Shizue Takahashi is painfully aware that for many people, 15 years is long enough for memories to fade and for a generation to grow up with little knowledge of the trauma she and thousands of others suffered in 1995.
It was in March that year that members of Aum Shinrikyo carried out its infamous nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. Her husband was among the fatalities.
Although Takahashi, 63, accepts that fading memories are a part of life, she is determined that this one nightmare not be forgotten. Having been a public-speaking representative of people victimized in the sarin attack, she went on to interview them to compile their feelings, memories and experiences for an hourlong documentary film.
The film will be screened March 13 at a public gathering in Tokyo ahead of the 15th anniversary of the attack, which claimed 12 lives and left more than 5,000 people wounded.
Takahashi’s husband, Kazumasa, 50, was killed while on duty as a senior official at Kasumigaseki Station. He was exposed to sarin while removing one of the plastic bags containing the nerve agent an Aum member planted on a rush-hour train on March 20, 1995.
Ten Aum members, including founder Shoko Asahara, were sentenced to hang for a series of crimes committed by the cult, including the murder of a lawyer’s family and a deadly sarin attack in summer 1994 in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.
When news spread of the earlier crimes, many blamed the police, saying the terrorist attack in Tokyo could have been prevented if they had thoroughly investigated the prior cases.
The treatment of crime victims has also changed in the intervening years. At the time of the subway case, not much attention was paid to them as “they were not social figures to be recognized,” Takahashi said.
For 13 years, the victims fought for aid, saying it was wrong that the government did not aid people falling victim to an attack targeting the state. Trials revealed Aum carried out the attack in an attempt to disrupt a planned police raid at the cult‘s headquarters in relation to another case.
It was only in 2008 that a law on benefits for the victims of Aum’s crimes crimes was enacted. Under the law, the state paid ¥20 million for loss of life, those left with disabilities were given ¥5 million to ¥30 million, and those injured, up to ¥1 million.
Lawyer Yuji Nakamura, who has helped Aum victims and their families, believes the law has had a “significant” impact on the victims.
Of the 6,568 people known to have been victims of Aum’s crimes, 6,355 have been notified of the system and 5,259 had applied for benefits as of mid-December, police documents released last month showed.
It also showed 47 out of 70 applications for disabilities ended in certification and 1,077 of 1,163 applications for serious injuries and illnesses were also certified, figures Nakamura called “unexpectedly high” compared with the estimates the law had been based on.