Around 9 a.m. on a certain day, reporters belonging to the press club attached to the Ministry of Justice were informed that at 11 a.m. the same morning, the justice minister would hold an unscheduled press conference.
"Can this be it?" they wondered with a growing sense of tension and excitement.
"The mail didn't go into details, but from the wording we knew it would be an announcement of an execution," a reporter who covers the ministry for a national daily told Shukan Shincho (Jan 4-11). "We only had 90 minutes from the notification to hustle and find out who'd been executed, but we sensed it just might be a 'big shot' -- Shoko Asahara."
After a lengthy trial, the 62-year-old Asahara (whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto), founder and head of the Aum Supreme Truth religious cult, was found guilty of 13 out of 17 capital charges, including instigating toxic nerve gas attacks in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture in June 1994 and on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995. He was sentenced to death in February 2004 and lost his final appeal in September 2006, After one of the last two fugitives from the cult, Katsuya Takahashi, was finally arrested and prosecuted, attorney Taro Takimoto told the magazine: "Once the Supreme Court had ruled on Takahashi's final appeal, I was expecting Asahara's execution to proceed."
Indeed, such a view was common in the nation's legal circles. However the aforementioned reporter gave the opinion that, "Under Prime Minister Abe's administration, practically anything can happen. In July of this year, two people were executed; one's case was still under appeal from six months earlier. Also in December, two more death row convicts were hanged. One had been 19, a minor at the time of his crime. It's been two decades since a similar execution, of Norio Nagayama, who was also a minor when he committed murders, has been carried out."
The magazine also noticed that as the end of this year approached, scuttlebutt about the "decision to proceed with Asahara's execution" has been making the rounds in government and political circles.
"I suppose the day won't be far off," a political journalist is quoted as saying. "The public has been complaining 'How much longer to they intend to let him live?' and sources in the Justice Ministry have remarked, 'We have no intention of waiting to let him die a natural death.' They're certainly not going to let it drag on another 10 or 20 years."
Another factor to consider, voiced by a senior bureaucrat at the ministry, is that "We'd like to bring to a conclusion the incidents that occurred during the Heisei Era before the era itself comes to an end."
He added, "In 2018, the new era name (to be adopted when Crown Prince Naruhito takes the throne) will be announced and also Princess Mako will be married in November. Then in the year that follows, the present emperor will abdicate, ushering in a 'new era.'
"The Abe government doesn't want to have to deal with the execution close to the holding of festive events, so it's expected the decision will be made to move up the execution, so as not to distract from the excitement."
So in the magazine's view, Asahara's demise could take place quite soon.© Japan Today