Tokyo anxious on day of prophesy

TOKYO — Security was tight and people were nervous yesterday, anticipating a disaster that did not occur.

The anxious reaction by officials and residents alike to a prophesy of doom from the cult suspected in last month’s subway gas attack shows how much Japan has been shaken by the poisonings.

Thousands of police were deployed, some businesses and schools were closed and people stuck close to home yesterday.

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Even at the Japan Open tennis tournament, where Andre Agassi, Michael Chang and other top players were on the court, stairwells were blocked off and private guards were visible everywhere.

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In January, 2000, Aum Shinrikyo (Aum Shinri Kyo) changed its name to Aleph

The fears were prompted by a book published last month by the leader of the Sublime Truth sect, which had predicted a possible calamity in Tokyo yesterday. Cult members warned friends that a “horrible” event might happen in Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s most popular entertainment districts.

The cult is the leading suspect in the March 20 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, which killed 11 people and sickened thousands. The cult has denied involvement in the attack and renounced violence.

But fear was widespread yesterday.

More than 10,000 police officers, some in bulletproof vests and riot gear, patrolled train stations, shopping areas and other public places.

A chemical weapons unit of the Self Defense Forces was reportedly placed on alert. Even maintenance employees and office workers patrolled subways and underground malls. Shinjuku was abnormally empty.

Tokyo remains one of the world’s safest big cities, but in the month since the attack, its look and feel has changed.

Police buses with riot screens on the windows block entrances to public buildings. Train conductors warn passengers to watch for strange people and packages. Guards in office buildings carefully check employee ID cards.

“These kinds of things never happened in the past,” said Hiro Nagane, a 53-year-old Tokyo resident. “It’s frightening.”

The subway attack is the latest in a string of events this year that have shocked and troubled Japan and may forever change how the nation sees itself.

It took place two months after an earthquake devastated Kobe. Days after the subway attack, the country’s top police chief was shot. Japanese who had been proud of a safe and orderly culture started worrying aloud that now anything could happen to anyone at any time.

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Associated Press, via the Boston Globe, USA
Apr. 16, 1995

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