by B.A. Robinson

Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance

Last updated on 2003-May-22

from ReligiousTolerance Website

The Aum Shinri Kyo is a destructive, doomsday cult centered in Japan. Their name is a combination of Aum which is a sacred Hindu syllable, and Shinri Kyo which means "supreme truth". It appears to be a syncretistic religion, founded in 1987, and combining elements of Buddhism with Christianity. It has been rejected as a legitimate Buddhist faith group by Buddhist leaders in Japan.

Its leader, Shoko Asahara was born in 1955 as Chizuo Matsumoto, the son of a tatami straw mat maker. He was partially blind at birth, and attended a school for the blind. As an adult, he was an acupuncturist. In the early 1980's, he opened a folk medicine shop. Later, he established a school for yoga. Then he traveled to the Himalayas to study Buddhism and Hinduism. This led him to organize the Aum Shinri Kyo in 1987.

Asahara is regarded as Christ by his followers. Using the book of Revelation from the Christian Scriptures, and the writings of a 16th Century Christian astrologer, Nostradamus, he has predicted major disasters to occur in the final years of this millennium. His group reached a peak membership of about 20,000 worldwide. Many of them were drawn to the group because of a promise that they would develop supernatural powers; others were attracted by the group's rejection of the corruption and materialism which they saw throughout modern Japan. Many arbitrary, strict rules of behavior were enforced on the membership. They were explained as being part of an ancient tradition. Supreme Truth emphasized a siege mentality: that outside groups, including the national governments, were intent on destroying their organization.

Asahara claims that he has traveled forward to the year 2006 and has talked to people who have survived World War III. Asahara called for the group to fight in a final world revolution against the enemies of Japan, including the US. The group established a number of chemical factories and stockpiled various chemicals, as preparation for this Armageddon. There have been allegations that Asahara had ordered the assassination of at least one of his followers.

A study by the New York Times revealed that the cult had also mounted at least nine biological attacks on different installations in Japan. Targets included the Legislature, the Imperial Palace, the U.S. base at Yokosuka. Cult members sprayed microbes and germ toxins from rooftops and convoys of trucks. The attacks failed; they resulted in no known deaths. It appears that the the germs that they were able to obtain lacked sufficient virulence. (4)

In the late 1980's, counter-cult lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto was campaigning on behalf of the families of some of the cult's members. He was interviewed in 1989 by the Tokyo Broadcasting System where he revealed details of the cult's illegal activities. The interview was never broadcast. One source stated that he, his wife and child were kidnapped and murdered a week later by Aum members who have since confessed to the killings. At the trial, prosecution witnesses said that members of the cult entered the Sakamoto home while the family was sleeping, injected them with lethal doses of potassium chloride and strangled them. (5)

Asahara was placed on trial for the spreading of a nerve gas, Sarin, in a Tokyo subway station on 1995-MAR-20. The gas killed 12 passengers and injured over 5000. US Senate testimony revealed that if those responsible had not made errors in preparation and dispersion of the gas, that many thousands of innocent subway patrons would have been killed, and untold thousands injured. Over 100 Aum members have been charged. Trials are expected to last up to 10 years. The government is attempting to outlaw the cult under their Anti-Subversive Activities Law. Membership had dropped to about 7,000.

In 1996, Eriko Lida was found guilty of illegal confinement of notary public Kiyoshi Kariya. While there, AUM members injected an anesthetic into Kariya. This produced side effects which killed the man. Lida was given a 6 year sentence, which she completed in 2002-AUG. (7)

Ikuo Hayashi, "Dr. Death, " is a formal medical specialist of the Aum group. He was found guilty of spreading deadly gas in the Tokyo subway system. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment. His,

"apparent remorse and his co-operation in the investigation were believed to have influenced the decision to punish him with life imprisonment instead of the death penalty." (5)

(Japan is one of only two democracies in the world that still retain the death penalty; the other country is the U.S.)

The government failed in 1997-JAN to have the group disbanded. A legal panel ruled that there were insufficient grounds to believe that it remained a threat to the public with only 1,000 full and part time members.(6) Estimates of the number of members in the group vary widely from 1,000 to 5,000. During 1997-AUG, the Japanese Public Security Investigation Agency announced that the AUM has has established 10 new "departments" and reopened five regional chapters and one training center. They now have 26 facilities in Japan,

In 1998-OCT, Kazuaki Okazaki, a founding member of the Supreme Truth group was found guilty of conspiring with five other group members in the murder of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife Satoko and their baby son Tatsuhiko in 1989-NOV. He was also found guilty of killing Shuji Taguchi, a member of the cult, in 1999-FEB. Okazaki was scheduled to be executed.

Rika Matsumoto, third daughter of group leader Shoko Asahara has now taken charge of the cult. The group apparently believes that she has great spiritual abilities because she was born after her father was "enlightened" in 1982.

On 2000-JAN-18, Aum Shinri Kyo changed its name to Aleph.

In mid 2000-FEB, Kiyotaka Tonozaki was given a life sentence for his involvement in the 1995 subway gas attack. He was the driver, and played an "essential role" in the premeditated attack. On 2000-JUL-17, Toru Toyoda and Kenichi Hirose were given the death penalty for spraying the nerve gas in the subway. Shigeo Sugimoto, another driver, was given life imprisonment.

Masato Yokoyama, 48, was given a death sentence for his involvement in the release of sarin gas on the Tokyo subway system. Japan is one of the few democracies in the world which still executes people for serious crimes. On 2003-MAY-19, Yokoyama's appeal was denied. Presiding Judge Kunio Harada said at the Tokyo High Court that his,

"...was an inhumane crime of an unprecedented scale ... the defendant must bear a grave responsibility." (8)

A Christian-Buddhist group. Total body count: 12 killed, 5000 injured (1995)




  1. Timoth3y (with a 3) Romero has an on-line essay "Aum Shinri Kyo and the Japanese Police".

  2. David E. Kaplan, Andrew Marshall "The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia", Crown Publ., (1996)

  3. Timoth3y has a series of notes on apparent errors in the above book. See: "Lies at the End of the World"

  4. "Cult Unleashed Germ Attacks," New York times Service, 1998-MAY-25

  5. "Doomsday cultist sentenced to death," BBC Online Network, 1998-OCT-23

  6. Miwa Suzuki & David Williams, "Teenage girl takes over Japan's subway gas attack cult," AFP news service, 1998-NOV-1

  7. "Death cult leader freed," Mainichi Daily News

  8. "Court upholds death for Japan subway terrorist," Mainichi Daily News