“Ladies and gentlemen, April 15 is just about over,” TBS-TV anchorman Bun Yamamoto declared at the opening of his late-night news show, “and nothing has happened!”
Normally, “nothing has happened” would not be the most promising lead-in for a news broadcast. But in Tokyo, no news was indeed the biggest news. This teeming city had braced for disaster following a raft of rumors concerning supposed terrorist threats from a secretive cult.
In fact, though, millions of people went about their business, and nothing untoward happened.
The scary rumors stemmed from some vague writings by Shoko Asahara, the self-styled “Venerated Master” of a religious sect called Aum Supreme Truth, that a disaster would occur April 15. Because Asahara’s cult is considered the prime suspect in last month’s poison gas killings on the Tokyo subway, police and public are wary about what the guru and his followers might do next.
Accordingly, as rumor piled on rumor this week that Aum was planning something horrible for April 15 in Tokyo, the city set up its defenses with no margin for error.
Thousands of police manned the streets all day, searching taxicab trunks and pedestrians’ handbags. In some train stations, coin lockers and trash cans were taped shut. Airport-like security checks were established at the entrances to some indoor stadiums and concert halls.
The strongest police presence was seen at Shinjuku, a crowded downtown neighborhood known for big department stores, tall office buildings and a famous red-light district. Many rumors had suggested that Shinjuku was the target of the alleged terrorist act.
A few stores in Shinjuku were closed today. But the train station was crowded with passengers, including elementary school girls in dark blue uniforms with pink sun-bonnet hats. The popular “Romance Car” excursion line running from Shinjuku to the ancient capital of Kamakura reported that most trains were sold out, as would be normal for such a bright Saturday in early spring. Department stores that were open in Shinjuku were almost empty in the morning, but drew more customers as the day passed.
At the nearby Shinjuku Gyoen, a public garden famous for its flowering trees, the rolling green meadows were full of people gathered for cherryblossom-viewing parties. “Sure, we’re all - what should I say? - a little scared,” said Yuriko Hashimoto, who was headed to her company’s annual cherry-blossom outing.
The heavy security seems to have been triggered mainly by rumors. And the rumors seem to be based on a brief passage in a recent book by the cult guru Asahara, an admirer of Adolf Hitler and a student of occult lore.
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