Friday, September 21, 2012

Aum Shinrikyo

A few weeks ago was September 11th, many Japanese people asked us about the day, and spoke about tragedies regarding terrorists in general.  This is when I learned about the group called Aum Shinrikyo, the group responsible for the largest terrorist attack in Japanese history.

Aum Shinrikyo was started in 1984 by a man named Shoko Asahara. Asahara claimed that he had reached enlightenment, and formed a religion with origins based in Buddhism, Hinduism, Yoga, and Christianity. In 1989 the group applied for the status as an official religion of Japan, and was approved.

Asahara delivered highly dynamic sermons. He incorporated references from pop culture, science fiction, and popular manga. He criticized older religions for losing their followers due to dull, lifeless sermons. The Aum group also used modern advertising techniques to draw in new followers1. The religion was highly intriguing and modern lending itself to many of the elite in Japan, who were dissatisfied with their lives and sought spiritual guidance in the modern time.  The religious group gained high popularity, and at its peak had more than 40,000 members, 10,000 in Japan, and 30,000 throughout Russia2.

Aum Shinrikyo’s main doctrine was built around an obsession about the apocalypse. Asahara referred to himself as Christ, he was to be the savior to all his followers, and he alone could guide them to their survival at the end of days4.  Asahara strove to take over Japan and the world in the wake of an apocalyptic WWIII. Asahara said that a war would start between the America and Japan, and would result in a nuclear Armageddon, thus the end of days.

On March 20th, 1995, Aum Shirikyo conducted the most devastating terrorist attack in modern Japanese history.  5 subway lines, all of which converged in Kasumigasuki and Nagatachoo, grounds for the Japanese government, were simultaneously attacked. Canisters of Sarin, a potent and highly volatile nerve agent, were punctured and then released on the five trains. The day of the incident, 13 people were killed, 54 were injured, 980 became very ill, and more than 5,000 were temporarily blinded. In the aftermath more than 1,000 have been disabled or remain permanently ill due to contact with a person who was on the train at the time of the incident. Many health workers fell ill as a result of their work on that day.

 In the wake of the Sarin Gas Attack police lead raids on Aum facilities across the country. At this time they found thousands of kilograms of the chemical precursors to sarin, enough to kill 4,000, 000 people. A Russian military helicopter, the illicit drugs LSD, and meth, safes with millions of dollars worth of gold, as well as explosives were all found. Biological weapons were found, including anthrax and Ebola. It was later found that the group had intended to aerosolize the Sarin and distribute it around the city using the helicopter2.

As a result of the raids by the government, the cult felt a strengthened sense of unity. In the eyes of the members, this only goes to prove the vindictive nature of the government, which is one of the fundamental teachings of Asahara4. The groups retaliated by promising to devastate the country beyond anything that the nation had ever seen on April 15th, 1995. A state of emergency was declared, and hospitals stocked up on nerve agent antidotes, and the Japanese Self-Defense Force was put on standby. The day passed by, the entire city of Tokyo debilitatingly scared, but no attacks were made6.

Since the attacks were made much has been revealed about the cult and its members. It was also found that the group had carried out a smaller practice attack on a residential neighborhood. 7 were killed in that attack and 100 injured, in what officials had previously only known as a mysterious attack2.

At least nine biological warfare attacks had been made by Aum in Japan prior to the 1995 Sarin Gas attack. All had been ineffective because none of the strains used were sufficiently virulent3. Attacks had been made on the imperial palace and surrounding city, and the American Base at Yokosuka. No one was killed or harmed as a result of the biological attacks carried out by the group, which lead to their decision to use chemicals in future attacks.  

May 5th, 1995 two bags were found in Shinjuku station, (the busiest station in the world), during rush hour. One contained sulfuric acid, the other sodium cyanide, which when combined produce the lethal hydrogen cyanide gas7. The bags were found before the chemicals combined. If the attack had successfully been carried out successfully it would have likely killed upwards of around 20,000 people.

Aum has made a staggering number of attacks; many lives have been lost to them. All the incidences involving Aum are outlined here:

Aum still survives, though it now goes by the name Aleph, and in 2005 pulled in a staggering income of over $300,000 by selling products online through unsalaried cult members. More then 500 live in cult communes, and the group still heralds over 2000 members4. Though the group has had no attacks since 1999, the group is closely monitored by police forces. Aum members are highly disliked in Japan, many companies refuse to hire those affiliated with Aum, local offices refuse to provide residence status, and homeowners refuse to rent or sell properties to members4. According to their website they are apologetic for the incidences their group caused, and are steering future endeavors in a new direction. They still believe follow the teachings of Asahara, due to his “genius in meditation”. As a group reform they have steered away from appointing a new guru, and will continue to follow the meditative teachings of Asahara. The website indicates that all changes outlined are to be approved of by Asahara5.

1. Onishi, N. (2004, February 24). After 8-year trial in Japan, cultist is sentenced to death. The New York Times. Retrieved from
2. Fletcher, H. (2012, June 19). Aum shinrikyo. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from
3. Broad, W. J. (1998, May 26). Sowing death: A special report.; how japan germ terror alerted world. The New York Times. Retrieved from
4. Marshall, A. (1999, July 15). It gassed the tokyo subway, microwaved its enemies and tortured its members. so why is the aum cult thriving?. The Gaurdian. Retrieved from
5. Joyu, F. (2000, January 18). Outlook on the aum-related incidents. Retrieved from
6. Bellamy, P. (n.d.). False prophet: The aum cult of terror.Crime Library, Retrieved from
7. Monterey Institute of International Studies. (2001).Chronology of aum shinrikyo's cbw activites .       
            Retrieved from 

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