Guru who declared war on state

Tokyo - Throughout his career, Shoko Asahara has aggressively overcome disadvantages and setbacks and shrewdly responded to the mood of the times, writes Richard Lloyd Parry.

He was born in 1955 in a mountainous region of Kyushu, the southernmost of the main Japanese islands.

His real name is Chizuo Matsumoto and he was the sixth child of a maker of tatami, the rush mat which forms the floor covering of traditional Japanese homes.

A congenital eye defect led to his being educated at a public boarding school for the partially sighted where he took diplomas in alternative therapies such as acupuncture.

Aged 21, he set up a shop selling Chinese medicines in Chiba, the prefecture adjoining Tokyo, but was fined 200,000 yen for selling herbal remedies without a permit, and went bankrupt. In 1984, he set up the predecessor of Aum Shinri Kyo, the "Association of Legendary Hermits with Miraculous Powers", a yoga training organisation that published books on meditation and Eastern religion.

He married and travelled in the Himalayas: it was during this time that he claims to have become enlightened.

In 1989, the renamed Aum Shinri Kyo (Aum Ultimate Truth) was recognised as a religious foundation under Japanese law, entitling it to tax benefits. Early Aum dogma was based around levitation (more like vigorous bouncing in the Lotus position), and meditation practised in yoga centres where many members were recruited.

Mr Asahara's followers were encouraged to show their devotion by donating worldly goods to the cult, which began to buy property in Japan. This was the period of the so-called "Bubble" when rocketing land prices were fuelling an unprecedented expansion of the Japanese economy. From the beginning, Mr Asahara was as effective a businessman as he was a guru.

As the cult grew richer, its teachings changed, becoming harsher and more ambitious. Mr Asahara began to talk about Armageddon, a war between Japan and the United States that would destroy the country between 1997 and 1999.

Again, this was timely, as trade friction and the disillusion of the old Cold War certainties drove a wedge between the two states. Aum's membership swelled quickly, and it began to make enemies.

It was driven out of its Kyushu village base and, in 1989, Mr Asahara and 14 followers made a derided stand for elections to the lower house.

Those setbacks were said to have angered Mr Asahara and it is at this time that he formulated the philosophy of struggle against the state, acquiring cut-price military equipment from Russia, and chemicals - supposedly for making fertilisers and other materials necessary for surviving Armageddon - but apparently for synthesising sarin nerve gas.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas