Cultists enter Nagano; issue statement about Tama-chan

Kyodo News/May 6, 2003

Gifu -- About 50 members of the Panawave Laboratory, a cult known for its white attire, entered Nagano Prefecture on Tuesday after camping out on a mountain road in the village of Kiyomi in Gifu Prefecture, but in a bizarre development issued a statement about Japan's celebrity seal Tama-chan.

The group issued a memo in the name of its leader calling for the protection of the bearded seal, which has been spotted in rivers around Tokyo since last year and has drawn much attention in Japan.

The cultists left Kiyomi in Gifu Prefecture around 7:30 p.m. Monday and entered the village of Kaida in Nagano Prefecture around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday in a caravan of slow-moving white vehicles.

During the journey they had been questioned by police officers at Nagamine Pass, which borders the two prefectures. Their final destination is unknown.

The police are keeping round-the-clock surveillance on the group as it roams along the mountain roads in central Japan.

On Monday morning, the group issued a statement by its leader Yuko Chino, a 69-year-old woman who is reported to be terminally ill with cancer. Members of the group said her condition is slowly deteriorating.

The statement, filled with strange jargon, said the "approach of the Nibiru star will be delayed nearly a week from Monday and those who do not listen to this message will face death."

Chino also said in a memo, reportedly written by a member of the group, that Panawave was "driven to carry out" the feeding of Tama-chan, a popular seal that has been spotted in rivers around Tokyo since last year.

Panawave appears to be linked to a group that attempted to capture Tama-chan in March in Yokohama, but failed.

After passing the winter in Izumi, Fukui Prefecture, the group moved to a forest road on the borders of Hachiman and Yamato townships in Gifu on April 25, living in tents along a roadside.

On Friday, they left that site due to protests by local residents and orders from the police and moved to a new location about 20 kilometers north in Kiyomi on National Route 257.

Faced again with protests and police orders, the group agreed to move to a village road at about 2 a.m. Saturday. They stayed there over the weekend, claiming they needed to repair their vehicles.

The group, which has roamed around Tottori, Hyogo, Kyoto, Fukui, Shiga and Gifu prefectures, is under police surveillance because authorities are concerned about its cult-like activities, such as dressing in white clothing from head to toe and saying they are protecting their leader from electromagnetic waves.

According to the National Police Agency, Panawave was established around 1977 and has some 1,200 members nationwide who believe the world will end in the near future. They believe that white garments protect them from electromagnetic waves.

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