Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

3.7 19
by Haruki Murakami

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It was a clear spring day, Monday, March 20, 1995, when five members of the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo conducted chemical warfare on the Tokyo subway system using sarin, a poison gas twenty-six times as deadly as cyanide. The unthinkable had happened, a major urban transit system had become the target of a terrorist attack.

In an attempt to discover why, Haruki


It was a clear spring day, Monday, March 20, 1995, when five members of the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo conducted chemical warfare on the Tokyo subway system using sarin, a poison gas twenty-six times as deadly as cyanide. The unthinkable had happened, a major urban transit system had become the target of a terrorist attack.

In an attempt to discover why, Haruki Murakami, internationally acclaimed author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and arguably Japan's most important contemporary novelist, talked to the people who lived through the catastrophe -- from a Subway Authority employee with survivor guilt, to a fashion salesman with more venom for the media than for the perpetrators, to a young cult member who vehemently condemns the attack though he has not quit Aum. Through these and many other voices, Murakami exposes intriguing aspects of the Japanese psyche. And as he discerns the fundamental issues leading to the attack, we achieve a clear vision of an event that could occur anytime, anywhere. Hauntingly compelling and inescapably important, Underground is a powerful work of journalistic literature from one of the world's most perceptive writers.

Editorial Reviews

In March 1995, members of a Japanese religious cult attacked Tokyo residents by releasing sarin, a poison 26 times as deadly as cyanide, nearly simultaneously at five locations in the city's subways. Haruki Murakami, an internationally renowned novelist, has spent several years interviewing hundreds of survivors and perpetrators. His account of this startling terrorist act holds you in its grip until its final release.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
On March 20, 1995, followers of the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo unleashed lethal sarin gas into cars of the Tokyo subway system. Many died, many more were injured. This is acclaimed Japanese novelist Murakami's (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, etc.) nonfiction account of this episode. It is riveting. What he mostly does here, however, is listen to and record, in separate sections, the words of both victims, people who "just happened to be gassed on the way to work," and attackers. The victims are ordinary people bankers, businessmen, office workers, subway workers who reflect upon what happened to them, how they reacted at the time and how they have lived since. Some continue to suffer great physical disabilities, nearly all still suffer great psychic trauma. There is a Rashomon-like quality to some of the tales, as victims recount the same episodes in slightly different variations. Cumulatively, their tales fascinate, as small details weave together to create a complex narrative. The attackers are of less interest, for what they say is often similar, and most remain, or at least do not regret having been, members of Aum. As with the work of Studs Terkel, which Murakami acknowledges is a model for this present work, the author's voice, outside of a few prefatory comments, is seldom heard. He offers no grand explanation, no existential answer to what happened, and the book is better for it. This is, then, a compelling tale of how capriciously and easily tragedy can destroy the ordinary, and how we try to make sense of it all. (May 1) Forecast: Publication coincides with the release of a new novel by Murakami (Sputnik Sweetheart, Forecasts, Mar. 19), and several national magazines, including Newsweek and GQ, will be featuring this fine writer. This attention should help Murakami's growing literary reputation. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The deadly Tokyo subway poison gas attack, perpetrated by members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult on March 20, 1995, was the fulfillment of every urban straphanger's nightmare. Through interviews with several dozen survivors and former members of Aum, novelist Murakami (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) presents an utterly compelling work of reportage that lays bare the soul of contemporary Japan in all its contradictions. The sarin attack exposed Tokyo authorities' total lack of preparation to cope with such fiendish urban terrorism. More interesting, however, is the variety of reactions among the survivors, a cross-section of Japanese citizens. Their individual voices remind us of the great diversity within what is too often viewed from afar as a homogeneous society. What binds most of them is their curious lack of anger at Aum. Chilling, too, is the realization that so many Aum members were intelligent, well-educated persons who tried to fill voids in their lives by following Shoko Asahara, a mad guru who promised salvation through total subordination to his will. For all public and academic libraries. Steven I. Levine, Univ. of Montana, Missoula Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
“Chilling. . . . Murakami weaves a compelling true tale of normal lives faced with abnormal realities.” –Sunday Tribune

“Powerfully observed. . . . A rattling chronicle of violence and terror.” –Kirkus Reviews

“Through Murakami’s sensitive yet relentless questioning, it emerges that the people who joined Aum felt just as adrift in the world as Murakami’s own [fictional] characters do.” –The Guardian

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



Two men were assigned to drop sarin gas on the Chiyoda Line: Ikuo Hayashi and Tomomitsu Niimi. Hayashi was the principal criminal, Niimi the driver-accomplice.

