Kazuaki Okazaki, 44, a former senior member of the Aum Supreme Truth cult, expected the death sentence that was handed down by the Supreme Court on Thursday, but also has displayed a love of life during his nine years in a detention house, learning india ink painting (sumi-e), practicing zazen meditation and reading sutras.
“I’ve been expecting the death penalty since the district court ruling,” Okazaki told his foster father, Shinzan Miyamae, a 69-year-old priest, at the Tokyo Detention House on Monday.
Okazaki reportedly was as talkative as ever. Miyamae quoted him as saying he wanted to know how often he, as a death row inmate, would be allowed to meet with his relatives, including his foster father.
Miyamae, the resident priest at a Zen Buddhist temple in Gifu Prefecture, had helped many Aum followers leave the cult. After learning about Miyamae’s work, Ozaki wrote to him and met him for the first time in July 2002.
Following Miyamae’s advice “to make up for one’s sin through ascetic training,” Okazaki practices zazen meditation and reads a sutra four times daily to express his sorrow for his victims.
Okazaki began to do ink paintings after he was given permission by authorities to use an ink brush. He has sent dozens of his works to his supporters.
Miyamae adopted Okazaki in June after examining the paintings, claiming he “felt Okazaki’s soul had been purified.”
Okazaki had a deprived childhood and was first adopted when he was 1-1/2 years old. In 1985, after working his way through a variety of religions, he came into contact with Aum Shinsen no Kai, the predecessor of Aum Supreme Truth.
Okazaki became a close aide to cult founder Chizuo Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara.
Three months after murdering the Sakamotos, Okazaki left the cult with 230 million yen of Aum funds.
Okazaki extorted 8.3 million yen from Matsumoto, hinting he would report the cult’s involvement in the Sakamoto murder to the police. He turned himself in just after the police searched the cult’s headquarters in 1995.
During hearings at the Tokyo District Court, Okazaki admitted to most of the charges and broke down in tears.
However, presiding Judge Megumi Yamamuro, 57, now a professor at Tokyo University law school, recalled, “I didn’t feel his remorse overrode other character traits revealed in the evidence.”
The district court ruled in October 1998 that he had surrendered to the police to protect himself.
According to his defense counsel, Okazaki was shocked by the ruling.
After a Tokyo High Court ruling in December 2001, Okazaki began writing to the media regularly.
He criticized the cult in a letter to The Yomiuri Shimbun, writing, “It is meaningless to apologize to bereaved families in person unless the cult is separated from Asahara and senior cult members.”
Okazaki also wrote, “I should be hanged as soon as possible.” But in January he wrote, “There are many people who hope I live longer.”
Displaying a zest for life, Okazaki enthusiastically told his lawyer late last month that he planned to create an Internet site to share his thoughts through his relatives.
“I want the picture of a carp that I painted on the top of the homepage,” Okazaki was quoted as telling his lawyer.
‘Remorse hard to believe’
Satoko Sakamoto’s father, Tomoyuki Oyama, 74, did not attend the court hearing on Thursday.
“It’s regrettable that a sentence is being handed down when there has been no inquiry into why there were delays with the investigation and the full truth has not yet come to light,” Oyama said in a statement.
In an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oyama said, “The death penalty is right.” Oyama also expressed anger with his daughter’s killer. “I heard he does ink paintings, but his remorse is hard to believe.”