Tokyo, Japan - The Mainichi answers common questions readers may have about what has become of the AUM Shinrikyo cult that perpetrated the deadly sarin attacks against the public in the mid-1990s.
Question: The AUM criminal trials have ended, but are there still followers of the organization?
Answer: Yes, in the form of successor groups. From 2000, AUM began a series of name changes, and it now operates under the name "Aleph." There also exist splinter groups, but other than "Hikari no Wa" (Circle of Light), which is headed by former top AUM member Fumihiro Joyu, they have not drawn much attention. At the end of October, in documents submitted to the Public Security Intelligence Agency (PSIA), Aleph claimed around 1,100 followers, while Hikari no Wa claimed around 200. Aleph holds 24 facilities across 13 prefectures, and Hikari no Wa holds eight facilities across eight prefectures.
Q: Are the believers still devoted to former AUM leader and death row inmate Chizuo Matsumoto (Shoko Asahara)?
A: For years after the AUM attacks, devotion to Matsumoto was not seen. According to the PSIA, however, starting in 2009 pictures of Matsumoto began being prominently displayed on altars at Aleph facilities. Furthermore, on Matsumoto's birthday on March 2, Aleph members supposedly mark the time of his birth with group meditation.
Q: What about Hikari no Wa followers?
A: They claim to have shed his influence, but the PSIA believes based on its investigations that the organization had its roots as a successor to AUM planned by Matsumoto around the time of his arrest. A ritual given by Joyu to believers called "empowerment" is said to be almost identical to a ritual called "initiation" that was conducted by Matsumoto.
Q: Do the two groups still get new followers?
A: There appears to have been a sharp increase in Aleph followers recently, with over 90 new followers last year and over 200 new followers this year as of the end of October. The group is said to attract members through Internet community sites or by asking young people in busy city areas whether they are interested in things like fortune-telling or yoga. Hikari no Wa reportedly had around 10 new followers this year as of the end of October.
Q: Are these two groups dangerous?
A: They both are being monitored under a law enacted in 1999. Every three months, the organizations have to report their financial status and number of followers to the PSIA, and the PSIA conducts investigations of their facilities when deemed necessary.
The monitoring can be done for a maximum of three years before a renewal is necessary. This January will be the end of the current period, and within the year the Ministry of Justice is expected to ask the Public Security Examination Commission, which holds authority to decide how to handle such a designation, to again extend the monitoring period. (Answers by Ichiro Ito, City News Department)