Contenuto principale

Article by Raffaella Di Marzio

Translation by Michele Amitrani

Read the article in Italian 

When an Italian asks what are the most serious problems of a country like Japan he or she immediately thinks to the economic situation, to the earthquakes or to the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima. Indeed, it seems that, for a portion of the Japanese society, the real problem is none of these. No. The most serious problem in Japan are cults, accused to brainwash young people.

This is confirmed by an Italian university student interviewed a few days ago on his experience in a university campus of a prestigious International University in Tokyo. The student says that on the first day of attendance, as usual, the newcomers were informed about the formalities to complete before starting the lessons. Once the orientation ended, the psychologist of the Campus warned the students of the dangers that may lurk in the University Campus.

The student reports that the psychologist warns foreign students that in Japan there are three dangers they must be aware of: “Cults is the most dangerous of them, followed by earthquakes, and theft." After this introduction, clear and unambiguous, the psychologist summarily advised to read a booklet of information and instructions on how to behave in case of theft or earthquakes.slide1

About the danger of the cults, however, she presented in great details two explanatory slides. The slides were photographed during the lesson by our enterprising student, actually much more concerned about the constant tremors who felt distinctly during the lesson, than by the “cults.” The other students, just arrived from other continents, and still sleepy because of the jet lag, were dozing off while the psychologist explained them the strategies that cults use in the campus to proselytize.

In the first slide it is clarified the definition of "cults": an element that distinguishes cults from religions is that the first hide their true nature, inviting students to participate in seminar or sports activities in order to cover their true intent. In the slide it is also stated: “Then you will be brainwashed and forced to take part in radical political activity or antisocial and illegal activity. If you accidentally give your contact, and enter its group, it's very difficult to quit and would be suffered mentally and economically for future.”

The students are also advised not to trust those who approach them asking to volunteer for something and they are also discouraged to talk about those activities with their family, because it could be a cult practising brainwashing and could “control their mind.”slide2

In the second slide, titled: “Cult, Deceptive Business” is explained to the students how to prevent problems. The recommendations are essentially those that you give to a child, when he or she is told not to accept candies from strangers. In particular, I want to point out one of the four tips that explicitly says, and I quote: “Just answer ‘NO’ when you do not want its invitation.”

The last advice is to consult the Student Office with the phone number in case of contact with any cult.

I think it is interesting to notice that when the expert speaks of dangerous cults, there is no mention of the attack that was perpetrated by the 'Aum Shinrikyo’ cult in the Tokyo subway.  This strange omission is reported by the student who attended the entire conference.

It almost seems a war against the cults of the "others.”

And indeed, about the “cults of the other," Japan hold a sad record according to the report of HRWF: the one of the young kidnapped and deprogrammed as shown by the emblematic case of Toru Goto, who was held captive for 12 years to force him to leave the Unification Church.

Only in 2014, after years of battles, it has come to get an at least partially justice in this case, a case unfortunately recurring in Japan. In cases like these, deprogrammators by profession and members of evangelical churches are hired by families to kidnap their sons or daughters who decide to affiliate to groups such as the Unification Church and other New Religious Movements.

In 2011 Human Rights Without Frontiers interviewed in Tokyo some victims of deprogramming who were of part New Religious Movements and published a comprehensive report on the issue entitled "Abduction and Deprivation of Freedom for the Purpose of Religious De-conversion", which was presented in 2013 at the Committee for Human Rights to report the violation of Articles 7,9,12,18,23 and 26 of the 'ICCPR, and to bring to the attention of the Committee members their concern over the matter of impunity of people who, in Japan, kidnap and keep segregated people converted to New Religious Movements in an attempt to convince them to recant their faith.

Considering this situation, it makes sense to ask if the danger in Japan are the “cults" or the violations of human rights of those who decide to change their religion and to manifest their faith publicly, even proselytizing, without violating any law of the State.

Finally, some brief considerations: our student, who has lived in Tokyo for about a year, has never been approached by any cult within the campus. Off campus he met, near a metro station, two women with a flyer of a Christian church that invited him to their function. He has also found a leaflet of Jehovah's Witnesses in his mailbox, and, twice, he opened to a Jehovah's Witness who knocked on his door to hand him a flyer.

If these are two “cults”, our student was very lucky, because the three attempts to proselytize did not seem neither a widespread phenomenon nor a devious technique to brainwash naive and inexperienced young people…

Meanwhile, while in the Universities of Tokyo unwarranted fears and phobias are nurtured in young students taking advantage of the trust in educational institutions that their families have chosen for enriching the university education of their children, survivors of the cult Aum Shinrikyo, now called Aleph, live barricaded in a district of Tokyo, surrounded by the hostility of the entire population because they still have photographs of their leader Shoko Asahara in their headquarter.

Nobody, though, cares to ask the point of view of the former followers of Shoko Asahara, which is published on their Internet site (see site in English updated until 2001) and which, since 2002, it’s only in Japanese. Aleph, the new organization founded after the attack on the Tokyo subway by Aum, was established to financially compensate the victims to whom were donated not only all funds and property of Aum, but also the private properties of innocent members, those who knew nothing of the criminal activities of the leaders and of other adepts. Even today, after 15 years, compensation continues, for a total, from 1996 to date, worth almost 14 million euros (1,892,259,998 yen).aleph

People who have founded Aleph were not involved in the actions of the leader Shoko Asahara and those members who have organized and completed the attack: today they are a Buddhist practice yoga group. They have no leader and consider Shoko Asahara only a master of yoga and spirituality, of whom they refused publicly and repeatedly his actions, carrying out a tireless work of victim compensation, which has never ceased.

Of course it seems better that the young international students learn as little as possibile about this, just as it is very well to ignore the serious religious freedom violations perpetrated against their Japanese peers who are kidnapped and held prisoners because converted to an NMR while police, judges and Japanese institutions close their eyes and pretend nothing ever happened.


Great Victory For Religious Freedom in Japan