Underground the tokyo ga.., p.13
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.13

           Haruki Murakami

  Last March when the gas attack took place was very busy for me, with classes four or five days a week for about ten hours. In fact, that was the reason I was gassed by sarin.

  My student that day worked in a company in Otemachi, which I get to on the Marunouchi Line. The class started at 9:00. Yes, rather early, but many of them want to get the lesson finished before office hours.

  That morning I left home around 8:00, and took the 8:32 subway train from Ikebukuro Station. That way I’d be right on time for the 9:00 class. Get off at Otemachi, up the stairs, perfect.

  Ikebukuro Station is the end of the Marunouchi Line, so empty trains sit waiting to depart on either side of the platform. That day the train was waiting on the left-hand side, with a lot of people on board already. People were lining up on the right-hand side, but that train still hadn’t arrived. I decided I’d still be in time if I waited for the next train. They usually come in at two- or three-minute intervals. I felt a little run-down, so I wanted a seat.

  The train pulled in, and I got on at the first door of the second car and sat on the right-hand side. The train started moving toward Shin-otsuka. Trains in Japan are quiet in the morning, right? The passengers hardly say a word. Quiet as it was, though, there were a lot of people coughing. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “everyone’s coming down with colds!”

  Well, the Marunouchi Line gradually heads above ground after Shin-otsuka: Myogadani, Korakuen … at Myogadani Station, the exit’s at the Ikebukuro end of the platform, so not many commuters get off at that station. Only that day, strangely enough, a lot of people got off. “That’s odd,” I thought, but I didn’t pay much attention.

  People were still coughing away like before, and the car interior looked awfully bright—or what I took at the time to be brightness, though thinking back on it later, it was yellow, or rather a light pearl tinged with yellow. I’ve fainted from anemia before, and it was like that. You’d have to have experienced it yourself.

  Gradually it began to feel suffocating inside. It was a new car, so I thought the smell had something to do with the new materials or glue or something. So I turned around and opened the window. But no one else was opening their windows. I paused, then opened another.

  I’ve always had a weak respiratory system, I get terrible sore throats and coughing when I catch a cold. Maybe that’s also why I’m so sensitive to synthetics. It was still March and not warm outside, but I couldn’t bear not to open the windows. I didn’t see how the other passengers could put up with that strange smell. No, not strange …

  It wasn’t a pungent smell. How can I explain? It was more of a sensation, not a smell, a “suffocatingness.” I opened the windows to get some ventilation. This must have been between Myogadani and Korakuen. When the train stopped at both those stations, lots of passengers got off, but there was no reaction whatsoever from anyone to my turning around to open the windows. No one said a thing, everyone was so quiet. No response, no communication. I lived in America for a year, and believe me, if the same thing had happened in America there would have been a real scene. With everyone shouting, “What’s going on here?” and coming together to find the cause.

  Later, when the police asked me, “Didn’t people start to panic?” I thought back on it: “Everyone was so silent. No one uttered a word.”

  The people who got off the train were all coughing on the platform. I could see them through the train window.

  After Korakuen it got more and more suffocating, the yellow tone more and more intense. I began to think, “I’ll never make it to work today.” Still, I thought, I should do my best to get there. So I stayed on the train, though I decided to switch to another car once we reached Hongo-sanchome Station. By then the car had really emptied out, vacant seats here and there. Which is truly unheard of! Usually the trains are packed at this hour of the morning.

  I decided to exit by the middle or rear door. I couldn’t stand it anymore. Suddenly I saw this man wearing a policeman’s uniform and white gloves enter the car one door ahead of me, lift up a newspaper-wrapped object with both hands, like this, and carry it out. A station attendant on the platform brings out a plastic bin and in it goes. Two or three station attendants were rushing back and forth. This all took place just as I was stepping out of the car. The image of the policeman’s white gloves and how he lifted up the newspaper bundle is etched on my mind even now.

  The train was stationary for a long time. I moved two cars back. The car was practically empty, you could count the passengers on one hand. I felt absolutely awful. My eyes were twitching, like muscular convulsions, though they didn’t hurt, but everything was yellow.

