Underground the tokyo ga.., p.14
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       Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.14

           Haruki Murakami
 

  As soon as the door opened I turned right and got a seat. But then a woman came along and squeezed herself in, the fourth person in a seat meant for three, so that things were a little tight. “Well,” I thought, “better get my book out now. People get the wrong idea if you start fumbling around later.” I pulled out the book and carried on reading. I only had ten or twenty pages left and I wanted to finish it before I reached my station. But at Hiro-o, I looked up to see this man sitting directly to my left wearing a leather coat. I was still wrapped up in my book, but around Hiro-o it really began to get on my nerves. Leather coats often smell funny, don’t they? A disinfectant or nail-polish-remover kind of smell. “This guy stinks,” I thought, and I stared him right in the eye. He just stared back at me with this “You-got-a-problem, mister?” look.

  But it really did stink, so I went on staring, only he doesn’t seem to be looking at me. He’s looking past me to something on my right. I turned around to look and saw something about the size of a notebook lying at the feet of the second person on my right. It’s like a plastic pack. In the news, they said it was wrapped in newspaper, but what I saw was plastic, and something spilling out of it.

  “Ah, so that’s what’s making the place smell,” I thought, but I still just sat there. By that point, the third person to my right had gone. It must have been around Hiro-o or Roppongi I noticed that.

  Soon everyone was saying, “Open the windows—it stinks.” So they all open the windows. I remember thinking, “It’s so cold, can’t you just put up with the smell?” Then an old lady sat down next to me. It was all wet under her feet, so she stood up and moved to a seat opposite, walking straight through the pool of sarin.

  There’s nobody left at the back of the car. Everyone’s moved to the front, saying, “It stinks! It stinks!” This was around the time we’d reached Roppongi. By then my head was spinning. I heard the announcement, “Next stop, Roppongi,” and I thought to myself, “I really must be anemic today.” The symptoms were pretty much the same: a little nauseous, can’t see so well, breaking out in a sweat.

  Still, I didn’t connect it at all with the smell. I was utterly convinced it was anemia. Lots of my relatives are doctors, so I’m familiar with the smell of medicinal alcohol or cresol. I thought maybe some medical person had dropped a bag of something and it had leaked out. “But why can’t someone pick it up?” I thought. I’m a little angry by now. Honestly, our morals have declined so far of late. If I’d been a bit more sound of body, I would have picked it up myself and tossed it out onto the platform.

  But then after Roppongi, where the train slows, I knew something was wrong. My anemia was so bad I decided to get off at Kamiyacho and rest for a while, maybe let two or three trains go by. But when I tried to stand I couldn’t get up. My legs had gone. I grabbed the handstrap and sort of dangled from it.

  I moved from strap to strap until I reached the pole near the door. Finally I stepped off the train, my hand out ready to catch myself at the far wall of the Kamiyacho platform. I remember thinking: “If I don’t make it to that wall and crouch down, I’m gonna fall and hit my head.” Then I blanked out.

  Actually, I hadn’t left the train. I’d grabbed the stainless-steel pole and just slid down to the floor. What I thought was a wall was in fact the floor of the car, which felt chilly to my right hand. They ran a photo of me in the tabloids, so I could see later what happened.

  They videoed me too. I was seen on television, lying like that on the car floor. I was flat out for at least half an hour. Nice and spread out (laughs). Then the station attendants carried me away. You can see it in the videos.

  I came to in Toho University Omori Hospital, but I don’t know when that was. Maybe that afternoon of March 20, when I had a moment of consciousness, then fell unconscious again.

  When I finally came around for good, I was told I was well enough to move to the general hospital wing. It was March 23, though I was utterly convinced it was the day after the gas attack [March 21]. I had no awareness at all. But then, no awareness is paradise. True nothingness.

