The Polyphony of Victim Activism: Social Performance(s) of Victimhood after the Aum Affair

Friday, 20 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Rin USHIYAMA, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
The Aum Affair, a series of crimes and terrorist attacks committed by the new religious movement Aum Shinrikyō between 1988 and 1995, constituted a tumultuous moment in recent Japanese history. Not only did the event reveal tension in civil society, it also left in its wake a raft of social problems, some of which victims sought to address through public campaigns. This paper applies and develops the theory of social performance through a study of three of Aum’s victims who became leading figures for victims’ pursuit of justice in the aftermath of the Aum Affair. Though each figure engaged in activism in the pursuit of ‘justice’ as the ultimate moral end, their social performances have varied much in style and substance. First, Nagaoka Hiroyuki – father of a former Aum believer and a victim of a murder attempt – has appealed for clemency on behalf of Aum’s ex-believers, on the basis that they had been ‘brainwashed’. Second, Takahashi Shizue, widow of the 1995 Tokyo sarin attack, became the leader of a victims’ movement campaigning for a state-funded compensation system. Takahashi has also occasionally reaffirmed the death penalty as a necessary mechanism for retributive justice. Third, Kōno Yoshiyuki, a survivor of the 1994 Matsumoto sarin attack who was initially falsely accused as the perpetrator, became a prolific advocate for due process and civil rights. In contrast to Nagaoka and Takahashi’s antagonism towards Aum, Kōno has explored possibilities for reconciliation with Aum members, in a model of restorative justice different to Takahashi’s. This paper proposes the utility of ‘polyphony’ as a concept which captures different and clashing interpretations of victimhood in civil society.