  Only three people got off at Awajicho: a woman in her twenties, a man in his fifties, and me. Strange as it must seem, when I got off I thought, “This has to be sarin. My pupils are contracted, aren’t they?” As part of my job, I read the newspaper thoroughly every day and watch the news without fail. I knew about the Matsumoto incident, which is when I first encountered the term “pupil contractions.” *

  Oddly enough, I was extremely calm. I knew it was sarin. Faced with a critical situation of unknown origin, I must have mobilized my entire stockpile of knowledge.

  There were only three of us on the platform: me, the young woman, and the middle-aged man; which is unheard of for a Marunouchi Line platform at that hour! The woman sat down on a bench, her face in her hands, pressing a handkerchief to her mouth as if in pain. The man kept repeating, “Something’s wrong, something’s wrong,” and wandering about the platform; then saying, “I can’t see! I can’t see!” (I heard later that he became completely paralyzed, but I don’t know that for a fact.)

  “This is insane,” I said. “We have to get to a hospital.” I somehow helped the woman up and, together with the man, we headed for the station office. The station attendant seemed flustered, but he did try to call an ambulance. The trouble was no one at the emergency number would pick up the phone. Now, that was scary. Only then did I feel real fear. Everything I’d believed up until then just crumbled.

  From that moment on it was total chaos. Which is to say, the train we traveled on was later than the rest of the “sarin trains,” so by then the other stations were already in a panic. Our Marunouchi Line train had already been to Ikebukuro and back with the sarin on board.

  One thing still bothers me, though. At Ikebukuro Station, when they clean the train and close the doors, they always inspect inside the cars. The station attendants check to see if anyone has left anything behind. Could they have accidentally missed it? If only they’d looked around more thoroughly.

  There was no getting through to the emergency services over the phone, so the station attendant decided we’d better just walk. The hospital was only a two- or three-minute walk from the station. A young station attendant escorted us there. It was a good thing we got off the train when we did. If we’d gotten off at Hongo-sanchome, we’d have been with the sarin packets in a tightly enclosed space, which would have been disastrous. *

  I took several months off work after the gas attack. I had trouble breathing. My job involves talking a lot, so that presented real problems. Of course, I was furious. As I said before, it was fairly obvious that Aum were the culprits … But to tell the truth, stronger than any anger now is the feeling that I just don’t want to remember anymore. Between the time I was hospitalized and the time I was sent home I wanted to know everything that had happened; I was devouring the news on TV, but now I can’t stand it. I’ll change the channel. I don’t ever want to see another image of the gas attack. Out of anger, out of consideration for those who were sacrificed and those who still suffer. Even now when a report touches on the gas attack, something tightens in my chest. I swear, I never want anything like this to happen ever again.

  Hearing the reports on Aum, the more I learned about their background, I came to realize that there was no point in even giving them the time of day. At least now I’ve stopped yelling at the television screen. These people have a comple
tely different ethic, they think differently from us, they totally believed in what they did; I just can’t see there’s any room for tolerance. They don’t live in this world, they’re from another dimension … once I realized that, I could contain my rage a little. Though of course, I still want to see them properly sentenced in court.

  The question I hate being asked most of all is: “Do you have any aftereffects?” I’m getting on with my life in the belief that I’m fine, with no medical problems to speak of; though this is virtually a first in medical history, so that does leave uncertainties. I just can’t bear anyone asking me that. Although my dislike of being asked if there are aftereffects might itself be a kind of aftereffect.

  Somewhere in me there must be a wish that everything that happened could be banished to another dimension, to just hide it away somewhere. If it were possible, to banish it from the face of the earth …

  If this were only half a year later, I’d probably have refused to be interviewed. But now being interviewed, thinking back on it, I realize I haven’t traveled on that route since. Hongo-sanchome is one of my favorite places, but I haven’t once been back. Not that I’m scared … it’s just a problem for me.