  I didn’t have any near-death experience or anything like that. Only, I swear I heard a faint roar of voices coming from far off on the wind, like kids cheering at a baseball game, something like that, but hushed and indistinct, cut off now and then by the wind …

  Actually, around that time one of my daughters was pregnant—in her fourth month, was it? I’d been anxious about it. It would be my first grandchild. Well, apparently my sister-in-law came in and said to me: “What if you never see your grandchild’s face?” Until then I’d shown absolutely no reaction to anything anyone had said, but this I heard and suddenly regained consciousness. My daughter had been at my side, saying, “Dad hold on! Don’t die!” and all I had heard was a vague murmur. But “What if you never see your grandchild’s face?”—those were the only words that reached me. My grandson was born in September, and thanks to him I came back to life.

  I didn’t regain consciousness for three days, and after that my memory didn’t quite connect. Something somebody told me only half an hour before would go clean out of my head. That seems to be characteristic of sarin poisoning. The company president came to visit me several times, but I don’t remember him being there, or what we talked about. I hope I didn’t slight him. They say he dropped by ten times and I don’t remember a thing.

  It was only around the eighth day that my memory began to kick in again. It was about that long, too, before I could eat real food. I had no physical symptoms: no eye pain, no headaches, no other pains, no itching. I didn’t notice that my vision was odd.

  I probably shouldn’t say this, but all the nurses were beautiful! I even said so to my wife: “Nurse So-and-so is so beautiful. They say beautiful women are cold, but she’s so kind.” For some time after I carne around, I was convinced everyone in the world had turned beautiful on me (laughs).

  I found nights at the hospital frightening, though. Lying in bed, I’d brush up against the bed frame and I’d feel like a cold, damp hand was about to drag me into the darkness. There was always someone around during the daytime so it was all right, but at night when I’d be trying to sleep, my hand or foot would touch the frame, and that cold hand would pull me under. The more conscious I became, the better my memories linked up and these frights got worse. I didn’t recognize them as hallucinations; I was sure there was a dead person in the ward whispering, “Come with me! This way, this way …” It was scary, but I couldn’t mention it to anyone. Ordinarily I’m the boss around the house, so I couldn’t admit to being scared (laughs).

  I knew I had to get out of that hospital as soon as possible. If I couldn’t finish the hospital food, I’d get my wife to bag up what I had left and throw it out, to make it look as though I’d recovered. In that way, I was able to force the issue and get released in eleven days. I was supposed to have stayed in for at least fifteen days.

  But back at home it was the same thing. Whenever I stepped onto a tatami mat, whenever I touched anything cold, those fears resurfaced. Even when I took a bath by myself. I couldn’t do it alone, I was too scared. My wife had to scrub my back. “Stay with me until I get out,” I told her. “I don’t want to be the last to leave” (laughs).

  Some of the victims are afraid to take the subway, even now. I was scared at first, too. The company thought I’d be reluctant to use the subway and told me to take the bullet train instead. They even offered to buy me a commuter pass, but I turned it down. I didn’t want be coddled, and I didn’t want to run away, either. I went back to work on May 10, and from that very first day I took the exact same 7:15 Hibiya Line train that had been targeted in the gas attack. I even made sure I sat in the same car—the same seat. Once the train passed Kamiyacho, I looked over my shoulder and said to myself, “That’s where it happened.” At that moment I felt a bit queasy, but having gotten it over and done with, my spirits lifted. That wiped the slate clean of any anxieties.

  Those who died from inhaling sarin prob
ably had no idea they were going to die. The last few minutes they were unconscious, after all. There was no time to see their wives, their children. No one could have foreseen something like this was going to happen—there has to be a better way to put it—what I want to say is: what on earth were those people sacrificed for?

  I want anyone who could do such a thing given the maximum punishment. I say this on behalf of the people who died. I can say this because I came back to life—but what did they possibly have to gain from killing them? It wasn’t this; it wasn’t that; I don’t know a thing about it; my disciples did it—all that is just crap. Killing people as if they were ants, all for purely selfish, egotistical reasons, or even just on a whim: It’s unforgivable. I pray that those who were sacrificed may rest in peace.

  “I had some knowledge of sarin”

  Kozo Ishino (39)

  Mr. Ishino graduated from the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) Academy and entered the Air Self-Defense Forces. His present rank is air commander second class—roughly lieutenant colonel in the old military ranking.

