Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

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Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
THE_ROCK on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Its difficult to discribe this book in any other terms then to say that Murakami sets out to interview all the people he could find who were in the tokyo subway that fateful day. We get a little background of each person along with a detailed account of how they ended up being a part of so extraordinary while they carried out their ordinary lives .As you read the book it clarifies the way people think in japan and the reaction or lack there of in case something dreadful happens, mostly because they do not expect any malice from within which would cause such extreme damage. It reminded me of the extinction of the dodo. The isolation of a species makes it vulnerable as the fear which is so primal & essential for survival is lost ultimately leading to its downfall.Luckily, (in this case unluckily) the Japanese society has evolved to such an extent that there is not a lot to fear however this does not excuse the government and emergancy services to not have any plans just in case something aweful does happen. I would like to agree with the other reviews i have read about this book that the Murakami would be fasinated by the cult members because they sound like the characters from his novels, which mirror his own thinking about life the universe and everything within it.
Helcura on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Murakami is a good writer of fiction, but he is not a journalist. This book would have been much better if he had collaborated with a journalist who could present the events and issues in a more coherent and complete manner. Murakami's musings on the events and the moral issues are naive and rambling, with occasional phrases that recall the beautiful language the characterizes his fiction.In spite of its weaknesses, this book is still worth reading. The interviews with the victims and perpetrators are valuable and honest, shedding light on both the universalities and the cultural peculiarities of the time and place. Those interested in disasters or in Japanese culture will find the book interesting.Worth reading if you're interested in the subject.
deebee1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A chilling read, this is an account of the Tokyo subway attack in 1995 from the point of view of those who experienced it. The first part is a collection of interviews with survivors or relatives of victims, and the second is a set of interviews with former members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult. The sometimes seeming repetitiveness of the stories (on the way to work, sudden strange smell, etc etc) do not numb but rather emphasize the randomness of acts of devastation that do not differentiate between victims. We are also given a partial picture of the workings of the cult, the leader, and the men who took part in the attack. It gives us an idea of the appeal of such groups, and the motivations of people who join them. There is plenty of food for thought after a reading of this book, and they are not easy to digest.
Voise15 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is very much a book of two parts and I found it extremely difficult to engage with - not because of the subject matter - but because of the narrative style.However, it was worth perservering with the book as much for the anthropological insight in to the Japanese psyche and in to Murakami's own mind as anything else. Murakami writes this book as an outsider coming back to Japan and through the course of the book makes it clear that he is trying to portray a 'balanced' perspective - relaying the viewpoints of the victims and Aum members in a neutral way. In my opinion he fails spectacularly in this, maybe for understandable reasons, as he maskes repeated personal attacks on the Aum supporters he interviews, cross-examing their motives and judging their capacity for mass murder. However, this makes for a good read and actually produces some interesting insights and conclusions.Part one, relaying the victims' accounts of the Tokyo subway sarin attack was delivered in a most bizarrely naive and prosaic style, with a trite summary by Murakami detailing their family history, superior moral values and general stoicism. This perhaps does give some insight in to the Japanses character - there was a complete lack of victimhood and a strong attachment to work as a source of identity.
goddamn_phony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Murakami's fiction is a sympathetic portrait of everyday Japan interspersed with the surreal. While the subway sarin attacks were certainly jarring and unexpected, they don't qualify in the same way as the fantastical happenings in his novels, and I think the book suffers as a result. In his quest to faithfully reflect the subjective experiences of the victims, Murakami doesn't seem to realise that he can do this while allowing himself some creativity with format and style.Nevertheless, the stories the poisoned salarymen desperately trying to get to work on time despite barely being able to see contrast starkly with the profiles of the confused and alienated, yet not unsympathetic, members of the Aum cult, and together they offer a unique window into modern-day Japan and its discontents.
