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Ex-AUM cult members pondered atonement before executions, supporters say

A monochrome ink painting by Kazuaki Okasaki, titled "Hokori Takaki Haha" (Proud noble mother), is displayed in Saitama Prefecture on July 16, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Six former members of the AUM Shinrikyo doomsday cult hanged on July 26 appeared to have thought about atonement for their acts as their executions approached, according to their supporters and lawyers.

Under the instruction of Shoko Asahara, whose real name was Chizuo Matsumoto, the members perpetrated a series of terrorist attacks and murders, and plunged Japan into a nightmare. Four out of the six were involved in releasing sarin gas in an attack on Tokyo's subway system 23 years ago. Even after the executions, victims and bereaved families will continue to suffer from pain which cannot be healed. At the same time, the perpetrators had apparently harbored feelings about atonement before they were hanged.

Former senior member Kazuaki Okasaki, who had earlier changed his surname to Miyamae, disclosed his feelings through letters to his supporters on July 9. "There's not much time left. I plan to concentrate on painting and writing notes," he said. Around 2008, after his death sentence was confirmed, he became attached to suiboku-ga (monochrome ink painting). He asked for his remains to be processed at the detention center, after his sentence was carried out.

Okasaki had started drawing pictures of mountains, rivers, and birds with brush pens after being placed on death row, stating that he could only convey his expression in a form other than words. His artwork titled "Hokori Takaki Haha" (Proud noble mother) that went on display in 2010, depicting a mother and child from a Native American tribe, spoke a lot about his feelings toward his mother from whom he was parted shortly after birth.

In 2011, Okasaki divulged to his supporters, "I wish Kenichi Hirose, Toru Toyoda and Satoru Hashimoto could live. They were brainwashed without any social experience." A 32-year-old female supporter of Okasaki in Saitama Prefecture supposes that he "may have felt responsible for getting young people involved."

Toyoda provided testimony in his detention center for the trial over the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack that resumed in 2015 while other convicts made their appearances in court to testify over the case. According to Yuji Nakamura, a lawyer representing victims, sources close to Toyoda quoted him as telling them, "I mustn't take a single step out of the detention center. That is atonement."

Hirose had sent New Year's greeting cards every year to his lawyers and acquaintances that he had come to know in the past. His lawyer said his "meticulous nature never changed" but he did not speak about the trial.

When asked by his lawyer at the Nagoya Detention Center on July 13 if they could meet again, Masato Yokoyama replied, "Thank you for going through all the trouble until now," with a bow. He appeared to know about the July 6 execution of the seven other convicts, but remained cool and emotionally intact.

Hashimoto came into contact with his lawyer on July 20, but disagreed with a proposal to seek a retrial. The lawyer felt sympathetic about his decision to "atone for his crime with grace."

Yasuo Hayashi, who had his surname changed to Koike, had been calling out to the followers to leave the sect. Lawyers seeking a retrial stated, "He felt apologetic toward the victims and the bereaved families from the bottom of his heart, and this hadn't changed."

(Japanese original by Naotaka Ito, Akira Hattori and Epo Ishiyama, City News Department)

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