    Why Hayashi — a senior medical doctor with an active "front-line" track-record at the Ministry of Science and Technology — was chosen to carry out this mission remains unclear, but Hayashi himself conjectures it was to seal his lips. Implication in the gas attack cut off any possibility of escape. By this point Hayashi already knew too much. He was devoted to the Aura cult leader Shoko Asahara, but apparently Asahara did not trust him. When Asahara first told him to go and release the sarin gas Hayashi admitted: "I could feel my heart pounding in my chest — though where else would my heart be?"

    Boarding the front carriage of the south-westbound 7.48 a.m. Chiyoda Line, running from the north-east Tokyo suburb of Kita-senju to the western suburb of Yoyogi-uehara, Hayashi punctured his plastic bag of satin at Shin-ochanomizu Station in the central business district, then left the train. Outside the station, Niimi was waiting with a car and the two of them drove back to the Shibuya ajid — Aura local headquarters — their mission accomplished. There was no way for Hayashi to refuse. "This is just a yoga of the Mahamudra," he kept telling himself. Mahamudra being a crucial discipline for attaining the stage of the True Enlightened Master.

   When asked by Asahara's legal team whether he could have refused if he had wanted to, Hayashi replied: "If that had been possible, the Tokyo gas attack would never have happened."

    Born in 1947, Hayashi was the second son of a Tokyo medical practitioner. Groomed from middle and secondary school for Keio University, one of Tokyo's two top private universities, upon graduating from medical school he took employment as a heart and artery specialist at Keio Hospital, after which he went on to become Head of the Circulatory Medicine Department at the National Sanatorium Hospital at Tokaimura, Ibaragi, north of Tokyo. He is a member of what the Japanese call the "super elite". Clean-cut, he exudes the self-confidence of a professional. Medicine obviously came naturally to him. His hair is starting to thin on top, but like most of the Aura leadership, he has good posture, his eyes focused firmly ahead, although his speech is monotonous and somehow forced. From his testimony in court, I gained the distinct impression that he was blocking some flow of emotion inside himself.

    Somewhere along the line Hayashi seems to have had profound doubts about his career as a doctor and, while searching for answers beyond orthodox science, he became seduced by the charismatic teachings of Shoko Asahara and suddenly converted to Aura. In 1990 he resigned from his job and left with his family for a religious life. His two children were promised a special education within the cult. His colleagues at the hospital were loath to lose a man of Hayashi's calibre and tried to stop him, but his mind was made up. It was as if the medical profession no longer held anything for him. Once initiated into the cult, he soon found himself among Asahara's favourites and was appointed Minister of Healing.

    Once he had been called upon to carry out the satin plan, Hayashi was brought to Aum's General headquarters, Satyam No.7, in Kamikuishiki Village near Mt Fuji at 3 a.m. on 20 March, where, together with the four other principal players, he rehearsed the attack. Using umbrellas sharpened with a file, they pierced plastic bags filled with water rather than sarin. The rehearsal was supervised by Hideo Murai of the Aum leadership. While comments from the other four members indicate that they enjoyed this practice session, Hayashi observed it all with cool reserve. Nor did he actually pierce his bag. To the 48-year-old doctor, the whole exercise must have seemed like a game.

    "I did not need to practise," says Hayashi. "I could see what to do, though my heart wasn't in it."

    After the session, all five were returned by car to the Shibuya ajid, whereupon our physician Hayashi handed out hypodermic needles filled with atropine sulphate to the team, instructing them to inject it at the first sign of sarin poisoning.

    On the way to the station, Hayashi purchased gloves, a knife, Sellotape and sandals at a convenience store. Niimi, the driver, bought some newspapers in which to wrap the bags of sarin. They were sectarian newspapers — the Japan Communist Party's Akahata (Red Flag) and the Soka Gakkai's Seikyo Shimbun (Sacred Teaching News) — "more interesting because they're not papers you can buy just anywhere". That was Niimi's little in-joke. Of the two papers, Hayashi chose Akahata: a rival sect's publication would have been too obvious and therefore counterproductive.

    Before getting on the subway, Hayashi donned a gauze surgical mask, of the sort commonly worn by many commuters in winter to prevent cold germs from spreading. The train number was A725K. Glancing at a woman and child in the carriage, Hayashi wavered slightly. "If I unleash the satin here and now," he thought, "the woman opposite me is dead for sure. Unless she gets off somewhere." But he'd come this far; there was no going back. This was a Holy War. The weak were losers.

    As the subway approached Shin-ochanomizu Station, he dropped the bags of sarin by his right foot, steeled his nerves, and poked one of them with the end of his umbrella. It was resilient and gave a "springy gush". He poked it again a few times — exactly how many times he doesn't remember. In the end, only one of the two bags was found to have been punctured, the other was untouched.