  * Masato Yokoyama was sentenced to death in September 1999. He is appealing the sentence. Kiyotaka Tonozaki was sentenced to life imprisonment and is appealing the sentence. [Tr.]

  * On June 27, 1994, sarin gas was released in a neighborhood of Matsumoto, central Japan, killing seven people and injuring hundreds more. For months after the incident, the Matsumoto police singled out one of the victims, Yoshiyuki Kouno, as their prime suspect. The media dubbed him the Poison Gas Man and he received hate mail and threats against his life (while his wife lay in hospital in a vegetative state). Eventually the blame shifted to the Aum cult and Japanese officials, newspapers, and TV stations publicly apologized to Mr. Kouno. [Tr.]

  * Ms. Nakayama was hospitalized for five days in Emergency Care receiving specialized treatment.



  The team of Toru Toyoda and Katsuya Takahashi planted sarin on a northeastbound Hibiya Line train leaving Naka-meguro for Tobu-dobutsu-koen (Tobu Animal Park). Toyoda was the perpetrator, Takahashi his driver-accomplice.

  Toyoda was born in 1968 in Hyogo Prefecture, near Kobe, west central Japan, and was 27 at the time of the attack. One of the many science-trained “superelite” converts to Aum, he studied applied physics at Tokyo University Science Department and graduated with honors. Progressing to an elite postgraduate laboratory, he completed his master’s and was about to go on to doctoral studies, when he threw it all away and took vows.

  Within the cult hierarchy, Toyoda belonged to the Chemical Brigade under the Ministry of Science and Technology.

  On the defendant’s bench at his trial, his hair was close-cropped and he wore a white shirt and black jacket. He glowered at everyone, his sharp cheekbones accentuating his thin face. It was the severe scowl of a serious young student. There’s a certain courage, a fiery “seeker-after-truth” streak about him. He’s the type that never rests once he has set his mind on something—he likes to see things through to the end. Or perhaps he is more the type of person willing to martyr himself for a principle. He’s sharp-witted, but is apparently interested only in direct, quantifiable objectives.

  A longtime practitioner of Shaolin kick-boxing, he keeps his backbone amazingly straight. Chin down, face turned to the front, eyes closed ever so slightly (or politely) as if in meditation—throughout the entire trial proceedings, he maintained that posture and never let it slip. Once only, when there was some unusual movement in the courtroom, did he gently open his eyes, and even then his gaze never met anyone else’s. His bearing seemed that of an ascetic undergoing the strictest discipline—or perhaps he actually was in training the whole time.

  The contrast could not have been more marked between Toyoda and the spoiled, self-satisfied Ken’ichi Hirose seated next to him. There was just no knowing what Toyoda was thinking or feeling. It was as if he’d absolutely blocked out any wavering of emotion by sheer force of will.

  On March 18 Toyoda received his gas attack orders from his superior at the Ministry of Science and Technology, Hideo Murai. Until then he had been involved with the cult’s Automatic Light Weapons Development Scheme and had dirtied his hands in various illegal activities, but even he was shocked by the plan to release sarin on the subway. With his abundant knowledge of chemistry and having also participated in the secret manufacture of sarin at Satyam No. 7, he could easily imagine the tragic consequences of the plan. It was nothing short of random mass slaughter. And he was being asked to take part himself.

  Naturally Toyoda anguished over the possibilities. To an ordinary person with normal human feelings, even entertaining the notion of such an outrageous act must seem inconceivable, but Toyoda could not criticize a command from his master. It was as if he’d climbed into a car that was about to plummet down a steep hill at breakneck speed. At this point he lacked both the courage and the judgment to bail out and avoid the coming destruction.

  All Toyoda could do—and this is exactly what his colleague Hirose did as well—was adhere to the teachings ever more zealously, to crush all doubts; in short, to shut down his feelings. Rather than leaping out of a speeding car by his own will and judgment, then having to face the consequences, it was far easier just to obey. Toyoda steeled his nerves. Resolution, rather than faith, would see him through.

  Toyoda left Aum’s Shibuya ajid at 6:30 in the morning, and headed southwest in a car driven by Takahashi toward Naka-meguro Station on the Hibiya Line. On the way he purchased a copy of Hochi Shimbun and wrapped his two plastic packets of sarin in it.

  His assigned train was B711T, departing at 7:59 for Tobu-dobutsu-koen. He boarded the first car, taking a seat near the door. As usual at this early hour, the train was crowded with commuters on their way to work. In all probability, for most of those who traveled with him, March 20, 1995, was just another ordinary day in their lives. Toyoda set down his bag by his feet, nonchalantly took out the newspaper-wrapped sarin parcels, and dropped them to the floor.

  Toyoda was on the train a mere two minutes. When it stopped at the very next station, Ebisu, he unhesitatingly punctured the sarin packets several times with his umbrella, rose, and left. Then he rushed up the stairs to the exit and out to Takahashi’s waiting car. Everything went according to schedule.

  Driving back to the Shibuya ajid, Takahashi started to show symptoms of sarin poisoning—this was the only miscalculation in the operation. Liquid sarin from Toyoda’s umbrella and clothes were taking effect. Luckily for him Shibuya is not far and there was no lasting damage.

  The tip of Toyoda’s umbrella went straight through the plastic packets, spilling all 900 milliliters of liquid sarin onto the floor. Around the time the train reached Roppongi two stops later, passengers in the first car began to “feel strange,” breaking out in a panic just before the next station, Kamiyacho. They struggled to open the car windows, but even that was not enough to prevent the harmful effects. Many tumbled out onto the Kamiyacho Station platform and were taken by ambulance to hospital. Miraculously only one person died, though 532 were seriously injured.

  Train B711T continued to Kasumigaseki with its first car empty, then all passengers were evacuated and the train taken out of service. *

  “What if you never see your grandchild’s face?”

  Hiroshige Sugazaki (58)

  Mr. Sugazaki is executive director of the Myojo Building Management Corporation, a subsidiary of Meiji Life Insurance. A typical Kyushu man, hailing from the westernmost main island of Japan whose native sons are known to be ambitious and forthright—not to say stubborn—Mr. Sugazaki has an innate dislike of anything “crooked.” He has always been quick-tempered, which perhaps explains why he changed school five times. The son of a sake brewer, he for some reason hardly ever drinks.

  He is small in
stature, but tough and slim with an assertive posture, and you can hear the confidence in his voice. His powers of recall are frighteningly good. As the incredulous policeman taking down his account put it: “You have to suspect there’s a screw loose when someone remembers everything in such vivid detail.” At home he is the total master of the house and a strict father who has kept his three daughters so completely in line they have never once answered him back. They don’t make them like him anymore.

  I don’t want to give the impression that he’s totally inflexible; he also has a more laid-back side. “In the old days,” he says, “I used to be very no-nonsense, but lately I’ve mellowed as a human being. At the office I try not to overextend myself, but rather underplay my role—like a lantern in broad daylight.”

  After the gas attack, Mr. Sugazaki was rushed to the hospital. His heart and lungs had stopped working. Both the doctors and his family had resigned themselves to the possibility that he was already gone, but after three days in a coma he miraculously came back to life. A true life-or-death struggle.

  I wake up at 6:30, eat a simple breakfast, and leave the house at around 7:05. I get the Toyoko Line to Naka-meguro, which takes thirty minutes. It’s not too crowded, though I almost never find a seat. If an express comes along I’ll always change. I’m a man in a hurry.

  If I do get a seat, I read. Though I haven’t done much reading since the gas attack … I like history books. At the time I was reading Zero Fighter. Long ago I used to dream of flying, and I still take an interest in airplanes. I was page-turning straight through on the Toyoko Line, a fascinating read. Which is why I didn’t notice we’d reached Naka-meguro.

  We line up in rows of three on the Hibiya Line platform. I usually line up around the third car from the front, but I was so preoccupied with my book I ended up farther back, about the sixth car down.

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up