Life Space puts legal experts in holy confusion

Self-styled guru, Koji Takahashi

Mainichi Daily News/November 23, 1999
By Masayasu Oishi

A mummified body found in a Chiba Prefecture hotel two weeks ago has thrown a cult known as Life Space into the national limelight.

Cultists - led by their founder, the hippielike, elderly self-professed guru Koji Takahashi - claim the mummy was alive until an autopsy was carried out, but the public has been calling for prosecution.

Takahashi may find himself called before investigators to explain cult actions.

Life Space's questionable activities involve Shinichi Kobayashi, the 66-year-old man from Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, whose mummified body was found in the hotel in Narita. Kobayashi suffered a stroke on July 2 and was hospitalized in Itami. However two weeks later, Kobayashi's family, against his doctor's wishes, removed him and drove him to the hotel-to be cared for by Life Space members.

One cultist told the Mainichi that Kobayashi was moved to the hotel "because the initial diagnosis was mistaken and his life was in danger."

Kobayashi apparently never left the hotel room again, and Life Space members refused to allow hotel staff in to clean. Kobayashi died and his body was mummified. About four months after their arrival, hotel employees began to get suspicious. They contacted police, who made the grisly find.

Life Space members insisted Kobayashi was still alive. Police had to obtain a warrant to remove the body. Police have since raided the hospital where Kobayashi was initially treated to try and establish whether there are grounds for charging Life Space.

Takahashi insists the cult has done no wrong, though he won't answer detailed questions about group activities. During a recent news conference, he repeatedly dismissed reporters' questions, saying "accepted theory" was behind all his actions. This accepted theory, teisetsu in Japanese, is a doctrine that explains everything, or so Takahashi says. After a reporter asked whether Takahashi believed Kobayashi had died because of the autopsy, the self-professed guru merely replied, "Yes, according to the accepted theory."

Life Space members are quick to dismiss charges of wrongdoing, but legal experts aren't so sure.

"The fact that they've stolen a dying patient from his doctor, left him somewhere where he can't be treated and drove him over such long distances could be treated as a type of assault. If authorities can establish links between the transportation of the body and death, there's a chance they could becharged with inflicting bodily injury resulting in death," says Kazuo Kawakami, a one-time prosecutor at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office and current lawyer.

"If you consider that [Kobayashi's] relatives didn't listen to the medical steps physicians instructed them to take, you could possibly lay charges of abandonment by a person responsible for protection of the victim resulting in death."

Michio Sato, a member of the House of Councillors who once served as a prosecutor with the Sapporo High Prosecutors Office, isn't as adamant as Kawakami.

"From what I can understand through media reports, it'd be hard to charge the cult with murder. It's not possible to determine whether the cult was content to just let Kobayashi die," he says.

"Then again, they might be just saying the sorts of things any criminal says, so investigators should pursue the case as much as they can and not dismiss the possibility the cult's actions could have been murder without clear intention."

Takeshi Tsuchimoto, a former Supreme Prosecutors Office prosecutor, says authorities should go after the cult.

"Abandonment by a person responsible for protection of the victim resulting in death under the Criminal Code would be the best charge to go for," he says. "It's a crime applied to those who, if responsible for looking after children, the elderly, disabled or ill leave them for dead or fail to help

them survive. Inverstigators need to establish that [Life Space] did nothing to help [Kobayashi live.]"

Tsuchimoto adds that prosecutors need to establish how long Kobayashi would have lived had he continued to receive treatment, as well as find out when he actually died. "Diaries kept by the cult should help there."

Tsuchimoto continues: "Apart from Kobayashi's wife and son, [who stayed with the body and were responsible for looking after it], there's also a chance that Takahashi could be found to have been in violation of the Criminal Code."

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