    Still, the sarin liquid in one of the bags completely evaporated and did a lot of damage. At Kasumigaseki two station attendants died in the line of duty trying to dispose of the bag. Train A725K was stopped at the next station, Kokkai-gijidomae — the stop for the Japanese National Assembly — all passengers were evacuated, and the carriages were cleaned.

    Two people were killed and 232 suffered serious injuries from Hayashi's sarin drop alone.

"Nobody was dealing with things calmly"


Ms Kiyoka Izumi was born in Kanazawa, on the north central coast of the Sea of Japan. She works in the PR department of a foreign airline company. After graduation she went to work for Japan Railway (JR), but after three years she decided to pursue her childhood dream of working in aviation. Even though job transfers to airline companies are extremely difficult in Japan — only one in a thousand "mid-career" applicants is accepted — she beat the odds, only to encounter the Tokyo gas attack not long after starting work.

    Her job at JR was boring to say the least. Her colleagues objected to her leaving, but she was determined. It was good training, but the union-dominated atmosphere was too confining and specialized. She wanted to use English at work. Still, the emergency training she received at JR proved invaluable in unexpected circumstances ...

* * *

At the time I was living in Waseda [north-west central Tokyo]. My company was in Kamiyacho [south-east central Tokyo], so I always commuted by subway, taking the Tozai Line, changing at Otemachi for the Chiyoda Line to Kasumigaseki, then one stop on the Hibiya Line to Kamiyacho. Work started at 8.30, so I'd leave home around 7.45 or 7.50. That got me there a little before 8.30, but I was always one of the earliest to start. Everybody else showed up just in time. With Japanese companies, I'd always learned you were expected to arrive 30 minutes to an hour before starting, but with a foreign company the thinking is that everyone starts work at his or her own pace. You don't get any brownie points for arriving early.

    I'd get up around 6.15 or 6.20. I rarely eat breakfast, just a quick cup of coffee. The Tozai Line gets pretty crowded during rush hour, but if you avoid the peak, it's not too bad. I never had any problem with perverts copping a feel or anything.

    I never get ill, but on the morning of 20 March I wasn't feeling well. I caught the train to work anyway; got off the Tozai Line at Otemachi and transferred to the Chiyoda Line, thinking, "Gosh, I'm really out of it today." I inhaled, then suddenly my breathing froze — just like that.

    I was travelling in the first carriage on the Chiyoda Line. It wasn't too crowded. All the seats were pretty much taken, but there were only a few passengers standing here and there. You could still see all the way to the other end.

    I stood at the front next to the driver's compartment, holding the handrail by the door. Then, like I said, when I took a deep breath, I got this sudden pain. No, it wasn't so much painful. Really it was like I'd been shot or something, all of a sudden my breathing completely stopped. Like, if I inhaled any more, all my guts would come spilling right out of my mouth! Everything became a vacuum, probably because I wasn't feeling well, I thought; but, I mean, I'd never felt so bad. It was that intense.

    And then, when I think back on it now it seems kind of odd, but I thought, "Just maybe my grandad's died." He lived up north in Ishikawa Prefecture and was 94 years old at the time. I'd heard he'd been taken ill, so maybe this was a kind of sign. That was my first thought. Maybe he'd died or something.

    After a while I was able to breathe again somehow. But by the time we passed Hibiya Station, one stop before Kasumigaseki, I got this really bad cough. By then everyone in the carriage was coughing away like mad. I knew there was something strange going on in the carriage. The other people were so excited and everything ...

    Anyway when the train stopped at Kasumigaseki I got off without giving it much thought. A few other passengers called out to the station attendant "Something's wrong! Come quick? and brought him into the carriage. I didn't see what happened after that, but this attendant was the one who carried out the sarin packet and later died.

    I left the Chiyoda Line platform and headed for the Hibiya Line as usual. When I reached the platform at the bottom of the stairs I heard the emergency alarm go off: Bee-eee-eep! I knew immediately from my time working for Japan Railway there'd been an accident. That's when an announcement came over the station tannoy. And just as I was thinking "I'd better get out of here" a Hibiya Line train arrived from the opposite direction.

    I could see from the station attendants' confusion that this was no ordinary situation. And the Hibiya Line train wits completely empty, not a passenger on board. I only found out later, but in fact that train had also been planted with sarin gas. They'd had a crisis at Kamiyacho Station or somewhere, and dragged off all the passengers.

    After the alarm there was an announcement: "Everyone evacuate the station." People were making for the exits, but I was beginning to feel really sick. So instead of going straight out, I thought I'd better go to the toilet first. I looked all over the station to find the stationmaster's office, and right next to that the toilets.

