The Matsumoto sarin attack was an attempted assassination perpetrated by members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult in Matsumoto in Japan’s Nagano prefecture, on the night of June 27, 1994. Eight people were killed and more than 500 were harmed by sarin gas that was released from a converted refrigeration truck in the Kaichi Heights area.


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People affected by sarin nerve gas in the central Tokyo subway trains are carried into St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo on March 20, 1995 Image Credit: AP

The Tokyo subway sarin attack was an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated on March 20, 1995, in Tokyo by members of the cult movement Aum Shinrikyo. In five coordinated attacks, the perpetrators released sarin on three lines of the Tokyo Metro (then part of the Tokyo subway) during rush hour, killing 12 people, severely injuring 50, some of whom later died, and causing temporary vision problems for nearly 1,000 others. Japan executed the doomsday cult leader and his disciples last year over the sarin gas attack, but hundreds of people are still signing up to Aum Shinrikyo’s successor groups each year, authorities say. The Tokyo subway attack was led by the group’s near-blind “guru” Shoko Asahara. Aum successor groups have around 1,650 members in Japan, and hundreds more in Russia, according to Japan’s Public Security Intelligence Agency. It says the groups attract around 100 new followers a year through activities such as yoga and fortune-telling.


Japanese have also flocked to religious sects that are considered cults in some parts of Europe but are tolerated in Japan, including the Soka Gakkai, which is based on Buddhism and has millions of members worldwide. Unlike some European countries, where groups ranging from the Church of Scientology to the Unification Church are considered “cults”, Japan takes a relatively open view towards what are often simply called newly-emerged religions. “The biggest cult (in Japan) is the Unification Church,” said Yoshiro Ito, an anti-cult lawyer. He estimates tens of thousands of Japanese may belong to the group founded by the late South Korean Sun Myung Moon, who is revered as a messiah by his followers.


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A 20 March, 1995 file photo shows subway passengers awaiting medical attention after inhaling a lethal nerve gas which was unleashed by attackers in the Tokyo metro system during rush hour Image Credit: AFP

Self-professed guru Asahara developed the Aum cult in the 1980s, attracting over 10,000 followers, including the doctors and engineers who manufactured the group’s toxins. The Tokyo subway attack prompted a crackdown on the Aum’s headquarters, where authorities discovered a plant capable of producing enough sarin to kill millions. Escaped members of the cult and anti-cult activists had long warned about the Aum, but authorities had failed to act, and even after the sarin attack the group was not officially banned.


Two successor cults, Aleph and Hikarinowa, continue to recruit members and operate openly, which some experts say makes it easier to monitor them. Aleph, which Asahara’s wife and several children belong to, formally renounced the Aum guru in 2000. But he retained strong influence and some experts believe his execution could have even boosted his status.


According to Ito, Japan’s complicated religious history had left many people unmoored from their faith and looking for answers. “State sponsorship of Shintoism, with the emperor serving as a living god, was forced upon people during wartime. The US occupation forces broke it up,” he said. “Suddenly people didn’t know what to believe.” Buddhism and Shintoism are the two major religions in Japan. “New religions have made inroads where traditions have been lost. Among them are radical ones, which are cults,” said Kenji Kawashima, professor of contemporary thought and philosophy at Tohoku Gakuin University.

What is Kyoto Animation

• Kyoto Animation has a reputation for high-quality productions and treating its employees well in an industry infamous for harsh working conditions.

• Founded in 1981 by the accomplished producers Yoko Hatta and her husband Hideaki, the studio has produced numerous popular anime TV series and feature films, as well as publishing illustrated novels and manga.

• The growth of the genre’s popularity worldwide and increased demand for content from streaming platforms such as Netflix has put even more pressure on the studios at a time when Japan is experiencing a severe labour shortage. Most studios are booked out with projects up to two years ahead.

• Many anime artists are paid on a per-frame basis and tight deadlines make the work gruelling and long hours inevitable.

• But Kyoto Animation bucks the trend by making its animators full-time employees.

Japan studio attack a ‘blow to animation industry’

A suspected arson attack on a Japanese animation studio in which 30 people are believed to have been killed and scores injured will be a major blow to the nation’s famed animation industry, a film commentator said.

Kyoto Animation, based in Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto, is known for popular series such as the “Sound! Euphonium”. Its “Free! Road to the World - The Dream” movie is due for release this month. But the studio has an outsized impact on Japan’s noted animation industry that outstrips a list of the works it has produced, said Tokyo-based film commentator Yuichi Maeda.

“It’s one of the best and largest animation firms in Japan, and with that loss of life, many of the best hands at animation in the nation are likely to be dead,” Maeda said, his voice shaking. “It’s too painful to contemplate.” “It has a huge presence in animation here. To have this many people die at once will be a huge blow to the Japanese animation industry.” While some companies, such as Hayao Miyazaki’s “Studio Ghibli” were well known for the limpidness of their scenery and use of colours, or their detailed drawings, the strengths of Kyoto Animation, founded in 1981, stretched across the board. “They really never did anything wrong. The animation was great, the story quality was really high. Overall, the balance was just amazing,” Miura said.