Arrest warrant issued for Japanese Christian over oil vandalism at shrines and temples in Nara, Kyoto and Chiba

An arrest warrant has been issued for the 52-year-old leader of a fringe Christian group in Japan arrested in connection with vandalism at shrines and temples in Nara, Kyoto, Chiba, and elsewhere

In late March the man allegedly poured or sprinkled an oil-like liquid on the premises of Katori Shrine in Katori City, Chiba Prefecture. The act was caught on security cameras. Chiba police have linked this to a string of similar incidents at 48 temples and shrines in 16 prefectures around Japan, including World Heritage sites in Kyoto.

The man lives in America but his group is based in Tokyo, according to media reports. He formed the group — unnamed in press articles — in 2013 in Tokyo, where he is from. In summer of the same year he apparently told believers at gatherings that they should “cleanse” heresy through the use of oil. “We will cleanse Japan’s temples and shrines with oil, and free the souls [kokoro] of the Japanese of these old customs,” he is allegedly to have said. His group is reported to have over 100 believers in Tokyo and Osaka.

chiba temple vandalism oil kyoto nara fringe fanatical christian japan

Despite the best efforts of missionaries, Christianity remains a minority faith in Japan, a country often said to be fundamentally “irreligious” when judged by the western sense of religion. While there are a few prominent Christian universities and certain Christian figures in the public eye (the novelist Shusaku Endō, the former prime minister Tarō Asō), most people’s understanding of Christian tenets and history is vague. Only in places like Nagasaki does Christianity have a strong historical presence. Some fringe Christian groups have generated attention, including the pro-Israel sect Makuya, which frequently organises flamboyant pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and the adherents to an esoteric belief that Jesus is buried in Aomori. (There is an interesting parallel whereby some believe the Japanese to be one of the “lost tribe” of Israelites, again using a foreign culture or religion to shore up the nihonjinron myth of Japanese “uniqueness”.)

Due to the stigma of the state’s pre-war anti-religious persecution, Japanese police are traditionally reluctant to investigate religious groups in Japan. This is often cited as a reason for its inept performance when initially examining suspicious reports about the Aum Shinrikyō cult, who perpetuated sarin attacks in Tokyo and Matsumoto, and allegedly several other assassinations and kidnappings. Following the subway incident in 1995 it clamped down heavily on Aum and continues to monitor the sect, even though it has officially changed its name and leadership, as well as openly apologised for its violent past. Aum led to a sea-shift in the way the police handled religious groups and investigating them was no longer taboo. However, in general “religious crimes” is still a rarity in Japan.

Shintō’s long association with the Imperial Family and State Shintō has made shrines targets for vandalism in the past by New Left groups or individual anarchists. This was especially the case during the changeover between the Showa and Heisei emperors, when a series of small bombings damaged religious sites in Kyoto.

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7 Responses to Arrest warrant issued for Japanese Christian over oil vandalism at shrines and temples in Nara, Kyoto and Chiba

  1. Avery says:

    Another reason the police failed to investigate Aum, which should never be left out from a description of their serial murders, is that religious scholars from both Japan and the United States repeatedly made public statements that Aum was a peaceful group investigating Buddhism. They even did this after the sarin attacks.

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    • Avery says:

      This should be a warning not only for those investigating religious groups, but also for those who investigate ultra-left groups. 😉

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      • Yes, the police and media shambles surrounding Aum is quite a story in its own right. Ultimately several scholars were hit hard by the scandal, after they were caught vouching for a group that murdered people, including its own adherents. The media was also highly complicit in the whole affair and one broadcaster is arguably at least partly responsible for a lawyer’s death, after they pulled a programme featuring his investigation in favour of an exclusive interview with the cult leader. The lawyer was then murdered, along with his family.

        I find the period just before and directly after the Tokyo subway attack very interesting, when there was intense speculation in the media about what Aum was doing with chemicals but they merely sent their science chief onto TV to deny everything. And yet even then they were still hatching plots, such as a failed Shinjuku Station attack and an unsuccessful assassination of a police official. The science chief himself was killed in front of rolling news cameras around a month after the subway incident. Aum’s relationship with the media is one of the most bizarre aspects of the case.

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  2. nancy says:

    What’s the latest update on this story? Has the suspect been arrested?

    Like

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