    As I was passing the office, I saw maybe three station attendants just lying there. There must have been a fatal accident. Still, I carried on to the toilet and when I came out I went to an exit that emerged in front of the Ministry of Trade and Industry building. This all took about ten minutes, I suppose. Meanwhile they'd brought up the station attendants I'd seen in the office.

    Once out of the exit I took a good look around, but what I saw was — how shall I put it? — "hell" describes it perfectly. Three men were laid on the ground, spoons stuck in their mouths as a precaution against them choking on their tongues. About six other station staff were there too, but they all just sat on the flower beds holding their heads and crying. The moment I came out of the exit, a girl was crying her eyes out. I was at a loss for words. I didn't have a clue what was happening.

    I grabbed hold of one of the station attendants and told him: "I used to work for Japan Railway. I'm used to dealing with emergencies. Is there any way I can help?" But he just stared off into space. All he could say was: "Yes, help." I turned to the others sitting there. "This is no time to be crying," I said. "We're not crying," they answered, though it looked like they were crying. I thought they were grieving for their dead colleagues.

    "Has anyone called an ambulance?" I asked, and they said they had. But when I heard the ambulance siren, it didn't seem to be coming our way. For some reason, we were the last to get help, so those in the most serious condition were last to be taken to hospital. As a result, two people died.

    TV Tokyo cameramen were filming the whole scene. They'd parked their van nearby. I ran after the film crew, saying: "Now's not the time for that! If you've got transport, take these people to the hospital!" The driver conferred with his crew and said, "All right, fine."

    When I worked for JR, I was taught always to carry a red scarf. In an emergency you could wave it to stop trains. So there I was, thinking "scarf". Someone lent me a handkerchief, but it was so small I ended up giving it to the TV-crew driver and instructing him: "Get these people to the nearest hospital. It's an emergency, so honk your horn and drive through red lights if you have to! Just keep going!"

    I forget the colour of the handkerchief; it was just some print. I don't remember whether I told him to wave it or tie it to his wing-mirror. I was pretty excited at the time, so my memory's not that clear. Later when I met Mr Toyoda, he reminded me "I never returned your handkerchief", and gave me a new one. He'd been sick in the back seat and used mine.

    We managed to lift Mr Takahashi, the station attendant who died, into the back, along with another assistant. And still there was room, so one more station assistant got into the van. I think Mr Takahashi was still alive at that point. But at first glance I thought "He's a goner." Not that I'd ever witnessed death, I just knew. I could picture it; he was going to die this way. But still I had to try and help, somehow.

    The driver pleaded with me, "Miss, you come along with us", but I said, "No, I'm not going." There were still lots of others being brought above ground and someone had to look after them, so I stayed behind. I don't know to which hospital the van went. I don't know what happened to them afterwards either.

    Then there was that girl nearby, crying and trembling all over. I stayed with her and tried to comfort her, saying "There there, it's all right", until finally the ambulance came. All that time I looked after lots of different people, all of them white-faced, completely washed-out. One man, fairly old by the look of him, was foaming at the mouth. I had no idea humans could foam like that. I unbuttoned his shirt, loosened his belt, and took his pulse. It was really fast. I tried to rouse him, but it was no use. He was completely unconscious.

    This "old man" was in fact a station attendant. Only he'd removed his uniform jacket. He was pale and his hair was thin, so I mistook him for an elderly passenger. I later found out he was Mr Toyoda, a colleague of the two staff [Mr Takahashi and Mr Hishinuma] who died. He was the only one of the three injured station attendants who survived, and he was one of the longest in hospital.

    The ambulance arrived. "Is he conscious?" they asked. "No!" I yelled. "But he has a pulse!" The ambulance team put an oxygen mask over his mouth. Then they said, "There's one more [i.e. a respirator unit]. If there's anyone else in pain, we'll take them." So I inhaled a little oxygen, and the crying girl took a good long dose. By the time we had finished there was a media stampede. They surrounded the girl and the poor thing was seen on television all day.

    While I was looking after everyone, I completely forgot my own pain. It was only at the mention of oxygen that it occurred to me, "Come to think of it, I'm breathing funny myself." Yet at that very moment, I didn't make a connection between the gas attack and my condition. I was all right, so I had to look after the people who had really suffered. Just what the incident was I didn't know, but whatever it was it was big. And like I said before, I'd been feeling under the weather since the morning, so I was convinced my feeling a little off was just me.

    In the midst of all this, a colleague from work passed by. He helped me rescue the girl from the clutches of the media. Then he suggested we walk to the office together, so I thought, "Okay, we'll walk to work." It takes about 30 minutes on foot from Kasumigaseki to my office. As I was walking, I found it a bit hard to breathe, but not so bad that I had to sit down and rest. I was able to walk.

