Underground the tokyo ga.., p.17
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       Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.17

           Haruki Murakami
 

  Now there’s nothing especially wrong with me. Well, maybe my memory is worse. Not things slipping my mind so much as total memory loss. It’s just gone completely. So whenever anyone tells me something I make a point of jotting it down. Otherwise I’ll forget.

  I’ve used isopropyl alcohol for about ten years in my work and I’ll always recognize that smell (laughs). But you know, later, on the news, I found out that they actually do use isopropyl alcohol to make sarin. I just knew it.

  “In a situation like that the emergency services aren’t much help at all”

  Masanori Okuyama (42)

  Mr. Okuyama struck me as a quiet soul. Admittedly this was a first meeting and we only talked for a couple of hours, so I really can’t say.

  Born and raised in a small town in the northeast, he went to a local college. The eldest of three, he was, by his own admission, “a well-behaved child; always did what I was told.”

  A very lenient father, he hardly ever scolds his two children. When I asked if he was worried about how they would fare in the world, he answered, “I’m not so concerned.”

  He works for an interior-design-goods manufacturer, wholesaling to department stores and large supermarket chains. Unlike in most sales jobs, he doesn’t need to do much entertaining or give away free gifts. These days clients are strict about not accepting favors so as to avoid collusion with suppliers, “which makes it easier to separate work from my personal life.” He commutes to work via the Hibiya Line to Kayabacho.

  On his days off, he watches TV or occasionally plays games on his PC. He doesn’t go out drinking with colleagues and drinks only one bottle of beer a day at most. He knows his limit.

  On March 20 I wasn’t especially busy at work, but it being the end of the fiscal year there was plenty to do. The next day was a holiday, so I left the house an hour earlier than usual. I wanted to get there ahead of time to tidy my files, that sort of thing. I’m pretty sure I took the 7:50 train from Kita-senju. I usually take the second car from the front.

  Once the train reached Kodemmacho, there was an announcement telling us to get off. There’d been an explosion in the train ahead, something like that. So everyone got out. I stood waiting on the platform, thinking that sooner or later either the train would start moving again or the next train would arrive. I was there maybe one or two minutes, when suddenly a man near me started screaming. He was about twenty meters away. A strange, unfathomable sort of cry. Soon he was led away somewhere.

  About the same time I realized: “Hmm, something’s odd with my breathing.” Not a very profound thought, just sort of “What’s this now?” Then … that’s right, a woman crouched down nearby, but again I only thought she was sick or not feeling well. Soon after that, though, there was another announcement over the PA: “Everyone please evacuate the station.” They gave some reason, but I can’t remember what.

  The exit at Kodemmacho Station is right in the center of the platform, so people at the front of the train had to walk back to leave. I’m not too sure of the timing here, but I got back on the train and passed down through the cars because the platform was so crowded. Halfway, however, I saw someone had collapsed. That I know for sure.

  On the platform again I seem to vaguely remember a puddle of something behind a column. That and the smell—similar to the solvents they use at construction sites … it gave me a stuffy feeling. I’d always had asthma since I was small, so I thought maybe that had something to do with it. Anyway, none of the passengers seemed to be in any hurry; they just strolled toward the ticket barrier.

  Once outside I looked around and saw someone lying down, foaming at the mouth, and another person trying to help. Lots of people were just sitting around, their noses running, eyes streaming. It was an extraordinary sight. I had no clue what was going on. All I felt was a sense of imminent danger. “There’s no way I’m going to make it to work,” I thought. “This is serious, so I’d better just sit still for a while.”

  So I stayed there. Standing at first, then sitting down. All of a sudden my field of vision got smaller, darker. On top of which I became light-headed. The explosion and the person screaming and people falling down, none of it came together in my head. I had no inkling that these things had anythingto do with me. I just sat there looking at it all and thinking, “No, I’d better stay put.” Instinct.

