Underground the tokyo ga.., p.15
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.15Haruki Murakami
After this experience we must make every effort to ensure that this prosperous and peaceful nation, built on the labors of previous generations, is preserved and passed on for generations to come. The most important thing for Japan at this point is to pursue a new spiritual wholeness. I can’t see any future for Japan if we blindly persist with today’s materialistic pursuits.
There’s another thing that has occurred to me since the gas attack: I’ve just turned 40 and up to now I’ve been living carelessly. It’s about time I took control of myself, gave some deep thought to my own life. This is the first time I’ve ever had such fears. I’ve been concentrating on my career all these years, So I’ve never known real fear.
“I kept shouting, ‘Please, please, please!’ in Japanese”
Michael Kennedy (63)
Mr. Kennedy is an Irish jockey. Having won countless major races, he is now retired. He was invited to Japan to coach young Japanese jockeys in professional equestrian skills at the Japan Racing Association (JRA) riding school in Chiha, east of Tokyo.
Born in Ireland, he still keeps a family house in the suburbs of Dublin. Healthy and active, he is outgoing by nature and loves meeting people. He really took to Japan, living here for four years with no complaints. The only thing he missed from his homeland, was “conversation.” Away from the big city, English speakers are few and far between—it gets lonely.
Nevertheless, Mr. Kennedy enjoyed passing on his experience to promising young jockeys at the riding school. He always smiled whenever the subject of his students came up.
No doubt the gas attack came as a big shock to him. I don’t know if he’s completely over it. While an attack of this nature makes no distinction between Japanese and foreigners, I sympathize with Mr. Kennedy, caught up in incomprehensible circumstances in a foreign country where he didn’t even speak the language.
Several weeks after this interview, he completed his contract with the riding school and returned to Ireland.
I’ve been in Japan four years now. That’s a long time and I miss my family, but I go back to Dublin twice a year and my wife comes here once, so that’s three honeymoons a year (laughs).
I’ve been a jockey for thirty years. I was an apprentice at fourteen and went professional at twenty. I’ve been lucky. I’ve had some injuries. I’ve broken my ribs seven or eight times, fractured a chest bone, had my shoulder knocked out, but nothing serious, thank God.
I retired in 1979, when I was 47, and I became the manager of a training ground in County Kildare. We had fifteen hundred horses in training. I was responsible for the facilities—the grounds, the tracks, the gallops. During my spare time, we had an apprentice training school, the RACE—Racing Apprentice Center of Education—where I’d go twice a week in the evening and go through racing videos with the kids. Then during the day I’d see them riding on the tracks. I was able to keep an eye on them and talk with them about their riding styles.
Now the JRA—the Japan Racing Association—had affiliations with the RACE, and I met many of these Japanese and gave them some insights into racing. I didn’t know anything about Japanese racing, but the JRA were anxious to get a teacher.
So in March 1992, I came over to have a look at the school and went to racetracks in Miho and Mito. I went to Utsunomiya and Tokyo. I was really impressed by the facilities. Beautiful places. People were very nice to me. I went back to Ireland and told them I was leaving, I was going to take this job. Were they surprised! (laughs).
I live in a special dormitory at the school now. Very nice. I’ve become accustomed to living on my own; I’ve become a real bachelor. In the four years I’ve been in Japan, I’ve seen changes. The standard of riding is much better now. It was a little bit old-fashioned when I first arrived. The younger riders have got more imagination, more flair, but I still think they can improve their technique by becoming more communicative with the horses. Maybe it’s the culture that regards horses as inferior?
I was in Tokyo on March 20. I’d been in town for St. Patrick’s Day. The Emerald Ball was on Friday the seventeenth and I stayed with friends in Omote-sando. It’s sort of a ritual every year. You’d be surprised how many Irish there are in Tokyo.