    When we got to the office, my boss had seen me on TV, and everyone was asking "Ms Izumi, are you really okay?" It was already ten o'clock by the time I got to the office. My boss said "How about resting a bit? You shouldn't tax yourself", but I still didn't really understand what had happened, so I just got on with my work. After a while a message came from Personnel: "Seems it was poison gas, so if you start to feel ill you're to report to hospital immediately." And just about then my condition was getting worse. So they put me in an ambulance at the Kamiyacho intersection and took me to Azabu hospital, a small place not far away. Twenty people had gone there already.

    I had cold-like symptoms for a week after that. I had this asthmatic cough, and three days later a high fever, with a temperature of over 40ºC [104ºF]. I was sure the thermometer was broken. The mercury shot up all the way to the top of the scale. So actually my temperature might have been even higher. All I know is I was completely immobilized.

    Even after the fever resided, the wheezing persisted for about a month; clearly the effects of sarin in my bronchial tubes. It was incredibly painful. I mean, I'd start coughing and never stop. It was so painful I couldn't breathe. I was coughing all the time. I'd be talking like this and suddenly it would start. In PR you have to meet people, so working under those conditions was really hard.

    And I kept having these dreams. The image of those station attendants with spoons in their mouths stuck in my head. In my dreams, there were hundreds of bodies lying on the ground, row upon row far into the distance. I don't know how many times I woke in the middle of the night. Frightening.

    As I said, there were people foaming at the mouth where we were, in front of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. That half of the roadway was absolute hell. But on the other side, people were walking to work as usual. I'd be tending to someone and look up to see passers-by glance my way with a "what-on-earth's-happened-here?" expression, but not one came over. It was as if we were a world apart. Nobody stopped. They all thought: "Nothing to do with me."

    Some guards were standing right before our eyes at the Ministry gate. Here we had three people laid out on the ground, waiting desperately for an ambulance that didn't arrive for a long, long time. Yet nobody at the Ministry called for help. They didn't even call us a taxi.

    It was 8.10 when the satin was planted, so that makes over an hour and a half before the ambulance arrived. All that time those people just left us there. Occasionally the television would show Mr Takahashi lying dead with a spoon in his mouth, but that was it. I couldn't bear to watch it.

    MURAKAMI: Just supposing, what if you'd been one of those people across the road at the time, on your way to work. Do you think you'd have crossed over to help?

    Yes, I think so. I wouldn't have just ignored them, no matter how out of character it might have been. I'd have crossed over. The fact is, the whole situation made me want to cry, but I knew if I lost control that would have been the end of it. Nobody was dealing with things calmly. No one even caring for the sick. Everyone just abandoned us there the whole time and walked on by. It was absolutely terrible.

    As to the criminals who actually planted the sarin, I honestly can't say I feel much anger or hatred. I suppose I just don't make the connection, and I can't seem to find those emotions in me. What I really think about are those families that have to bear the tragedy, their suffering is so much bigger to me than any anger or hatred I might feel towards the criminals. The fact that someone from Aum brought sarin onto the subway ... that's not the point. I don't think about Aum's role in the gas attack.

    I never watch television reports or anything on Aum. I don't want to. I have no intention of giving interviews. If it will help those who suffered or the families of the deceased, then yes, I'll come forward and talk, but only if they want to know what happened. I'd rather not be danced around by the media.

    Of course society should severely punish this crime. Especially when you consider the families of the deceased, there should be no getting off easy. What are those families supposed to do ...? But even if those criminals get the death penalty, does that solve anything in the end? Perhaps I'm over-sensitive when it comes to human mortality, but it seems to me that however heavy the sentence, there is nothing you can say to those families.

"I've been here since I first joined"


Mr Yuasa is much younger than Mr Toyoda (interviewed on page 28), or the late Mr Takahashi. He is more their sons' age. He looks about 16 with his youthful, tousled hair. There is still something naive and boyish about him, which makes him look younger than he is.

    He was born in Ichikawa, across Tokyo Bay in Chiba, where he spent his childhood. He became interested in trains and went to Iwakura high school in Ueno, Tokyo, which is the place to be for anyone who wants to work on the railway. He initially wanted to be a driver, so he opted for studies in engine mechanics. He was employed by the Subway Authority in 1988 and has worked at Kasumigaseki Station ever since. Forthright and plain-talking he approaches his daily duties with a clear sense of purpose. This made the gas attack all the more shocking for him.

    Mr Yuasa's boss ordered him to help carry Mr Takahashi on a stretcher from where he'd fallen on the Chiyoda Line platform to ground level and to wait there at the appointed area for an ambulance — which didn't arrive. He saw Takahashi's condition worsen before his eyes, but was powerless to do anything. As a result Mr Takahashi failed to receive treatment in time and died. Mr Yuasa's frustration, confusion and anger are unimaginable. It is probably for this reason that his memory of the scene is foggy in places. As he himself admits, some details have been completely blanked out.

