The long road from a loner to a prophetess

The Japan Times/May 18, 2003
By Michael Hoffman

"You see," explained the white-robed young man, one of 50-odd white-clad men and women in a convoy of 16 white vans traveling the mountain backroads of central Japan, "our leader is being attacked by sukara waves, and we are protecting her. White cloth deflects radio waves. Most Japanese don't know about sukara waves . . . "

Tokyo Confidential surveys popular vernacular magazines -- often "salacious, libelous and utterly unreliable" -- to discover what the Japanese are "really thinking."

The young man was soft-spoken and polite, says Shukan Jitsuwa (May 22), but his attempt to reassure the locals misfired. In post-Aum Shinrikyo Japan, strangers in messianic garb professing esoteric knowledge of apocalyptic electromagnetic waves are natural objects of suspicion. The Gifu Prefecture village of Kiyomi -- population 2,500 -- boasts on its Web site, "There's nothing here." Residents like it that way, and no troupe of disciples of a woman claiming to be (a) dying, and (b) an emissary of the Archangel Michael is going to fill their vacuum.

"There are no sukara waves at the South Pole," snapped one villager overheard by Yomiuri Weekly (May 25). "Go there."

The white cult is known as Chino Shoho (Chino's True Law). It's prophetess is Yuko Chino, age 69 and reportedly on the brink of death from cancer. The woman claiming to be her in TV interviews appears reasonably robust.

At Kiyomi, Shukan Shincho (May 15) was shown a van known as Arcadia, said to be the one in which Chino lives. It was sealed so tightly with white cloth that anyone inside would surely suffocate. Could she be dead already? the magazine wonders.

Shukan Shincho sketches Chino's biography. She was born Hidemi Masuyama in Kyoto. Her parents split up and from age 8 she lived with her mother in Osaka. Her mother remarried. Hidemi turned inward. She didn't like her stepfather. She studied English at junior college and was considered attractive and clever, but she had no time for the outside world. Shukan Bunshun (May 15) records a suicide attempt shortly after college. During the day, she rarely left the house. At night she wandered, "talking to the sky."

Thus began her relationship with Archangel Michael. "My daughter can converse with the angel Michael!" Shukan Shincho quotes her mother as boasting to friends at the time.

Neighborhood kids came to her house for English lessons. Shukan Bunshun says she waived lesson fees for students who agreed to join her in prayer.

Her pupils were her first followers. Over the years her mystic teaching spread. Today Chino Shoho claims up to 2,000 adherents nationwide.

"I had a brain hemorrhage and I'm still alive," Friday ( May 23) hears from one of them. "That's proof that the heavenly world is no lie."

One follower became her husband. Strange marriage -- the couple never actually met. It was nominal, designed to aid, in the face of a supposedly imminent Soviet invasion, a mass emigration to the U.S. This was 1984. The emigration never gelled. Neither did the invasion.

Her husband, now 77, left the group, disillusioned with Chino. "I could no longer follow her," he tells Friday. "She became obsessed with electromagnetic waves." That happened about 10 years ago, and though communism was already a spent force, it was communists, she believed, who were wielding these awful waves against her. The "Pana Wave Research Center," Chino Shoho's scientific wing, dedicates itself to her protection.

Cold-shouldered in Kiyomi and elsewhere, the convoy rolled on, its ultimate destination unknown. In rural Yamanashi Prefecture is a dome-shaped cult facility reportedly built to withstand a magnitude 15 earthquake. Maybe, suggests Shukan Bunshun, they will ride out the end of the world there.

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