Mar 17, 2023

Kids raised in Japan's AUM cult faced tough recovery from 'mind control': docs

This image from documents provided to the Mainichi Shimbun by Yamanashi Prefecture shows a child's scrawl in a diary, reading, "Return me to AUM soon!"
Mainichi Japan
March 16, 2023
Japanese version

 OSAKA -- "Return me to AUM soon!"

The words are a barely legible scrawl, written in a diary by a child who had been living at a facility run by the AUM Shinrikyo cult before being placed in the temporary care of a child consultation center in April 1995. It was just the previous month that AUM had unleashed its deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, and the child had been taken into protective custody after a police raid on a cult building.

The angry diary entry and other information were obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun through an information disclosure request to Yamanashi Prefecture and interviews with those involved. What it all reveals, in this time when the grave consequences for second-generation members of religious groups is a focus of public attention, is the deep impact cults have on children.

On March 20, 1995, AUM Shinrikyo followers released sarin nerve gas in a subway train headed for Tokyo's Kasumigaseki Station, leading to the death of 14 people and injuring more than 6,000 others. In April, police simultaneously searched about 120 locations nationwide, including the AUM cult's facilities in what is now the town of Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi Prefecture. Around 110 children found during the raids around the country were taken into protective care.

Some children small for their age, have learning difficulties

Yamanashi Prefecture's children's consultation center temporarily took in the largest share of any local authority: 28 boys and 25 girls, according to records disclosed by the prefecture. They ranged from toddlers to 14 years old, and many were of elementary school age. Most were pale and expressionless after being confined indoors in the belief they were under attack with poison gas outside.

Twenty-five children (47.2%) were found to be "anemic" or "malnourished" during medical examinations. Forty-seven children (88.7%) were below the average height for their age group. Some of the children were hungry and had good appetites, but could not use chopsticks and had to eat with their hands. They had never been to school, and lacked academic ability and even basic knowledge of the world.

Many of the children said they wanted to go back to AUM, and one child continued to write in their diary until late May 1995, "Return me to AUM Shinrikyo!"

During psychological testing, less than 10% of the children were able to draw a picture of their entire family, and none of the adolescents drew a family member. AUM doctrine held that people must transcend parent-child relationships, and they lived separately in the cult. The children in care forgot their parents' faces or were reluctant to meet them.

Mind control hinders social adjustment

Yamanashi Prefecture's temporary care lasted up to three months, before the children were transferred to the local bodies where they were officially registered as residents. Many of them gradually became able to smile again through play with child consultation center staff, who also helped them socially reintegrate.

At the same time, there were some who continued to believe that the cult was not to blame, and others who had difficulty rebuilding ties with their parents. Attendees at a meeting run by the center in June 1995 pointed to the need for long-term support, saying "mind control has made it difficult for them to adapt to society. The parts of it that they aren't even aware of themselves are a problem that needs addressing going forward."

(Japanese original by Yuki Noguchi and Sachiko Miyagawa, Osaka City News Department)


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