    This explains how parallel accounts of the same scene may diverge slightly, but this, after all, is how Mr Yuasa experienced it.

* * *

In high school we studied Mechanics or Transport. The ones who took Transport were mostly statistic nerds, kept train schedules in their desk drawers (laughs). Me, I liked trains, but not like that. They weren't an obsession.

    Japan Railway (JR) was the big thing to aim for in terms of jobs. So many guys wanted to be Shinkansen bullet-train drivers. JR turned me down when I graduated, but Seibu and Odakyu and Tokyu and other private lines were generally popular. Although the catch was that you had to live in areas served by those lines to get the job. Yeah, pretty tough. I'd always wanted to work on the subway and the Subway Authority was pretty popular. The pay's no worse than anywhere else.

    Station work involves all sorts of jobs. Not just ticket booth and platform duty, but lost property and sorting out arguments between passengers. It was tough joining at 18 and having to do all that. That's why the first round-the-clock duty was the longest. I'd pull down the shutters after the last train and heave a sigh of relief: "Ah, that's it for the day!" Not any more, but that's how it was at first.

    The drunks were the worst thing. They either get all chummy when they're pissed, or fight, or throw up. Kasumigaseki's not an entertainment district, so we don't get that many of them, but sometimes we do.

    No, I never sat for the driver qualification. I had the chance to several times, but I thought it over and didn't. At the end of my first year there was a conductor's test, but after one year I'd only just got the hang of station work so I let it pass. Sure there were drunks, like I said, stuff I didn't care for especially, but still I thought I'd better learn the ropes a bit more. I suppose my initial impulse to be a driver just changed over time while I was working around the station.

    Kasumigaseki Station has three lines coming in: the Marunouchi, the Hibiya, and the Chiyoda. Each has its own staff. I was with the Marunouchi Line at the time. The Hibiya Line Office is the biggest, butt the Marunouchi and Chiyoda Line both have their own offices, their own staffrooms.

    The Sunday before the gas attack: I was on round-the-clock duty in the Chiyoda Line Office. They were short-staffed and I was filling in. A certain number of personnel has to be there for overnight duty. The staff on the other lines help each other out, like one big family.

    Around 12.30 we lower the shutters, lock up the ticket booths, shut off the ticket machines, then wash up and turn in just after 1.00. The early shift finish work around 11.30 and are asleep by around 12.00. The following morning the early shift rises at 4.30 and the late shift at 5.30. The first train leaves around 5.00.

    Wake up and first thing it's clean up, raise the shutters, prepare the ticket booth. Then we take turns eating breakfast. We cook our own rice, make our own miso soup. Meal duty's posted up there with all the other duties. We all share.

    I was on late shift that night, so I woke up at 5.30, changed into my uniform, and reported to the ticket booth at 5.55. I worked until 7.00, then went to have breakfast from 7.00 to 7.30. Then I went to another ticket booth and worked there until 8.15 or so, then called it a day.

    I was walking back to the Office after the hand-over to my replacement when the Chief Officer, Matsumoto, came out with a mop. "What's that for?" I asked, and he said he had to clean inside a carriage. I'd just gone off-duty and had my hands free, so it was, "Fine, I'll go with you." We headed up the escalator to the platform.

    There we found Toyoda, Takahashi and Hishinuma with a bundle of wet newspapers on the platform. They're stuffing it all by hand into plastic bags, but there's liquid coming from them and spilling onto the platform. Matsumoto mopped up the liquid. I didn't have a mop, and most of the newspaper had been bagged, so I wasn't much help. I just stood to one side, watching.

    "What's this all about?" I wondered. There was a very strong smell. Then Takahashi walked over to a rubbish bin at the end of the platform, probably to fetch some more newspaper to wipe up where it was still wet. Suddenly he sinks down in front of the bin and keels over.

    Everyone ran towards Takahashi shouting "What's wrong?" I thought maybe he was ill, but nothing too serious. "Can you walk?" they asked, but it's obvious he can't, so I called the Office over the platform intercom: "Send up the stretcher!"

    Takahashi's face looked awful. He couldn't talk. We laid him on his side, loosened his tie ... he looked in really bad shape.

    We carried him down to the Office on the stretcher, then phoned for an ambulance. That's when I asked Toyoda "Which exit is the ambulance supposed to come to?" There's protocol for situations; like this, saying where ambulances are supposed to pull up and so on. But Toyoda's tongue-tied. Kind of odd, but all I could think at the time was he was probably too confused to speak.

