Asahi News (Japan), May 9, 2003
There are few options in dealing with oddballs.
It has become a daily staple of TV programs and newspapers to report on the meanderings of a group of people in a white-shrouded caravan traversing the nation’s lush highlands. Upon reaching Yamanashi Prefecture, which was thought to have been the group’s final destination, they turned back after encountering objections from local residents. They are reportedly saying they return to Fukui Prefecture, since they have nowhere else to go.
The group calls itself the Pana Wave Laboratory, and say they are trying to protect themselves from the harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation. But ordinary people have a hard time grasping their motives. They have a bizarre habit of covering not only themselves but also the trees and roadside objects they pass with white cloth.
Of course the Constitution guarantees freedom of religious expression. While a number of religious sects are unusual, people and the groups they belong to should not be subject to discrimination because of their beliefs.
Nevertheless, it must be hard for people along their route to feel comfortable with having this white-clad clan living next to them. Under the present circumstances, the group can only move from one place to another. If they hope to settle down somewhere, they might have to dissolve their group or take off the white cloth along the route.
The National Police Agency notes similarities between this group in white and the Aum Shinrikyo cult in its earliest stages, and intends to keep a close watch on what the Pana Wave people say and do.
Aum Shinrikyo turned out to be a group of indiscriminate terrorists who killed lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and child, and spread deadly sarin gas in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and on the subway system in Tokyo, killing and crippling many people. It is obvious in hindsight that, as Aum became increasingly bloody-minded, the police were late in taking appropriate action.
While it is important to learn from the Aum Shinrikyo experience, there is nothing in the behavior of the new white-clad cult to suggest they have any unusual or hostile intent toward society, as was true of Aum.
The police should not be too aggressive against the group, but should instead be prepared to move swift and sure if the group breaks any laws. The police need to keep in mind the possibility that groups of this sort, when pressed too hard, can sometimes lash out dangerously. The possibility of these people becoming desperate or doing something unexpected cannot be ruled out.
One of the main reasons so much attention is being drawn to this group is that it has been covered for hours on end by daytime TV “wide shows,” as well as variety programs and regular news coverage.
It is quite likely that even some of the people involved in producing the TV coverage are uncomfortable with showing the same scenes for hours and hours, even if the cult they are following is something out of the ordinary. Many viewers must be hoping for programs that deal with other topics.
There have been reports that the white-clad cultists are somehow linked to another group of people intent upon capturing the popular seal Tama-chan in the Katabira River in Yokohama. They are said to be hoping to rescue the seal. But they should think of themselves before they think about seals.
In recent days, it has been reported that the seal has a fishing hook lodged in its face. When a group of experts met recently, they agreed the best course is just to keep watch over the seal for awhile to see what happens. It may well be that the best course for dealing with the white-clad cult is also simply to just keep watching over them for a while.