The Aum Supreme Truth cult currently operates 28 facilities that carry out its practices and promotional activities and about 120 residential facilities that house its followers in 17 prefectures, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
The cult headquarters is housed in a five-story apartment building in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. Almost all the rooms on the first and second floors of the building are occupied by the cult, and Fumihiro Joyu, the cult's top representative, has lived there since January 2001. More than 100 cult followers frequently visit the headquarters.
Residents of the building said they were often annoyed by noises and unpleasant aromas and music, which is apparently used during religious training, coming from the building.
One resident said: "Although I have complained to the cult, the situation has not improved. I can't stand it any more."
According to the Public Security Investigation Agency and the National Police Agency, the number of Aum followers who live in the cult facilities and away from their families amounted to about 650 as of the end of last year.
Most of them are believed to be long-term members who joined the cult before March 1995 when police raided the cult's then headquarters in Yamanashi Prefecture.
Meanwhile, 20 percent to 30 percent of the about 1,000 Aum followers living at home became members after a series of incidents believed to have been committed by members of the cult. The members reportedly include a large number of working people and students in their 20s.
In addition to their religious practices and promotional work, some Aum members are attempting to recruit new members for the cult through various astrology, yoga and martial arts Web sites that are operated as fronts for the cult without mentioning its name.
Many people who respond to the recruitment drives decline to join the cult after learning that the groups are affiliated with the cult, but others have been said to join.
Regarding the conflict between members of the cult and local residents, Yoshihide Sakurai, an associate professor of the Graduate School of Letters at Hokkaido University, said the cult had a "self-centered" attitude, although laws of religion are meant to allow freedom of activity.
Sakurai added: "It's no wonder local residents fear the cult. Cult members should realize the responsibility to alleviate residents' fears rests with them."