Hikari No Wa (ひかりの 輪)

Erica Baffelli



1962 (December 17):  Jōyū Fumihiro born in Kurume, Fukuoka prefecture, Japan.

1978:  Jōyū Fumihiro entered Waseda University.

1987:  Jōyū Fumihiro left his job at the National Space Development Agency and joined Aum Shinrikyō.

1993:  Jōyū sent to Russia as co-representative of Aum Shinrikyō’s Russian branch.

1995 (March 20):  A sarin attack in a Tokyo subway killed thirteen people and injured thousands.

1995 (March 22 onwards):  Police investigations of Aum were conducted, and leaders, including Asahara, were arrested.

1995 (October):  Aum’s status as religious organization was revoked.

1995 (October):  Jōyū Fumihiro was arrested on charges of perjury and forgery; he was sentenced to three years in prison.

1996 (April 24):  Asahara’s trial started.

1999 (December):  Jōyū Fumihiro was released from prison and returned to Aum Shinriky ō.

1999:  Two new laws, the Victims Compensation Law (Higaisha kyūsaihō) and the Organizational Control Law (dantai kiseihō) were introduced to place Aum Shinriky ō under strict surveillance.

2000 (February):  Aum Shinrikyō changed its name to Aleph.

2002 (January):  Jōyū Fumihiro became Aleph’s representative.

2004:  Asahara was sentenced to death for murder and conspiracy to murder.

2004:  A minority group led by Jōyū Fumihiro started to form inside Aleph.

2007 (March):  Jōyū Fumihiro left Aleph.

2007 (May):  Jōyū Fumihiro and his supporters founded Hikari no Wa.

2010:  Hikari no Wa started the offline meetings (off kai).

2011: (November):  The Supreme Court rejected Endō Seiichi’s appeal against his death sentence bringing to an end the numerous Aum-related trials that had been going on since 1995. 189 people were tried and thirteen were sentenced to death.

2011 (December 17):  The Hikari no Wa Outsider Audit Committee (Hikari no Wa gaibu kansa iinkai) was established.

2011 (December 31):  Aum member Hirata Makoto surrendered after being on the run for sixteen years.

2012 (June 3):  Naoko Kikuchi was arrested after seventeen years on the run.

2012 (June 15):  Police arrested the last Aum fugitive, Katsuya Takahashi.

2014 (January 16):  Hirata Makoto’s trial opened.


Jōyū Fumihiro was born on December 17, 1962 in the city of Kurume in Fukuoka Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu. His father was a bank employee and his mother a former teacher. His family later moved to Tokyo, and, after his parents separated, he stayed with his mother. Jōyū attended the private Waseda High School and then the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo, where he graduated from its Faculty of Science and Technology. In 1987, he received a Masters degree from the Waseda University Graduate School of Science and Engineering. In April, 1987, he started working for the National Space Development Agency as a scientist.

Jōyū first joined the group Aum Shinsen no Kai (later Aum Shinrikyō) during the summer of 1986 at the age of twenty-three (Reader 2000). According to his autobiographical account (Jōyū 2012) he was attracted to the group because of his interest in paranormal phenomena, supernatural powers, and yoga practice. He was an avid reader of magazines on “supernatural phenomena” that gained some popularity in Japan from the 1970s onwards, and he became interested in yoga and Zen Buddhism during high school.

According to his account, he read an article on Aum’s founder, Asahara Shōkō, in a magazine devoted to topics related to the “spiritual world” (seishin sekai). He decided to visit his training centre in Shibuya (Tokyo) and, subsequently, to start practicing yoga. Aum’s doctrine at the time focused on the acquisition of supernatural powers, such as the ability to levitate or acquire clairvoyance, through yoga and breath and mind concentration exercises.

Shortly after joining the group, he was encouraged to attend a seminar. At Aum training centres two types of seminars were offered, one focusing on the teaching of “liberation” (gedatsu) and the other on supernatural powers. Despite his interest in the latter, he decided, following other members’ recommendation, to join the seminar on “liberation”. A guest teacher from India attended the seminar and Jōyū was asked to act as an interpreter, because of his ability to speak English. This, he believes, meant that he received special treatment from Asahara from the very beginning (Jōyū 2012:35). Later, Jōyū started practicing yoga and attending intensive seminars and moved to Setagaya ward in Tokyo to be closer to the training centre.

