Students warned off cult charmers

May 5, 1995

Officials at Japan's top universities are warning students to be wary of the recruiting activities of the nation's growing number of religious cults. The warnings come at the start of a new academic year when students enrol in one or more of the many clubs and societies which form an important part of Japanese university life.

Already it has been discovered that representatives of Aum Shinrikyo, the religious cult which has been connected with the deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo underground system, have been trying to recruit new members at the University of Tokyo.

University officials say representatives of Aum Shinrikyo passed out questionnaires and free calendars to students at its Hongo campus. Students who accept free gifts, university officials warn, are often encouraged to become full cult members.

Aum Shinrikyo has a policy of canvassing for new members at leading universities because, it states, the country's top students are more able to understand the religion's complicated doctrines.

The cult, which is the subject of a major police probe, includes a number of talented scientists who, allegedly, helped Aum Shinrikyo manufacture the sarin gas which killed 12 people on the Tokyo subway. Raids on the cult's headquarters and hideaways have revealed large stockpiles of dangerous gases and equipment.

University officials are now using the adverse publicity attracted by Aum Shinrikyo to warn students of the activities of some extreme new religions. Hundreds of students, they say, have been frightened into giving up university courses and prospective careers in order to work full-time for dubious religious groups.

As well as approaching students directly some of Japan's new religions are using video brochures and television appearances to help them recruit new members. Students with access to the Internet can also receive information about the beliefs and activities of the new religions.

Fumihiro Joyu, the 32-year-old spokesperson of Aum Shinrikyo, has used television to become a popular media figure. The former rocket scientist's good looks, fluent English and ability to deal with difficult questions have made him a popular figure.

In Kyoto, meanwhile, police say that members of Aum Shinrikyo have infiltrated a number of university clubs including the fortune-telling club at the city's prestigious Doshisha University.

Students have been among the most enthusiastic members of the thousands of new religions which have appeared during the postwar period. Lonely and disorientated many students decide to join in an attempt to make friends.

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