University shouldn’t shun Aum leader’s child

Obviously, being born into this world as the daughter of the leader of a vicious criminal cult was not a choice she made of her own free will.

I find deplorable the recent decision by Wako University in Tokyo to deny admission to one of the daughters of Chizuo Matsumoto, founder of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult.

Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, was sentenced to death in late February for a long list of heinous crimes committed by his henchmen. The defendant appealed to a higher court.

The university’s rejection is doubly shameful in that it ignored the fact that Matsumoto’s daughter passed the school’s entrance examination.

In my work in the publishing field, I have had occasion to interview this woman several times in the past-the first time was seven years ago when she was only 13 years old. We have stayed in touch over the years, and even exchange New Year’s cards.

A normal girl

Since she was 13, she has consistently stated her desire to “attend school.” Her reason, more so than the simple desire to study, is that she has always wanted to have friends of her own age and experience life as a normal girl.

She was raised within the clandestine world of the Aum sect from her childhood years on, and never even obtained an elementary school education.

Her recent success in passing university entrance exams was achieved almost entirely on the strength of diligent self-study efforts.

I surmise that the reason she chose to apply to Wako University stemmed from her knowledge of that university’s stated founding spirit of “respect for freedom and individuality.”

Taking this creed to heart, she most likely hoped that the school would choose to accept her as a student.

Immediately after her father was handed his death sentence, however, she found herself rejected by the university to which she had applied, despite passing their entrance exams.

I can only imagine the degree of pain and despair that she must have felt at this turn of events.

According to press reports, before reaching its final decision, Wako University made contact to verify her circumstances.

At that time, apparently without expressing any strong indignation, she informed the Wako representative that “there was even one university that turned me down with a single phone call.”

From my own knowledge of her, such a low-key response is totally in keeping with her character.

I sense that, after being buffeted about by such a cruel and unwarranted fate during the first 20 years of her life, she has developed a sort of resignation toward society in general.

When I first met her, she was already suffering rejection at the hands of the social structure in the form of being barred from entering school, and was also shadowed by security police wherever she went out.

It was startling to hear this innocent-looking 13-year-old child speak so lightly and matter-of-factly about the severe circumstances in which she found herself.

Obviously, being born into this world as the daughter of the leader of a vicious criminal cult was not a choice she made of her own free will.

While it makes perfect sense to speak out against the horrific crimes perpetrated by Aum, is it really correct for us to force a child, who had nothing at all to do with those actions, to carry the burden of a parent to such a lasting and alarming degree?

Her siblings also encountered similar trouble with gaining admission to school at certain points in their lives. However, once the mass media fervor settled down, they appear to have been able to attend classes without any major impediments.

In the presence of wise and understanding educators, I cannot see how her schooling would have presented any major dilemma or risk.

I wonder if Wako University truly looked into all of the particulars and took all the extenuating circumstances into consideration?

Student movementIf the “don’t rock the boat” principle of avoiding any and all bothersome situations played even a small role in the decision to reject her as a student, there is little way that the admissions people at Wako University and the other schools that rebuffed her can or should avoid censure as unfit educators.

In my current work as part-time lecturer at several different universities, I am also dismayed by the deepening sense of structured regulation that has crept back into school campuses of late.

I first entered university back in 1970, at a time in Japan when students donning helmets of all colors of the rainbow took to the campus grounds and streets under the cause of the “all-campus joint struggle.”

The main thrust of this movement was to hotly debate the rather clumsy question of, “What do colleges stand for after all?”

Reflecting back now, though, I have a feeling that I learned more from that volatile and seething atmosphere than I did from the classes and lectures I attended.

Today, university buildings and campus grounds have become clean and smart looking.

But I just can’t help thinking that the schools themselves are steadily losing something of far greater importance.

I truly wonder if simply rooting out supposed impurities and maintaining tranquillity on the surface is really the road to guaranteeing a viable educational environment?

On this occasion, certain universities have chosen to ignore the efforts of a young woman who, although being denied admission to school over the years, has staunchly carried on her studies, pursuing the aspiration of living the same type of lifestyle as normal children and young people her age.

As far as I am concerned, the decisions by these schools to ignore her efforts are deplorable.

The author is chief editor of the monthly magazine “Tsukuru.” He contributed this comment to The Asahi Shimbun

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Asahi Weekly, Japan
Apr. 24, 2004 Opinion
Hiroyuki Shinoda

Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday April 24, 2004.
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