In May, 1987, he decided to became a renunciant (shukkesha) and live a communal life with other Aum members and, as a result, he quit his job at the National Space Development Agency. In July, 1987, he engaged in very strict ascetic training practices for three months during which, according to his own account, he underwent several mystical experiences (Jōyū 2012:38-39). After the training, he received the sacred name of Maitreya and became one of Asahara’s most prominent disciples. Aum Shinrikyō was based in a rigid hierarchical structure, including ten ranks for shukkesha and, below them, ordinary lay members (Reader 2000:86). At the top of the hierarchy was Asahara himself who was referred to as the “ultimately liberated one” (saishū gedatsusha) (Reader 2000:10), as “ guru” and “honourable teacher” (sonshi). The second rank included only five members with the title of “sacred grand teacher: (seitaishi): Ishii Hisako, Tomoko (Asahara’s wife), Achari (Asahara’s third daughter), Murai Hideo and Jōyū.

In the fall of 1987 Jōyū was sent to the United States to open a new branch of Aum in New York, and then, i n the fall of 1993, Asahara sent Jōyū to Russia as Aum’s representative there. Jōyū did not return to Japan until after the sarin gas attack in March, 1995, when he became Aum’s spokesperson. In October, 1995, Jōyū was arrested on charge of perjury and forgery in relation to acontroversial land deal in 1990 at Namino in the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. He was released from prison in December, 1999. On January 18, 2000, Jōyū Fumihiro and Muraoka Tatsuko announced that an organisation called “Aleph” would replace Aum and would be represented by Jōyū and Muraoka. They also announced changes in the doctrine and asserted that they were to retain practices of yoga and meditation but would discontinue teachings considered “dangerous” (Jōyū n.d.).

In 2004, a minority group led by Jōyū started developing inside Aleph. The group was called “daihyōha” (literally, group of the representative, daihyō , representative/delegate, the name used by members to refer to Jōyū). The other faction called itself “seitōha” (legitimate group, Jōyū 2012: 209). For a while the two factions shared the same facilities but organised different seminars and other activities. In March, 2007, Jōyū and around 200 members left Aleph and set up a new religious organisation called Hikari no Wa (literally, “Circle of Light,” officially “The Circle of Rainbow Light”).

The name Hikari no Wa was chosen, according to the group’s website, for a variety of reasons:

• In the group’s narratives, the decision to finally leave Aleph and to found a new group is linked to the interpretation of a series of “signs” (mostly connected to vision of rainbows) experienced by members in sacred and natural places around Japan. In particular, Jōyū is reported to have seen a circle of rainbow light around the sun (a sun halo) after having had a revelatory experience about the new group;
• The wheel symbolized the idea of equality between all beings (which is one of the main teachings of Hikari no Wa);
• ‘Wa’ also stands for “Japanese spirit,” expressing Hikari no Wa’s new interest in Japanese cultural and religious traditions;
• The wheel as sacred symbol is common to many religions around the world, indicating that Hikari no Wa sees itself as equal, rather than superior, to other traditions.
• The light doesn’t simply mean physical light, but also the light of wisdom, spiritual light (“Message” n.d.).

The symbol represents a rainbow around the sun, and the Dharma wheel symbolizes Buddha and his teachings. The background represents the blue sky with radiating light from the middle of the Dharma Wheel.


Hikari no Wa’s website and printed material present the group not as a religion, but as “a place of learning for a new spiritual wisdom” (atarashii seishintekina chie no manabi no ba de aru), a “centre for learning religion,” and a “spirituality academy.” According to a textbook distributed to participants at Hikari no Wa’s summer seminar in August, 2010 (Hikari no Wa 2010), religion in the twentieth century has been characterized by several problems, including blind beliefs, fanaticism, and conflict with society and among religious groups. Hikari no Wa proposes a “reformation of religion for the 21st century” (21seki no tame no shūkyō no kakushin) that will be accomplished through a threefold path: rejection of blind beliefs (mōshin wo koeru) (Hikari no Wa 2010:37); overcoming of dualism and the struggle between good and evil (zenaku nigenron to tōsō wo koeru) (Hikari no Wa 2010:39); and, finally, the overcoming the barrier between the religious community and society (kyōdan to shakai no kabe wo koeru) (Hikari no Wa 2010:41; Baffelli 2012:37). More recently, the group has started presenting itself as a “religious philosophy” ( shūkyō tetsugaku , Hikari no Wa 2013). Hikari no Wa claims that their doctrine introduces a new idea of faith and god and that it is not necessary to believe in any particular faith or god in order to be saved.

