Thesis: Terrorism in Japan

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Japan Terrorism

Aum Shinrikyo: A Cult of Terror

Throughout its history, Japan's proclivity toward highly centralized forms of government has prompted no small amount of social resistance. As an imperial democracy with an extensive history of regional conflict, occupation and human rights abuse, Japan has engendered resentment, resistance and organized acts of subversion for its political, military and economic activities at home and abroad. Across the latter half of the 20th century though, it is increasingly its relationship with the United States that has embroiled Japan in controversy and invoked the ire of socialist groups, anti-imperialist organizations and revolutionary militants. As a result, Japan has long battled a significant terrorist threat, and particularly on its own soil where a number of groups continue to act in defiance of the Japanese government and its various military and diplomatic alliances. The focus in this discussion will be on Aum Shinrikyo/Aleph (Aum), both for its relative prominence in Japan and for its perpetration of the worst terrorist attack in modern Japanese history; the Tokyo subway attack of 1995. Subsequent to outlining Aum Shinrikyo's identity and activities, the research will consider the organization relative to other Japanese terror groups. Particularly, the Japanese Red Army (JRA) and India's Maoist Communist Center (MCC) have been selected because these are classified as terrorist organizations but each varies with regard to the level of threat represented.

Detailed Profiles:


Aum Shinrikyo was formed in 1984 as something of a vague amalgam of beliefs. At the time of its inception, the nature of the organization which was then called Aum Shinsen no Kai, was more of a cult than a terrorist group. However, the teachings and orientation of its founder and leader, Shoko Asahara would evolve with the growth of his power, the intensification of his personal delusions of grandeur and the extent of his amassed wealth. As with most cults, Aum would draw in its followers using a selective combination of spiritual ideologies drawn from existing religious traditions in order to justify an array of ideological imperatives. Among them, the acceptance of Asahara as "Supreme Leader" was essential. (GTD, 1)

Gradually, the mysticism feeding into Asahara's ideology would invoke imagery of a coming nuclear holocaust waged between Japan and the United States. It is compelling here to note the ways in which Asahara would manipulate the psyche of his followers based on the events of history while simultaneously devising a motive for resistance driven by the close diplomatic relationship between the United States and Japan. Indeed, as the organization gathered steam in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Asahara became increasingly convinced that violent action would be necessary on the part of Aum in order to prevent the coming apocalypse. To justify this, the organization would develop a doctrine called 'poa' which insisted that murder on spiritual grounds was righteous and justified. (GTD, 1) in this regard, there are echoes the doctrines already in place amongst Islamic militants throughout Asia and the Middle East.

So would a parallel become evident to such fundamentalist organizations as Asahara's cult transitioned into an active armed organization. Accordingly, "the cult began to assemble its own militia and reorganized its leadership structure as a shadow government. This cabinet had ministries in charge of different areas such as Science and Technology, Intelligence, and Construction." (GTD, 1) These areas would eventually give way to the various methods of intended terrorist activity that would come to fruition for Aum.

Indeed, its interest in areas of science and technology were not idle. During the early 1990s, Aum revealed one of the most pressing terrorist threats to the modern world as it carried out a series of attacks through biological and chemical hazards on unsuspecting civilians. A June 1993 attack from its own headquarters in Tokyo would be a failure for the use of a non-infectious strain of anthrax. However, attacks carried out in Matsumoto City in June of 1994 and, most famously, in a Tokyo subway during a March 1995 morning rush hour, would have far graver results. The use of sarin nerve gas would result in wide casualties, several fatalities and a revelation as to the serious danger which a terrorist attack could represent with the use of chemical weapons. (GTD, 1)

