It gassed the Tokyo subway, microwaved its enemies and tortured its members. So why is the Aum cult thriving? - 1999-07-15
The past is where Sanwa residents thought Aum Shinrikyo belonged, until it turned up on their doorstep. After the Tokyo subway attack, police arrested Aum's partially blind guru Shoko Asahara and hundreds of his devotees. The cult was stripped of its religious status and declared bankrupt, and its facilities near Mount Fuji - including the mammoth sarin factory - were bulldozed to the ground. But while Aum is designated a terrorist group by the US state department, it was never outlawed in Japan, where the authorities seemed to believe it would just fade away. They were very wrong.
Aum's revival is astonishing. Not only has it survived its years in the wilderness, but it is expanding again at an alarming rate. It now has about 2,000 followers, including 500 hard-core devotees living in cult-owned facilities. It earned a staggering £30m last year from its shops, which sell cut-price computers assembled by unsalaried followers. It is distributing millions of booklets in which new recruits explain how Aum teachings have given them supernatural powers. It even has its own pop band, called Perfect Salvation, which performs songs written by the guru himself.
The cult's expansion has sparked fear and anger across Japan. Last month in Tokyo a pair of followers handing out flyers for the sect's computer shops were stabbed by two unidentified attackers; the cultists were slightly hurt. Aum members have been hounded or evicted from several properties, in one case after the cult acquired a Tokyo apartment in the same block as a woman whose husband had perished in the subway attack.