On Saturday, I stayed the night at a friend’s house in Setagaya. On Sunday I went to a small Franciscan church in the morning, then there was the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. At the parade I met the Irish ambassador, James Sharkey, and he invited me to dinner near his home in Roppongi. I was delighted. It was at the Hard Rock Cafe—very, very informal. We had some drinks—I can’t drink too much, two glasses of beer is my limit—and the ambassador said to me, “You don’t have to go back out to the school tonight. Why don’t you stay at my place?” So I stayed in Roppongi that night.
I got up at 6:30 on Monday morning and said to his daughters, “Tell the ambassador I’ve left.” But the girls insisted I stay for breakfast. Then I took my time and strolled down to Roppongi Station to get the subway. I was going to take the Hibiya Line as far as Kayabacho, then come out to Nishi-funabashi by the Tozai Line.
As I came down the steps at Roppongi, the first train was moving out and it was packed. This was around 7:30. The next train came and half the front carriage was empty. I couldn’t believe it—half-empty—great! I entered at the rear door of the carriage and there was this big pool of some oily substance and a ball of newspaper—as if somebody had been mopping it up. I think actually it was still leaking out of the container that was wrapped in newspaper.
I moved right down the carriage looking at it, walked around it, and sat down, thinking, “What can that be?” Then I noticed that nobody came near it; there was only one other man next to me. Everyone else was at the front of the carriage. “Odd,” I thought, then quickly decided to join them.
There was a girl starting to slump forward. She looked like she’d been crying. One man opened the window a bit because the train was moving now, and I said, “More, more.” This particular gas is a heavy gas, so it sinks down. It wasn’t so bad a stink, but then my sense of smell isn’t so good. It stung my eyes and I began to feel a bit numb.
The next thing I knew, that girl had fallen over. She was very young, only about twenty-one, and she looked in a bad way. I don’t know if she died or not.
When we got to Kamiyacho, we all piled out onto the platform and collapsed. Everyone panicked. We didn’t know what to do; we were left sitting there. People told the driver, and he came and looked, then he went back and made a call on the radio. The station was getting polluted with the fumes, but we all just stayed there.
Now my eyes were beginning to weep too and I wasn’t sure what was happening. Some people lay stretched out on the platform. I was sitting down. My eyes were streaming. I was trying to keep my hand on my shoulder bag, and my other hand held the hand of the unconscious girl. We had to get her out. We went one way, then stumbled back the other way, before we finally made it up the stairs. We got to the ticket barrier, but they were telling us to stay put: “Wait, wait, wait!” they said, and I kept shouting, “Please, please, please!” in Japanese. The girl was leaning on me and commuters were pushing past me.
We stayed huddled there at the top of the stairs, then suddenly a man with a briefcase came down, reached under the gate to open the barrier, grabbed the girl who was in my arms, and carried her up the stairs. Then someone was helping me.
We got out onto the street, and somebody told us to sit on the curb. I thought, “Fresh air, now we’ll be okay,” but then I began to feel really sick. I knew I was going to throw up all over myself, so I leaned to the left and was sick on the road. I think maybe it was lucky I vomited, because it attracted attention when the ambulances came ten minutes later. By then I’d reached the panic stage, thinking, “Why doesn’t someone come and help us?”
I knew it was gas, obviously. And it affected me so badly; I felt so ill. I knew it was something serious, because it was getting progressively worse. The others were just sitting around, some with handkerchiefs over
When we got off the train, my first thought was to sit and wait for the next one. I really thought I’d be okay but no, it was deadly stuff. And then the train continued on from Kamiyacho. It probably had to, but that stuff was still on board.
By then there were about thirty or forty people on the street, sitting around, lying down. I often wonder about that girl who was unconscious. She was the most serious, maybe because she was small and she’d got on who knows how many stations before. I heard a girl of twenty-one had died and I always wondered if it was her. She looked like a secretary—a nice, decent, respectable sort of girl. There was one other foreigner, too. A big, tall man. I wonder what happened to him?
