According to a bizarre, white-clad Japanese cult, the world was supposed to end on 15 May 2003. Paul Sieveking and David Sutton assess what we know about the background and activities of Pana Wave Laboratory.
On 25 April, about 40 members of a Japanese cult called Pana Wave Laboratory took over a 200-meter (660ft) stretch of mountain road in Gifu prefecture, some 185 miles (300km) west of Tokyo, covering up crash barriers and roadside trees with huge white cloths. After three days, local officials ordered the caravan of 13 white vehicles to move on, but the cultists – who dress all in white and wear surgical masks as protection against electromagnetic radiation – refused, explaining that Yuko (Hiroko) Chino, their 69-year-old guru, had terminal cancer after communist guerrillas had attacked her with microwaves. In fact, she has been “dying” for almost a decade. Motorists wishing to drive along the occupied road were stopped before being allowed to proceed. Occasionally, television news crew members were violently pushed away by cultists who argued that their TV cameras were emitting microwaves.
The cult was formed in about 1977 and claims around 3,000 members, although the real number is believed to be 1,200 at the most. It sells newsletters and books to finance its activities. Members claim that electromagnetic waves are causing catastrophic environmental destruction, including a rise in temperature, and have been touring Japan since 1994 in search of a place free of power lines and electromagnetic pollution. They also allege that electromagnetic attacks are being carried out by communist guerrillas who have dispersed around the world following the break up of the Soviet Union. Pana Wave announced that most of humankind would be destroyed on 15 May, when an undiscovered 10th planet approached Earth, reversing the magnetic pole and causing floods and tidal waves. According to Yuko Chino, “the delicate gravitational balance between the Andromeda nebula and other nebulæ [will be] altered.”
Pana Wave’s doomsday warnings and eccentric behaviour have unnerved many Japanese, reminding them of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which started out as a small yoga class and later carried out the nerve gas attack on Tokyo’s subway in 1995, which killed 12 and left thousands suffering side effects. The white-clad cultists began pulling out on 1 May after their vehicles were searched by 300 police officers who suspected them of breaking traffic laws. Five days later, they were camped on an unused road in the mountainous village of Kiyomi, 170 miles (270km) west of Tokyo. By 15 May, about 60 cultists were camping beside a disused school at the remote mountain village of Godaishi in central Japan.
The Seventh Seal
Before the current confrontation, Pana Wave gained media attention for its interest in a stray bearded seal, dubbed Tama-chan (‘Dear Little Tama’), that has become a national celebrity in Japan since showing up last year in a Tokyo river, more than 1,000 miles from its arctic home. The cult believed that electromagnetic waves had led the seal astray. Last March cultists were behind an unsuccessful attempt to capture the seal. They have built a series of domes in Oizumi, Yamanashi prefecture, which are said to be capable of withstanding any major disaster, and aj couple of white-lined swimming pools in which they planned to keep the seal until they could transfer it back to Arctic seas. Rescuing Tama-chan would in some inscrutable way save the world from destruction. Any sympathy the proposed rescue might have garnered was destroyed by a statement from the cult that said: “People without the ears to hear will all face death.” The Japanese media said the cult released a pamphlet last year urging members to “exterminate all humankind” if their leader died.
Cult leader Yuko Chino was born Hidemi Masuyama in Kyoto. Her parents split up and from the age of eight she lived with her mother in a slum area of Osaka. By common consent she was a weird child. She had about 20 or 30 cats she’d let run around everywhere. Today, her cult keeps a huge number of animals, especially cats.
She studied English at junior college, where she was perceived as bright and attractive but withdrawn. After leaving college she may have attempted to commit suicide. According to one Japanese source, it was around this time that she began “talking to the sky” and conversing with the “Archangel Michael”. In her late thirties, she was an enthusiastic streaker. “I remember her running naked through the town and her mother chasing after her,” said the wife of the neighbourhood association boss. “She screamed in pain when her mum finally caught up.” Chino’s mother was a Christian and Chino herself was baptised as a teenager. After a short stint working for an American pharmaceuticals firm, she began teaching English in a room at her family home. Within months, her class of girls became the first members of her cult, originally called Chino Shoho (True Law of Chino). It teaches a mixture of Christianity, Buddhism, and New Age doctrines.
In 1984 Chino reportedly married one of her followers, although they appear never to have actually met. The marriage was a nominal one, supposed to aid a mass immigration of group members to the US because of Chino’s fear of an imminent Soviet invasion. The unnamed husband, now 77, is said to have left the group in the early 1990s, disillusioned with Chino’s growing obsession with ‘dangerous’ electromagnetic waves.
In the mid-1980s a group of young scholars inside the cult had begun to refer to themselves as the scientific faction and warned of the threat posed by electromagnetic waves and communist guerrillas. They built the Pana Wave Laboratory in an area of Fukui prefecture where there was little electromagnetic pollution. By the mid-1990s, the cultists were starting to dress only in white. “Chino wore a tracksuit everywhere, but it had to be made of entirely natural materials,” said a woman who belonged to the cult for 15 years. “She never bathed and would go off by herself to a car and change her clothes.”
On 14 May (the day before the predicted Armageddon), police raided 12 locations connected to the cult for minor vehicle registration offences amid persistent resistance by its members. The raids included a search of the van supposedly carrying Yuko Chino and of various facilities, offices and dome-like ‘shelters’. Some 400 items, including documents and computers, were removed by the police as evidence. Senior members of the group were to be questioned about Pana Wave’s funding and activities.
Despite worries that Pana Wave was an ‘Aum waiting to happen’, investigators appear to have found nothing to suggest that the cult posed any obvious or immediate danger to Japanese society. Nevertheless, an unsettling incident on the same day caused some alarm when a letter demanding that the media end its coverage of the group arrived at the Asahi Shimbun newspaper’s Takamatsu bureau. The A4 letter, written in ballpoint pen and placed in a brown envelope, read: “Stop reporting on Pana Wave Laboratory. Bolts fixing a television tower of RNC on the top of Goshikidai mountain have been removed. Next time, the tower will be toppled.” Police investigated and found that 10 bolts had been removed from the base of the 30-metre (98ft)-tall tower, used to transmit disaster warnings, although there was no danger of it collapsing.
Although a small earth tremor was felt in the Tokyo area at the beginning of the week, the anticipated planet failed to appear on Thursday 15 May and the world did not end. The itinerant doomsters, probably somewhat deflated, returned the following day to their laboratory HQ in Fukui, where they completed their asphalting of a tract of land to protect it from harmful electromagnetic waves. Revised statements soon began to emanate from the HQ; a 66-year-old man, thought to be second-in-command to Chino, said the end of the world was delayed to around 22 May. Other revelations found their way into the Japanese press as a former cult member claimed that Chino is plagued by hallucinations, prone to hysterics and loves green tea flavoured pudding, and the head of the cult’s publishing arm (possibly the aforementioned 66-year-old) was said to be a science fiction fanatic obsessed with stories of the Earth’s annihilation.
The hinted-at second date for the world’s end also passed without any global disaster taking place and, at the time of writing, the press appear finally to have tired of Pana Wave’s bizarre activities; no further news on the cult’s activities, or how they are dealing with their leader’s failed predictions, has been forthcoming.