Cult decamps, issues bizarre statement about Tama-chan

Kyodo (Japan), May 6, 2003

GIFU — About 50 members of a white-garment cult who had been camping on a village road in Kiyomi, Gifu Prefecture, since last week resumed their move Monday evening for the first time in 65 hours, but in a bizarre development issued a statement about Japan’s celebrity seal Tama-chan.

Panawave Laboratory issued a memo in the name of its leader calling for the protection of the bearded seal, which has been spotted in rivers around Tokyo since last year and has drawn much attention in Japan.

The cultists, who believe that white garments protect them from electromagnetic waves, had been camping on forest roads in Gifu with about 10 vehicles since April 25.

Around 7:30 p.m. Monday, the group began heading toward Nagano Prefecture, made a U-turn in Asahi township at around 11 p.m. and later resumed their slow journey, moving at around 20 kilometers per hour. It is not known where the group was heading.

The police were keeping a round-the-clock surveillance on the group, which has been roaming on the mountain roads in central Japan.

On Monday morning, the group issued a statement under the name of its leader Yuko Chino, a 69-year-old woman who is reported to be terminally ill with cancer.

In a statement scattered with the cult’s own jargons, Chino said the “approach of the Nibiru star will be delayed nearly a week from Monday and those who do not listen to this message will face death.”

Chino also said in a memo reportedly written by herself that the group was “driven to carry out” the feeding of Tama-chan, a popular bearded seal that has been spotted in rivers around Tokyo since last year.

The group appears to be linked to a group that attempted to capture Tama-chan in March in Yokohama, but failed.

Panawave members said the health condition of Chino is slowly deteriorating.

After passing the winter in Izumi, Fukui Prefecture, the group moved to a forest road on the borders of Hachiman and Yamato townships in Gifu on April 25, living in their tents on a roadside.

Out of protests by local residents and orders by the police, the group decamped the site Friday, to a new location about 20 kilometers north in Kiyomi on National Route 257.

Faced again with protests, the group agreed to move to a village road at about 2 a.m. Saturday on police orders and have stayed there over the weekend, claiming to repair their vehicles.

The group, which had roamed around Tottori, Hyogo, Kyoto, Fukui, Shiga and Gifu prefectures, has been under police surveillance as authorities expressed concern about its cult-like activities.

According to the National Police Agency, Panawave was established around 1977 and has some 1,200 members nationwide who believe the world will end in the near future.

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