Cult’s reign of terror left the victimized with unhealing scars

Whenever she goes to the Tokyo District Court, Shizue Takahashi must pass the spot on the Kasumigaseki subway station platform where her husband, Kazumasa, 50, collapsed and fell into a fatal coma on March 20, 1995.

Despite her recurring pain and anger, Takahashi, 57, has attended roughly half, or 125, of the trial sessions of Aum Shinrikyo guru Shoko Asahara, who stands accused of masterminding the cult’s heinous crimes, including the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed her deputy stationmaster husband and 11 others.

But ahead of the Friday court verdict on Asahara, Takahashi said that over the course of his marathon trial, she has come to ponder whether all of his followers should be sentenced to hang, although she remains adamant that Asahara himself should get the death penalty.

“Aum’s crimes caused irreparable damage to the victims and their families, but they are in essence Asahara’s, because he turned people who blindly followed him, as if he were their father, into criminals,” Takahashi told The Japan Times in a recent interview.

Takahashi, who currently heads a group of subway attack survivors and relatives of those killed, added that the lack of public assistance to ease their suffering has only prolonged their pain and anguish.

The government refused to set up assistance programs for the more than 5,000 survivors of the subway attack and roughly 600 of another sarin attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in June 1994.

This means the only compensation comes from regular work-related accident insurance and dividends from a victims’ fund financed by the liquidation of Aum’s assets and monthly payments from the cult, Takahashi said, noting this does little to offset the loss of a family member.

Takahashi’s husband inhaled the nerve gas and collapsed on the Chiyoda Line platform of Kasumigaseki Station at around 8:10 a.m. while trying to dispose of two punctured bags of the deadly gas left by Aum’s doctor, Ikuo Hayashi.

Takahashi said he was rushed to St. Luke’s International Hospital in Chuo Ward but died at around 11 a.m., before she could get there.

She now takes the same route to the court that her husband used to commute, which often makes her feel he is with her when she attends Asahara’s trial session.

As for Friday’s verdict, Takahashi said she hopes it will help her come to terms with her pain and anger, and enable her to move on and seek happiness with her two sons and daughter.

“If I let myself drown in pain and anger and deny myself a chance to become happy, it would mean Aum killed me along with my husband,” she said.

“From this standpoint also, I want capital punishment for Asahara, because the idea that he still exists somewhere would continue to upset me and draw me back into pain and anger.”

She added it is not easy for the victims of Aum’s crimes to overcome their suffering, given the heinous nature of the deeds, whose motives remain a mystery.

“Whether the victims maintain their hatred or forgive (the perpetrator), they need to have a reason to do so,” she said. “But Aum’s crimes are hard to explain, as they lack comprehensible motives or objectives.

“(The cultists) committed inexplicable crimes under an inexplicable mentality, and I still live with the frustration that I do not know where to direct my anger and sadness,” she said.

While Takahashi is haunted by the memory of the cult’s terrorism by her husband’s absence, another of the victims, a 47-year-old man, comes home from work every day to living proof of Aum’s crimes.

His 40-year-old sister narrowly escaped death in the subway attack, but the sarin left her almost completely paralyzed.

About 10 minutes after Takahashi’s husband collapsed at Kasumigaseki Station, the woman was found in a coma at Nakano-sakaue Station on the Marunouchi Line, having inhaled the nerve gas left in two bags by Aum scientist Kenichi Hirose.

Last September, she was finally discharged from a hospital to live with her brother’s family in the outskirts of Tokyo after her condition improved from that of a vegetative state to a life confined to a bed.

But the scars of the attack are evident all over her body — while she has regained consciousness, she cannot see or speak and can only slightly move her right arm and leg. Her doctors have told the family they cannot expect any further progress, her brother said.

According to the Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Recovery Support Center, which has offered free medical checks for sarin survivors, many still suffer from physical and psychological damage.

Of the 163 people who underwent the medical checks last year, half were found to be suffering from chronic headaches since the attack, 75 percent had weaker vision and 20 percent were diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder.

The woman’s brother said that not only the survivors themselves but their families have been victimized.

In summarizing the damage suffered by his family, he quoted his mother after the family learned that the woman might never come out of her vegetative state.

His mother apologized to him for having to shoulder the heavy burden of caring for his sibling, and said it would probably have been better had the woman been killed outright in the attack, the man said.

“No parent wishes their child to die, but my mother had no choice but to think that way, seeing the suffering of my sister and all of us,” he said. “I can think of no crime more heinous than this.”

Like Takahashi, the man said he has also lived in frustration and agony because he does not know where to vent his anger and pain.

“Even after years of trials, almost nothing has been explained about why my innocent sister has to go through this enormous suffering,” he said, adding that he believes all the parties involved in Asahara’s trial — including prosecutors, lawyers and judges — have so far failed to present any reasonable explanation of why and how the cult committed its crimes.

But he said it is clear in his mind that the court should sentence Asahara to hang, considering the suffering not just of his sister but of everyone in his family.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Japan Times, Japan
Feb. 26, 2004
Horishi Matsubara

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday February 26, 2004.
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