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Cult Shadow Still Looms Over Japan (Page 2 of 2)

Indeed, Aum has previously proven itself to be resilient and self-reliant, accumulating an estimated $1.4 billion in business assets before the government crackdown in 1995. Most of Aum’s funding came from a thriving computer business, which has been largely dismantled by Japanese authorities. However, Aleph is still able to generate a modest amount of revenue through the merchandising of its religious publications. Despite this, the massive decline in its membership has hit the level of donations, which have served as the primary source of the group’s funding in the past.

The group was, and remains, without a state sponsor, but was able to infiltrate several ministries of the Japanese government through its vigorous campaign of recruitment into several elite Japanese universities. Some members with specialized skills were distributed by Aum into powerful government agencies such as the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Yet while Aum has thus far not carried out any international attacks, its ability to extend influence beyond Japanese borders remains a concern. In 1995, shortly after the subway attack, the US Senate reported that Aum had as many as 10,000 adherents in Japan and an additional 65,000 members worldwide. This number has fallen considerably, with the PSIA recently reporting that the membership of both groups was around 1,600.

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But despite the drop in international followers, Fumihiro Joyu, the head of Hikari no Wa, retains strong connections to cult adherents in Russia, which formerly served as a secondary base of operations for Aum in the 1990s. Joyu used to be the Aum station chief in Moscow, where he spearheaded efforts to purchase time on national radio and TV to promote the organization. However, after a number of raids by Russian police over the past 15 years, Aum redirected its members back to Tokyo.  

So, how credible is the threat of a resurgent Aum? Certainly, since the Tokyo attack, Aum hasn’t been able to launch any successful attacks on civilians or government targets. Aleph, meanwhile, has appealed to the US State Department to be removed from the FTO list. It has apologized for the attacks in Tokyo and Matsumoto, and claims that it currently serves only peaceful purposes. Despite this, security officials in Japan and around the world remain suspicious as the Armageddon doctrine and anti-government writings are still promoted by the group.

While the group hasn’t been entirely neutralized, it’s under intense daily surveillance by the PSIA. Aum continues to be nowhere close to its objective of overthrowing the Japanese government, and it remains a pariah cult in Japanese society. Still, its legacy remains strong in Japan. This alone may be enough to prompt an extension of the decade-old surveillance law.

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