Day of Judgment: Matsumoto’s Aum cult grew rapidly in late ’80s

This is the sixth installment of a series on Chizuo Matsumoto, the founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult.
[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6]
[Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10][Part 11] [Part 12]

In spring 1984, a serious looking woman in her late 20s stood in front of a Tokyo condominium with a sign on the door reading “Hookeirinkan” and pressed the bell.

Her spiritual adviser, 28-year-old Chizuo Matsumoto, opened the door of the fifth-floor corner condo in the seven-story building located at the end of a multipurpose structure south of JR Shibuya Station.

About 18 months earlier, Matsumoto had been arrested and fined for selling bogus drugs.

Matsumoto invited the woman into his apartment. He asked her to write down her name and birthdate and used a magnifying glass to read her handwriting.

The woman talked on and on about problems with her boyfriend and what she perceived as her weak points, letting out her feelings and telling him things she could not confide even to her family members and friends.

While she spoke, Matsumoto only listened and nodded without speaking.

When she was finished Matsumoto said, “Why don’t you start practicing yoga?”

“He was about my age, but he had the broad-mindedness to understand other people,” she recalled.

Working women who learned of Matsumoto through word of mouth at the time later became aides to Matsumoto and played a key role in the Aum Supreme Truth cult.

In summer 1985, working women armed with copies of a photo showing Matsumoto apparently levitating visited many occult magazines.

The photo showed Matsumoto with his legs crossed and jaw clenched, “floating” in the air.

Intrigued by the photo, one magazine editor went to Matsumoto’s condo in Shibuya with a photographer.

Matsumoto talked for more than two hours about religion and did a handstand but did not levitate, citing a lack of preparation.

The photo had been taken by a female follower at the exact moment when Matsumoto with his legs crossed bounced up in the Shibuya condo.

The “levitation” photo captured wide attention after several magazines carried it.

Many senior followers later testified that they learned of Matsumoto through such magazine exposure.

The Hookeirinkan sign was replaced by one reading “Aum Shinsen no Kai” (Aum supernatural beings association).

In summer 1986, Matsumoto claimed he was the only enlightened man in Japan, and his followers began calling him guru.

He also started preaching that killing could be justified.

By the end of 1988, Matsumoto’s followers numbered about 3,000.

In April 1989, Matsumoto and 200 of his disciples descended on the Tokyo metropolitan government building, upset by the government’s delay in recognizing Aum as a religious corporation.

He asked his followers to go with him, saying he had to go in person to the metropolitan government building because he could not leave the matter to his followers.

They talked with government officials, and some of his followers made phone calls to the home of the vice governor and other government officials.

Four months later, the government determined that there was no evidence Aum had violated laws and recognized Aum Supreme Truth as a religious corporation.

Immediately after the recognition, Matsumoto went to the office of the weekly magazine Sunday Mainichi to complain about an article critical of the cult’s activities.

Taro Maki, the editor in chief, said that a religion should not ask minors to make donations ranging from 300,000 yen to 400,000 yen.

Matsumoto looked angry, asked Maki how much he thought would be acceptable, and departed.

With criticism of Aum mounting, Matsumoto told his followers that the cult had to do something big to withstand attacks by society.

He ran in the February 1990 House of Representatives election, but failed to win a seat, garnering only 1,783 votes. The defeat triggered departures from the cult.

In April the same year, at a seminar on Ishigakijima island, Okinawa Prefecture, Matsumoto instructed those with special expertise and knowledge to take up residence at Aum facilities right away. He also confidently predicted that Japan would sink into the sea.

At about the same time, He ordered senior followers to culture botulinus, the poisonous bacteria that causes botulism, which would be sprayed by followers in Tokyo.

One of the senior followers testified at court that the seminar was conducted to help followers protect themselves from the virus in the event it was sprayed.

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