Members, it is claimed, do not believe in a transcendental being or in an absolute leader. Instead, the focus is on cultivating the “sacred consciousness” (shinseina ishiki) in each individual and in particular the “love of a million people and things,” compassion and benevolence. God itself is seen as a symbol of the individual “sacred consciousness.” Special people, such as Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed, are external symbols of the deity. Symbols may differ, but the sacred consciousness is unique and remains constant . The idea of a “guru” or absolute leader, therefore, is rejected and peace and equality among religions is advocated. By cultivating the “sacred” in every individual the group stresses the idea that all beings are equal and that members are not considered spiritually superior to non-members (“Basic Principles” n.d.).

According to the 2010 textbook, the group will henceforth incorporate several “sacred symbols” and practices from different religious traditions. Although the new organisation will have, at least at the beginning, a stronger “Buddhist flavour,” it aims to include teaching and practices from other Japanese religious traditions, including Shintō. In particular, the group emphasises that their references to Buddhism will not be limited to the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, but will include more aspects related to the Japanese Buddhist tradition and its connection to Shinto and a vaguely defined “natural religion.” During the last seven years, Hikari no Wa’s teachings have progressively changed towards including more elements from Japanese Buddhism (in particular references to Shōtoku Taishi, the sixth/seventh century semi-legendary regent who is portrayed as having played a major role in promoting Buddhism in Japan) and reducing references to Tibetan Buddhism. Ichnographically, the images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas (mainly relating to the esoteric tradition) have been gradually replaced with images of natural landscapes and Japanese sacred sites (both Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines). At the same time, Hikari no Wa has rejected some of the central tenets of Aum’s doctrines and practices, such as extreme asceticism, the idea that one can acquire supernatural powers through yoga practice, beliefs in the end of the world and prophecies, and beliefs that were influential in Aum’s use of violence.(On Aum Shinriky ō’s teachings and doctrinal justifications of violence see Reader 2000 and Reader 2013).


Hikari no Wa has also been introducing new practices in an attempt to distance itself from Aum Shinrikyō, while retaining aspectsof Aum’s teaching and practices that still appeal to members. Hikari no Wa’s activities and practices can be divided into three groups. First of all, there are training activities performed at the dōjō. Different training methods are used, such as yoga, qigong, healing techniques, Buddhist meditation, and Esoteric Buddhism practices. A variety of objects and techniques are used during meditation (such as music and sounds, incense, Buddhist images, Buddhist statues, ritual paraphernalia, “holy” water from sacred places (gojinzui, seizui), astrology). Members are free to choose any of these practices, but they are discouraged from engaging in extreme asceticism. Counseling sections with Jōyū and other representatives are also offered at the centres.

Furthermore, Jōyū’s preaching lectures (seppōkai) are held approximately every month, and intensive seminars are held three times a year (in May, August and at the end of the year). In 2012, a well-known Japanese therapeutic practice of self-reflection called introspection (naikan) has been introduced. Some members took part in the rigorous version of naikan which is practised over a week. However, in Hikari no Wa it is usually performed as a one-day practice during which members are isolated in a small room that is divided into enclosed sections, and they are guided (by a non-member expert) through different stages of their life. Members are invited to reflect on what they have received from others, what they have given, and what troubles they have caused to their family and others. The aim is to learn how to deal with the painful past and reinterpret it as a learning process through which negative experiences can be turned into positive ones for the future.

