When it comes to cults, wherever they spring up in the world, one thing is for sure, and it’s that they never end well. Since the apocalyptic finale of WW2 that featured two nuclear explosions, the island nation of Japan has been rather docile. That is until you read about the story of Shoko Asahara, his cult of Aum Shinrikyo, and the worst terror attack seen in modern Japanese history. This is a story of a fat anime Jesus, Sarin Gas, and the Russian military. A story that ends in death and misery.
On the 2nd of March, 1955, a boy named Chizuo Matsumoto was born into a poverty-stricken Japanese family, he would later change his name to Shoko Asahara. Afflicted with infantile glaucoma since the day he was born, Asahara was almost completely blind. As he grew up, he was sent to a school for the blind and soon became the school bully and would routinely beat up and extort cash from his fellow students.
After school, Asahara pursued a commonplace career for the blind in Japan, which was traditional Chinese medicine. In 1978, he married his wife who probably regretted her decision as she went on to give birth to 12 of his kids.
Asahara’s medical career nose-dived in 1981 when he was charged and fined by the Japanese authorities for practicing unlicensed medicine as well as selling drugs that were unregulated. With his career in tatters, Asahara turned to study various forms of religion such as Western esotericism, yoga, meditation, esoteric Buddhism, and esoteric Christianity.
After years of study, Asahara formed his Aum Shinrikyo cult in 1984. If you had asked the cult what religion they were based on, they probably would have answered ‘yes.’ Aum Shinrikyo was based around a clusterfuck of religions from the bible to the scriptures of Vajrayana. Asahara declared to his followers that he was Christ reincarnated. Here we go…
No cult would be complete with a conspiracy to keep everyone together and the Aum Shinrikyo cult was defined by an array of bizarre conspiracy theories which all came together to predict an impending apocalypse in the form of World War 3 in the form of a nuclear war which was deemed ‘necessary to cleanse the human population’. The groups the cult held at the center of these conspiracies were the British Royal Family, rival religions, the Dutch, and last but not least the quintessential conspiracy theory material, the Jews!
Rather than being written off as a weirdo, Asahara and his cult soon gained a plethora of followers, with many of them being rich and influential. His credibility only grew when he became a feature on various Japanese tv shows and managed to bag a meeting with the Dalai Lama. He even released his own Shoko Asahara anime to get down with the kids and neckbeard virgins.
Asahara, who was now driving around in an armored Mercedes, soon began to obtain significant wealth due to these appearances and donations from followers. However, the cult soon raised suspicions when various members who had questioned or tried to leave mysteriously disappeared.
The group used their wealth to purchase various properties around Tokyo. Some buildings owned by the cult were completely off-limits to the public with blacked-out windows and a perimeter guard around it. Nearby residents were often woken by a foul-smelling odor emitting from the building. When they called the police, they arrived a week later when the cult had moved out and emptied the building. Many say this demonstrates the power the cult held over powerful figures in the Japanese authorities.
As the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Asahara and some of his men went to Russia where they flashed their cash and managed to obtain meetings with Russian government figures. Whilst in the country, Aum Shinrikyo managed to gain hundreds of new Russian cult followers.
In the chaos of post-Soviet Russia, the group were given Russian army training and were able to purchase a helicopter as well as a cache of assault rifles and RPGs and smuggle them back to Japan. Hidden from his regular followers, Asahara had formed a secret organization within the cult that planned on initiating a global apocalypse.
In 1995, the foul-smelling operation became clear when this secret unit of Aum Shinrikyo boarded the Tokyo Metro armed with packets of Sarin nerve Gas and pointed umbrellas. During rush hour, the attackers dropped the packets and discreetly pierced them before leaving the train. People began to flee the train convulsing and dying, but due to Japan’s strict desire for the trains running on time, the trains continued and contaminated a range of Metro stations and poisoned many more people.
In the aftermath of the sarin gas attack, 13 people were dead, and those who survived were left with horrific brain and nerve damage from the sarin gas effects. Aum Shinrikyo was soon implicated, and the Japanese government launched an enormous attack on the group through the use of a combined force of 2,500 military and law enforcement.
During the raid on over 25 Aum Shinrikyo buildings, 400 members of the cult were arrested, and 50 children taken into care. Some Japanese citizens, likely inspired by infamous assassin Otoya Yamaguchi, took matters into their own hands and murdered some cult members with knives as they were being led away by police.
Despite the arrests, there were still some cult militants active, and they proceeded to launch further chemical warfare attacks on the Tokyo subway using Sarin gas and Zyklon B. They also sent assassins to murder the Tokyo police chief investigating the cult. They shot him four times outside his house, but he managed to survive.
One of the last members of the cult to be arrested was Asahara himself, who was found Saddam-style hiding in an isolated area of one of his properties. Due to fear of a breakout attempt by armed cult members, Asahara’s prisoner van was protected by Japanese airborne troops.
Incredibly, due to the number of cult members who had been arrested and the severity of the crime, the trial of Asahara and his cult took 8 years to complete. The trial revealed that Asahara had given the green light to launch the chemical attacks on the metro as he intended to blame America and kick start WW3 before overthrowing the Japanese state and becoming the Emperor of a new Japan.
his last step was to be achieved using the Russian army training and military equipment. The cult had planned to deploy heavily armed fighters from helicopters into government buildings and imperial palaces, killing everyone inside and installing cult members.
In order to save their own skin, some cult members cooperated with the authorities and snitched on Asahara. As well as the Tokyo subway attack attacks, Asahara was also found guilty of murdering the Sakamoto family. Sakamoto was a lawyer who was building a case against the Aum Shinrikyo cult. Throughout the 8 year trial, Asahara remained silent or muttered to himself. He was sentenced to death.
The trial revealed that the cult had gathered assets worth over $1 billion. They had murdered 46 of their own members who were secretly cremated and were in the process of creating a variety of other lethal nerve agents to carry out more chemical warfare attacks. In addition, the cult also had inserted various members into high positions in the Japanese police, military, security services, and media, allowing them to stay one step ahead all the time.
In the years following, various Aum Shinrikyo cult members were executed by hanging for their crimes. A friend in Japan informed us that every time a cult member was executed, every channel on Japanese TV would play a sort of “death jingle” to signal the moment a member’s heart stopped.
The big fish himself, Shoko Asahara, was executed on the 6th of July, 2018 alongside 6 other cult members. Despite the carnage he caused, he still has followers loyal to him and the Japanese cult, who naturally keep a low profile. Except for the one who drove his car into a crowd of new year revellers in Tokyo in 2019, the attack was in retaliation for the execution of Aum Shinrikyo cult members. Thankfully nobody was killed, but the attack demonstrated the long-lasting effects of the doomsday cult.