  Whereas most people, although they were in a bad way physically, still tried to get to work somehow, to go somewhere. That just seemed so strange to me. They could hardly walk—in fact, one guy near me was crawling!—it was so obvious they were in no condition to go to work. One woman was struggling to her feet and I told her, “If you’re feeling ill, you’d better just sit.”

  Otherwise I didn’t talk to anyone. I don’t know what other people did, whether they talked among themselves … Of course, I wondered what was happening, but I didn’t ask anyone else about it. I wasn’t in any great pain or nauseated.

  It took a long time for the ambulances to come. Finally one did—I only saw that one. So in the end, most people flagged down cabs and the drivers agreed to take them to the hospital. It was really obvious that in a situation like that the emergency services aren’t much help at all.

  It was some time later that I took a taxi to the hospital. Four of us traveled in one cab. We weren’t too serious, so there was no great urgency. The others were salarymen. We must have talked in the taxi, but I can’t recall what about. I don’t know why I can’t remember.

  We went to Mitsui Memorial Hospital in Akihabara. I have absolutely no recollection of how we ended up there. Maybe someone directed us. When I got to the hospital, I called the office and they already knew about the gas attack. Two others from work had also been injured. Not badly, about the same symptoms as me.

  I stayed in the hospital two nights. They used a drug to dilate my pupils, so that they eventually got too wide and everything was too bright. My eyesight also got weaker as a side effect. That lasted about a week. Other than that, I didn’t experience much physical discomfort. Just my asthma acting up, which is torture, too, of course, but I’m used to it.

  Whether my fatigue is due to the sarin or not, I can’t say. It’s a gray area. It could be just age … I’m terribly forgetful now. But again, who knows the cause? And back pains—I’d had them before—but recently they come on really strong, which is probably true of most middle-aged men.

  What I find really scary, though, is the media. Especially television, it’s so limited as to what it shows. And when that gets out, it really makes people biased, and creates an illusion that the tiny detail they focus on is the whole picture. When I was out in front of Kodemmacho Station, certainly that one block was in an abnormal state, but all around us the world carried on the same as ever. Cars were going by. Thinking back over it now, it was eerie. The contrast was just so weird. But on television they only showed the abnormal part, quite different from the actual impression I had. It just made me realize all the more how frightening television is.

  “Ride the trains every day and you know what’s regular air”

  Michiaki Tamada (43)

  Mr. Tamada works for the Subway Authority as a conductor. He joined in April 1972. The year of the gas attack was his twenty-third year of service. His official title is chief conductor—a real veteran. His incentive for seeking subway work was somewhat unusual: he wanted a job where he’d have his “own free time, not like a nine-to-five job.” A subway job offers whole days off with rotating shifts; the work schedule of subway employees couldn’t be more different from the daily grind of an office. An attractive proposition for some.

  The more I talked to him, the more I got the impression that he put a high value on individuality. There’s no real hard evidence to pin that down, just something about his easygoing manner off the job.

  He used to be a keen skier, but had a major injury six years ago and hasn’t skied since. “No other interests to speak of,” he says. He doesn’t do anything special on his days off; he
just relaxes or goes for drives somewhere by himself. He doesn’t seem to mind living alone.

  Never much of a drinker, since the gas attack he’s hardly touched a drop. He took seriously his doctor’s warning that sarin damages the liver.

  He gladly responded to my request to interview him. He wants to do his bit, as he put it, to prevent the gas attack from fading in people’s minds.

  I went to high school part-time, so I was 21 when I joined the subway. At first I just punched tickets, saw trains off from the platform—one year at Iidabashi Station, two years at Takebashi, I think? After that I transferred to Nakano area train duty on the Marunouchi Line.

  You need to pass an exam to transfer from station duty to train duty. Then to become a driver you need to take another more difficult test and a proper written exam, a health check, an interview, this and that. In my day lots of guys took the test, so you really got the cream of the crop. I wanted to switch from station duty to train duty because of the shorter work hours. Nowadays it hardly makes a difference, but in my day that’s how it was.