Initially the chanting of sutras during rituals and ceremonies was based on the same Sanskrit sutras used by Aum. They have gradually been replaced by a new original sutra in Japanese, the sanbutsu shingyō , written by Jōyū, who use d the popular Heart Sutra as a model. The sutra is now considered the main text for Hikari no Wa’s practices and it reads as follows:

Banbutsu onkei, banbutsu kansha 万物恩恵、万物感謝

Banbutsu hotoke, banbutsu sonchō 万物仏、万物尊重

Banbutsu ittai, Banbutsu aisu 万物一体、万物愛す

That, following the explanation given in Hikari no Wa’s text and website, could be translated as:

See all things as blessed, be thankful to all things.

See all things as Buddha, be thankful to all things.

See all things as one, love all things (“Texts and Lectures” n.d.).

CDs, DVDs, self-published texts, Buddhist ritual paraphernalia and healings goods are also available for sale at the centres and online.

Other activities are organized outside the group facilities and include Jōyū’s talk shows and meeting at public centres (some of those meetings are organized via Internet and called off kai, offline meetings). The group also organizes regular pilgrimages to sacred places around Japan.

Generally, the image the group is trying to construct is centred on its desire to separate itself from Aum. Hikari no Wa promotes itself as being very open, it does not require formal membership, and all activities and ceremonies are explained in detail on the website and on social networking services. Furthermore a counselling service has been set up to actively encourage Aleph’s members to leave that group (and potentially, but not necessarily, join Hikari no Wa).

New practices are introduced regularly, while previous practices are discontinued or modified. In the process of distancing itself from Aum, several practices needed to be reconsidered or abandoned, but, at the same time, Hikari no Wa is attempting to find a new and original identity.


In 2012, Hikari no Wa declared that the group had twenty seven “staff” members permanently living in the group’s facilities (Jōyū
2012:250). The number has now decreased. As of January, 2014, the group is claiming that only eight people are in charge of the centres, and so Hikari no Wa only has about ten full time staff. The use of the word renunciant (shukke) to indicate members living communal lives (and which was previously also used by Aum) has been discontinued in favour of the more neutral term full-time staff (senjū sutaffu). The group has also established a public relations department (jōhōbu) that deals with issues related to requests from media, relationships with local communities and contacts with scholars. Finally, full-time staff are also in charge of the consultation service aimed at persuading Aleph’s members to leave the group.

The estimated number of members too has been decreased from 180 (Jōyū 2012:250) to 150 members (“For Beginners” n.d.). There is a formal membership system, but most of activities and meetings are open to non-members. Usually a significant number of those participating in pilgrimages and other activities (especially Jōyū’s talks at the centres) are non-members. Participants to off-kai, that is offline meetings organized at public halls in order to allow people interested in Jōyū who contacted him via the Internet to meet him and ask him and other Hikari no Wa’s members questions, are predominantly non-members.

Hikari no Wa’s headquarters is located in Tokyo and currently seven centres called classrooms (kyōshitsu) have been established around the country (Nagoya, Osaka, Fukuoka, Nagano, Chiba, Yokohama and Sendai). In addition, study sessions are regularly held in Sapporo and Okayama. Most of the centres are very small, just consisting of a few rooms in rented apartments. Usually one or two full-staff members are in charge of the centres and their activities. In each dōjō, preaching meetings (seppōkai) are held regularly (more or less monthly) by Jōyū, in addition to study sessions about Mahayana Buddhism, yoga, qigong practices, and counselling services. Each branch offers a “free trial” to visitors. One can meet local representatives (members in charge of the branches) and try out various Hikari no Wa practices, including yoga and qigong . There is also an online classroom, called Net Dojō (Netto Dōjō) to allow online learning and it includes videos of lectures and other learning material (“Net-Dojo” n.d.). A Net shop has been opened that sells CDs and DVDs produced by the group and items for Buddhist rituals (“Hikari no Wa Net Shop” n.d.).

