YOKOHAMA-Fumihiro Joyu, Aum Shinrikyo‘s charismatic former spokesman, said Tuesday he no longer considers cult founder Chizuo Matsumoto a god.
In an interview with Asahi Shimbun, Joyu said his mind is now independent of, but has not parted with, Matsumoto, who is also known as Shoko Asahara.
However, Joyu still referred to Matsumoto as sonshi (holy guru), a title of respect.
Joyu, 37, the No. 2 leader in Aum’s hierarchy, was released from prison on Dec. 29 after serving a three-year prison term for perjury.
At the cult’s branch in Yokohama’s Naka Ward, Joyu appeared in a gray suit and sat in front of an altar for the interview.
He spoke calmly, compared to his previous rapid-fire style of speech.
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Q: The cult announced that Matsumoto may have been involved in a series of crimes. What do you think?
A: I myself believe that he was involved. I was never told anything from sonshi, but I assumed so from the testimonies of my friends at court hearings.
Q: Do you still believe in Matsumoto?
A: My feelings changed when I was imprisoned. We had considered Asahara-sonshi a god because he was a savior according to the doctrines of his prophecies. The prophecies should have become real in 1997 and 1999, but we are now in 2000.
I no longer feel that I can rely on sonshi. That’s why we can now make a total reform.
Q: But do Aum followers still believe in Matsumoto?
A: The arrest of sonshi worked as a denial in considering him a god. He is no longer in our group, and his words in court are difficult to understand. I do not think there are still followers who really believe he is a god.
Q: You call Matsumoto “sonshi.” Have you really parted with him?
A: I have become independent, but have not parted with him. I call him sonshi because I respect him as a meditator (and not as a god).
Q: After the crimes, you were the cult’s emergency headquarters chief. Why did you talk about things that were not true?
A: I wanted to protect our organization rather than investigating the true facts, so we did not investigate ourselves. I do not intend to hide from that responsibility.
Q: Why is Aum reorganizing instead of ceasing its activities?
A: If we dissolved our group we would be accused of trying to avoid the newly enacted (anti-Aum) law and the compensation we must pay.
There are still followers who think the crimes were not good but want to continue their practices of Aum’s yoga. So we intend to restart with refreshed minds.
Q: Aum said the new organization will be operated by a board of about 10 members. Where do you fit in?
A: I will not be involved directly. My role will be to advise when consulted. In the former Aum, those who were in the high religious stages had the supreme authority and the absolute power. This may have been the background of the crimes. So I want to provide a key to make the organization more democratic.
Q: Considering your previous position in the cult, aren’t you going to play a virtual leadership role?
A: I returned my status of seitaishi (Aum’s second-highest stage) as a symbol of decentralizing power. It was not simply for show.
Now is not the time when we can seek something `of sonshi, by sonshi, for sonshi.’ The new organization should not have its power concentrated in one leader. It should be a group `of us, by us, for us.”’
Q: What about the many people who do not trust what you say?
A: There may be those who cannot trust me, but I have to do things, such as making compensation.
Q: Are you going to stay in the Yokohama branch?
A: I don’t intend to live here. But I also do not want to take along the fuss (surrounding me) to where I move. I want to ask people’s understanding.