No retrial for Asahara – clock ticking

Tokyo Court Rejects Aum Cult Leader’s Retrial Plea, Kyodo Says


By Stuart Biggs

March 19 (Bloomberg) — The Tokyo District Court turned down a request for a retrial for Shoko Asahara, the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult who was sentenced to death for the murder of 19 people in sarin gas attacks in Japan, Kyodo News reported.

The retrial plea, filed in November by Asahara’s second daughter, was turned down because what it claims is new evidence wouldn’t be sufficient to overturn his sentence, Kyodo said, citing unidentified people familiar with the case. The report didn’t provide further details of the contents of the plea.

Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death in February 2004 for the attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 that killed 12 people and another attack in the city of Matsumoto a year earlier that left seven people dead. The group is alleged to have killed 27 people in total.

Asahara, 54, lost a final appeal against the death sentence in September 2006, Kyodo said.

14 years later, Asahara might face the gallows this year…

Japanese rastas


A small but devoted Rasta community developed in Japan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Rasta shops selling natural foods, Reggae recordings, and other Rasta-related items sprang up in Tokyo, Osaka, and other cities. For several years, “Japan Splashes” or open-air Reggae concerts were held in various locations throughout Japan. For a review by two sociologists of how the Japanese Rasta movement can be explained in the context of modern Japanese society, see Dean W. Collinwood and Osamu Kusatsu, “Japanese Rastafarians: Non-Conformity in Modern Japan,” The Study of International Relations, No. 26, Tokyo: Tsuda College, March 2000 (research conducted in 1986 and 1987).

Where are these Japanese rastas today?

A comprehensive guide to Type B Adamu

A Japanese website is helpfully offering free “instruction manuals” based on your name and blood type. Here’s mine:


Head: Can’t remember (*won’t remember)

Mouth: Often talks to himself

Heart: Super-calm and collected

Right hand: Lots of wastefulness

Overall: Ultimately self-centered?

Accurate? Hm, not really. Try it yourself and see how you measure up!

While blood type-based personality tests are well-known to be completely baseless, many in Japan, mainly women, do believe that at the very least knowing someone’s blood type will divide them into four broad personality classes. See Wikipedia for a helpful chart of these categories.

(Thanks to Hiroshi Yamaguchi for the link)

In Japan, Obama inauguration inspires English lessons, off-kilter likenesses

The Adamu household is just ecstatic and relieved to see Obama inaugurated as president. We can’t tell which feels better: not-Bush in the White House or Obama in the White House? 
Though you might not know it to look around you, there are many in Japan who are excited about Obama who don’t live in a certain newly famous town that happens to be named after him. As just one indicator of interest, NHK announced its late-night ratings almost quadrupled for live coverage of the address. A fairly universal attitude by my observation has been, “Why don’t we have dynamic leaders like that in Japan?” So the buzz over Obama may in part be a kind of vicarious thrill.
So even before the inauguration, individuals and businesses in Japan have been finding interesting ways to express their enthusiasm. Let’s take a look:

1. Learn English

  • Listening to one of the great speechifiers of our time can be inspiring. Obama’s message can call you to serve your country, resolve to be a better person, or sacrifice for the greater good (but tragically apparently not to prosecute those responsible for the Bush regime’s crimes). Some aspiring English speakers in Japan have taken this opportunity to brush up on their own speaking skills. Prominent among the “Obama books” that are currently flooding Japanese bookstore displays is CNN’s Obama Speech Collection for students of English as a second language. The book, so far having sold over 400,000 copies, features excerpts from famous Obama speeches with a Japanese translation on the opposite page, which students can use to follow along as they listen to an attached CD. I picked it up the other day and it has proven useful both as a translation reference for US politics and as a handy record of his landmark addresses. I’m not sure how effective it is as a teaching tool, but for a Japanese learner of English inspired by Obama it will no doubt give them easy access to the tools they need (minus the inauguration address, of course).
  • Meanwhile, much like Kenya’s “Obama imitation contest“, some private English classrooms have started offering Obama mimicry lessons to a reportedly favorable response. In one TV news report, groups of 20+ students lined up to wait their turn to recite famous Obama speeches as a White-boy instructor barked orders on how to mimic Obama’s unique oratory style.

2. Create a mildly unsettling Obama likeness

Here we see some examples of creativity from both traditional and modern artists that deserve an “A” for effort but unfortunately didn’t turn out all that appealing:

no resemblance whatsoever?
No resemblance whatsoever?

