Analysing the Hajime Masutani Interview in Haruki Murakami’s Underground

I spent today analysing the Haruki Murakami Underground interview with former Aum Shinrikyo member Hajume Masutani. Some insights:


1. Masutani experienced early alienation from his family, initial career aspirations, and university studies.


2. Masutani encountered and joined Aum after seeing an Aum book and visiting a dojo. He spent seven years in Aum including working on animation about Aum’s leader Shoko Asahara which now enjoys an afterlife on YouTube.


3. Masutani engaged in cycles of work and meditation but did not really progress in Aum. He became suspicious of Asahara after meeting him. His experiences reflected parallel research that psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton did on Aum.


4. In 1993, Masutani noted that Aum adopted a more proto-militant outlook and a greater emphasis on Tibetan Vajrayana teachings.


5. Masutani grew more alienated from Aum after leaving and learning of the 20th March 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. His views to Murakami were similar to United States cultic scholars like Margaret Thaler Singer.

Monash SPS Symposium: Aum Shinrikyo’s Failed Strategic Subculture

Each year I do a 20-minute presentation to the SPS Symposium in Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry on my in-progress PhD research. Below is the outline for this year’s proposed presentation due to occur in October:


Aum Shinrikyo’s Failed Strategic Subculture

Alex Burns (


Key Words: Aum Shinrikyo; strategic culture; terrorist groups


In 1977, RAND’s Jack Snyder proposed strategic subcultures as a unit of analysis to understand distinct beliefs, analytical traditions, institutions, and socialisation norms in a strategic community. Recently, the so-called fourth generation of strategic culture scholarship has – via Alan Bloomfield, David Haglund, Jeffrey Lantis, and others – applied Snyder’s unit of analysis to examine new foreign policy actors. This presentation applies Snyder’s strategic subcultures to advance a new understanding of the militant Japanese religious sect Aum Shinrikyo, and its 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subway system. I use narrative analysis and qualitative thematic coding to re-examine two theory-building explanations about Aum Shinrikyo’s decision-making: Robert Jay Lifton’s psychohistory (Destroying the World to Save It) and Haruki Murakami’s oral history interviews (Underground). I also develop a new strategic subculture explanation of Aum Shinrikyo’s failure that builds on Frederick M. Smith’s research into South Asian deity and spirit possession experiences (The Self Possessed).


Paper Type: Full Paper

Working Title: Terrorist Groups as Strategic Subcultures

Degree: PhD

Supervisor: Luke Howie

Narrative Therapy

I’m using narrative therapy as a methodological tool in a PhD chapter about Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo.


Bob Bertolino and Bill O’Hanlon’s Invitation To Possibility Land: An Intensive Teaching Seminar With Bill O’Hanlon (New York: Routledge, 2013) provided anecdotes about how O’Hanlon encountered Michael White and David Epston’s early work with narrative therapy. O’Hanlon mentions four stories that arise in the therapeutic interview: impossibility; blaming; invalidation; and determinism, non-accountability, and non-choice.


For O’Hanlon, White and Epston engaged in the “externalisation” of problems into a knowledge construct which could be examined and re-evaluated using relational language and stances. “Unique outcomes” can be created that involve “thickening the story” to create a performative “alternate story” and “metaphorical frames”. The co-created narrative is a transitional step to a more preferred reality: a way to engage with subjectivity, and, in particular, its life history overlays from familial and societal sources. These are, essentially, Re-Authoring experiences for individuals and families.


O’Hanlon framed White and Epston’s approach as a seven-step process: (1) Externalise problems. (2) Name/personify the problems. (3) Find out how the problems have affected the person and others. (4) Find moments when things went better or different in regard to the problems. (5) Find evidence from the past that supports the valued story. (6) Get them to speculate about a future that comes out of the valued story. (7) Develop a social sense of the valued story.


A review of the bibliography of White and Epston’s Narrative Means To Therapeutic Ends (New York: W.W. Norton & Company) highlights the influence of Clifford Geertz, Arnold Van Gennep, Victor Turner, Erving Goffman, and connects with the hero creation work of Orrin C. Klapp.

23rd December 2011: Holiday Reading

My holiday reading for late December 2011 and the first week of January 2012:


1. George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis (New York: The Penguin Press, 2011).  I’ll need a few weeks to get through this masterful biography of the foreign affairs maven who conceived of Cold War containment. It took Gaddis almost 30 years to research and write this authorised book, based on archives and extensive interviews.


2. A bunch of private equity books for a planned journal article on the EMI-Terra Firma Capital Partners deal.


3. Aum Shinrikyo chapter notes for the PhD — hope to have a draft for the PhD committee by mid January.


4. Nancy Duarte’s Slide:ology (Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Publishers, 2008) for a new project.