As ‘X-Day’ Nears, Tensions Grow at Village Where Cult is Based
KAMIKUISHIKI, Japan (AP) _ Rumors that the leader of a doomsday cult may be holed up at his sect’s commune have turned this rustic farming village, once known only for striking views of Mount Fuji, into the focus of a national obsession.
For nearly two months, television viewers have been deluged with hours of daily coverage of the investigation into the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, much of it beamed live from Kamikuishiki.
Police swarmed into the village shortly after the March 20 nerve gas attack that killed 12 people and sickened 5,500 on Tokyo’s subways. They have discovered secret passages, hidden laboratories and tons of potential ingredients for making nerve gas or biological weapons at the cult’s commune.
Riot police in full battle gear question all cult members who enter or leave the commune, and armored buses full of reinforcements wait nearby.
Until recently, the focus was mainly reports of strange goings-on within the commune _ from drug use to child abuse to freakish initiation rites.
But coverage has reached a crescendo lately, as police say they are entering the final stages of their investigation. Speculation is rife that ``X-day,″ the day when investigators arrest cult leader Shoko Asahara himself, is imminent.
The tranquility of Kamikuishiki’s barn-dotted rolling hills, where nightingales sing from pine trees, is broken daily at dawn by Asahara’s booming voice singing plaintive off-tune lullabies.
Loudspeakers amplify the tape-recorded concert around his cult’s run-down commune, and Asahara’s ``disciples″ begin to emerge from their rooms to head to work or meditation.
But Asahara himself, in hiding since the subway attack, is nowhere to be seen.
It is widely believed he is at the Kamikuishiki commune because his wife and one of his daughters have been seen there. He is also believed to be ill, and possibly bedridden.
``He’s either here or in Tokyo,″ said villager Seiichi Takeuchi, who for several years helped lead a group of sect opponents. ``I can’t think of any place else where he could hide.″
Asahara moved his cult to Kamikuishiki five years ago, after claiming he had a vision the mountain would erupt unless he began prayers to placate it.
Within months, cult members working around the clock erected a dozen prefabricated buildings _ called Satian after the Sanskrit word for truth. Along with residence and worship halls, the commune also has printing facilities and a noodle factory.
Much to the chagrin of the commune’s neighbors, keeping the commune clean appears to be a low priority. Piles of garbage spill out onto the streets beside many of the buildings, and the roof of one is covered with old disposable diapers.