  Nevertheless he originally had no strong desire to enter the JSDF, Japan’s equivalent of the Reserves. If anything, he was the “nonpolitical type” as a youth, and could easily have gone to a good university, then found decent—if undistinguished—employment almost anywhere. When his elder brother entered the JSDF Academy, he went along for the admissions ceremony and found the facilities “not bad at all.” Still, he never dreamed he’d be going there himself. He sat the entrance exams merely as “a kind of exercise.”

  He remembers thinking afterward, “Won’t it be great to do something different with my life instead of the typical office grind?”—and he decided to make a go of it, despite the fact that he lacked any spirit to rally to the nation’s defense. According to Mr. Ishino (sotto voce): “There aren’t actually that many in the Defense Academy with that kind of spirit.”

  He’s so retiring, you’d never know he was a military man. He wears a suit to work, speaks ably and affably; truly the competent young technocrat. His profession notwithstanding, he is entirely sincere and straightforward in his worldview and values. He hasn’t a biased bone in his body. Heaven knows, we’d all have problems if he did.

  Many thanks to him for kindly granting me this interview amid an impossible workload and chronic lack of sleep.

  I’ve always liked airplanes a lot, though I never collected models or anything nerdy like that. It’s just that, a human is so small and I wanted to see bigger things. So if I was to enter the JSDF I wanted to be a pilot. But you can’t be a pilot with anything less than 20/20 vision, it’s a rule, and for some reason during my four years in the academy, my eyesight got worse and worse. I wasn’t even studying all that hard … I thought I’d slip by somehow, but, well, I got shot down during the in-flight exams. That only left ground duties, though my heart wasn’t really in it.

  Ever since, my career has been in Attack Intercept Command. There are twenty-eight radar sites around the country that maintain surveillance of Japanese airspace. Should any unidentified foreign aircraft approach, we scramble our intercept fighters and guide them to target. Watching the radar, we send our pilots. That’s our job.

  Knowing that I couldn’t be a pilot, quite frankly, came as a bit of blow, but after thinking things over I realized there still had to be something here for me. My first posting was a radar site at Wajima, on the Noto Peninsula, Ishikawa Prefecture. A bit of a backwater. It’s all right in summer when the tourists come. Young girls, too. But in winter there’s absolutely nothing to do. It was lonely. Being single, the stress builds up. It was a struggle adjusting to that environment at first, but Wajima’s a nice place. It’s like my second home.

  After six years of training there, suddenly I was sent to Tokyo. What a transfer, eh? (laughs) Ever since then I’ve been in Air Recruitment at the Roppongi JSDF headquarters.

  I got married ten years ago. Not long after I transferred out of Wajima to Tokyo. A friend of a friend introduced us. We have two kids, a boy of eight and a girl of five. Bought a house six years ago in Saitama. Caught the “Bubble” right at its height …

  I take the Yurakucho Line from—Station. If it’s not raining, I get off at Sakuradamon and walk to Kasumigaseki. Then it’s the Hibiya Line to Roppongi. It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes.

  Our JSDF work doesn’t really have office hours, each unit is on twenty-four-hour duty. There are shifts straight through the night to deal with anything that might come up. Technically we work in two shifts starting at 8:00 and 9:15. Meetings start around 9:00.

  I come home late, generally about midnight. The kids are asleep by then, of course, but we’ve just got so much to do: upgrading our defense capabilities; furthering U.S.-Japan cooperation; contributing to UN peacekeeping operations—from the smallest projects to the biggest schemes, we’ve got to take care of them. Sometimes it might just be that the photocopier’s broken.

  March 20 falls at the end of the fiscal year, so the workload’s lighter than usual. Quite a few of the men in my section took days off between the national holidays. I wanted to take the extended holiday weekend myself, maybe catch up on a little sleep, but we can’t all take off at the same time, so I went to work.

  The train was emptier than usual. I remember I got a seat all the way to Sakuradamon. There was no meeting that day, so I could take my time. I got to Sakuradamon about 8:20, then walked to Kasumigaseki, and went down to the station platform.