Jōyū Fumihiro is indicated as the representative (daihyō) of the group, and the website clearly states that although he is a guide and a teacher for the members, he is not considered an absolute leader and that he is seen as an imperfect human being (Overview n.d.). This idea of a leadership as based on experience and guidance and not necessarily on charisma has been stressed by Jōyū from the very beginning of the new group. The main aim is to assert that the new leader should not be seen as the new Asahara and that the leader-members relationship that was highly problematic in Aum is not going to be replicated in Hikari no Wa. Despite this intent, however, Jōyū’s leadership had to be legitimized by his previous role in Aum. It was his high status of seitaishi achieved in Aum that allowed him to become the guide for the new group. Furthermore, Jōyū acquired a form of celebrity status after the sarin gas attack in Tokyo, when he became Aum’s spokesperson and the Japanese mass media started reporting about his ability to reply sharply and promptly when questioned about Aum’s crimes. This raised his public profile, and his status has been recently replicated online, where his accounts on social networking sites (especially Mixi and Twitter) received the attention of several users who were intrigued by his personality. The found a way where they could approach him (anonymously) via the Internet and ask him disparate questions about his personal life and Aum’s activities (on Hikari no Wa’s use of Internet and social networking see Baffelli 2010, 2012). As a consequence, although Jōyū may not be seen anymore as an absolute leader by Hikari no Wa’s members and sympathizers, it is thanks to his previous status that Hikari no Wa is receiving some attention from the public and the media. At the moment, it would be difficult for the group to survive without his leadership.


Despite Hikari no Wa’s efforts to detach itself from Asahara and Aum, the Public Security Intelligence Agency (Kōan Chōsachō, thereafter PSIA) decided that group will remain under strict surveillance and that the new laws introduced in 1999 to control Aleph, namely the Victims Compensation Law (Higaisha kyūsaihō) and the Organizational Control Law (dantai kiseihō), will be apply to Hikari no Wa as well. The surveillance was extended for another three years in 2012, and the last report of the PSIA (2014) still shows a mistrust of Hikari no Wa, claiming that the members are still devoted to Asahara. In response to the suspicions expressed by the PSIA and the Anti-Aum movements and victims’ organizations, Hikari no Wa has created a section on its website stating its differences with Aleph and outlining the problems related to Aleph’s leadership and teachings(“Aleph” n.d.). Furthermore, in late 2011 Hikari no Wa established a committee of “external observers” (gaibu kansa iinkai) that includes, among others, one individual who has previously been involved in anti-Aum movements and victims’ organizations. The aim of the committee is to observe and report on Hikari no Wa’s activities in a neutral and objective way (PSIA reports are considered by Hikari no Wa biased and false).

Recently the group has been attracting some media attention and interviews with Jōyū have been published in various magazines, allowing the group to achieve some more visibility in the printed media. However, Hikari no Wa and its leader are still regarded suspiciously by the PSIA and the society at large, and their biggest challenge still remains that of persuading the public that they are no longer dangerous and that they have cut their ties with Aum’s violent past.


“Aleph.” n.d. Accessed from http://alephmondaitaisaku.blog.fc2.com/ on 7 March 2014.

Baffelli, Erica. 2012. “Hikari no Wa: A New Religion Recovering from Disaster.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 39:29–49.

Baffelli, Erica. 2010. “Charismatic Blogger? Authority and New Religions on the Web 2.0.” Pp. 118-35 in Japanese Religions on the Internet: Innovation, Representation, and Authority, edited by Erica Baffelli, Ian Reader and Birgit Staemmler. New York: Routledge.

Baffelli, Erica and Ian Reader. 2012. “Impact and Ramifications: The Aftermath of the Aum Affair in the Japanese Religious Context.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 39:1–28.

Baffelli, Erica and Birgit Staemmler. 2011. “Aum Shinrikyō, Aleph, Hikari no Wa.” Pp. 276-93 in Establishing the Revolutionary: An Introduction to New Religious in Japan, edited by Ulrich Dehn and Birgit Staemmler. Münster-Hamburg-Berlin-Wien-London-Zürich: LIT.

“Basic principles.” n.d. Accessed from http://www.joyus.jp/hikarinowa/overview/05/0006.html on 7 March 2014.

“Hikari no Wa Net Shop.” n.d. Accessed from http://hikarinowa.shop-pro.jp/ on 7 March 2014.

Jōyū, Fumihiro . n .d. “Hikari no wa” no kihontekina seikaku. Accessed from
http:// ww.joyus.jp/hikarinowa/overview/05/0006.html on 15 November 2012.

Jōyū, Fumihiro. 2012. Aum jiken 17nenme no kokuhaku. Tokyo: Fusosha.

