In August, 2002, a male bearded seal was seen on the Tama River in Tokyo, Japan. He was named, naturally, Tama-chan, and he became an instant celebrity in Japan. Typically, an arctic animal like the bearded seal shouldn’t be seen anywhere near Tokyo, but there he was. In March the following year, a group of people tried to capture Tama-chan so they could transport him back to the Arctic. This group called themselves the “Society That Thinks About Tama-chan”, originality not being a particularly strong suit. This group was really a front for the Pana Wave Cult.
The Pana Wave LaboratoryIn 1977, a woman named Yuko Chino started a religious group in Tokyo called Chino-Shoho (aka “True Law of Chino”), which took different aspects of Buddhism, Christianity, and New Age religions. Yuko Chino was an English teacher whose mother belonged to a group called the God Light Association (also called the GLA). Now, the GLA was started by a guy named Shinji Takahashi, who claimed to have out-of-body experiences as well as episodes where he could communicate with spirits, including Jesus Christ and Moses. NEWAfter he started and preaching and gained some followers, another religious group – the Zuihoukai – converted to his beliefs and everybody joined together to create the GLA. Soon, the GLA had followers numbering in the tens of thousands. (source: wiki)
GLA splintered after Takahasi’s death. Some of the followers started gathering around Yuko Chino and Chino-Shoho. Some members of the group formed a “scientific arm” called Pana Wave. Pana Wave became a kind of merger between religion, spirituality, and science fiction. It was also a political movement. One of Chino’s followers said she was the new Messiah after Buddha, Moses, and Jesus.
Pana Wave Laboratory was created to research on the “enemy” of electomagnetic waves. Chino got sick in the 1990s, and her followers blamed EM radiation as the cause. They also said that EM radiation was causing environmental damage and climate change. Members wore white cloth, which they believed would block harmful electromagnetic waves. The also blamed communists, saying the EM was a weapon used by them to harm their leader. To escape the ever-present radation, they traveled to remote places to build camps.
The Pana Wave cult felt that Tama-chan got lost because EM waves led him astray, and that by putting him back to into his home region, it would avert the end of the world. They failed in their mission, and Tama-chan took off for the Naka-gawa River and then, eventually, the Arakawa River.
But Pana Wave’s next move was to commandeer part of a mountain area in Gifu prefecture, 185 miles from Tokyo. Local authorities told their 13 white-vehicle caravan to leave, but nobody listened. TV news crews just made them angrier, because – you know – the EM waves.
May 15, 2003
The Pana Wave cult thought that the appearance of an previously-unknown 10th planet would cause reversal of the Earth’s poles on May 15, 2003, which would lead to earthquakes and tsunamis – basically, doomsday (think the plot of 2012). Their appearance in the news made lots of Japanese paranoid, because they stirred up memories of the 1995 subway Sarin gas attack, which was committed by Aum Shinrikyo, a doomsday cult. Because of this, police would follow them around and occasionally raid their makeshift installations. It turns out, however, that Pana Wave was fairly harmless.
The Guardian had an interesting take on the subject at the time:
The authorities in Tokyo granted Tama-chan the freedom of the capital’s waterways. In neighbouring Yokohama, the Nishi Ward office approved a certificate of residence for the mammal, which is now legally registered as residing on the bank of the Katabira river and having its ancestral home in the bering Sea.
Although [Pana Wave] has never been implicated in a crime, its bizarre behaviour is now attracting even more media attention that that of Tama-chan. The outcome, however, has been very different. While the seal was given a residency certificate and followed by a fan club, Pana Wave members are driven out of every community they approach and tracked by a team of more than 100 riot police.
Clearly there is a limit to the kinder, gentler, more relaxed tendencies of the new Japan. Cute mammals are welcome. Odd humans, stay away.
Anyway, May 15th, 2003 came and went and the end of the world never happened. After that, people sort-of forgot about Pana Wave (and even poor Tama-chan dropped out of the news, not having been seen since 2004). Yuko Chino eventually passed away on October 25, 2006, at the age of 72. The Communist party did not offer a statement.
Sources for this article: Fortean Times, Trinity College