  But when I tried to go through the ticket barrier there was a signboard saying something like: “Due to a bombing just now, all trains have been canceled.” I went on down anyway and there were all these people waiting on the platform. “Well, if these people are waiting,” I thought, “there’s bound to be a train eventually.” So I lined up with everyone else. But there was no sign of a train. I gave up and headed for the Chiyoda Line platform. I could just as easily walk from Nogizaka Station.

  But the platform was so packed you couldn’t move. Well, it so happened that the train on the opposite side of the platform was just waiting there with its doors wide open, so I decided to walk down through its cars. It was a Hibiya Line train from Naka-meguro, bound for Kita-senju. I must have walked through at least four or five cars. There wasn’t a soul on board. A few others were doing the same, though. It didn’t feel the least bit odd to be walking through the cars like that. There was nothing suspicious on the platform, either. It seemed like a perfectly ordinary train that had stopped due to an electrical fault or something. *

  The Chiyoda Line was still running. There were a few delays, but I waited a while and got on a train. Then, just before Nogizaka Station I began to feel listless, lethargic. And when I got off, I was having heart palpitations. It was hard to climb the stairs, but my work is so hectic I’m chronically short on sleep and I often lose track of my health. I thought it was just fatigue from lack of sleep, but then every-thing was dark. It occurred to me they might be testing the lights in the station. It wasn’t until I entered the JSDF building and couldn’t turn my head properly that I thought: “Something’s not right here.”

  At the office it wasn’t long before reports came in on TV about the confusion at Kasumigaseki. The trains had been canceled and everything was in complete uproar. My superior told me, “Shouldn’t you call home and tell your wife you made it here all right?,” so I did. They still didn’t know about any sarin at the time. I imagined it was an ordinary accident. Well, I started to work at my desk, but even typing was difficult—the computer screen was so dark. After a while the announcement came that it was sarin. I immediately thought, “Sarin? I must have inhaled some myself.”

  That’s not to say all JSDF officers are briefed about sarin. But back when I was assigned to the Foreign Ministry we were closing negotiations on a ban on chemical weapons, so I had some knowledge of sarin. And of course I’d heard about the Matsumoto incident, although personally I wasn’t very interested. To be honest, I didn’t believe it wa
s really sarin. I thought it was probably some other toxin. I just couldn’t see anyone being able to produce chemical weapons in Japan. For one thing, they’re not easy to manufacture.

  I remembered that sarin causes contraction of the pupils, so I went to the bathroom and washed my eyes, then looked in the mirror. And what do I see but my pupils are like tiny dots. I went to see the medic and there were already several others there all with sarin injuries. There were a good number of sarin victims in the JSDF headquarters alone. Maybe more than in other places. We start work a little earlier than elsewhere, and lots of people commute on the Hibiya and Chiyoda lines. But to the best of my knowledge, no one here has suffered from any aftereffects. *

  In Europe terrorism is more frequent, if not exactly commonplace, but Japan up to now has had almost nothing like that. I studied overseas in France for a while and all the time I was there I remember thinking, “I’m so glad Japan’s a safe place.” Everyone said so: “We envy you Japan’s safety record.” And then to come home and straightaway this happens! Not only random terrorism, but with a chemical weapon like sarin—it was a double shock.

  “Why?” was all I could think. Even with the IRA, I could at least see things from their side and maybe begin to understand what they hoped to achieve. But this gas attack was simply beyond all comprehension. I’m just lucky to get off with minor symptoms and no aftereffects, though that’s no consolation to those who lost their lives or still suffer from it. The dead are dead, of course, but there are surely more meaningful ways to die.

  I hope they examine the gas attack from every conceivable angle. Okay, I personally feel that the people who did it are unforgivable. Japan, however, is a juridical state. I believe we must have a full debate to satisfy everyone, and use it as a test case of where responsibility lies with incidents of this sort. We must give serious thought to how we can make good such crimes and how any retribution is to be decided. Granted this case is unusual because it involves the unprecedented element of brainwashing, but still we must try to establish general standards. Furthermore, in order to prevent the recurrence of such a terrible incident, there needs to be a public debate about how we as a nation deal with such crises.

 
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