makes the entire thing even more frightening. All of this based on a religious belief system which is generally (at least in the West) associated with harmlessness and peacefulness, which further goes to show that there is literally no belief system which can't be twisted into a justification for violence of the worst sort. (Aum's theology was mostly Buddhist but with some bits of Hinduism and a dash of Christianity, I've gathered, with the apocalyptic part of it mostly coming from the Christian aspect.)

Shoko Asahara's success in building Aum into what it was is perhaps the most troubling part of all. If he hadn't been an evil lunatic out to destroy the world, I think it's possible Aum would have ended up, years down the road, an established and respected semi-major world religion on the level of Mormonism- Asahara seems to have had levels of charisma and organizational ability that were absolutely off the charts, the sort of thing that comes along only once in a few generations and inevitably makes history, whether for good or ill. (To what extent all of that was, at least to some degree, a product of him being as sociopathic as he was is an unsettling question.) The fact that Aum struck a chord for as many people as it did (to the point of having 40,000 followers) is to me both an illustration of the degree of alienation modern society produces for so many, and a cautionary tale for those of us seeking answers to the problem of that alienation, on both the personal and the societal level.

In the book Cult at the End of the World it mentions that he did technically meet the Dalai Lama.

I think the backstory there was that Asahara was able to get a photo op with the Dalai Lama after he made that million dollar donation to him, but IIRC all that was in 1989, long before there was any sort of indication that Asahara was anything other than a regular Buddhist teacher. Hitchens not mentioning that and treating the whole thing like it's some great discredit to the Dalai Lama is... well, typical of Hitchens, and there isn't much else I can say on that which wouldn't be speaking ill of the dead.
posted by a louis wain cat at 5:49 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Aum's theology was mostly Buddhist but with some bits of Hinduism and a dash of Christianity, I've gathered, with the apocalyptic part of it mostly coming from the Christian aspect.

As Murakami explained it, the apocalyptic part was informed by a twisted Buddhism; that those who died horribly at their hands would break the cycle of life and death, ascending to Nirvana. There was even a name for this specific belief, an old Sanskrit word, iirc.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:57 PM on January 2, 2012

From what I can recollect, the Aum organization ran a bunch of yoga studios in Japan. After the sarin nerve gas attack, yoga went totally out of fashion in Japan, although it has started to make a comeback in the last 5 years.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:11 PM on January 2, 2012

It's worth noting that Japan has a very, very large number of quasi-religions/cults. One of the larger also ran parties, which was one of the LDPs main coalition partners is the New Komeito Party, which is the political Wong of Sokka Gakkai. Sokka Gakkai, depending on the viewpoint, is either a lay-Buddhist organization or Japan's largest cult. Before the DPJ took power, New Komeito was essentially the difference in votes between the LDP getting their way or not, which gave New Komeito a disturbing amount of power.

As I mentioned, Japan has a good number of cults. Most of them are non-violent, and are just out to take in the cash. There's no huge tradition of faith based life here, and people are pretty blasé about religion. Some people, though, need something more. In Japan, it seems, cults help fill that need.

In a slightly non-related tangent, one of the terrifying facts of the sarin plot was that the sarin they used was slower to spread, largely because the members of the cult that wanted to bring about the end of the world didn't want to die on the train. Murakami goes into some detail about it in his book. The members on the train poked holes in the bags of sarin, then we're picked up by other members waiting in cars near the stations. They then received atropine injections to counteract the sarin. This has always struck me as one of the most bizarre facts of the attack. Had this doomsday cult been able to find people willing to actually die for their wacked out beliefs, they would have used a faster dispersing form of sarin, and the death toll would have likely been hundreds, if not thousands dead.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:29 AM on January 3, 2012

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