- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 18, 2003

GODAISHI, Japan — Members of a bizarre sect were busy draping trees and buildings in white sheets Thursday, apparently unconcerned as their predicted deadline for the end of the world came and went.

Japan has for weeks obsessively watched the Pana Wave Laboratory sect as its members, dressed in white, have blocked mountain roads in a convoy of white vans.

Members say that communist guerrillas are trying to kill them with electromagnetic waves. The sect also plotted to capture a celebrity seal. Dozens of police and scores of journalists kept watch last week on the hard-to-reach mountain village of Godaishi, in central Japan, where about 60 group members camped in vans beside a disused school.

The sect’s nearby headquarters was established a decade ago when its leader, Yuko Chino, decided to seek a secluded spot free of the electromagnetic waves that she says are destroying the world and her health. The sect believes white deflects the waves.

The convoy arrived in Godaishi after being chased from one spot to another across the country by hostile local authorities. The sect has disturbed Japan with its contentions that the approach of a 10th planet would trigger the destruction of Earth on May 15.

A spokesman now says the apocalypse has been postponed until Thursday.

These dire predictions have brought back bad memories of the apocalyptic Aum Shinri Kyo sect, which committed mass murder by releasing sarin gas on the Tokyo underground in 1995. The attack killed 12 and left thousands suffering side-effects.

Tatsuhiko Sato, a taxi driver, said last week, “What Pana Wave says has no basis in reality, so you can only call them a sect. It reminds me of Aum. They seem only one step away from turning into a terrorist group.”

Japanese have been alarmed at Pana Wave literature that says Miss Chino is the only hope for Earth, and that her death could trigger holy war.

Miss Chino says she is terminally ill with cancer and will die within days. But in a television interview last week, the 69-year-old appeared healthy, and local media note that she has been “dying” for almost a decade.

The Aum sect’s crimes were a major humiliation for the police, who missed clear signs that it had turned violent. Authorities, therefore, are concerned to be seen as keeping close watch on Pana Wave.

Riot police are on permanent guard, and investigators raided Pana Wave facilities across Japan on Wednesday, though the sect stands accused of nothing more serious than a few traffic offenses.

Interest in Pana Wave rose sharply after the discovery that the sect had planned to capture a celebrity seal that became a national darling after it began appearing in rivers around Tokyo last year.

The sect has argued that Tama-chan (dear little Tama), as the seal is known, was led thousands of miles from her natural habitat by electromagnetic waves. It now says the seal may be able to save the world.

The sect keeps a huge number of animals, particularly cats, in an obsession that is reported to date to Miss Chino’s childhood.

Police estimate that Pana Wave, which was founded 25 years ago, now has about 1,200 members. They fear it may become violent. Sect analysts say it may turn suicidal.

Japan has numerous sects that spring to fame only when bizarre goings-on come to light. The Hono Hana group made headlines three years ago after it hoodwinked hundreds of followers into paying thousands of dollars to ward off bad karma it said it had detected by reading the soles of their feet.

The Life Space sect kept a dead man in a hotel room for months, saying it would revive him by patting his head.

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