  I joined Nakano area train duty in 1975 and for the next four years I rode on the Marunouchi Line. Then I switched to Yoyogi area train duty on the Chiyoda Line, and the year before last I changed to the Hibiya Line. When you swap lines there’s lots of things you have to learn again from scratch. The specifics of each station, the layout, the structure, you have to drill those into your head, because otherwise you can never be sure what’s safe. And safety, above all, is what’s important. We always keep that in mind at work.

  I’ve seen close calls any number of times. Nights when people have been drinking, some of them stray near the moving trains … and especially if they’ve been standing behind pillars, there’s no way to prevent it. Then there’s rush hour: everyone stands right on the very edge of the platform where the trains come in. That’s really dangerous.

  On the Hibiya Line, Kita-senju’s especially tricky. There are just so many passengers, all of them lining up, but when it gets to the point where you can’t walk down the platform behind them then you have to squeeze between the people and the trains—and that’s pretty hairy.

  The day of the gas attack, March 20, was supposed to be my day off, but they were short-staffed so they asked me, “Think you might work tomorrow?” Well, it’s all about give and take, so without thinking too much I accepted. The shift started at 6:45 a.m. I reported to Naka-meguro Station first thing and posted the 6:55 to Minami-senju. “Posting” is what we call catching another train to where we board our train of duty. From Minami-senju Station, I headed back in the opposite direction on my train. I don’t recall the exact departure time, around 7:55.

  That day it was packed solid, same as ever. I didn’t notice anything especially different while we were en route until word came in from Central Command: “There’s been an explosion at Tsukiji Station. Please stop the train …”

  I stopped at the next station, Kodemmacho, and read an announcement to the passengers: “We will be stopping briefly as there has been an explosion at Tsukiji Station. We will inform you of the cause of the accident as soon as we know more. Until then, we apologize for the delay.”

  We kept the doors open at Kodemmacho. I left the cabin and stood on the platform, just to check that there were no irregularities.

  Some of the passengers asked me questions: “How long will this take?” I didn’t have any detailed information, so I could only answer, “There was apparently an explosion, so it may take a while.”

  I think we were there about twenty minutes. Meanwhile the train after my train had stopped between Akihabara and Kodemmacho and we were in the way.

  Then a message came from Central that I was to get all the passengers off my train and proceed down the line. The train behind needed to reach our platform. So I made another announcement: “This train is going out of service. All passengers please get out and find alternative transportation where possible. We apologize for any inconvenience.” Then there was another message from Central saying: “This may take longer than we expected.”

  No word came in at all as to what had happened at Tsukiji Station, though we picked up a few hints over the radio. It didn’t make much sense. Had there been an explosion? What was the extent of the damage? All we knew was the place was in complete confusion. “Quite a few people have collapsed.”

  There’s really nothing that can explode on the subway, so I assumed a bomb had been planted. That is, terrorism. Serious stuff.

  After I made my announcement and the passengers all got off, the station attendants checked inside the train. I looked in as far as I could see, then shut the doors and the train pulled out.

  Lots of passengers complained: “You can’t just leave us here.” We explained that there was a train behind us that needed to let its passengers off at this station and apologized.

  We stopped the train in a tunnel between Kodemmacho and Ningyocho Station, only the driver and me on board. After it stopped, I walked the entire length of the train and did one complete inspection. There was nothing out of the ordinary that I could see.

  Only something felt wrong inside the train. After the second or third car I couldn’t help thinking, “Something’s different.” It wasn’t so much a smell; it was just a hunch: “Something’s weird here.” Everyone sweats, so the odor of their bodies, the smell of their clothes leave an indelible mark. Ride the trains every day and you know what’s regular air, and you pick up on anything that’s not quite the same. Call it instinct.

  We waited there for about thirty minutes. I could hear the conversation going back and forth with Central all the time. It became apparent that it hadn’t been an explosion after all. The tone of the conversation slowly changed.

