Underground the tokyo ga.., p.18
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.18Haruki Murakami
“What’s the good of asking someone like me with only mild symptoms?” he said initially, and was reluctant to be interviewed. “There are far more serious cases around. I’m nothing.” No, I explained, it wasn’t a question of how badly he was affected, it was his viewpoint—his experience—that mattered.
I’m from Kumagaya in Saitama [about two hours northwest of Tokyo]. I went to work for a clothing manufacturer as soon as I graduated from school, then soon moved to my present company. It was your typical “one-room setup,” what was then called a “condominium company.” A small operation, with only about ten employees. Though we’re much bigger now.
Starting a company is easy, and it’s not uncommon for such a venture to grow into a big operation. It all depends on the abilities, the vision of the designers and owners themselves. On the other hand, if that vision slips, then the whole thing goes wrong. With precision machine manufacturing there’s an accumulation of technical know-how, so short of some grievous error nothing’s ever totally ruined. But you can’t stockpile vision and creativity—they’re more perishable, like fresh fruit. Making it big is no guarantee of success. There have been lots of companies that made it big, only to disappear.
I’ve been with my company for thirteen years, and seen it grow just like that. We now have our own direct retail outlets, with about 350 employees. My section is Business Planning: we deal with the “making” end, the actual production. Our office is in Hiro-o [southwest central Tokyo].
I live to the east in Edogawa Ward; my train station is Nishi-kasai. I got married ten years ago and bought a condominium. I like living in that old part of town. I can relax there.
March 20 coincides with our spring fashion sales peak, which keeps us pretty busy. Those happy-go-lucky people who can take a long weekend are a world apart from us. We had our weekly Monday morning meeting, same as ever, starting around 8:45. That’s forty-five minutes earlier than usual, which is how I ran smack into the gas attack.
I changed at Kayabacho from the Tozai Line to the Hibiya Line for Hiro-o, but didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary while I was on the train. I was in the middle, probably the sixth car. After Hatchobori there was an announcement: “Some passengers have fallen ill. We will be stopping briefly at Tsukiji, the next station.”
At Tsukiji there was another announcement: “One … no, two of the ill passengers have fainted.” Like that, very real-time. Then it was: “Three passengers down!” The conductor was in a panic. At first he seemed to be relaying information to the passengers, but gradually he got himself in a muddle. Then it was: “Hey, what is this?” The man was yelling into the mike.
I thought: “Uh-oh, sounds like trouble.” But nobody seemed particularly distraught. If the same thing happened today, make no mistake, it’d be a madhouse. As for myself, for a moment I remembered the Matsumoto incident. Not that I went so far as to think it was sarin or anything, but the thought of the Matsumoto incident did carry associations of “scattering poison.” The thought did cross my mind: “Some crazy’s probably sprinkled pesticides or something.” I didn’t know anything about Aum then, however. Wasn’t it a little later before Aum was implicated?
We were told to leave the station by the rear exit, there being some kind of disturbance toward the front of the train. Everyone was well behaved and slowly walked back toward the exit. I was wary, so I put a handkerchief to my mouth just in case, but no one else did. I felt like the only one who sensed any danger.
I was curious what was going on, however, so while people were still lining up at the exit, I looked at the TV monitor at the very end of the platform and saw someone lying unconscious. As I was looking, though, a station attendant shouted at me: “What do you think you’re doing? Just get outside!”
When I reached the surface I saw quite a number of people squatting down, rolling over, sprawled out. They were all rubbing their eyes. I decided I had to see what was going on for myself. I couldn’t just walk off and leave them. So I went up on a footbridge for a better view of the whole scene. So much for my meeting.
Soon an ambulance came, blocking off the traffic on the opposite street. They put up a big tent and carried the injured in on stretchers one after another. Eventually a crowd of onlookers gathered and squeezed me off the bridge, so I left.
After that I took the Ginza Line to Shibuya, hoping to catch a bus to Hiro-o. Good thing I remembered the bus, which I sometimes take. But the bus terminal was more crowded than usual, probably because there was no Hibiya Line. That’s when I spotted a young colleague—24 or 25—leaning against a railing, and a woman from the office trying to hold him up. She didn’t know anything about the trouble on the Hibiya Line at the time, however, and just thought it was anemia or something, which isn’t uncommon in the morning. She was rubbing his back, saying, “You okay? You okay?” He’d apparently taken the Tozai Line, then changed to the Hibiya Line, same as me.
“What happened?” I asked, but all he could say was, “In the subway …”I knew, however, how many people had collapsed at Tsukiji, so it came to me in a flash: “This is no mild case of anemia. This is serious.” We had to get him to a hospital quick. So I went straight to a phone booth and dialed 119, but all I got was: “All of our ambulances are out on call at the moment and cannot come to you. Please remain where you are.” They were all at Tsukiji and Kasumigaseki.
So I went to the police post in front of the subway station to try to get some kind of help, but word still hadn’t reached the police there; when I rushed in spouting off about an “incident in the subway” the officer had no idea what I meant and simply couldn’t be bothered. I realized this wasn’t going to work, so I decided to hail a taxi and take him to the hospital myself. The woman and I held him up between us and told the cabdriver to go to the Red Cross Hospital in Hiro-o. That was the closest.
