Crazy Japanese religious cults: how I got the idea for my first book

Today I thought about why I used the Japanese religious cult “Aum Shinrikyo” as the starting point for my first novel. My ex-wife and I stopped in Japan on our way back from Europe in 1985, and we visited Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. I loved the place. The train system was fantastic, the country was full of old temples with beautiful architecture, and it was easy to get around even though we didn’t know the language.

Kyoto in autumn, from Wikimedia Commons by Wikimedia user  FG2
Kyoto in autumn, from Wikimedia Commons by Wikimedia user FG2

In between about 1988 and 1997 l learned Japanese on-and-off in evening classes. My ex- and I started home-hosting Japanese visitors and Japanese students from nearby La Trobe University. In 1989 and in 1994, I visited again, only this time on my own. I stayed with Japanese friends.

The year after my 1994 visit, the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo released Sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system. This event was a major shock to the Japanese people. They were not used to domestic terrorist groups engaging in mass killings in Japan. Soon everyone wanted to know: who are these people? The name Aum Shinrikyo means “Supreme Truth.” Their leader, Shoko Asahara, preached a mixture of Yoga, Christianity, Buddhism, and Nostradamus. He believed the end of the world was near. Don’t they all? He declared himself to be Jesus Christ. He used LSD and electric shock therapy on the group’s followers. Some were murdered.  Shoko was also big on conspiracy theories involving the Freemasons, the British Royal Family and the Jewish people. Yep, they were crazy as batshit. But the group had made a point of enrolling students from some of Japan’s top universities. They promoted themselves as the religion for the intellectual elite. After the gas attacks, Shoko and many of his followers were arrested.

When I stated my novel in the mid-1990s, I had a vague idea about a religious group mounting an attack on something in Australia. I asked: what if some of Shoko’s followers evaded arrest, invented a genetically modified virus, and threaten to release it at an international sporting event in Melbourne Australia. I invented a mini-Olympic Games that I called the “Pacific Games.” Setting the book in my own city seemed a pretty obvious thing to do. I could write scenes in Melbourne, and I had learned enough about Aum to visualize what they would do.

Sometimes I look at other writers and ask, “How did they get their idea?” How did Philip Hose Farmer get the idea to write Jesus  on Mars? (You guessed it: Earth detects some ancient Greek letters carved on a doorway into a mountain on Mars. They go inside and who do they find? Jesus and a bunch of guys following first century Judaism. I won’t spoil the plot.)

So, what’s the most unusual story idea you’ve seen in a book, and where do you think it came from?

I’d love to hear from you.

Note: this is my blog site.   For information about editing an academic thesis, click here.

My novel Fire Damage, an action thriller, is available on Amazon Kindle, here : the novel is based on the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo, which released Sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system in the 1990s. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the app to read it on your computer or phone from here. For the paperback version, click here.

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