Zombie Reagan looking gaunt (or is that Carter??)
Zombie Reagan looking gaunt (so Carter really is irrelevant!)

* Thanks to Andrew Leonard for the correction!

Compare to the real thing:

That’s more like it!

Inventing Xmas

Christmas is over but “the holidays” continue.

As you recover from over-eating, you might enjoy reading about how America’s modern Christmas traditions were born. has a concise guide. One interesting tidbit on the first depiction of the modern Santa:

Santa’s suit features the stars and stripes of the American flag, and he’s distributing Christmas packages to the soldiers. One soldier is holding up a new pair of socks, which might be a boring present today, but would have been a highly prized item in the Army of the Potomac.

Beneath Nast’s illustration was the caption, “Santa Claus In Camp.” Appearing not long after the carnage at Antietam and Fredericksburg, the magazine cover is an apparent attempt to boost morale in a dark time.

If you saw the Colbert Christmas Special, you might remember Toby Keith singing “Santa Claus and Uncle Sam are one and the same.” I guess there was more truth to that than is widely recognized!

Raelians in unexpected places

You may remember I posted a few months ago about the highly curious billboard by Nagoya’s central train station sponsored by the alien/free-love Raelian movement. They do pop up in odd places. I was looking through Wired magazine’s gallery of photos from Japan’s “Adult Treasure Expo” and noticed this somewhat curious photograph, accompanied by rather more curious text.

Clitoraid is an non-profit organization set up by the Raelian Movement to help women around the world who have suffered genital mutilation. The Raelians promote an “adopt a clitoris” campaign and claim to facilitate surgical clitoris reconstruction. The woman on the right of the photo is wearing a clitoris costume.

Genital mutilation doesn’t seem to be a big issue in Japan, and the Realians’ adoption of the issue is a mystery. There are several serious nonprofits around the world trying to stop genital mutilation. The Raelians are best known for claiming to have cloned the first human baby, without offering proof.

If you look at Clitoraid’s web site, you can find the following text:

 Following the announcement made by Dr Foldes, OBGYN in France, stating that women and children of all ages who have suffered the atrocities of clitoral excision, or female genital mutilation the equivalent of male castration in its barbarity, now have the possibility to regain sexual pleasure and be whole once again, thanks to medical advances and scientific progress. Rael, the spiritual leader of the Raelian Movement decided to help as many women as possible to regain their sense of pleasure and founded Clitoraid, a private non-profit organization with the aim to sponsor those women who want to have their clitoris rebuilt.

Considering the huge number of Burkinabe women who are candidates to be operated on and as Clitoraid received offer from a few doctors to travel to Bobo Dioulasso and help rebuild the clitoris of all the circumcised women, the Prophet Rael declared: “Instead of using Clitoraid’s collected money to operate on just a few women, we should create the first Raelian Hospital, the “Pleasure Hospital”, and operate on all African women, for free, with the help of Raelian or non-Raelian benevolent doctor”.

While offering medical aid to victims of genital mutilation is certainly a laudable goal, I am slightly disturbed that the motivation is because their space alien-inspired prophet told them to. Then again, how is this really different from any other religion?

The sneaky aliens

In 1922, a government permanent secretary was quoted in The Times of London calling grays “sneaking, thieving, fascinating little alien villains.”

UFO loveIn fact, the above quote refers to gray squirrels, in this rather amusing NYT Magazine story. But what it made me think of was the following sign, which is located near the central Nagoya train station, and which I saw out the shinkansen window as I passed by. I did not take this photo, and I believe the sign I saw had fancier graphics (the below photo is from August, 2004 and I saw the sign in May of 2007) but the text is the same:


In UFOs, there is love

As the URL,, confirms, this sign is the work of the Raelians, a bizarre cult based around UFO worship, founded by a French automobile journalist named Claude Vorilhon in 1975, and best known for their unconfirmed claim to have successfully clones a human being. They, like the more famous science fiction inspired religious group of Scientoloy, are classified as a cult in France (and other countries), and have been particularly singled out in South Korea, a country which is particularly sensitive to cloning related controversy following the Hwang Woo-suk fiasco.

While this massive billboard in central Nagoya indicates their presence in Japan and the Japanese Wikipedia article on them claims that of the 60,000 worldwide members they have scattered throughout 90 countries, Japan has the largest number, I have never heard anything else about their activities in Japan.

Based on this photo, they do seem to be active in South Korea though.

