■ オウム真理教 was a religious group founded in the 1980s by a man who called himself 麻原彰晃（あさはらしょうこう） (real name 松本智津夫（まつもとちづお）; born March 2, 1955). The group's teachings were a mixture of ideas drawn from Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and other religions, with a special emphasis on the supposed divinity of its founder. Usually called "Aum Shinrikyo" in English, the group grew quickly in the late 1980s and early 1990s and attracted hundreds of young members, many of whom left their homes and donated all of their possessions to the group.
Aum began to attract widespread attention around 1989, when it started to have trouble with the families of some of its members over its recruiting methods. In November 1989, a lawyer named 坂本堤, who was leading a group opposed to Aum, was killed together with his wife and young child. Aum was suspected in the murder, but it wasn't until several years later that the killers, all members of Aum operating at the instructions of Asahara, were actually arrested and prosecuted. This incident was just one of a number of murders committed by Aum against its opponents, its members, and its former members.
In February 1990, the group attracted more attention when it established a short-lived political party called 真理党（しんりとう）. The party fielded 25 candidates for the lower house of the Diet, all of whom lost.
Asahara's teachings became increasingly apocalyptic, and the group began to manufacture the nerve gas サリン (sarin) and gather weapons in secret. It first used the gas in a nighttime attack on a residential neighborhood in the city of Matsumoto on June 27, 1994. Seven people died and about 600 were injured, though Aum's involvement was not immediately known.
On March 20, 1995, several members of the group boarded subways in downtown Tokyo during the morning rush hour and opened packages containing sarin on the trains. Twelve people died and over five thousand were injured, many permanently. The attack was apparently aimed at government workers heading for work in the Kasumigaseki area, though the killed and injured came from all walks of life. It was only at this point that the police and government began actively to crack down on the group. Two days after the subway attack, police began searching Aum's headquarters in a village in Yamanashi Prefecture as well as its facilities in other locations. The equipment that had been used to manufacture the sarin was found at the Yamanashi site, and finally on May 16 Aum's leader was arrested.
Events related to the Aum story continued to be in the news for the next several years as members and former members were arrested, tried, sentenced, and in some cases released after serving their sentences. Despite attempts by the government to disband the group, it continued to function in various forms and may even have begun attracting new members. There were conflicts between Aum members and local residents wherever Aum tried to set up a facility. Many Japanese remained deeply suspicious of the group. In April 2000, it changed its name to アレフ（Aleph), but news reports continued to refer to it as アウム真理教.
The Aum affair contained several elements that made it one of the most significant events in late-20th-century Japan. One was the willingness of so many well-educated young people to join a religious group that had such bizarre and violent teachings. Commentators traced that willingness to factors such as social alienation, weakening family ties, and the fantasy-drenched world of comics, video games, and other media in which some young people are immersed. Another significant element was the ability of a private group to produce and use weapons of mass destruction. (In addition to sarin, Aum had also released anthrax spores over Tokyo, though to no effect, and had tried unsuccessfully to obtain nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union.)
This entry was created by Tom Gally.