Underground the tokyo ga.., p.19
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       Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.19

           Haruki Murakami
 

  By the time I got home my eyes really hurt. I could barely sleep for a week. I’d shut my eyes, but they still hurt—the whole night through until morning … that wore me out. So I went back to the hospital for more tests and was told my cholinesterase level was way down and I was showing the effects of sarin. I wish they’d told me earlier. Ever since the Matsumoto incident they knew what the symptoms of sarin were and they must have had testing procedures. And St. Luke’s is one of the better places. Most of the other hospitals were so poorly equipped it was a joke.

  The tests showed my kidney functions were down dramatically. “You’re into the danger zone,” they told me. And it wasn’t just me; others were showing the same signs too. Apparently it had something to do with the alcohol-based solvent they used to thin down the sarin. The kidneys are what they call “silent organs,” so you wouldn’t even know. There’s no pain. They told me to lay off alcohol completely, so I didn’t drink for a long time.

  I ended up taking a week off from work and didn’t do any overtime for the next three months. My boss understood, so that really helped.

  To tell the truth, though, I have my doubts about the police and fire department. Okay, they sprang into action in the beginning at Tsukiji, but even so they were just way too late in coming to help at Kodemmacho. We’d given up on them by the time they arrived. I just wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t taken it upon ourselves to do something. Granted the local police might not have any experience, but they were practically useless. Ask them which hospital to go to, and that hasn’t been established so they’re on the radio for ten minutes. Just a simple question: “Which hospital?”

  The police showed up only after the rescue operation was practically over. Then they began directing traffic for the one ambulance that arrived. I don’t know what’s wrong with Japan’s standby disaster arrangements. After all those sarin gas victims in Matsumoto, they ought to have learned a lesson or two. They’d identified a link between Aum and sarin at that time. If they’d followed that up this whole gas attack wouldn’t have happened, or at least I’d have come away with less serious injuries.

  At the hospital I saw some of the others who had helped me rescue people from Kodemmacho Station. Some were bedridden. We all inhaled sarin. I don’t want to keep quiet about this thing; keeping quiet is a bad Japanese habit. By now, I know everyone’s beginning to forget about this whole incident, but I absolutely do not want people to forget.

  And I’m going to continue to raise objections: why hasn’t any treatment policy been established for posttraumatic stress disorder? Why hasn’t the Japanese government made an accurate assessment of the current health of the injured? I’m going to fight this one.

  “It’d be pathetic to die like this”

  Michiru Kono (53)

  Mr. Kono was born into a farming family in Oyama, Tochigi (north of Tokyo), in 1941, the year the War in the Pacific began. After graduating from high school he got a job through a friend at a printing factory in Kayabacho. This was back when horse-drawn carts were still rolling through the old downtown warehouse districts of Tokyo. You could see right across to Tokyo Station from the rooftops of Kayabacho in those days. He lived in the company dormitory until he was 21. For recreation there was the cinema, or maybe hiking in the hills with his colleagues.

  In 1969, aged 28, he married. He and his wife now live in Soka, Saitama, and have two children, both in their twenties. He’s strongly built and has never once been ill. He swears by eating and drinking in moderation as the root of all health. If he goes out drinking one night, he absolutely refuses to touch a drop the next day, even if his wife forgets and opens a bottle of beer. He’s that strong-willed.

  Now he goes to the pool once a week and swims for an hour. The gas attack sapped his strength, so he began this regime.

  He loves bonsai. Mention bonsai and his face lights up and he’ll talk nonstop. After the gas attack, however, he was so upset and confused, he decided to get rid of his cherished plants. Luckily, he changed his mind, but not before a friend had taken ten of the biggest and best.

  Our company prints account ledgers. I’ve been working there thirty-nine years. Ever since 1957. There was nowhere else to go (laughs).

  Business hasn’t been so good lately. Everyone’s gone computerized, so there isn’t much demand for accounting ledgers.

  Now they just push a button and out it all comes printed. Just tear it off and stuff it in an envelope and post it. Done. So the demand for invoice forms and delivery forms, all that has gone. And it’s going to get even worse from here on. There are eight of us in the company now. We used to have twenty-five.

  The first thing I do when I wake up at 5:30 is water my bonsai. Before I get a drink, the bonsai get theirs. Once every three days is enough, but in summer it’s every day. I’ve got eighty pots altogether, so it takes some doing. At least half an hour. After that I eat, dress, and leave home around 7:00. I walk to Matsubara Danchi Station and catch the 7:17. But that day, owing to circumstances, I caught a different train.

  The fact is, aside from bonsai, I go freshwater fishing as a hobby. I usually take off the next day after I go fishing. You need a lot of gear: high boots, your rod, all kinds of other stuff. Well, I can’t stand not cleaning each piece of equipment myself. That’s just the way I am. So that’s why I take the following day off.

  Generally I and my friends drive up on a Saturday night from Kawaguchi as far as Niigata. We don’t sleep, and as soon as morning comes we start fishing, from dawn until maybe one o’clock. We start downstream and work our way up, then we come downstream and head back to town. When the Kanetsu Expressway is busy traffic doesn’t move at all, so I don’t get home until about nine or ten at night. I take off the Monday after. On that weekend [March 18/19], we’d gone to the Daimon River in Nagano, just below Lake Shirakaba. I got back home at 8:00 on Sunday.

  But the following Monday I was going to be busy, so—much as I would have liked to—I couldn’t take time off. I put off dealing with the big fishing gear and settled for a quick tidy-up, which made me ten minutes later than usual leaving the house. I didn’t oversleep. I never oversleep.

  I change at Takenozuka for the first Hibiya Line train of the morning. I could change at Kita-senju, but it’s so damned crowded. Seven or eight years ago I once had my glasses broken there. I got crushed as they all came shoving in. After that I gave up on Kita-senju. I’ve a much better chance of getting a seat on the first Takenozuka train. Then I read a bonsai book or a magazine.

  But that day I was late, so I took a later train. I sat on the second row of seats on the right-hand side, looking in the direction of the train, by the middle door in the third car from the front. I was asked about this repeatedly by detectives, so I remember it very well. I’ll never forget as long as I live (laughs).

  Actually, the work I was doing at the time had something to do with AIDS. We were printing drug labels for a pharmaceutical company. Two-color labels to stick on the product, and we had to deliver them by March 25. We had to start printing on the twenty-second, so I had to go into work and prepare the plates.

  En route—right before Akihabara, was it?—the train stopped. There was an announcement: “There’s been an accident at Tsukiji Station, we will wait here briefly.” But we weren’t there for very long, so I wasn’t bothered. That sort of thing happens all the time. Then we stopped again between Akihabara and Kodemmacho, and there was another announcement. Something about a gas explosion at Tsukiji Station. They repeated it twice. Which sent a buzz through the car.

  Five or six minutes later, I can’t be sure, the train we were on inched into Kodemmacho Station. Then suddenly I heard a woman scream. A loud piercing squawk like a parrot—at least I think it was a woman. It came from outside the car. “What now?” I thought, but the platform was so crowded I couldn’t see a thing from inside the train.

  Then came another announcement: “We will remain stopped here for a while.” At this point maybe a third o
f the passengers got off, though I remained seated. Judging from past experience, it’s usually best to stay put; the train sometimes starts again. It’s stupid to get caught in the middle trying to change trains.

  Well, I waited for three or four minutes, and again there was an announcement: “This train is being taken out of service.” “That does it,” I thought, and got up. It’s two stations between Kodemmacho and Kayabacho, that’s thirty or forty minutes’ walk. If I hurried I might make it to the office just after 9:00. I took down the paper bag I’d put up on the shelf above my seat and stepped onto the platform. And next to a column a little way ahead toward the front of the train, there’s a man lying faceup, his arms and legs twitching like he’s about to breathe his last.

  I set down my bag against the wall and held his legs to keep them from kicking, but I just couldn’t control them, he was trembling so bad. His eyes were tightly shut. I stayed there for six or seven minutes, just holding him, but in the end he died, I know. He was the eleventh person to die. A Mr. Tanaka from Urawa, 53 years old—the same as me.

  I’m not the sort to just pass people by. Something happens and I’m right there to lend a hand. People are always telling me, “You shouldn’t go looking for trouble” (laughs). But I just can’t look the other way. Close by a woman had collapsed too, and there were about ten people around her. You can’t be too careful touching a woman, but man-to-man you can help out no questions asked. Anyway they were standing around her. I was crouching, so I could see her between people’s legs. Her name was Ms. Iwata, 32 years old. She died two days later.

  I started shouting at everyone walking along the platform, “There’s a sick man here, somebody call the station attendant!” I looked around and there wasn’t a station attendant anywhere on the platform.

  Soon enough one did appear, but he went straight over to the woman, not to where I was. So I yelled, “Hey, over here!” But he said, “There’s only one of me and I can’t be in two places at once.” I heard later that this station attendant ended up in a serious condition and very nearly lost his life.

  I was still crouching there, rubbing the man’s legs, when suddenly I smelled this stink like rotten onions. In the train they said something about a gas explosion, so I knew it had to be gas and I had to get out of there quickly. So I stood up, grabbed my paper bag (I’m amazed I actually remembered!), and made a run for it. Every second counted, so I didn’t even show my travel pass; I just jumped over the ticket barrier and dashed up the stairs, shouting the whole way, “Gas! Gas! Run for it!”

  Everyone else was plodding up the stairs so slowly, completely unaware. More were coming down the stairs to board the train. There were no station attendants anywhere to stop them coming down. When I started yelling, people up ahead were grumbling: “What’s the hurry?” “Hey, don’t push!” Maybe they were afraid I’d start a stampede. But I just pushed my way through them. I ran ahead into a narrow side street, squeezing past the parked cars. I had it in my head that the main roads would be dangerous. I even considered getting in one of the cars parked there, but it was locked. Well, of course it was locked. But I didn’t even think, I was in such a state.

  So off I ran again, this time to a building. I wanted to escape the gas explosion. I found somewhere with the lights on, but it was still early, so the door was locked. I went across the street, when suddenly my eyesight went funny, as if I were seeing fireworks or something. “Odd,” I thought, then ten seconds later my eyes blacked out totally. It was a bright clear day, then out of nowhere this curtain descended and I couldn’t see a thing.

  I couldn’t see, I couldn’t run, but I knew I had to get across the street. I was running almost on instinct. It was a small street, it couldn’t have been far, but I tripped on something and fell. “Ah! I’m going to die like this,” I thought, “I don’t want to die!”

  Then I heard a man’s voice saying, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” I vaguely remember him asking me what company I worked for. I think I held out my travel pass, because it had my company ID card in it, though I can’t be certain. Then everything went black and I don’t recall a thing.

  I came to five or six hours later in a hospital bed.

  I was this close to losing my life. Only three things saved me: (1) I smelled something; (2) I ran out of there; (3) some stranger found me and took me to the hospital long before the ambulance came. If it hadn’t been for these three things, I’m sure I’d have died.

  And thinking back on it now, I’m convinced that Mr. Tanaka, the man who died, said to me when I smelled gas: “It’s too late for me, run!”

  While the other commuters were coming out of the station, then falling like flies, I was in the hospital already getting treatment. With sarin, even a second earlier on to oxygen makes all the difference. I was the third sarin case to be hospitalized. I only heard later that when I was helping the man on the platform, the packet of sarin was just ten meters away from me.

  Toward afternoon my eyes sensed a little light. I still couldn’t see. It was like there were soap bubbles over my eyes. Everything was layered double, triple, and swirling around. My family had come and I could tell there was someone there, but I couldn’t recognize anyone until they spoke.

  It was excruciating. I vomited, but nothing came, just a little fluid. And the muscles in my legs were in spasm. The nurse and my daughter-in-law had to massage them until the evening. I’m sure I was in the same state as the man I’d helped at the station, but he could hardly speak so he must have been in unbelievable pain.

  Seeing me like that, my family seemed to have resigned themselves to the fact that I might not pull through. But by the third day I was over the worst. Though I was in a bad state at first, my symptoms soon went away and I was out of there remarkably quickly. Only from the fourth day I ran a high fever of 39°C [102.2°F] that wouldn’t come down for two days. My kidneys were bad. “No shape to be discharged in,” they said. I was surprised to hear that. I’d had annual checkups at work and always came through 100 percent.

  I was in the hospital for thirteen days, on drips the whole time. Changing the old body fluids. The biggest problem was urinating—I felt like going to the toilet every five minutes. There was nothing to pee out, just a few drops, but I found it hard to sleep when I wanted to take a leak all the time.

  From the fourth day or so, I started having hallucinations. Always the same dream. Just as I’m dozing off it hits me. I’m sleeping in a white room and this white veil comes draping down over my head. It’s fluttering around in the way, so I try to grab it and tear it off, but I can’t reach. It’s not that it’s too high. I just can’t get my hands on it. I dreamed that over and over again every night.

  And while I’m dreaming there’s this strong pressure, like someone’s pressing down full force on my whole body. They say nightmares are one aftereffect of sarin. Well, it’s not quite “dreaming.” The fear stays lodged in the brain and these reactions just occur. But it’s scary while you’re dreaming; you snap awake three or four times a night, and that’s what wears you out.

  Another aftereffect, my eyesight’s much worse. There’s little chance of recovery, so I’m no good at the detailed work anymore. I have to proof layouts, which is difficult if I can’t see precise alignments.

  I took a week off work. The hospital said I ought to take three weeks, but if I took that long off the company would go bust (laughs). I’m in charge of all the plate layouts, with no one else to stand in. Two or three days we can let slide, but no more than that. So the fourth day at the hospital I had work brought in and gave instructions over the phone. I may have been sick, but I wasn’t incapacitated! But you know, I think it contributed to my recovery.

  Later I went back to the subway, boarded the very same train, and sat in the same seat. I even went to look at the place where I fell down. At the time I thought I’d run so far, when in fact I’d only gone about fifty meters at the most.

  For a while after the gas attack I felt like throwing e
verything away. I’m generally good at holding on to things (I still have my plastic pencil case from elementary school). But I wanted to toss everything out. A year later that impulse has gone, but at the time it was like “Nothing’s worthwhile anymore.” I even felt like giving away my most precious bonsai.

  When I went blind, I thought, “It’d be pathetic to die like this.” I even cried out at the hospital: “I don’t want to die!” Someone told me later. They heard me all the way down to the corridor from reception. It gave people goose bumps. Actually, when I was six I nearly drowned swimming in a river, and I remember thinking: “Ah, saved back then only to go blind and die like this …” I didn’t think about my family; I just didn’t want to die. Not there, not like that.

  I have no feelings of hatred toward the Aum perpetrators, not now. At the time I was furious, outraged, but that anger disappeared relatively quickly. “Kill ’em, give ’em the death penalty”—I’m past all that. If you carried around all that hatred you’d never get over the aftereffects, but maybe I can say that because I don’t have any really painful aftereffects …

  “The day of the gas attack was my sixty-fifth birthday”

  Kei’ichi Ishikura (65)

  At 55 Mr. Ishikura retired from his job with a towel manufacturer, and currently works for a rubber cord company in Ningyocho, northeast central Tokyo. The day I interviewed him at his home near Tanizuka Station on the Tobu Isezaki Line in the northwestern suburbs of Tokyo, the place was impressively clean. I mean spotless. Mr. Ishikura gets up at 3:30 A.M., cleans the house from top to bottom, has a bath, then goes to work. Amazing!

 
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