Guru hanged: the end of a japanese public enemy

His submissive young were allowed to drink his dirty bath water and drops of his blood. Only he, the guru, had complete purity and power, he proclaimed.

Driven by the delusion of being able to "redeem" the world with violence, shoko asahara set his young loose in march 1995. Under tokio’s ruling district, members of his end-time sect "aum shinrikyo" released sarin gas in subway cars and killed 13 people with it. Thousands were injured. A ruthless act for which asahara was hanged now, 23 years later.

Two months later, on the 16th of december, when military and police troops attacked the half-blind sectarian founder. May 1995, in a dark hiding place, they find a pitiful picture. In front of them, lying belly-down in the dirt, is a man with disheveled hair who once, as a successful religious leader, captivated thousands of people, some of them highly educated, with his teachings.

"This shabby guy is supposed to be asahara?" – this is the surprised reaction of one of the officials leading the operation against the guru at the time. The guru, who had once impressed intellectuals in the country and was a repeated guest on television talk shows, hid from the authorities after the poison gas attack and other crimes in a three-meter-long and 50-centimeter-low secret chamber between the second and third floors of his base in the japanese province of yamanashi.

Since then, there have been countless rumors about the cult leader, who went by the common name of chizuo matsumoto, was sentenced to death in 2006 and has now been executed, as the japanese government announced on friday. To this day, no one knows exactly what prompted the guru with the rubezahl beard to commit his crimes.

Even his trial, known as the trial of the century, did not reveal much about the man and his motives. Throughout the trial, asahara remained silent or mumbled incomprehensibly. For years he waited in his death cell for execution on the gallows, until his life was ended after 63 years.

Blind in one eye and visually impaired in the other from birth, asahara grew up as the son of a manufacturer of traditional rice straw mats, one of seven children in desperately poor conditions in a village in the south of japan. Although he could see well enough, his father sent him to a school for the blind for financial reasons. Later, asahara applied to the elite university in tokyo, but failed the entrance exam. Instead, he turned to the study of acupuncture and traditional chinese medicine.

He founded a yoga school that gave rise to the "aum shinrikyo" ("supreme truth") sect. Asahara took advantage of the spiritual vacuum that had arisen in japan after the economic boom years, driving the younger generation to new religions like aum. Thousands of young people saw in asahara a charismatic father figure who made them feel understood and offered them an alternative to break out of society’s constraints.

But asahara wanted more. With the political arm of his sect, he ran for the japanese parliament in the late 1980s, but failed miserably. The sect is said to have run into financial problems as a result. "Aum" must arm itself to survive apocalypse, asahara now said. Recognized by the state as a religious organization, the sect took advantage of its tax exemption, hired capable young scientists from the best universities and loved to produce an entire arsenal of biochemical weapons at the foot of mount fuji.

Sarin gas attack in tokyo allegedly an attempt by sect to prevent planned police raid on its fuji headquarters.

The attack became a social trauma for japan. He destroyed the japanese belief that they lived in a security paradise. The police were accused at the time of not having taken action against asahara much earlier. Even today, many victims of the attack suffer from the psychological, physical and financial consequences.

His life of poverty, his childhood experiences, and his repeated failures were cited by experts as reasons why asahara may have harbored revengeful feelings toward society and been obsessed with power. But instead of dealing intensively with the background of the national catastrophe, asahara and his young had only been turned into inhuman – and thus non-japanese – monsters, complained one of the survivors of the sarin gas attack.

"The atrocities are just the end product," said a former lawyer for asahara. Instead of hanging asahara and his accomplices, the lawyer believes it would have been more important to investigate the precise causes and social contexts that led to the sect’s crimes. And with this opinion he is by no means alone in japan.

The two successor groups to "aum," "aleph" and "hikari no wa," attracted large numbers of adherents in the years following the act – and were subjected to close surveillance. The state was convinced: even more than 20 years after asahara’s imprisonment, the groups continued to be under the strong influence of the guru behind bars.

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