Asahara would be held responsible for the Tokyo subway attacks, tried and sentenced to death, as would be a number of others with core affiliation to Aum Shinrikyo and the planning of the attacks. Asahara appealed his sentencing and remains in prison. Aum also remains in operation and has never been fully outlawed by the Japanese government. Accordingly, "PSIA has monitored Aum since 2000 under the Organization Control Law, a measure that allows the Agency to conduct on-site facility inspections and to obtain quarterly operational reports from the group. Both groups continued to perpetuate the ideology of Aum founder and sarin gas attack planner Chizuo Matsumoto, aka Shoko Asahara. PSIA inspections revealed that many original Aum members continued to hold leadership positions in the groups, and that Aum facilities maintained portrait photos and video teachings of Asahara." (OCC, 2) All indications are that though aspects of the organization no longer preach violence, justify murder or plan terrorist attacks, Asahara's teachings remain influential. Therefore, it should be regarded not only that Aum Shinrikyo is dangerous but also that it should be aggressively monitored with intent to force disbandment.

This differs somewhat from the course of the Japanese Red Army, which was a product of the student movement of the 1960s. Like many of its contemporaries around the world, this group was essentially driven by the ideologist imperatives of a burgeoning communist revolution throughout Europe and Asia. Formed in 1970 by Fusako Shigenobu, "the group became one of the most feared and infamous terrorist organizations in the world during the 1970s by hijacking several commercial airliners and holding the French embassy in the Hague hostage." (GTD, 1) the organization contrasts Aum particularly due to its era of operation. Disbanded since the imprisonment of its leader in 2000, it is not today considered an active terror group. However, in its time, its activities were audacious and constituted a genuine threat to Japanese and global security.

As something of an Indian counterpart to the JRA, at least with respect to its stated philosophy, the Maoist Communist Center (MCC) would similarly be an outgrowth of the permeation of communist ideologies in the 1960s. Formed in 1969, it would actually be the organic outgrowth of coordinated resistance efforts by a number of smaller communist organizations. According to the Global Terrorism Datebase, "the MCC was composed of rebellious elements that chose not to join the newly formed Communist Party of India -- Marxist Leninist [CPI (ML)]. From 1969-1975, the MCC went by the name Dakshin Desh." (GTD, 1) as a result, the MCC established itself as a fringe group with connections to activities of armed rebellion. By contrast to the JRA, the MCC would actually gain some success by engendering the support, or at least entrenching its authority over, peasants in villages in regions outlying firm government control.


It is difficult to identify the core goals which now drive Aum's organization. Its splintered capacity indicates that some profess to the goals of meditation and spiritual worship which were its original teachings. Others profess to those goals aimed at dismantling imperial Japan and resisting its close ties to the United States. From the perspective of those providing Japan with a national security strategy, it seems most appropriate to identify the organization with these latter goals. Though the organization has not carried out an attack since 1995, it is reasonable to deduce that this is because of its massively depleted capacity as a result of its core members having been imprisoned and its central operations dismantled by oversight and financial disruption. In any event, we may identify the goals of Aum Shinrikyo, Aleph or any other organization operating under Asahara's ideological umbrella as having the goal of destroying Japan's imperial authority and undermining its central government.

These anti-imperialist ambitions are a common thread across many of Japan's terror organizations. Indeed, this would be the declared and primary goal of the Japanese Red Army as well, which sought to achieve a communist overthrow of the government by violent revolutionary tactics. In particular, it channeled many of its actions toward undermining Japan's connection to western global alignments such as those which protect the state of Israel. Indeed, as we will discuss hereafter, JRA inserted itself into the affairs of the Middle East, identifying the United States, Japan and Israel as a corrupt trinity.

Though the MCC proceeded from a similarly stated goal of overthrowing its own government for a communist revolutionary government, it would pursue this goal with almost totally domestic ambitions. The affairs of nations outside of its region did not register into the scope of its ambitions. Based on its operations, it ultimately seems that the goal for the MCC has been to establish at least a strong pan-maoist region in India… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Terrorism in Japan.  (2009, October 1).  Retrieved December 10, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Terrorism in Japan."  1 October 2009.  Web.  10 December 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Terrorism in Japan."  October 1, 2009.  Accessed December 10, 2019.