Jōyū Fumihiro. n.d. “Outlook on the Aum-related Incidents.” Published on the English version of Aleph’s public relations’ website. Accessed from http://english.aleph.to/pr/01.html on 7 March 2014.

Jōyū, Fumihiro, and Ōta Toshihiro. 2012. “Aum Shinrikyō o chōkoku: sono miryoku to kansei o megutte.” At purasu 13:4-34.

Maekawa, Michiko. 2001. “When Prophecy Fails: The Response of Aum Members to the Crisis.” Pp. 179-210 in Religion and Social Crisis in Japan: Understanding Japanese Society through the Aum Affair, edited by Robert J. Kisala and Mark R. Mullins. New York: Palgrave.

“Message.” n.d. Accessed from http://www.joyu.jp/message/ on 7 March 2014.

Munakata Makiko, 2010. Nijūsai kara nijūnenkan: “Aum no seishun” to iu makyō wo koete. Tokyo: Sangokan.

“Net-Dojo.” n.d. Accessed from http://net-dojo.hikarinowa.net/home.html on 7 March 2014.

“For Beginners.” n.d. Accessed from http://www.joyu.jp/hikarinowa/overview/00_1/0030.html on 7 March 2014.

“Overview.” n.d. Accessed from http://www.joyu.jp/hikarinowa/overview/ on 7 March 2014.

Public Security Intelligence Agency. 2014. Annual Report 2013. Accessed from http://www.moj.go.jp/content/000117998.pdf on 2 October 2013.

Public Security Intelligence Agency. 2012. Annual Report 2011. Accessed from http://www.moj.go.jp/content/000096470.pdf on 8 October 2013.

Public Security Intelligence Agency. 2011. Annual Report 2010 . Accessed from http://www.moj.go.jp/content/000072886.pdf on 15 November 2012.

Reader, Ian. 2013. “ Aum Shinrikyō. Accessed from http://www.has.vcu.edu/wrs/profiles/AumShinrikyo.htm on 10 March 2014.

Reader, Ian. 2000. Religious Violence in Contemporary Japan: The Case of Aum Shinrikyō . Richmond and Honolulu: Curzon Press and University of Hawai‘i Press.

“Texts and Lectures.” n.d. Accessed from http://www.joyu.jp/lecturetext/012010/0041_1.html on 7 March 2014.


(Booklets produced by the group and distributed during intensive seminars in December/January, May, August or during pilgrimages):

2008, Bukkyō kōgi , satori no d ōtei.

2009a Gendaijin no tameno ichigen no hōsoku. (End of the Year Seminar).

2009b Naikan, yuishiki, engi no essensu. (Golden Week Seminar).

2009c Daijōbukkyō, rokubutsu no oshie. (February Pilgrimage Seminar).

2010a Chūdo no oshie , hikutsu to ikari no ch ōestsu , Nijūisseki no atarashii shinkō no arikata. (End of the Year Seminar).

2010b Sanbutsu no ichigenhōsoku, bodaishin to rokuharamitsu: Nijūisseki no shūkyō no kakushin . (Summer Seminar).

2010c Ichigen no hōsoku to sono satori no d ōtei , kong ō bōsatsu no naisei sh ugyō.

2011a Sanbutsushingyō no oshie, kansha to sonchō to ai no jiseen. (End of the Year Seminar).

2011b Wa no shisō to tadashii shūkyō no shinkō no arikata . (Summer Seminar).

2011c Hikari no Wa to Nihon to “wa no shisō (Golden Week Seminar).

2012a Hōsoku no taitoku, shisaku no sh ugyō. Sanbutsu no hōsoku no shisaku to meisō. (End of the Year Seminar)

2012b Sanbutsu shingyō no oshie to gendai no shomondai . (Summer Seminar).

2012c Sanbutsu shingyō no shūchū no sh ugyō. Dokyō meisō no shōsetsu (Golden Week Seminar)

2013a Wa no hō to mezame no oshie. Butsumo no meisō, nikyoku no chōwa. (End of the Year Seminar).

2013b Gendai wo ikiru chie, wa no shisō to saishinkagaku. (Summer Seminar).

2013c Gense kōfuku to satori no hō. Satori no shūchū sh ugyō. (Golden Week Seminar).

Post Date:
10 March 2014



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