My colleague was in pretty bad shape. He couldn’t stand. He was in pain and could barely utter a word. He was in no condition to tell us what had happened. If I hadn’t passed by, I doubt anyone would have done the right thing for him. People would have had no idea. And it would have been difficult for the woman to drag him to the taxi rank on her own.
We were the first sarin victims at the Red Cross Hospital. People there were practically shouting, “We got our first one!” It didn’t occur to me at the time that I might be affected too. My nose was running, but I just thought I’d caught a cold. I wasn’t aware of any other symptoms. Once he was with the doctors I called his parents to explain what had happened. Getting a call through wasn’t easy, and it was after 2:00 before his parents made it to the hospital. By then the place was packed with sarin victims. People were spilling out into the corridors, all of them on IVs.
I’d been there since the morning and soon got to know all the nurses. One of them said, “You might as well get tested yourself,” and I thought, “Why not?” so I had myself examined. Here I’d been in hospital half the day and still hadn’t had a single test… Well, sure enough, my pupils were contracted, though so slightly that things didn’t look any darker. Still, I got myself hooked up to an IV for an hour, just in case.
I remember a carpenter who’d cut his finger came dashing into the hospital all covered in blood, only—poor soul—he couldn’t get anyone to so much as look at him. It was like, “Can’t you see we’re treating sarin victims here?” I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. He looked a lot worse all bloody like that.
After the IV I went back to the office. My nose was still running, but that didn’t matter at work. Afterward I went home as usual. I’d been traveling in a different car from the one with the sarin, so I got off lightly. I’d only been examined as an afterthought, once I’d taken my colleague to the hospital, and for that I got my name in the newspaper.
My young colleague is no longer with our company. He left a year ago, but it was nothing to do with the gas attack. He was fine by then. I don’t know what’s become of him since.
I was hardly affected, so my impres
“We’ll never make it. If we wait for the ambulance we’re done for”
Naoyuki Ogata (28)
Mr. Ogata works in computer software maintenance. I met with quite a few people in computer-related work in the course of compiling this hook. According to Mr. Ogata, “There are lots of software companies along the Hibiya Line”—for reasons unknown. Mere coincidence?
Common traits among those in the software industry seem to be: (1) “they’re extremely busy;” (2) “they change employment frequently.” Mr. Ogata, however, has worked steadily for the same company since he graduated from school. This is quite exceptional in his field and he is much admired by his peers. Long-term employment or not, he’s as busy as the next man. Not that any salaryman I talked to ever said, “Oh, we’re on easy street. Loads of free time.”
Just for the record, the people in computers I’ve met were never “nerds.” Mr. Ogata is an average clean-cut, articulate young man—he had just turned 30 when I met him, but he hardly looked it—and a useful member of society.
Perhaps it was this side of his character that made him remain so long in the danger zone to help the injured, when his subway train hit disaster at Kodemmacho Station. As a result he received a big dose of sarin gas and ended up as affected as the many he’d saved. He reserves any feelings of resentment for the emergency services that were so ill-prepared to help out in a crisis of this kind.
I was born in Adachi Ward [north Tokyo], and have always lived in the same place. Officially it’s Tokyo, but it’s almost all the way to Saitama. My parents, sister, and I all live together. Another sister is already married and has moved out. My work keeps me busy. I have lots of responsibility, so I work myself into a frazzle. I’ve complained to my boss for I don’t know how long, but he doesn’t listen. When the work piles up, I’m at it twelve, thirteen hours a day—that’s par for the course. I work overtime, but I don’t claim too much or my boss complains. But if I didn’t do overtime, the work would never get finished.
So why are we so busy? Intercompany competition, I suppose. Lately whenever I go somewhere on business, there are always two or three other companies in on the act too. You can’t sit around twiddling your thumbs. Weekends I just sleep, or maybe visit friends. I’ve got two computers at home and I use them for work, too. That’s right. On my days off. I don’t want to, but there’s simply no end to the work. I’d never get it done otherwise (laughs). My parents have given up on me. “Enough is enough!” they tell me, “why is it only you have to kill yourself?” But no matter what they say, I still have to do it.
If you’re over 30 in computing you’re out of it. They keep coming out with new systems and standards, and it’s harder to keep your head above water. The best guys in our company are mostly around 22, 23. When they’re past that they’ll usually leave the company. Nobody stays in this field forever.
My company’s in Roppongi. I catch the bus around 7:00 to Gotanno Station, then take the 7:42 or 7:47 Hibiya Line train for Naka-meguro. It’s incredibly packed. Sometimes you can’t even get on. Crowded as it is, though, even more people squeeze in at Kitasenju. You’re just squashed in like the filling in a sandwich. I’m talking physical harm. You feel like you’ll be crushed to death, or suddenly your hip’s thrown out of joint. You’re all twisted out of shape and all you can think is, “It hurts!” You’re just mangled up in the middle of all this, with only your feet in the same place.
It’s quite literally a pain to commute like that every day. Come Monday morning I always think, “Maybe I won’t go in today …” (laughs) But you know, even though your head’s saying, “No way, I don’t want to go!” your body just automatically sets off for the office.
If everyone had a computer hooked up to the office, there’d be no need to commute. Even now it’s not impossible. You can even hold meetings by conference call. You’d only go in to the office maybe once a week—perhaps it’ll happen one day.
On March 20 I missed several trains because they were delayed due to fog on the Tone River. I ended up catching the 7:50-something, which, because of the delay, was packed tight. It was terrible. The previous Friday I’d come down with a cold and had a temperature, so I’d taken the day off. But I was back on the job on Saturday. I had to change over a system for a customer. I took Sunday off and slept the whole day. On Monday I was still a bit out of things; I really wanted to take the day off, but I’d already told my boss I’d go in.
Quite a few people got off at Ueno Station, so finally I could breathe. I’d somehow held on to a handstrap. What do I do while I’m on the subway? Nothing. I’m just thinking, “Gaah, I want to sit down!” (laughs).
That day the train stopped between Akihabara and Kodemmacho. Then there was an announcement about an explosion at Tsukiji. “The train will be stopping at Kodemmacho,” it said. “Shit,” I thought, “first the fog, now this accident. It’s just not my day.” I was already seriously late.
The train stopped just that once, then went on to Kodemmacho. I was certain it would start again sooner or later, so I waited on board. But not long afterward there was another announcement: “This train is stopping here. We do not foresee moving on again.” What could I do but get off? I decided to take a taxi the rest of the way to the office. So I walked up the stairs to the ticket barrier and went above ground. Suddenly I met with the most amazing sight. People were dropping like flies all over the place.
I’d taken the third car from the back and had absolutely no idea what was happening at the front of the platform. I was just heading up above ground, swearing under my breath like everyone else, when right before my eyes I saw three people fall down and foam at the mouth, their arms and legs twitching. “What the hell’s going on here?” I thought.
Closest to me was this man whose limbs were quivering, he was trembling all over and foaming at the mouth, having some kind of seizure. I just looked at him and my jaw dropped. I knew it was serious and rushed over to ask him what had happened. I could see he needed immediate care. That’s when someone who was still walking by said, “Him foaming like that is dangerous, you’d better stuff some newspaper in his mouth.” So we both helped him. After that all these exhausted people kept coming up from the ticket barrier below, then dropping to the ground. I couldn’t work out what had happened. Some of the people sitting down suddenly just keeled over flat out.
It was a strange sight. Off toward the back of the next building, this old man—I mean really old—wasn’t breathing and there was no pulse. He’d gone motionless just where he lay. “Did anyone call an ambulance?” I asked the person nearest me. “They called,” he said, “but none came.” Then somebody else said: “We’ll never make it. If we wait for the ambulance we’re done for.” We decided we had to try stopping cars and asking the drivers to help move everyone out.
The traffic light had just turned red, so we all jumped in front of the cars and begged them: “Please, you have to take us to St. Luke’s.” That was the nearest hospital. We went for vans mostly, thinking they could carry five or six people. Everyone stopped for us, and once we’d explained the situation they were understanding and took us.
I must have been doing that for an hour, helping carry across those who’d dragged themselves up above ground. We passed them along like a relay team. We divided ourselves up between the “people carriers” and the “car stoppers.”
The ambulances just didn’t come. Finally one ambulance did show up, but only after about half an hour. It had come from miles away because all the others were at Tsukiji. One ambulance!
I went to the hospital by taxi too. I’d been so busy helping people, by the time I’d finished I was showing symptoms myself. The main reason was I’d gone back down to the platform. Word was that a s
The fallen station attendant was barely conscious and muttering something about, “No, no, I have to remain here in the station.” He’d somehow leaned against the ticket barrier and still he was saying, “I have to stay here.” We had to drag him out of there by force.
I didn’t think twice about going down to the platform. Scared or not, I wasn’t even aware of it; we were too desperate. All I knew was we had to help. There were only a handful of people still on their feet, how could we not help? Going back down, there was a paint thinner-like smell. I remember thinking, “Odd, who dimmed the lights?” My pupils were contracted.
After we’d carried out all the injured and got our breath back, I was trying to get a taxi to work when I started to feel sick. My head hurt, I felt nauseated, my eyes itched. The others told me, “If you’re feeling strange you’d better go to the hospital.”
Three of us shared a taxi. One guy had come up from Osaka or Nagoya on business, and he was grumbling: “Why did this have to happen today? I just got here.” I sat in the front seat; the two men in the back were pretty dizzy, so we wound down the windows all the way. The roads were jammed. Tsukiji was sealed off and there was no way of getting to any backstreets, so we had to head straight down Harumi Avenue, which was packed, a real mess.
They tested my eyes at the hospital and put me on a drip straightaway. The place seemed like a combat hospital, IV drips lining the corridors … I got two drips, then, since my symptoms weren’t so bad at the time, I went home. The doctor even asked me, “Are you going home or staying?” but I was so worked up, as if I’d just left a war zone, I didn’t even notice if I was tired or weak or anything.
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