In Japan, Village Vs. Cult

Using barbed wire and 8-foot-deep trenches, the villagers of Kitamimaki have become something unheard of in this law abiding country - vigilantes.

CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen reports that they're sealing off and standing guard at a private house because it was recently bought by Aum Shinrikyo, the doomsday religious cult.

But village leader Masayoshi Mizushina says religion is not what Aum is about.

"They're a terrorist group," he told CBS News.

An empty factory has become the villagers' anti-Aum headquarters with modern equipment like cell phones and fax machines. And there is something from the villagers' centuries old past, the alarm bell. If they see Aum members anywhere around, they ring it to send out the alert.

When Aum members dare show up, villagers roll out the un-welcome mat. Aum followers were allowed to load some equipment and hurriedly went away, but villagers fear they'll be back.

Fear is already taking a toll. Houses were abandoned, and a nearby nursery school was padlocked because parents were frightened.

Five-year-old Ryota once went to that nursery school. Now Grandpa Shotaro Tsuchiya drives him every morning, past the site of the Aum protest, to a school much farther away.

"We didn't tell him about Aum," says grandpa. "He's too young. It's just too scary."

It is late, it is lonely, and it is well below freezing. But that has not stopped the people of the village from maintaining their 24-hour vigil. And they say their will do this for months, if need be.

Men and women take their turn on night duty, including shopkeeper Shugo Takiziwa.

Takiziwa said they are afraid that there could be another sarin gas attack. "We'll keep them out to protect ourselves," he said.

Japanese officials won't ban Aum because they say that would damage religious freedom. But villagers see a future with far more ominous issues at stake where cults like Aum could strike at will with chemical or biological weapons unless someone stands up to them and says, no more.

Reported by Barry Petersen
©1999, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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