Japan's Top Stories of 2003 -- No. 9: Panawave sparks paranoia

Mainichi Daily News/December 23, 2003
By Aaron Baldwin

Paranoia gripped Japanese residents in April when the bizarre Panawave Laboratory group appeared and took over a stretch of road in Gifu Prefecture, covering up crash barriers and roadside trees with huge white cloths.

Members of the mysterious organization, who dressed themselves entirely in white, and wore surgical masks, claimed that electromagnetic waves were causing catastrophic environmental destruction that would destroy the earth on May 15.

They claimed that they had to wear white clothes and cover their fleet of vehicles with white sheets to protect themselves and their ailing leader, Yuko Chino, from the waves.

Tension with locals began to boil over as locals erected signs that said, "Get out now!" Officials of Hachiman and Yamato, the two towns managing the road asked the group to leave, but they refused.

Because Panawave adherents resembled "members of the AUM Shinrikyo religious cult in its initial stage," Japan's police force then stepped in, putting the group under surveillance

They told about 40 members of the organization squatting with their vehicles to leave, citing the parking regulations of the Road Traffic Law rather than other legal rules because they had not carried out any subversive acts in the area.

Later in the year, the group again plastered white fabric over a long stretch of river embankment near their Fukui headquarters to protect themselves from "electromagnetic wave attacks" but removed them following an order from the Fukui Prefectural Government.

On May 14, the day before Panawave's predicted doomsday, police raided locations connected to the group in a bid to get to the bottom of its mysterious activities.

Panawave members alleged that "scalar wave attacks" were being carried out by communist terrorists dispersed around the world following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Group members reportedly attached themselves to "Tama-chan," a bearded seal that gained popularity after straying into rivers in Kanagawa and Saitama Prefectures. Sources said members believed that "rescuing" Tama-chan would spare mankind from certain destruction. The group was believed to be sponsoring a group that tried to net Tama-chan in a Yokohama river in March.

Apparently doubting that the May 15 doomsday date would come to pass, a high-ranking Panawave member corrected the forecasted day of disaster saying, "I think it will be delayed until around May 22."

When nothing happened hype over the group gradually died down, but Panawave came into the police spotlight in August after an academic at a top Fukuoka university died in hospital after he was transferred from the Fukui headquarters of the group.

Police accused five Panawave members of beating the academic and others "to remove electromagnetic waves" claimed to have accumulated in their bodies.

The man's cause of death was a heat stroke. The five members were not arrested on suspicion of inflicting injuries resulting in death because police were not able to determine the exact cause of the academic's death.

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