I was one of the first taken by ambulance. I don’t remember the name of the hospital, but it wasn’t too far from Kamiyacho. I was put on oxygen, intravenous drips. I had lots of needles in me. I was in the hospital for four days. JRA people were there the whole time, because Kamiyacho is the headquarters of the JRA. Once I’d been in the hospital a few hours I knew I was going to be all right. The shock of getting worse—you’re out in the fresh air and you should be getting better, but you just feel worse—that was frightening. Once in the security of the hospital my attitude changed. I knew I was out of danger. My eyes were still sore, my head ached, and I was quite sick, but that gradually passed. Then the problem was my kidneys. They had to flush out my kidneys to get the chemicals out of my system.
When I checked out of the hospital, I went back to the ambassador’s house and stayed another two or three days.
I slept very, very little for three weeks. I was afraid to go to sleep. I imagined someone was hitting me with a mallet. Always the same dream. As time went by the blows got softer, then it was only a pillow. Sarin has that effect: when you fall asleep you suddenly wake up again. I was afraid of the dark. I had to leave the lights on. Some nights I didn’t sleep at all.
I was in a sort of trance. I continued to do my work, trying to get back on track. I would come to the office, but I wasn’t really normal. It took a while, but I got better with time. My eyes were still sore, so I had to use drops. I went back to the hospital twice to be checked and I got a clean bill of health.
I watched TV in hospital and I saw myself falling down. I was afraid my wife would see it and be worried, so I called home to Ireland. “Everything’s all right,” I said. My daughter was staying over that night and my wife said: “That was your dad. He’s been in an accident in the subway.” And my daughter ran downstairs and saw me on television! So it’s a good thing I called.
People were very nice. I got letters from people who could hardly write an English sentence, but I understood what they were saying, and it was lovely of them.
Of course, Tokyo is known as a safe city. The gas attack hasn’t changed my opinion of Japan; there’s no country in the world as safe as Japan. Wonderful! If all the world were like Japan, there’d be very little trouble.
I’m not easily frightened. There’s not much I’m afraid of. Men like me grow old but never feel old—and that’s often a danger (laughs). You think you can still do things. It was a frightening experience.
I’ll tell you what’s changed: I took a long, hard look at myself and I said, “Michael, what are you worrying about?” Everyone worries about the smallest things in life and then something like this happens …
No, I didn’t think much about the possibility of dying. Riding horses all my life, I was always flirting with death.
“That kind of fright is something you never forget”
Yoko Iizuka (24)
Born in Tokyo, Ms. Iizuka works at a major city bank. A keen sportswoman, many regard her as outgoing, but she thinks of herself as “laid back.” She isn’t really the type to forge ahead on her own initiative, she seems too polite.
Nevertheless, when you read her account you’ll see that she is clearly not “laid back.” She has a certain moral strength and gritty determination. Yet at the same time, she has her vulnerable, sensitive side.
I know it must have been hard for her to recount that day to a complete stranger. No doubt I made her remember things she would rather have forgotten. I can only hope that this interview helped her to “draw a line under it all,” as she herself put it, after which she can move ahead in a positive direction.
I had the flu on March 20. I’d been feverish for days, with a temperature of 39°C [102.2°F]; it just wouldn’t go down. I took maybe one day off, I’m not sure. I made a real effort to go to work. If I take time off it leaves everyone else in the lurch.
That day I was running 37°C [98.6°F], which was only a slight temperature, less than it had been, but I was coughing like mad and my joints ached from the fever dragging on. Plus I was taking lots of medication, which made it hard to see the symptoms when I got hit with the sarin …
I still had an appetite, though. I always eat a good breakfast. Otherwise I’m in a daze and can’t get my head in gear. I wake up around 5:00, which leaves plenty of time for doing things. I leave home at 8:00, so that’s more than two hours. I can read, watch a video, things I can’t do at night when I come home because I’m so run-down.
