VOX POPULI: Aum fugitive surrender has police looking inept

January 06, 2012

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.

In old movies, you often see someone who has broken off with a romantic partner going through the ritual of burning all old letters and photographs in the backyard. The scene is meant to symbolize closure and a new beginning.

But in the age of texted and e-mailed messages and digital pictures, there are no hard copies of love letters or snapshot prints to burn. Erasing them on a computer or smartphone screen just doesn't look right for a scene of ending a relationship, and most people in Japan don't have a backyard anyway.

Makoto Hirata, 46, a former senior member of the outlaw doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, recently surrendered to police. Hirata reportedly felt great relief five years ago when he threw away a picture of himself taken with cult leader Chizuo Matsumoto. It was the latter's pathetic behavior in court during his trial that made Hirata lose all respect for Matsumoto, according to Hirata's attorney.

Hirata allegedly drove a car that was used in the abduction of a Tokyo notary 17 years ago. He knew nothing about the abduction plan and was shocked when he learned the truth, and began to mistrust the cult, he told his attorney.

One wonders what motivated Hirata to "reset" his life after more than 16 years on the lam and submit himself to police custody. The task that stands ahead is to sort through his many excuses for joining the doomesday cult and try to see it for what it really was.

Having been on the National Police Agency's special wanted list since 1995, Hirata's face and tall frame should have been familiar from the ubiquitous posters and life-size panels. It could have been a scene right out of a suspense drama when he turned himself in at Metropolitan Police Department headquarters overlooking the Imperial Palace moat, late on New Year's Eve. But the situation that followed was practically a farce.

A riot police officer on duty thought Hirata's surrender was a prank, and told him to go to the nearby Marunouchi Police Station. But the officers there weren't sure either whether to take him seriously, and this reportedly made Hirata say, "Look, I'm the right height, aren't I?"

The police should be ashamed of themselves. Just because Matsumoto and a bunch of his cronies are now sitting on death row is no excuse for erasing all mental images of the remaining wanted suspects.

Hirata took the trouble to convince the police that he was who he claimed to be. I believe he is prepared to reveal his past with Aum if his renunciation of the cult is genuine.

It is now up to the investigative authorities to recover their honor by getting Hirata to tell them everything he knows. But the "truth" does not "give itself up" spontaneously, and even a powerful searchlight won't do any good. The way to reach the truth is to go meet it by wading into the darkness with a single short candle.

-- The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 6

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.
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