    Anyway, I dashed up Exit A11. Yes, before carrying Takahashi up, I got up there myself and waited to signal the ambulance when it came. So I'm out of the exit and waiting by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

    On the way to Exit A11 I ran into one of the Hibiya Line staff, who tells me there's been an explosion at Tsukiji Station. Nothing more was known. A suspicious object had been found in our station that month on the 15th, so I'm thinking as I wait for the ambulance: "This is turning into one weird day."

    But I wait and I wait and no ambulance. Soon other Office staff come up and it's, "No ambulance yet? What'll we do?" We decide we ought to bring Takahashi up above ground. I've been outside all this time, but these two or three people who came up from the Office tell me they've all started feeling sick down there. So they don't want to go back. It turns out they kept whatever it was in those plastic packets in the Office, and that's what's to blame.

    Well, Takahashi still has to be carried up, so we all head downstairs again. Back at the Office, there was a woman passenger who felt ill, sitting on the sofa by the entrance. Takahashi's behind her on a stretcher on the floor. By then he wasn't moving, practically frozen stiff. A lot worse than he looked before, barely conscious. The other staff were trying to talk to him, but there was no response. The four of us carried him above ground on the stretcher.

    But we wait and wait and still there's no sign of an ambulance. We were getting pretty frustrated. Why wasn't anything coming? Now I know that all the ambulances had rushed over to Tsukiji. You could hear sirens in the distance, but none coming this way. I couldn't help feeling anxious, thinking they'd got the wrong location. I almost felt like shouting out: "Hey, over here!" Actually, I did try running in that direction, but I felt dizzy myself ... I put it down to not having had enough sleep.

    When we carried Takahashi up, there were already newspeople at the exit. This woman with a camera was snapping away at Takahashi lying there. I shouted to her: "No photos!" Her male assistant came in between us, but I told him too: "No more photos!" — but taking pictures was her job.

    Then a TV Tokyo van came along. They were asking so many questions, like "What's the situation here?" — but I was in no mood to be interviewed. Not when the ambulance was taking forever to come.

    Suddenly I realized the TV crew had a big van, so I struck a deal with them: "You've got wheels, you have to take Takahashi." I was probably kind of angry, the way I spoke. I don't remember in detail, but I was pretty worked up, after all. Nobody knew what was going on, so it took some negotiating. No one said straight away "Oh, I get it", and sprang into action. The discussions took a while. But once things were settled, they lowered the back seat and laid Takahashi on it along with another station attendant [Mr Ohori] who was also feeling ill. He'd been with Takahashi all the time, but started vomiting when he came above ground. Another member of staff [Mr Sawaguchi] also went with them.

    "You know which hospital?" the driver asked, but nobody had a clue. So I got in the front seat next to the driver and went along too, directing them to Hibiya Hospital, which is where we always sent people whenever they get ill at the station. A woman said, "Wave a red cloth or something from the window so they know it's an emergency." We didn't have a red cloth, so she gave us her handkerchief. Not red, just an ordinary pattern. I sat in the front seat waving that handkerchief out the window all the way to the hospital.

    This was around 9.00, so traffic was pretty heavy. I was already so out of it, after all that time waiting for an ambulance that never came. I can't even remember the driver's face or the woman who gave me the handkerchief. No recollection at all. I was just gone. There was no time to think about what was going on. I do remember Ohori throwing up in the back seat. That I do remember.

    The hospital wasn't open when we arrived. We took Takahashi out of the van on the stretcher and I went to the reception desk. "We've got an emergency here," I said, then went back outside and waited by Takahashi. He wasn't moving at all. Ohori had crouched down, immobile. Still no one came out of the hospital. They must have decided it wasn't all that serious. After all, I must have looked confused and hadn't given them any details. We just waited and waited and nobody came out.

    So I went to Reception again, and raised my voice: "Please! Somebody come! This is serious!" Then a few people came out, saw Takahashi and Ohori's condition, and rushed them inside. How long did it take? Two or three minutes.

    Sawaguchi stayed at Reception while I went back to the station exit with the TV van driver. By then I'd calmed down a lot, or at least I was telling myself I had to calm down. I apologized to the driver for Ohori throwing up all over the seat, but he didn't seem to mind. It was only then that I could manage even a simple conversation like that.

    By then, I think they'd carried up Toyoda and Hishinuma, neither of them moving. They were trying to resuscitate them with oxygen masks and massaging their chests. Around them other staff and passengers were sitting down outside the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Nobody knew what on earth was going on.

    Finally an ambulance arrived. My memory fails me here, but I seem to recall Toyoda and Hishinuma were taken away separately. Only one patient to an ambulance, so one of them had to be taken by car. They were the only ones to leave at that time. None of the others were as critical. By then, so many people had gathered around Exit A11: news crews, police, firemen — I remember the size of the crowd. The media were in full swing, mikes out, interviewing passengers and subway staff. They probably couldn't get into the station any more.

