On a clear spring day in 1995, five members of a religious cult unleashed poison gas on the Tokyo subway system. In attempt to discover why, Haruki Murakmi talks to the people who lived through the catastrophe, and in so doing lays bare the Japanese psyche. As he discerns the fundamental issues that led to the attack, Murakami paints a clear vision of an event that could occur anytime, anywhere.
About the Author
Date of Birth:January 12, 1949
Place of Birth:Kyoto, Japan
Education:Waseda University, 1973
Read an Excerpt
TOKYO METROPOLITAN SUBWAY LINE
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 Aum 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 car of the southwestbound 7:48 a.m. Chiyoda Line, running from the northeast Tokyo suburb of Kita-senju to the western suburb of Yoyogi-uehara, Hayashi punctured his plastic bag of sarin 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--Aum 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 "superelite." 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 Aum 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 Aum. 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 caliber 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 favorites and was appointed Minister of Healing.
Once he had been called upon to carry out the sarin plan, Hayashi was brought to Aum's general headquarters, Satyam No. 7, in Kamikuishiki Village near Mt. Fuji, at 3 a.m. on March 20, 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 practice," 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, tape, 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 car, Hayashi wavered slightly. "If I unleash the sarin 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 cars were cleaned.
Two people were killed and 231 suffered serious injuries from Hayashi's sarin drop alone.*
*Ikuo Hayashi was sentenced to life imprisonment. At the time of going to press he was serving time in prison and Tomomitsu Niimi was still on trial [Tr.]
"Nobody was dealing with things calmly"
Kiyoka Izumi (26)*
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 Railways (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 "midcareer" 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 . . .
*Numbers in parentheses refer to the age of the interviewee at the time of the Tokyo gas attack. [Tr.]
At the time I was living in Waseda [northwest central Tokyo]. My company was in Kamiyacho [southeast 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 thirty 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 March 20 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 traveling in the first car 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 car was coughing away like mad. I knew there was something strange going on in the car. 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 car. 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 Railways there'd been an accident. That's when an announcement came over the station PA. 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 was 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 Railways. 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 the 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 color of the handkerchief; it was just some print. I don't remember whether I told him to wave it or tie it to his side 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 backseat 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 afterward 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 members [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 the 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 thirty 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 the 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 coldlike symptoms for a week after that. I had this asthmatic cough, and three days later a high fever, with a temperature of over 40?C [104?F]. 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 passersby 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 sarin 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 toward 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 oversensitive 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.
Table of Contents
|Map of the Tokyo Subway||xi|
|Tokyo Metropolitan Subway: Chiyoda Line||9|
|Nobody was dealing with things calmly||12|
|I've been here since I first joined||19|
|At that point Takahashi was still alive||26|
|I'm not a sarin victim, I'm a survivor||30|
|It's not even whether or not to take the subway, just to go out walking scares me now||40|
|The day after the gas attack, I asked my wife for a divorce||45|
|Luckily I was dozing off||50|
|Everyone loves a scandal||54|
|Tokyo Metropolitan Subway: Marunouchi Line (Destination: Ogikubo)||59|
|I felt like I was watching a program on TV||63|
|Looking back, it all started because the bus was two minutes early||66|
|That day and that day only I took the first door||74|
|If I hadn't been there, somebody else would have picked up the packets||78|
|I was in pain, yet I still bought my milk as usual||84|
|The night before the gas attack, the family was saying over dinner, "My, how lucky we are"||87|
|Tokyo Metropolitan Subway: Marunouchi Line (Destination: Ikebukuro)||104|
|"What can that be?" I thought||107|
|I knew it was sarin||112|
|Tokyo Metropolitan Subway: Hibiya Line (Departing: Naka-meguro)||118|
|"What if you never see your grandchild's face?"||121|
|I had some knowledge of sarin||127|
|I kept shouting, "Please, please, please!" in Japanese||132|
|That kind of fright is something you never forget||138|
|Tokyo Metropolitan Subway: Hibiya Line (Departing: Kita-senju; Destination: Naka-meguro)||143|
|I'd borrowed the down payment, and my wife was expecting--it looked pretty bad||146|
|In a situation like that the emergency services aren't much help at all||150|
|Ride the trains every day and you know what's regular air||154|
|Tokyo Metropolitan Subway: Hibiya Line|
|Some crazy's probably sprinkled pesticides or something||159|
|We'll never make it. If we wait for the ambulance we're done for||164|
|It'd be pathetic to die like this||170|
|The day of the gas attack was my sixty-fifth birthday||177|
|Tokyo Metropolitan Subway: Kodemmacho Station|
|I saw his face and thought: "I've seen this character somewhere"||183|
|He was such a kind person. He seemed to get even kinder before he died||191|
|He was an undemanding child||202|
|The very first thing that came to mind was poison gas--cyanide or sarin||215|
|There is no prompt and efficient system in Japan for dealing with a major catastrophe||220|
|Blind Nightmare: Where Are We Japanese Going?||224|
|Part 2||The Place that was Promised|
|I'm still in Aum||251|
|Nostradamus had a great influence on my generation||265|
|Each individual has his own image of the Master||277|
|This was like an experiment using human beings||292|
|In my previous life I was a man||304|
|"If I stay here," I thought, "I'm going to die"||317|
|Asahara tried to force me to have sex with him||333|
|No matter how grotesque a figure Asahara appears, I can't just dismiss him||346|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
Harrowing emotional accounts of the Tokyo sarin gas attacks.
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.
"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.
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.
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.