  A new message came in: “Any crew members who feel sick or strange are to report to the office.” I didn’t feel ill.

  By then Kodemmacho Station was in uproar, though I didn’t know it at the time. While we were in the station I hadn’t noticed anything unusual.

  The conductor’s cabin is at the tail end of the train and the sarin injuries were toward the front. Quite a distance, maybe a hundred meters. I’d kept my eyes on the platform and if anyone had fallen I’d have seen them. I’d been on the lookout right up until we shut the doors and pulled out, and there was nothing out of the ordinary on the platform.

  Not long after that I began to feel sick. Everything was looking dim, as if they’d turned out the lights. My nose began to run and my pulse sped up. “Strange,” I thought. I didn’t even have a cold. I contacted Central: “Something’s wrong with me, this is my condition.” “That’s serious,” they said, and we drove on to Ningyocho Station, where I got off while the train that had been at the station pulled out.

  There was a doctor on duty at the station and I went to him and he said: “This is beyond me, go to St. Luke’s or somewhere.” So I rested in the Ningyocho Station office, waiting for the next change of staff. My train couldn’t move until they found a replacement for me.

  As I waited, my condition remained more or less constant. My nose was running and everything kept getting darker. There was no dizziness or pain, though. It was around noon when my replacement finally came and they took me by ambulance to Tajima Hospital. But there were no beds there, so they sent me on to the Self-Defense Forces Central Hospital in Setagaya. Which was more convenient for me anyway, since I live in Machida.

  I stayed in the hospital overnight. The next day my pupils were still contracted, but my nose had stopped running so it was all right for me to leave. I didn’t have any real aftereffects, except maybe I’m sleeping less. Used to be I could sleep seven hours at a stretch, but now I wake up after four or five hours. Not in the middle of a dream or anything: my eyes just open.

  Am I scared? I’m a subway employee; if a subway employee was scared of the subway, he couldn’t work. I may feel kind of uneasy, but I try not to think about it. What’s happened has happened. I try to remember that the important thing is not to l
et something like that happen ever again. Likewise, I’m making an effort not to bear any personal grudge toward the criminals. Grudges don’t do anyone any good. I’m horrified that colleagues of mine died. We’re all like one big family here, but then what can we do to help their families? Nothing. We just can’t let it happen again. That’s the main thing. All the more reason why we can’t forget this incident. I just hope that what I’m saying, when it gets into print, will help everyone remember. That’s all.

  * At the time of going to press Yasuo Hayashi was sentenced to death and is appealing the sentence. Shigeo Sugimoto was sentenced to life imprisonment. [Tr.]

  * Pachinko is a Japanese variant of pinball. [Tr.]

  TOKYO METROPOLITAN SUBWAY: HIBIYA LINE

  TRAIN A738S

  “Some crazy’s probably sprinkled pesticides or something”

  Takanori Ichiba (39)

  Mr. Ichiba works for a clothes designer. I may not be up on the workings of the fashion industry, but I did recognize the name of the boutique run by his company in the upmarket Aoyama district of Tokyo. Come to think of it, I’d even bought a tie at one of their stores. After the interview, I bought a pair of rust brown chinos from the bargain table—and I assure you, if it’s something I’d buy, they can’t be all that radical as fashions go. Their line tends more toward casual traditional wear—what we Japanese call “soft trad.”

  For some reason, people who work in fashion look young. Mr. Ichiba is in his early forties now, but his face is still youthful. He’s not the type to go gently into middle age, but then very likely his profession demands it of him to look—and feel—young, or else. He speaks softly and has a pleasant smile.

  Not that he’s a dreamer or anything; he’s very sharp. On hearing the announcement over the PA at Tsukiji Station, he immediately made the connection: “Could this have something to do with that Matsumoto incident?” His quick wits were also in evidence when he saved a colleague who’d collapsed in front of Shibuya Station and took him to the hospital. And it’s not easy to make clear judgments in emergencies like that.

 
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