    Once the scene was under control, I walked to the hospital. When I got to the lobby, the TV was on. It was the NHK [Japan Broadcasting Corporation] News. They were showing live reports from the gas attack. That's when I learned Takahashi had died from a running subtitle on-screen. "Ah," I thought, "he didn't make it. We were too late ... " I can't tell you how sad I was.

    My own condition? Well, my pupils were contracted and everything looked dark. I was coughing a little, too. Nothing too serious. They put me on a drip, just in case. I got off lightly. Probably because I'd gone outside early on. Ohori was in hospital for ages.

    After the drip, I walked back to the station with a few of the staff. The Chiyoda Line wasn't stopping at Kasumigaseki Station, so we went to the Marunouchi Line Office. What with this and that, it was evening before I finally got home. It had been a long, long day. I took off the next day and returned for the round-the-clock duty on the 22nd.

    To be honest, my memories of the gas attack jump around. This or that detail I remember with burning clarity, but the rest is very sketchy. I was pretty wound up. Takahashi's collapse and taking him to the hospital — those things I remember fairly well.

    I wasn't especially close to Takahashi. He was the assistant stationmaster and I'm only one of the younger staff — our positions were totally different. His son works for the subway, at another station, about the same age as me. I suppose that made us like father and son, though I never felt much age difference talking to Takahashi. He was never one to pull rank. He was the quiet type, everybody liked him. He was always polite to passengers, too.

    The gas attack didn't upset me to the point where I thought: "I can't take it, I have to change jobs." Not at all. I've been here since I first joined. Can't compare it with others, but I really like it here.

Jacket Notes:

Monday, 20 March 1995. It is a clear spring morning. You get up at the normal time, wash, dress, breakfast, and head for the subway. You board the train, crowded as usual. Nothing out of the ordinary. It promises to be a run-of-the-mill day. You don't notice, but as he is about to leave the carriage a man drops a plastic bag to the floor and punctures it with the sharpened tip of his umbrella, releasing an invisible cloud of deadly nerve gas. On other trains at the same time four accomplices, all members of a doomsday cult, are doing the same ...

    The Tokyo Gas Attack left twelve people dead and over thousands injured; many suffering from after-effects such as blindness, memory loss and paralysis as a consequence of inhaling sarin gas. Japan's leading novelist, Haruki Murakami, both horrified and fascinated by this apparently senseless act, has interviewed as many of the victims as were willing to talk to him in order to establish precisely what happened on the Tokyo subway that day. In Underground the survivors recount their thoughts and feelings at the time, marvel at the slow response of the emergency, services, and reveal how the attack has changed their view of society. We are left with a sense not only of the nightmarish quality of the assault, but also of something amiss in Tokyo itself, perhaps in modern city life everywhere. In the second half of the book, Murakami interviews members of the Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) cult, in the hope that they might be able to explain how their guru, Shoko Asahara, instilled such devotion in his followers and why he resorted to terrorism.

HARUKI MURAKAMI was born in Kyoto in 1949. His works of fiction include Dance Dance Dance, The Elephant Vanishes, Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, A Wild Sheep Chase and Norwegian Wood, as well as the more recent, highly-acclaimed novels The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and South of the Border, West of the Sun. He has translated into Japanese the work of Raymond Carver, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Irving. Underground is his first work of non-fiction.

ALFRED BIRNBAUM has translated Dance Dance Dance, A Wild Sheep Chase and Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World. He has also translated works by Natsuki Ikezawa, Kyoji Kobayashi, Miyuki Miyabe, Tatsuhiko Shibusawa and Gen'ichiro Takahashi and compiled the anthology Monkey Brain Sushi: New Tastes in Japanese Fiction.

PHILIP GABRIEL is Associate Professor of Japanese literature at the University of Arizona. He has translated the work of Senji Kuroi and Masahiko Shimada. He is the co-editor of an anthology of essays, Oe and Beyond: Fiction in Contemporary Japan.

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Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I think It's one of his excellent works. Because he tried to figure out the horrible accident. The way he'd chosen was perhaps unusual and difficult. But it made his work precious and emphatic. You'll look at ordinary people and their lives. You'll also realize why lives are so impressing if you read the process that the victim of the accident has been going through it and why his view is that the accident reflected the dark side of Japanese social universality. Personaly, I think the message is related to all our societies.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am only about half way so far but I have a hard time putting this book down. It gives you a birds eye view to what happened on that horrible day straight from the people there. You will feel as if you were there at many times is a bad thing due to its nature. This is a great book that you wont want to miss. My heart and prayers out to the lost and to the surviors of this terrible event.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago