Aum splinter group raided over unregistered travel agency

Police on Wednesday searched eight offices and facilities related to the Aum Shinrikyo cult’s splinter group for allegedly running a travel agency without proper registration.

Investigative sources said the group, called Hikari no Wa (The Circle of Rainbow Light), is suspected of planning and running a tour package in May that it described as a “pilgrimage,” although the group had not been registered as a travel agency.

Operating such a business without proper registration would be a violation of the travel agency law.

Wednesday’s raid included facilities in Tokyo and Osaka Prefecture, according to the sources.

In a statement issued the same day, the group’s public relations team defended their pilgrimage as one that “has been carried out legally and has not been subject to the government’s administrative guidance for a long time.”

“It is not exactly clear (to us) what is unlawful, so we will look into the matter and respond appropriately,” the group said.

Information posted on the website of Hikari no Wa, which is headed by a former senior Aum member, said one of the group’s traits is making pilgrimages, and that members have been visiting shrines and temples since 2002.

Tours are offered roughly every two months and are also open to the general public. Among the places they have visited are the Nikko Toshogu Shrine in Tochigi Prefecture and the Kumano mountainous area in Wakayama Prefecture.

The group was set up in 2007 by former Aum spokesman Fumihiro Joyu, who left the cult. The splinter group had about 200 followers at the end of July, according to the Public Security Intelligence Agency.

Aum founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and 12 other Aum members have been sentenced to death for a series of crimes, including the deadly sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. Aum renamed itself Aleph in 2000.