Deadly cult sisters shed elephant ears for crocodile tears

Mainichi Shimbun/February 26, 2004
By Ryann Connell

Before death cult AUM Shinrikyo launched its lethal mid-'90's gas attacks, it used to torture the Japanese public in different ways, most notably through the AUM Sisters.

AUM Sisters was the name given to the Shimizu siblings, four sexy young girls who paraded around with elephant hats singing awful songs about the dubious talents of their guru, Shoko Asahara.

With Asahara almost certainly bound for the gallows Friday -- considerable evidence points to him ordering the fatal attack on the Tokyo subway system and Japan's courts have a 97 percent conviction rate -- the Shimizu clan is back in the limelight as Shukan Shincho takes a post-apocalypse look at the fate of the AUM Sisters.

AUM Sisters attracted their greatest attention with their elephant hat dance used while campaigning on behalf of the numerous cult bosses who stood unsuccessfully for the 1990 House of Representatives election.

Schoolkids across the country mimicked the AUM Sisters' annoying chant of the guru's name, but, despite their high profile, the sisters were not part of the AUM inner sanctum.

Led by their fervent believer mother, the Shimizu sisters - Michiyo, Kumiko, Chikako and Miki -- joined AUM in 1989 and lived with the cult for at least five years, leaving at various times either side of the March 1995 Tokyo subway gas attack. They claimed to have been just as surprised as many others when the cult was raided a couple of months later and many top members implicated in the indiscriminate assault on commuters.

Central in the lives of the girls since they left the cult at various times from 1994 to 1995 has been brainwashing expert Hideto Tomabechi.

Tomabechi made a name for himself in the mid-'90s by helping AUM cultists overcome the brainwashing they had undergone, but has also been accused of hypnotizing an innocent policeman to confess to the 1995 assassination attempt on then National Police Agency chief Takaji Kunimatsu -- a case that remains shrouded in mystery even today.

Tomabechi also helped the AUM Sisters overcome drug addiction - and more.

"Tomabechi ended up having a relationship with 32-year-old Michiyo, the eldest of the sisters. He'd also shacked up for a while with 29-year-old Chikako, but she later came out and blasted his counseling methods. From an ethical viewpoint, counselors should never become romantically involved with their patients, but Tomabechi had no qualms about holding a news conference to announce his engagement to the oldest of the AUM Sisters," a public safety agency insider tells Shukan Shincho.

In the year after making the relationship public, Tomabechi and his AUM Sister wed.

"She must have thought she'd got it made. At the time, Tomabechi was a director at a top company," a former AUM believer says.

Fate hasn't been as kind to the remaining AUM Sisters.

"Kumiko, the second girl, is apparently with a guy who is an associate of Tomabechi. Chikako, the third girl, married another former AUM cultist who fled the group, but they soon split up. I've heard she has now met up with yet another old AUM member and is with him. The guy she's with now was once one of AUM choreographers, so he worked closely with the AUM Sisters," a one-time AUM cleric tells Shukan Shincho.

Sadly, the cult's influence on Miki, the youngest girl, was strongest and she has struggled since the world came toppling down around her when AUM's lethal nature was exposed.

"She did leave the cult for a while, but had nowhere else to go and ended up re-joining. But, she's not the type to do the menial jobs the cult needs done now. Perhaps it's a bit of a reaction to the attention she was showered with when she was younger, but the cultists regard her as a bit dangerous now," an ex-AUM member tells Shukan Shincho. "Her mental state is not good. She tried to commit suicide by throwing herself off a building, but it didn't work."

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