Periodista on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've lived in Japan and already know something about Aum Shinrikyo, so my disappointment may not apply to other readers.It's definitely not the first book to read if you know nothing about Aum Shinrikyo, though. Well, maybe there's enough background material on the Web. Wikipedia has an interesting summary of the beliefs and sf aspects. Read something, anything, first.There's nothing in this book about some previous events that should have set the police in action--a fatal gas release near the Aum Shinrikyo center (in Matsumoto, Nagano) or the murder, along with his wife and child, of a lawyer trying to sue the cult. Nor is there much about Shoko Asahara's background, the cult's tenets (nothing really), the cult's reach in Russia and other countries, nor the proliferation of cults and odd religions in Japan. That last bit might surprise people who haven't lived in Japan. Sure, where aren't there cults? Btu the oft-heard theory in Japan is that the drive to be part of group--a complete-system group--makes them particularly appealing. And you can't live in Japan for two minutes without noticing the powerful need and pressure to be part of a group. It used to be said that that explained why most of the members of the Soka Gakkai were working-class or at least non-salarymen class: they needed something to substitute for the comforts of the salaryman system.As many others have pointed out, this book resembles a workman-like journalist's work. Murakami gives a nod to Studs Terkel in the early pages. But Murakami is a novelist, so you expect or hope that he's be able to stretch farther and make larger connections, especially because he's lived abroad. No, I mean especially because he was never salaryman material; he's always been an outsider (tho it often feels like just about every Japanese person says that), I thought he'd bring some insight into what pulls a person feeling like an outsider to this group, or the person just not satisfied with the purely material compensations that define the good life in Japan.For anyone that's lived in Japan, the lack of preparation and coordination among hospital and emergency organizations won't be any surprise. And of course the reaction to the Kansai earthquake had far more fatal consequences (see also the JAL crash in 1985). Since Murakami also wrote a book about that (which I haven't read), I thought he'd make some comments on that. Or rather: what do the people he interviewed, such as the subway workers or the soldier, think about the fractured response? Aren't they mad, even if they wouldn't say so in a crowded room?Whenever I read the account of an ex-member, and even of a few current members, and he or she would describe being absorbed by books about Buddhism or Nostradamus or philosophy or yoga (oddly enough, not a lot of manga)--so far, so good. But the person never reached the point of disclosing what was so special, what was the final appeal of Aum. I could never catch a glimmer. The doctrine, the practices, friends, the camaraderie? Perhaps there's never a satisfying answer to such questions, but it had to be something that these folks had been mulling over themselves.The Wikipedia article mentions that after Aum had been in its yogic and meditation phase for several years, Asahara made a decision that he had to be charismatic and "rebranded" the religion. Yet the charisma and Asahara himself don't seem to be a big deal in the accounts of the ex-members. This seems to come from a book by the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism. He's quite a clear writer for a psychiatrist, so it's probably a more satisfying book than this one. Something else Murakami doesn't touch on at all: the advertising, pr, the high profile of the religion: what does that have to do with the "Japanese psyche" in his subtitle? why did it become so popular, so fast?What is revealed about the Japanese psyche doesn't in
Tinwara on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting read. The book starts out with interviews of some of the victims of the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo underground, March 1995. Not knowing so much about this attack, this was interesting, yet after a while also a bit repetitive. The stories are sad, shocking, and even a bit scaring for a commuter like me. They made me wonder: how would I behave in such a situation? How different are the Japanese from Europeans, or do commuters all over the world behave the same? Are we commuters a scaring kind of subculture, living hours of our days in public transportation, no communication with our fellow travellers, absorbed in our own thoughts and worlds, like zombies? Do we get stuck in this zombie world even if we experience a life threatening attack? Do we prefer to continue on to our jobs, even if we cough, even if our vision is seriously troubled, even if our fellow travellers are left on the ground, mortally wounded? This is what struck me most, how these people had their routines, and wanted to stick to it to the utter end. And now, most of them find it hard to talk about this event, because most of all, they want to forget, continue the old routine. What fascinated me more, however, was the second part of the book containing interviews with Aum followers and former followers. The interviewees were not involved in the Sarin gas attack, not even indirectly, but they were part of this cult. Who were these people? Were they really the monsters that were described in the media? It struck me - and it feels a bit cruel to say this - that these people were so much more interesting characters. It seemed to me that Murakami really did his uttermost best to write down the statements of the victims with a lot of respect, and that he sincerely detests the gas attack, let me be clear about that. But in the end, he too was more interested in the people who committed the crimes, or were at least part of the organization responsible for the attack. Having read several of Murakami's novels I am not amazed by his interest in the Aum followers. These people seem to have more than a few characteristics in common with Murakami's main characters. Most of all, they wonder about the world, about the meaning of life, they feel they cannot adapt to the routine of daily life, they do not feel at home in a capitalist and materialistic world, they are looking for a kind of spirituality that they can't find in the standard religions. They feel they need to retreat from the "normal world" to find a deeper truth within themselves. This reminded me strongly of the guy in the Wind up bird chronicles, the guy who sat at the bottom of an empty well for I don't know how many days.It seemed to me that in the short notes of the author, the preface, the conclusions, Murakami is visibly searching for answers within himself, answers to questions like: why do I - and my main characters - have so much in common with these people, could I have committed a crime as horrific as this gas attack, where did it all go wrong? How did all these intelligent and sympathetic people end up in a crazy movement? In the end, he seems rather happy to have found at least one difference, which is that he accepts the confusion and the illogic ways of reality, that he uses them in a positive (literary) way, instead of turning away from them like the Aum followers did. Still, he isn't that sure, ending his book with the sentences: "That might very well be me. It might be you."