A Bathing Shoko

A few days ago I spotted the following sticker just outside Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills:

It’s an ironic tribute to former Aum Supreme Truth Cult leader* Shoko Asahara that combines his ugly mug with the iconic BAPE clothing logo (see below). I absolutely loved the image for my own reasons (I am a BAPE fan and an avid consumer of Aum-related developments), but it has taken on new relevance now that the BBC informs me that this year marks the 40th anniversary of Che Guevara’s death. The article discusses the enduring popularity of that one image of him glancing out somewhere with the utmost intensity:

Combined with the mystique and allure of Che and the spirit of revolution, another key to the spread of the image was the complete and intentional lack of intellectual property management on the part of the original photographer and designer, and it has certainly been effective for better or worse. Anyone with a pair of eyes who has visited US college campuses will know how pervasive this image is. And more importantly, the BBC article notes that in Latin America he remains an inspiration for his life and what he stood for, rather than just being a part of the trustafarian poster collection.

However, in Japan the story is a little different. A far more recognizable but similar image is the logo for hip clothing brand A Bathing Ape (aka BAPE) which derives its flagship logo from a combination of the Che image with the Planet of the Apes movies (stunning in their own right). While Che’s logo may stand for the combination of “capitalism and commerce, religion and revolution,” notwithstanding some recent dilution of the brand BAPE’s message is more along the lines of “wear this if you are young and listen to Cornelius”:

I should point out, however, that BAPE has none of the revolutionary hype nor is it even close to the level of pervasiveness of the Che image. It is just a hip clothing brand with a slightly creepy but somehow irresistible logo.

(*Asahara is apparently still revered in one sect of former Aum followers according to recent reports. He will be headed for the gallows for orchestrating the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subways whenever the Justice Minister gets around to it.)

Germany’s hate on Scientologists

Some readers may have been wondering exactly why Germany hates them so much. And while Slate doesn’t exactly answer the question, today’s column does make a half-hearted attempt.

Some German officials believe Scientology’s ideology is rooted in a kind of political extremism—a bit of a sensitive area for Germany since World War II. They also argue that Scientology is not a religion but a business, since local churches operate like franchises of the main organization.

How much do they hate Scientology in Germany? Well, aside from a ban (later overturned ) on Tom Cruise from filming at German military site, there was also the following statement made against him.

Thomas Gandow, 60, chief spokesman on religious cults for the German Protestant Church, described Scientology as a “totalitarian organisation” and said that Mr Cruise had become “the Goebbels of Scientology”.

Germany also apparently considered forcing Microsoft to debundle the Diskkeeper anti-fragmentation software from Windows 2000, not for anti trust reasons, but because the company who licensed the product to Microsoft is Scientology-led.

Another fringe religion (although probably a much larger one) getting a lot of attention recently is Mormonism. It is a widely known piece of computer history trivia that the late, great Wordperfect was created by Mormon, and despite the shaky reputation that Mormonism has in some quarters, as far as I know there was never any particular controversy over using software developed by them.

Bonus trivia: Bruce Bastian, one of the two original Mormon developers of Wordperfect, later came out as gay and now devotes his time and fortune to gay activism.

Scientology (again)

After seeing today’s news that Germany had banned a Tom Cruise movie from filming in military owned sites due to the star’s connection with the cult, I thought it would be fun to repost this piece I put up back in May 3 of last year. Below is the post originally presented a bit over one year ago.

May 3, 2006

Andrew Sullivan today calls for a boycott of the Tom Cruise vehicle Miss:ion: Imp:oss:i:ble: 3.

How creepy is Tom Cruise? The Washington Post asks; and readers answer. All I can say is: after the way this guy treated South Park, we owe it to ignore him and any movie with which he’s associated. The Boycott “MI:3” movement starts here. Blogospheric solidarity much appreciated.

Well Andrew, I am completely with you on this one, but the boycott does NOT start with you. I was walking around Manhattan with my camera on April 16th and snagged this photo on 9th Avenue somewhere between 45th and 50th Street.

It seems that some people have already had the idea.

As it so happens I ended up passing through Times Square a few minutes later, where there was a pair of tables full of copies of Dianetics, a pair of e-meters, and a bunch of money-crazed bad pulp scifi worshipping Scientologists trying to indoctrinate passers-by. (I normally avoid Times Square, but I wanted to stop by Midtown Comics on the way home and couldn’t remember exactly which cross-street it’s at, only that it’s near the corner of 7th and 40-something. For the record, it was 40th Street.)

All of the following photos taken on April 16th on the west side of Times Square with a Canon EOS 300D and 65mm Hartblei Super Rotator lens.
Continue reading Scientology (again)