But that day I was still a little feverish and I knew that sleep was important, so I got up at 6:30, later than usual. March 20 was an important day for me. I was taking on a new responsibility at work, so that morning I was pretty nervous.
I ride the Hibiya Line from —— Station, then change to the Marunouchi Line at Kasumigaseki. The first car is convenient for changing later, but it’s awfully crowded, so I always take the second car, the rear door. But that day the train came as soon as I reached the platform, so I rushed to get on at the middle door. I moved back in the car and stood about halfway between the second and third doors.
I never hold the handstraps, they’re dirty. I don’t hold anything. When I was little my parents always told me: “You shouldn’t touch the handstraps in trains because they’re filthy.” I’m quite steady on my feet. I play tennis; my legs are in shape, so I’m fine not holding anything. I wear high heels to work, so there’s plenty of spring in my stride.
I always catch the 8:03 Tobu-dobutsu-koen-bound train, so I generally see the same faces. That day a lot of people were coughing, all the way to Roppongi. I thought there must be something going around. “Oh no, just what I needed to knock me flat on my back again,” right? So I took out a handkerchief and covered my mouth.
But when the train reached Roppongi, about five people came running out of the first car and said something to the station attendant at the head of the train. The station attendant’s always standing at the very front of the platform at Roppongi, but these passengers just flew out of the car as if they’d been dying for the doors to open. I saw them and thought, “That’s odd, what’s going on?” They seemed to be complaining about something. This meant the train left Roppongi a little behind schedule.
Just before Kamiyacho, the person next to me said, “I can’t see.” Then someone collapsed. To my left, people were just tottering then falling down. From that moment on the train there was complete chaos. A man was shouting, “Everyone open the windows! Open them or we’ll die!” And he went around opening windows from one end of the car to the other.
When the train reached the station, people were shouting; “Everyone had better get out!” “Get off! Get off!” I didn’t know what was happening, but decided to get off anyway just in case. The person who’d said “I can’t see” got off too, but then collapsed on the platform. A man went to the driver’s cabin and started pounding on the window. The station attendant was at the rear end of the Kamiyacho platform, so he let the driver know something was wrong.
Sarin had been left by the third door of the first car. The door where I usually get on. I saw it when everyone left and the car was empty. A square parcel. Liquid seeping out and forming a puddle. I remember thinking, “That must be the cause of it all.” But until everyone got off the car was too crowd
I’m told the old man who sat right in front of the parcel died. He was foaming at the mouth by the time the train reached Kamiyacho. Completely unconscious apparently. People lifted him up and helped him off the train.
Several people collapsed on the platform. A few of them fell over flat on their faces. Lots more were crouching or propping themselves up against the wall. I asked the man who had said “I can’t see” if he was all right.
I knew it was an emergency, but to be honest it didn’t occur to me that it was anything really serious. I mean, what can happen? Japan’s a supersafe country, isn’t it? No guns, no terrorists, hardly anything like that. It never occurred to me I might be in danger or that I had to get myself out of there. I mean, just walking the streets there are people who fall ill, aren’t there? Normally at times like that you ask, “Are you all right?” Just one passenger helping out another.
I knew something was a little “off” the moment I boarded the train. I could smell something like paint thinner or nail-polish remover. A smell that packed a punch, but I had no trouble breathing or queasiness or anything. Not at Roppongi and not at Kamiyacho. I’d had that handkerchief over my face the whole time, so maybe that kept me from breathing in so much sarin on the train. Still, I had gone over to people who had collapsed and spoken to them. I’d been rubbing up against them—maybe that’s when my eyes were affected.
The train behind ours had already left the previous station, so our train quickly pulled out with the first car empty. An announcement said: “The train will proceed to Kasumigaseki. Please take any car other than the first. All the rest are still in service.” My main thought was, “I can’t be late for work.” Of course, I felt bad about leaving people just lying there on the platform, but it was an important day for me so the pressure was on not to be late.
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes