Birthday: March 2, 1955
Died At Age: 63
Sun Sign: Pisces
Also Known As: Chizuo Matsumoto
Born in: Yatsushiro, Kumamoto Prefecture
Famous as: Criminal
Spouse/Ex-: Tomoko Matsumoto (m. 1978 – his death. 2018)
children: Kaori Asahara, Mayumi Asahara, Reika Matsumoto
Died on: July 6, 2018
place of death: Tokyo Detention House, Tokyo
Cause of Death: Execution
Founder/Co-Founder: Aum Shinrikyo
Who was Shoko Asahara?
Shoko Asahara, born Chizuo Matsumoto, was a cult leader who founded the Japanese doomsday cult group ‘Aum Shinrikyo’ that conducted the deadly Tokyo subway sarin attack in 1995. Asahara was partially blind and attended blind school. He also studied acupuncture and pharmacology. He opened a pharmacy specializing in Chinese medicaments but was arrested for selling fake remedies and then convicted for fraud. Following this, his business went bankrupt. Meanwhile, he developed an interest in religion and studied different religious concepts. He eventually started practicing esoteric Buddhism, esoteric Christianity, western esotericism, meditation, and yoga. He founded ‘Aum Shinrikyo’ (later renamed ‘Aleph’) and gradually earned a considerable fan base. By the time the ‘Tokyo Metropolitan Government’ granted the group legal recognition as a religious corporation, Asahara had started calling himself “Tokyo’s Christ”, the “Holy Pope,” and “Saviour of the Country.” He appeared on TV and magazine covers, attended lecture-meetings at universities, and wrote religious books such as ‘Declaring Myself the Christ,’ in which he declared he was the “Christ.” Asahara led several terrorist attacks through his secret organization that gathered firearms, developed biological weapons, and obtained the nerve gas sarin. He was found guilty of masterminding the sarin-gas attack in the Tokyo subway and was executed by Japan for the attack and other crimes.
Childhood & Early Life
Shoko Asahara was born Chizuo Matsumoto, on March 2, 1955, in Yatsushiro, Kumamoto, Japan. He was one of the seven children of a poor mat-maker’s family. He suffered from infantile glaucoma since birth, which led to total blindness in his left eye and partial blindness in his right eye. He attended a school for the blind.
He completed his graduation in 1977. Unable to get admission in medical school, he studied acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine.
In 1978, he married Tomoko Matsumoto (who changed her name to Akari Matsumoto, following her release from prison). The couple had 12 children.
Asahara opened a pharmacy specializing in Chinese medicaments in Chiba. However, in 1981, he was found guilty of practicing pharmacy without any license and for sale of unregulated drugs. A fine of ¥200,000 was levied on him. Following his conviction, the business went bankrupt.
Meanwhile, he developed a keen interest in religion and would often spend time studying different religious concepts. His studies included Taoism and Chinese astrology. He later started practicing esoteric Buddhism, esoteric Christianity, western esotericism, meditation, and yoga.
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Asahara founded the movement in his one-bedroom apartment in a special ward in Tokyo, Japan, in 1984. It began as a yoga and meditation class named ‘Aum Shinsen no Kai’ and developed in the ensuing years. He adopted the name “Shoko Asahara.” In 1987, he renamed his group ‘Aum Shinrikyo.’
He applied for government registration. In 1989, the ‘Tokyo Metropolitan Government’ granted the group legal recognition as a religious corporation. ‘Aum Shinrikyo’ developed into a Japanese doomsday cult, the doctrine of which was based on the ‘Bible,’ the ‘Vajrayana’ scriptures, and other texts. Eventually, it earned a decent count of graduates from elite universities of Japan and was labeled a "religion for the elite." Asahara rose to fame and was featured on TV and magazine covers. He received lecture-meeting invitations from different universities.
Many religious books were authored by him. These include ‘Beyond Life and Death,’ ‘Supreme Initiation,’ and ‘Declaring Myself the Christ.’ In ‘Declaring Myself the Christ,’ published in 1992, Asahara declared himself the "Christ" and the only fully enlightened master of the country. He also identified with the "Lamb of God.”
As claimed by Asahara, his objective was to take the sins of others upon him. He said he had the capacity to transfer spiritual power to his followers and claimed that he could see the evil conspiracies that rival Japanese religions, the British Royal Family, the Dutch, the Freemasons, and the Jews were promulgating. He indicated a doomsday prophecy consisting of a third World War and spoke of an ultimate conflict resulting in a nuclear "Armageddon.”
In the 1990s, the group had around 10 thousand members in Japan and thousands of others in other countries, especially in Russia. Asahara also made a failed attempt to get a few top members of ‘Aum Shinrikyo’ elected to the Japanese public office during several elections. Following this, the group started to launch political organizations to influence the government of Japan. Around this time, the group made an attempt to purchase and produce materials for chemical weapons.
Activities of Asahara & His Group, including theTokyo Subway Sarin Attack
Asahara often conveyed that “Armageddon” was essential for “human relief” and led several terrorist attacks through a covert organization that the ordinary believers were unaware of. He led his group in carrying out many assassinations and terrorist attacks using sarin.
Several nerve agents such as VX and deadly chemical and biological weapons were produced by his group. They also made an effort to conduct bioterrorism using botulinum toxin. According to sources, as Asahara had become aware of a scheduled police raid on the cult on March 22, 1995, he masterminded the Tokyo subway attack to hinder police investigations.
The members of ‘Aum Shinrikyo’ carried out the Tokyo subway sarin attack on March 20, 1995, during rush hour. They released the nerve gas sarin on three lines of the ‘Tokyo Metro’ in five coordinated attacks. The attacks killed 12 people, while 50 were severely injured (at least one of them died later) and around a thousand people suffered from temporary vision problem.
Following the attack, the authorities found enough evidence indicating the involvement of ‘Aum Shinrikyo’ in the attack. The group was also accused of its complicity in many other small-scale incidents. The facilities of ‘Aum Shinrikyo’ were raided, and many senior members of the cult were arrested. Police actions continued all through the summer, resulting in the arrests of more than two hundred members of the group.
An order of Asahara’s arrest was issued by the court. The police investigated the headquarters of the group on May 16, 1995. Asahara was found hiding in a small and isolated room in one of the facilities and was arrested. Japan's elite paratrooper unit, the ‘First Airborne Brigade,’ was stationed close by to help the police if they needed support in face of a possible attack by ‘Aum Shinrikyo.’
Trial, Indictments & Execution of Asahara
Asahara was slapped with 27 counts of murder in 13 indictments. According to the argument of the prosecution, Asahara had ordered the Tokyo subway attack to depose the government and put himself in place of the emperor of Japan. The prosecution also suggested that he had ordered the attack to divert the attention of the police from the group.
He was also charged with masterminding the Sakamoto family murder and the Matsumoto incident. The defense team of Asahara, however, said that such atrocious acts were initiated by a group of senior followers of the cult, which Asahara was not aware of. He was convicted on 13 charges and was sentenced to death by hanging on February 27, 2004. The Japanese media tagged the trial as the "trial of the century.”
By then, Asahara had resigned from ‘Aum Shinrikyo’ in an effort to prevent a forceful dissolution of the organization by the state. Over the years, several appeals were made by his defense team. His team also claimed he was mentally unfit. His execution was postponed in June 2012, as many of the fugitive ‘Aum Shinrikyo’ members had been arrested. After all his appeals exhausted, Asahara was hanged to death on July 6, 2018, at the ‘Tokyo Detention House.’