Cult raises spectre of subway gas attack

Eight years after Aum Shinrikyo killed 27 commuters with sarin gas, another New Age doomsday cult is in the news

The Straits Times/April 30, 2003
By Kwan Weng Kin

Tokyo -- Japan is baffled by the appearance of a potentially menacing New Age cult just as the country is trying to close a chapter on the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday sect which sprayed subway commuters with deadly sarin gas eight years ago.

The latest cult, which believes the world is being destroyed by deadly microwaves, has been hogging the media spotlight in Japan in the past few days after it illegally occupied a stretch of mountain road and turned everything in sight into an eerie white.

Members of the new cult, moving in a 15-vehicle long caravan, took over a 400-m stretch of an isolated mountain road straddling the border between Fukui and Gifu prefectures in central Japan earlier this month.

The vehicles, their interiors and exteriors either painted white or wrapped in white tape, are parked along the narrow road, preventing large trucks from passing.

Cult members are outfitted in white costumes, gumboots and medical masks and sport off-white baseball caps. Even spectacle frames are taped over in white.

The cult reportedly believes that the colour white is an effective shield against microwaves. They have also covered trees and plants with white cloth or tape, creating a surrealistic scene.

The cult first came to the attention of the national media earlier this week when it clashed with police and local authorities trying to serve it with an evacuation notice.

The group reportedly comprises about 40 people. Family units with small children were also reportedly sighted.

Cult members have told local residents they belong to an organisation called 'Panawave Laboratory' and are engaged in researching microwaves in the field.

But a Gifu villager said: 'They are making trouble for us and are infringing the law. We hope they go away soon.'

No matter to which part of the country the cult caravan has travelled, they have upset local residents and obstructed traffic by refusing to leave.

Otherwise, the cult has proven to be harmless so far.

But the television images of spooky figures in white garb and white vehicles have called to mind the notorious Aum Shinrikyo.

Only last week, prosecutors demanded the death sentence for Aum leader Chizuo Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, for masterminding the sarin gas attack that killed 27 people and injured over 4,000.

Many questions concerning the Aum cult remain unanswered as Matsumoto chose to remain silent throughout most of the eight-year-long trial.

The Panawave Laboratory cult is also largely a mystery.

According to a report in the latest edition of the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine, it is part of a religious group called Chino Shoho led by an elderly woman suffering from terminal cancer.

The group claims its leader is the victim of microwaves. Panawave members are believed to have taken her into the mountains to escape the waves.

They told Gifu villagers their caravan was unable to move 'because they have a sick person with them'.

The group attributes the appearance of an Arctic seal in rivers around Tokyo in recent months to microwaves having damaged the animal's sense of direction.

Reports have ascribed a doomsday character to the Chino Shoho group as it believes there is a 10th planet in the solar system and has warned that something cataclysmic will happen in mid-May when the planet approaches Earth.

Experts say the cult could one day become a social threat if the authorities leave it alone.

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