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
You know how Hakuri Murakami is wacky and zany and nutso? Well, not in Underground. He's a Serious Journalist. I was like a third grader in the last hour of the day; I could hardly keep my seat. But plug away I did, as Murakami interviewed victim after victim. And so on and so on. Good news: I'm finished with one more dusty BookCrossing book.
rubberbandeffect on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book just after moving to Tokyo. My reading time was usually on the train, so I think this book terrified me more than it should have. It was a great way to learn more about the culture, detatchment, and a certain desire for spirituality I saw in Japan. Murakami's non-fiction is as gripping and questioning as his fiction.
aannttiiiittnnaa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fascinating book following the events surrounding the `Sarin¿ nerve gas attacks that took place on 20th March 1995 on the Tokyo underground train system, carried out by members of the Japanese cult AUM. Murakami has done an excellent job in his documentation of the event, speaking to both victims and perpetrators alike, in order to get the full picture of this terrifying and senseless act. Providing an insight into the considerable aftermath these events have had on the consciousness of the Japanese people as a whole. Very sensitive handling of his material, written from a highly personalized perspective, he manages to get to the heart of the matter without resorting to sensationalism or tabloid mentality. Well researched, with much persistence in some cases in getting the victims to come forward to talk. Second Murakami book I read after 'Kafka On The Shore' and pleasantly surprised by his none fiction writing.
jobbi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Harrowing emotional accounts of the Tokyo sarin gas attacks.
ethanr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of the Tokyo subway bombing as told by the victims and some members of Aum. Very redundant, it took me a while to appreciate how he told the story. I was a little freaked getting on the subway after finishing the book.
wandering_star on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Underground" consists of two parts (published in Japan as separate volumes): 60 interviews with victims of the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attack - mostly survivors, with some family members of the victims and a couple of medics - followed by interviews with eight former or current members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult.Murakami's aim in the first part (explained in a final chapter) was, firstly, to humanise the stories of the victims, and secondly to understand whether there was anything within Japanese society which made the cult, and the attack, possible. He also wanted to work on something specifically Japanese, to mark his return from living in the US.He certainly succeeded in his first aim - the stories of what individuals actually experienced on the day may seem quite similar, but they gradually build up a very effective picture of the horror of the events of that day, all the more terrifying for the everyday setting.I'm not so sure about the second. Some of the details certainly seem to me to be typically Japanese - the fact that people carried on struggling to get to work even though they could hardly see or walk, the small number of voices who were angry at the unco-ordinated reaction of the emergency services, the fact that very few of the interviewees talk about their personalities when describing how they reacted to events - but most of it could have happened anywhere. Even the cult members interviewed are recognisable personalities - the nihilistic teen, the woman who turns to spirituality after starting to question whether there's more to life than parties, karaoke and meeting men. I found their stories more interesting than those of the victims - partly because it's an experience which I can't imagine ever having (and a good insight into the way that people were brainwashed), and partly because the stories themselves are more varied. But what they all have in common is that they were attracted to the cult because its worldview was easier to deal with than the contradictions and confusions of the real world - life within the cult was tough, but there was a clear system of rewards and punishments for your actions - very seductive when you are used to it, and probably the reason why it was possible to order adherents to carry out such horrific crimes. This book is, in many ways, Murakami's response to this argument - the accreted detail of seventy lives explicitly stands against the totalitarian logic of a cult like Aum. It is a deeply humane work, much more than simple reportage.
ibbetson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I first heard about this book when NPR's This American Life read excerpts from it in one of their shows. It sounded fascinating. Murakami lets his interviewees tell their own stories, which gives the reader an authentic feel for their experiences and personalities. Unfortunately, because he does this without benefit of a unifying narritive voice, the book doesn't flow very well. Each story is told in its entirety, becoming its own plot unto itself. I can understand that he wanted to make each victim's experience as important than the overall event, but for me it made the book feel redundant. With each successive interview, that morning in March, 1995 began over and over again. While frustrating, Underground paints an interesting portrait of the Japanese psyche. For the same reasons it failed as a documentary, I thought it was excellent as a social commentary. You get a feel for the personalities (and idiosyncracies) of the victims, and what drove many of them to remain in the subway that morning after it was clear that something was horribly wrong. Also, I would also recommend that anyone unfamiliar with Tokyo geography keep a good map of handy.
chaosbloom More than 1 year ago
If you never heard of Murakami and you like history or interested in the Japanese culture, then you should try this book. This book is divided into two parts, one where the Aum sarin attack victims are interviewed and the second where the Aum members are interviewed. For some readers, including myself, the second part was hard to digest due to Murakami and his interviewees taking on a philosophical approach. This book took me around three weeks to finish because I usually savor non-fiction books but if one reads on their own pace, then you'll be able to grasp some of the things that the interviewees were talking about. One tip I have is to do some research along with this book because there are a lot of terminologies (ranging from medical to theocratical) being used and if one skips them over, it kind of makes this book look bland. Overall, it's a good book to read when it's raining or bored because it feels like you're learning something in an AP World History class.
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