All the trials for the series of crimes perpetrated by the Aum Shinrikyo cult are now over.
Already, as many as 22 years have passed since the 1989 murder of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family, which marked the beginning of the grisly saga of crimes committed by the cult's members. And 16 years have passed since cult founder Chizuo Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, was arrested and indicted.
Many Japanese probably still remember what they were doing on that day in 1995 when the group carried out the sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.
To Japanese of a certain age or younger, however, all these murders and terror attacks carried out by Aum cultists probably look like what happened in a distant world.
Whenever the cult and its atrocious acts are discussed, we are told not to allow these incidents to be forgotten. We couldn't agree more, given the shock and consternation the group's crimes caused not just in Japan but in the rest of the world.
In a society regarded as affluent and safe, a group that justified murders was born. And many young people apparently lost their sense of morality as they got involved in the group and brought ruin upon themselves.
Japanese who lived in the era when Aum Shinrikyo was active have a duty to pass the facts about the cult and its crimes to generations who will be the leaders of tomorrow so that the lessons learned from the experiences will not be lost.
The trials have brought to light some new facts about why these indicted former members joined the group and how they committed the crimes. But they have left many important questions unanswered.
There are inevitably limitations to what the trials of individual cultists facing criminal charges can reveal about Aum Shinrikyo and its deeds.
It is crucial to lay a solid foundation for a continued public conversation about Aum based on the outcomes of the trials.
People and organizations in the private sector, including academics and media, will have to play the leading role in such efforts.
But the Diet, for instance, should also do its part by taking steps like commissioning a research team to interview people concerned and collect and analyze related records to share with the public.
Many former members say they intend to keep facing their past involvement in the cult and trying to deepen their thoughts.
Society should pay serious attention to their soul-searching and thoughts, and hold sincere conversations with them. We hope such steady efforts will help prevent a recurrence of similar tragedies.
Aum's crime rampage has brought about some important changes in Japanese society.
In the area of criminal justice, laws and systems have been reformed to eliminate lengthy trials and establish the rights of crime victims.
But Japan still has a long way to go to reach the international norm in its ability to deal with organized crimes.
The challenge facing Japan is how to build up a society where people can live with a sense of security while reining in excessive investigations and law enforcement actions. This challenge requires continued and careful debate for building consensus among the people.
Another important consequence of Aum's crimes is weakened resistance to the death penalty within our society.
Public opinion has been demanding severe punishment for heinous crimes, while the judiciary's judgments that reflect the popular trend have reinforced the hard-line public attitude toward the issue. Japan has been bucking the trend of international opinion that calls for abolition of capital punishment.
Deciding on whether Japan should stay the course is another serious challenge Aum Shinrikyo has left us to tackle.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 22
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