Sarin aftermath

Asahi Shimbun/December 19, 2006
By Daiki Koga

Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture--Yoshiyuki Kono has an unusual house guest these days: a man who helped carry out the sarin nerve gas attack here in 1994 that left Kono's wife in a coma.

Kono's infrequent meetings with the former Aum Shinrikyo disciple are part of a journey that involves remorse, forgiveness and perhaps finally, redemption.

The former cultist now in his 40s tried to find inner peace while serving out his prison sentence for the attack that targeted judges in a court case revolving around a land dispute involving Aum.

His name is being withheld to protect his privacy.

Seven people died in the attack and about 600 people suffered varying degrees of aftereffects.

Kono still lives across from the parking lot where a remodeled truck was used to spray sarin gas, a precursor to the 1995 attack on Tokyo subways that left 12 dead and thousands sickened.

The attack here turned Kono's life upside down. Kono himself was sickened and his wife Sumiko still remains in a coma. Not only that, but Nagano prefectural police initially treated Kono as a key suspect.

The former Aum member read about Kono's plight and resolved to visit him once he left prison.

The man first visited Kono's home on June 26 this year, the eve of the 12th anniversary of the Matsumoto attack.

The man left flowers in the parking lot from where the sarin gas was sprayed and prayed for the victims.

He then entered Kono's home. Sitting in a corner of Kono's living room, where photos of Kono taking care of his wife were on display, the man finally blurted out: "I have no right to be here. But I felt that I wanted to bring flowers and visit as soon as I could."

The man broke down in tears and could not continue talking.

His most recent visit was on Saturday. After staying overnight at Kono's home, the man accompanied him to the nursing care facility where Sumiko resides. The man brought lilies, Sumiko's favorite flower.

He helped Kono massage Sumiko's hands and arm joints.

Before the attack on Matsumoto, the man lived in Aum's sprawling complex in what was then Kamikuishiki, Yamanashi Prefecture, at the foot of Mount Fuji.

Because of his training as a welder, a high-ranking cult member gave the man a blueprint and told him to remodel a refrigerator truck exactly as the plan stated.

The man assumed the cult had dangerous plans in mind for the vehicle, given its unique design.

As a cult member, the man was indoctrinated to believe that any instructions from senior cult members had wider implications with regard to Aum Shinrikyo's dogma. He had no choice but to remodel the vehicle as a way of demonstrating his devotion to the cult.

After the sarin attack, the vehicle was returned to the Kamikuishiki facility for dismantling. The man found a map of Matsumoto in the truck.

A few months later, he heard rumors about the attack and that a number of people in Matsumoto had died.

The man decided to leave Aum after he was arrested for his involvement in the Matsumoto incident.

While the court determined he did not have a leading part in the planning of the attack, it said he played a significant role that warranted imprisonment.

While he was in prison, the man's lawyer gave him a list of those who died in Matsumoto.

Saturday's visit to Kono's home was the sixth so far for the man. He has helped Kono with gardening and painted the walls of Kono's home. He learned gardening techniques while serving his prison sentence.

"(The visits) were frightening at first because I felt I was looking at my crime," the man said. "Still, I felt that the cloud over my soul would not be cleared unless I met them. I feel I have been able to take the first step forward in my life because Kono has accepted me."

The man now works for an acquaintance. He has given his lawyer letters that he has written to the bereaved family members of the other victims.

Kono has met with other former Aum members as well as the children of Chizuo Matsumoto, who as Shoko Asahara founded Aum.

Kono says society must forgive those who transgress.

"The public is often cold toward those who have committed crimes," he said. "If they have served the appropriate punishment, they are just ordinary people. An ideal society is one that can accept such people."

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