Cult and army share grudges

Japan/ the conspirators

TWO MONTHS on, Japanese suddenly know a great deal about the sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway which killed a dozen and injured 5,500 on 20 March. If police accounts of confessions by the Aum Shinri Kyo religious cult are to be believed, they now know who released the gas, and where and how it was produced. The toughest question now is why. Why would anyone, even a group as crazed as Aum Shinri Kyo, wish to amass deadly sarin, and how did they hope to profit from it? From notebooks kept by followers, it is clear that the cult was engaged in what it saw as a war against the Japanese state: its ultimate goal was nothing less than a coup d'etat.

In most countries - certainly rich, stable, industrialised giants - this would be a laughable absurdity. But in Japan, there is no smirking. A few weeks ago, the idea of amateur religious maniacs holding the country hostage with a Nazi nerve gas was unthinkable too. Now, mention of words like coup d'etat and revolution produces a strange reaction, more shiver than smile.

Growing evidence - filtered through the Japanese media, from anonymous sources in the police - suggests that the cult had established startling links with the Self-Defence Force (SDF), Japan's armed forces. On 19 March, the day before the sarin attack, an Aum member who was a serving sergeant in the SDF, threw a petrol bomb at the cult's headquarters in Tokyo - a carefully planned distraction, designed to throw police off the scent after the subway attack the next day. On 21 March, another Aum member in the SDF warned the cult of the imminent police raids: Aum leaders were given time to escape, carrying truck loads of incriminating evidence with them. Police have recovered a manual on protection against chemical weapons given to the cult by an SDF officer; another cultist, a former sergeant, bugged the phone of an SDF brigadier.

The SDF has always been an uneasy organisation - even down to its clumsy name. There are three SDFs - the Ground Self-Defence Force (GSDF), the Maritime Self-Defence Force (MSDF) and the Air Self-Defence Force (ASDF) - and they are, to all intents and purposes, an Army, Navy and Air Force. The combined manpower of the three is 234,000.

The reason for the fussy euphemisms is straightforward. Article Nine of Japan's constitution unambiguously states that: "land, air and sea forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained". The famous "Peace Constitution" was imposed by the American Occupation in 1947. Three years later the Korean War broke out and, suddenly, the prospect of an unarmed Japan on the edge of Cold War Asia became a liability. In 1952, an army was quickly mustered as the "National Police Reserve"; two years later it became the SDF.

SDF members have none of the status of their counterparts in other armies. Japan holds no military parades or fly-pasts; exercises are conducted with almost secretive discretion. For many years, membership was almost a stigma: there are stories of young women breaking off engagements on discovering that their fiances' families had SDF connections. Aum Shinri Kyo drew many of its members from marginalised, voiceless groups in Japanese society: widows, lonely teenagers, ambitious young men stranded in unbending company hierarchies. The SDF, bizarre though it sounds, falls into the same category.

It would not be the first time that attempts have been made to suborn the Japanese military. In 1936, a famous coup attempt known as 26 February narrowly failed to bring about direct military rule. In 1970 the writer Yukio Mishima disembowelled himself in a Tokyo barracks after a spectacular attempt to bring about an uprising. As recently as October 1992, a GSDF officer earned himself a swift discharge after publishing an extraordinary article in a right-wing magazine. "It is no longer possible to correct injustice through democracy," wrote Major Shinsaku Yanai. "The only means left is a revolution or coup d'etat."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
A daily miscellany of general election facts, figures, trivia and traditions
voicesThere's still time for someone to do something to make us care
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, goes back to his family's Sicilian roots in the first 'Godfather' film
film
News
news
News
Kim Kardashian speaks on the Today show about her step-father's transition
PEOPLE
Sport
Wenger and Mourinho square-up to each other earlier this season
sportAll the action from today's Premier League, including Everton vs Man Utd and Chelsea vs Arsenal
News
Tepper had a stunningly successful career as a songwriter
people
Arts and Entertainment
Len Blavatnik
music
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions