Underground the tokyo ga.., p.20
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       Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.20

           Haruki Murakami

  Not that he especially loves cleaning; he says that he always wanted to do one thing better than anyone else, and it turned out to be cleaning. Despite his claims to be “impulsive by nature” and to “not really think things through before acting,” underneath it all he strikes me as fastidious and iron-willed.

  Mr. Ishikura did not suffer directly from being on the platform or on any of the trains that were targeted. He just happened to be walking past Kodemmacho Station when he saw a victim collapse on the pavement. Concerned, he went down into the station entrance to see what was wrong, and that was toxic enough. A rare case among all those I interviewed. Yet even now he suffers from aftereffects.

  I was born on March 20, so the day of the gas attack was my sixty-fifth birthday. I was born in Ono, Fukui [on the north coast of Japan], near Eiheiji Zen monastery. My family were dairy farmers. We had seven or eight cows, milked them every morning, processed and bottled the milk, then delivered it to about eight hundred houses in the town and surrounding hills.

  My parents were very demanding. When we ate, they fussed over every little thing, like how we raised and lowered our chopsticks. Especially Father, who’d been in a cavalry regiment and had seen his fair share of punishment. I never did get along with Father. The reason I left home and went to Tokyo was because he wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say. A real upstart I was. My big brother was in the army, and around the time he was posted to Manchuria I wanted to leave home, but my parents wouldn’t let me go. “Your brother isn’t here and you just disappear, what’s to become of the business? You stay here and work until such time as we know for sure if your brother’s dead or alive.”

  Then, after the war, my brother was sent from Manchuria to Tashkent in the Ukraine [sic], where he was forced to do hard labor. But since he was a technician, he was valued for driving cars and tractors, and he wasn’t sent home for ages. It was eight years after the war ended, 1953, before he finally made it back to Japan. We didn’t even know if he was still alive until a letter from him arrived in 1950.

  Meanwhile I couldn’t leave home. That milk delivery work, boy, how I hated it! I was coming of age, breaking out in pimples. I’d be doing my milk rounds and have to hide my face for shame every time I met a schoolgirl.

  Once we knew my big brother was safe and sound, Father told me, “So now we know, you can go off wherever you want.” They didn’t need me around anymore, so I made straight for Tokyo. That was in 1951. I was 21.

  I hadn’t really thought things through before going to Tokyo, so naturally I screwed up a lot. It was always, “If only I hadn’t done this, if only I hadn’t said that.” But as soon as I got an idea in my head, I couldn’t rest until—bam!—I’d gone and done it. So bam!—I was off to Tokyo, and there I happened to meet someone from my hometown who manufactured towels and he said, “Come and work with me.”

  I’m ashamed to admit it, but when I came to Tokyo I’d secretly pocketed three thousand yen from my milk round (laughs). In those days three thousand yen was a fair amount. My train fare from Fukui down to Ueno [in Tokyo] cost only eight hundred yen. It was milk money I collected from a dozen or so families. I just stuffed it in my pocket and left.

  As it turned out, I worked for that Nihombashi towel company a long, long time. It was 1984 when I retired, so that makes thirty-three years! I was in sales; I went out and got orders.

  Marriage? I married the year they banned the red-light districts, so that was … 1958, was it? That’s when the bill [The Anti-Prostitution Act, April 1957] was forced through … March 10, 1958. Army Day. I got married that day. I’d gone home for a few days and a neighbor said, “There’s this girl, so how about it?” and I said, “Okay.” Very simple. I thought it was about time I had a family like everyone else. We met the next day.

  My father was furious. He knew about this impulsive nature of mine. “Of all the stupid things! Marrying someone you’ve never even met! It’s not just your problem—there’s the family name to consider.” We had a big row. But thinking back on it now, he was right. I became a father myself, and when my daughter got married I was thinking the very same thing.

  So the next day we met. She came out just once and I didn’t even really get a good look at her face. We didn’t have much to say. Her parents did all the talking; on my side there was just me. She came out for a moment, we exchanged greetings, and that was that. They served me sake. There wasn’t much to like or dislike about her. She was a lot thinner then, and I suppose she looked pretty to me. All I thought was, “She’ll do.”

  Anyway, about the gas attack. That day it took longer than usual to go from Tanizuka to Kita-senju. The train ran slow the whole way. I kept looking around wondering what on earth had happened. When we got to Kita-senju they announced over the PA: “There’s been an explosion at Tsukiji Station, all trains are delayed.” Then it was: “Alternate transport will be provided. Passengers in a hurry should take that.” But I wasn’t in any hurry, so I stayed on the train. Changing would have been a hassle, besides, I still had time before office hours began.

  The train stayed at Kita-senju for about twenty minutes. When it did move again, it was starting and stopping all the time, crawling along. At Minami-senju or Minowa, it just stopped with the door open. En route they announced something about “injuries at Kasumigaseki.” Of course, at that point we didn’t know anything about poison gas, so “injuries” didn’t mean much.

  Yes, we were stuck at Ueno Station for ages. There was another announcement: “This train, will go no farther for the foreseeable time. Passengers in a hurry should please change trains. Alternative transport is being provided.” By then the train was practically empty. Everyone had gotten off, yet somehow or other it made it all the way to Akihabara. Then it stopped completely: “This service will terminate here.” That was about 8:30.

  I decided to walk from there. It’s only two stations from Akihabara to Ningyocho. But when I got to the area around Kodemmacho Station, there were ambulances and people lying down all over the place, even on the sidewalk. “What’s going on here?” I thought. I went to take a look two or three steps down into the subway entrance. But there were people lying on the steps, bent over or huddled up. One station attendant had his cap off and was clawing at his throat, groaning in agony. A businessman was shouting, “My eyes! My eyes! Do something!” Nothing made any sense.

  Back up on street level, over by the Sanwa Bank, in a niche in the building, a girl was trying to help up a prostrate body. There were two or three ambulances on the scene, but that was hardly sufficient. There were bodies up and down the street, not sitting down but lying flat out, writhing in pain, struggling to loosen their collars and ties. People vomiting, too. A girl had vomited and was trying to take out her handkerchief to wipe her mouth, but she couldn’t even manage that. She looked so ashamed, she tried to hide her face.

  Everyone was suffering, bent over in pain, and there was no way to ask, “What’s going on?” Firemen were rushing this way and that with stretchers. There was no time to talk to anyone.

  One girl on the sidewalk was crying, “Help, please!” but when I asked her what had happened she didn’t know. All she could say was, “Please, call somebody.”

  I didn’t see a single policeman, just firemen with stretchers moving around, not really doing anything. Ask any of them about the situation and they couldn’t tell you anything. So I decided to go on to work anyway.

  I walked along Ningyocho Avenue to my company. The weather was clear that morning, yet everything looked dark and cloudy to my eyes. The day was warm; I even worked up a sweat walking, but by the time I was near the office the sun had gone dim.

  I vomited as soon as I got to the office. I went inside and everything looked so dark. I had turned on the TV, then felt sick. I went straight to the toilet and vomited. A whole bucketful, really emptied out my stomach.

  TV news carried first reports about the gas attack. People at the office said, “Ishikura, if you’re sick you’d better
see a doctor,” so I went to a nearby hospital. The doctor told me, “This is just a cold.” “But it’s been on the TV,” I said. Unfortunately the NHK News had said nothing about the attack, so he gave me two aspirins and said, “See, there’s nothing on the news. It’s just a cold. If your head still hurts take another of these at noon.”

  Well, my head did hurt. But I always have headaches, so I didn’t pay much attention. I went back to the office, took the tablets, and immediately vomited again. I really retched, but there was nothing left to thtow up, only water and the tablets I’d swallowed.

  Soon more details came out on the TV. Two people had died at Kodemmacho, about eighty or so others had been taken to St. Luke’s. I rang the police and asked them which hospital to go to, and they said Tajima in Ryogoku.

  My eyes still aren’t back to normal. With my left eye, the sun looks completely overcast, all fuzzy like an eclipse. It was fine before March 20. Now I wear UV filter glasses. I can’t walk outside without them. I can barely see anything on TV.

  I also tire more easily. There’s no energy in my legs and joints. If I’m on my feet for even half a day I can’t get my strength back. The doctor says, “That isn’t sarin, it’s just age.” But do people age—snap!—just like that? It’s very strange if you ask me, but there’s no proof it was the attack.

  My wife says my memory has gotten worse. I’ll start to do something and can’t remember what it was or where I put things. Also, since the gas attack, people say I ramble more. If I start to say something, everyone in the house just wanders off. I had tendencies in that direction before, but lately it’s gotten terrible. I also drink more now. Before I used to drink only sake, but now I’m on whiskey. Drinking alone. I can hardly sleep, so I drink whiskey.

  I get up around 2 A.M. to take a leak, then doze off until around 3:30. That’s when I start dreaming. Often the same dream. I’m walking somewhere and someone bumps into me. I think, “Poor guy,” but it’s me who falls over. And they take me to the hospital, where the person who bumped into me apologizes. I dream that over and over again. When I wake, I’m in a cold sweat.

  I don’t say anything in public, but personally speaking, it’s the death penalty for Asahara. I’d give anyone who did that the death penalty, no questions asked. They say the trial’s going to drag on, but while I’m still alive I’d like to see them clinch it. It’d be insane if I got old and died first.



  “I saw his face and thought: ‘I’ve seen this character somewhere’”

  Ken’ichi Yamazaki (25)

  Mr. Yamazaki was the young man whom Mr. Ichiha found collapsed and unconscious in front of Shibuya Station. It took some effort to trace him, but in the course of conducting these interviews we were able to follow up various leads.

  By pure coincidence, Mr. Yamazaki had been at high school in Kyoto with the Aum High Command’s Yoshihiro Inoue. He saw his old classmate’s face on TV and recognized him immediately: “Hey, that’s Inoue!” He and Inoue had never gotten along, and talking to him it’s not difficult to see why. Mr. Yamazaki enjoys snowboarding, basketball, fast cars (though he says he’s calmed down considerably of late), and is altogether the outgoing sporty type; he would have nothing in common with the dark, introspective, even poetic sensibilities of Yoshihiro Inoue. From the moment he met Inoue on the school bus he thought to himself: “This guy’s off my list. Can’t even talk to him.” Ten years after that initial negative impression, far away in the subways of Tokyo, he was to be visited by a very unwelcome and horrific confirmation of these doubts. Strange are the encounters of a lifetime.

  A dedicated snowboarder, no matter how busy he is, he makes time to go to the slopes with his girlfriend at least once a week during the winter. The only good thing to come of the gas attack is that it has brought him and his girlfriend closer together. It seems to have forced him to grow up very quickly. He’s curious as to what will become of Yoshihiro Inoue.

  Mr. Yamazaki lives with his parents and younger sister in Shin Urayasu, east of Tokyo Bay.

  I had such trouble finding a job after college; every place was “No,” straight down the list. I’d wanted to go into fashion design, but the big fashion manufacturers weren’t taking anyone on. So I decided to try other fields—architecture, telecommunications, anything not food-related. In the end, I came away empty-handed. This was the year after Japan’s “Bubble” burst and there was no work anywhere.

  Somehow I managed to get into the clothing industry, where I worked until last March. I left because I never felt I was pushing myself to the best of my abilities. I wanted to do work where I’d be more appreciated.

  I was telling my girlfriend this last October, and she’d just decided to resign too. So we were out of work and, in fact, we went to the company her father runs. It’s a small firm of 15 employees. We make men’s neckties, under license from an Italian maker, with three retail stores of our own in Tokyo.

  Now I’m in sales there, which is great. Still, it’s totally a family operation. When I entered the company I had dinner with the president—her father—and he asked me, “Do you plan to marry my daughter?” I’d been planning to ask for her hand once I’d built up a track record with the firm, but hey, what a break! (hughs) “Of course, sir,” I told him, “I’d marry her tomorrow.” And it was, “Well, well, timing aside, you’re definitely the boy for our company.”

  About March 20, the day of the gas attack … Well, let me see, were we busy then? Just a second, please. I still have my Filofax from then [goes into his room to fetch it]. Hmm, seems we were really busy. Several new store openings, so I was getting home late, at 11:00 or 12:00 P.M. Yes and, that’s right, I was going to driving school then as well.

  I’d been revoked, and I was trying to get a new license. I’ve had points against me three times running, twice for speeding in Hokkaido. And once you’re revoked, they make you go back to driving school and learn everything all over again.

  The morning of March 20, I left home thirty minutes earlier than usual. On Mondays there are the weekend sales figures to go through. Meetings, too. So I aim to arrive by 8:30. Thanks to which I ran into this sarin business. If it hadn’t been Monday, I’d have missed it.

  I was pretty spaced out that morning. It’s always like that with me after a weekend. The day before, Sunday, I’d been out working in the evening. I went to a department store all the way out in Machida to talk things over with the sales staff there, deciding the layout, how to change the display. You can only do it after the store closes.

  The following day was the Spring Equinox holiday, but still I had to work. I had to go to the opening of a redecorated Ginza department store. The fashion business might seem all show and glamour, but from the inside it’s really tough. And the pay’s not all that great either.

  I always took the first or second car from the front of the train on the Hibiya Line. As soon as I changed in Hatchobori, there was an announcement: “Some passengers have been taken ill. We will stop the train at the next station, Tsukiji. Thank you for your cooperation.” When the train stopped in Tsukiji, the doors opened and—wham!—four people fell flat out from the car right behind mine. Straight out the door.

  A station attendant came over, like they do when someone faints, but they were trying to lift up the people, which seemed odd. That’s when the panic started. A station attendant was shouting into a mike: “Ambulance! Ambulance!” Then it was “Poison gas! Everyone off the train! Go to the ticket barrier and head straight above ground!”

  I didn’t run. I wonder why? I was kind of unfocused. I did get off onto the platform, thinking I ought to sit down. I wasn’t really paying much attention. There were others who didn’t run. There wasn’t any announcement that the train wouldn’t start again, but eventually everyone filed out. Only then did it strike me, “You mean I have to leave too?” And I stood up. I was about the last.

  No one seemed in any r
ush to get out of there. They were walking casually. It was more the station attendants who were yelling, “Please walk faster! Get outside!” I couldn’t see any danger. No explosion or anything. The station attendants were all in a panic, but not the passengers. There were still a lot of people lingering in the station trying to decide what to do.

  The people who’d collapsed didn’t even twitch. Had they passed out? Were they dead? Some had their feet in the train and their bodies on the platform, and had to be dragged out. I still didn’t sense any real danger. I don’t know why. In retrospect that seems odd—why wasn’t I afraid?—but then neither was anyone else.

  I didn’t go over to the injured people. I went toward the Tsukiji Honganji temple exit. Suddenly I got a whiff of this sweet smell, really sweet, like coconut. I was climbing the steps, thinking, “What’s that?” when gradually it became difficult to breathe. Then I remembered that I had to call the office and tell them I was going to be late. There was a convenience store by the exit where I used the telephone. But it was still too early to call in to work, so I called home instead. My mother answered and I told her, “For some reason the train’s stopped at Tsukiji and I’ll never make it to work by 8:30.”

  Even in the short span of that telephone call, my breathing became worse. It wasn’t like my throat was blocked or anything, I could breathe all right, but I wasn’t getting enough oxygen; I’d inhale and inhale, but it was as though my lungs weren’t working. It was strange. Like what happens when you wind yourself.

  Only then did I begin to think things were a bit odd, that there might be some connection with the people who’d collapsed on the platform. After finishing my call, I went back to see the exit where I’d come up. I was gasping, but I had to know what was happening. Right at that very instant some Self-Defense Force soldiers or who-knows-who in gas masks and special combat gear went down the steps. There were station attendants being carried up on stretchers. They looked totally rabid: drooling, and their eyes completely white. One of them wasn’t responding to anything, and another seemed to be having a fit—he couldn’t walk straight and was groaning in pain. By then the roads were blocked off, and there were police cars and fire department cars all over the place.

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