Underground the tokyo ga.., p.21
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       Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.21

           Haruki Murakami
 

  I decided to walk to Yurakucho Station, take the Yamanote Line to Shibuya, then go by bus to Hiro-o, but the more I walked, the worse I felt. By the time I boarded the Yamanote Line train I felt I was done for. Everything was such an effort. The smell had penetrated my clothes. But somehow I had to make it to the Shibuya bus terminal. I knew for certain I’d run into someone from work there. Lots of our people commute by bus from Shibuya. But if I collapsed on the train, no one would help me. I had to get to the Shibuya bus stop even if I had to crawl all the way.

  I got off the train at Shibuya and somehow managed to cross at the lights and reach the bus stop, where my legs just gave out. I sat on the sidewalk and leaned back against the handrail with my legs stuck out. Nobody looks that wasted in the morning, do they? Nobody except drunks, maybe. Which is why no one spoke to me. They saw me lying there and just assumed I’d been out on the town all night in Shibuya.

  Finally, someone from work came along and spoke to me, but I couldn’t speak. I could barely breathe. My voice was like some old alcoholic’s with a paralyzed tongue. In any case, I couldn’t translate my thoughts into words. I’d try to speak, but nothing came across. Since I couldn’t explain, I just wanted any kind of help at all, but no one seemed to understand. I was getting a chill, colder and colder, just unbearable. Then another older colleague came by [Takanori Ichiba], and as fate would have it, he’d taken the Hibiya Line as well. He asked me, “Hey, did you get caught up in all that business at Tsukiji?” He put two and two together.

  I was very lucky. If it hadn’t been for him, no one would have known how serious things were. He immediately went to phone for an ambulance, but all the ambulances were out on call. So he hailed a taxi and lifted me into it with the help of two other people from work. We all got in and went to the Red Cross Hospital in Hiro-o. In the taxi, one of them said, “What’s that sweet smell?” My clothes were soaked with sarin.

  Breathing was the hardest thing, but aside from that I felt numb all over, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open, as though all the strength had drained out of my body and I was drifting off into a deep sleep. I really thought I was going to die. I couldn’t move. Still, I wasn’t frightened. It wasn’t painful. I thought, “Maybe this is what it’s like to die of old age. If I have to die, let me at least see my girlfriend’s face.” More than even my parents, she’s the one who came to me, in the end. Like, “Just tell her I wanted to see her face.”

  I don’t remember how long it was before my work colleague found me, but I do remember being furious at all the people who pretended not to see me lying there. Assholes! How cart human beings be so cold? Someone’s in agony right there in front of them and they don’t say a word. They just avoid you. If I’d been in their place, I’d have said something. If there’s someone looking ill on the train I always say, “Are you okay? Want to sit down?” But not most people—I really learned that the hard way.

  I was hospitalized for two days. They told me to stay longer, but I felt like I was some kind of guinea pig for testing a rare disease, so I went, home. The doctor said, “You ought to stay here so that we have examples for other cases like yours.” No thank you! On the train back, I was still wheezing, but I just wanted to get home, eat some good food, and take it easy. Strangely enough, my appetite was unaffected. Alcohol and cigarettes were completely out of the question for a long time, though.

  The lethargy persisted for about a month. I took off another week from work, but for a very long time I wasn’t on top of things physically. I still had difficulty breathing and I couldn’t concentrate on my work. In sales, I have to talk like I am now—but the thing is, for every word I spoke I’d have to make an effort—aah, ahh—to draw in enough oxygen. Climbing the stairs was simply impossible. I often had to take time off. I just wasn’t up to sales.

  Honestly, it would have been better for me to take some time off with sick pay, but the company wasn’t that generous. It was nine to five, plus overtime just like always. It was hard for me, but on the other side of the coin I suppose it had its interesting moments for others. In a funny kind of way. I’d go to clients and they’d say, “Yamazaki, I hear you got gassed with sarin.” Everyone knew. I tried not to think too deeply about it, but the hardest thing was that no one really understood what I’d gone through. No, my changing jobs had nothing to do with the attack.

  Even now I can’t take too much strenuous exercise. I used to be able to snowboard for two hours straight without stopping, but now it’s one and a half hours at the very most.

  For a while after returning home I used an oxygen bottle when I had trouble breathing. You know, like the ones the baseball players use at the Tokyo Dome. No bigger than a can of insect spray, with a nozzle. My girlfriend bought it for me.

  For me, the only good thing that came of the gas attack was coming to more of an understanding with my girlfriend. Until then we argued all the time. We didn’t really consider each other’s feelings. I was never quite sure how she felt about me. So I was really surprised when she came rushing to the hospital in floods of tears. “I thought you were going to die,” she said, she was really upset. My boss was beside me at the time, and in plain view of him she held my hand and wouldn’t let go. She came to the hospital every single day and when I checked out and went home, she came with me too. We’d always kept our relationship a secret at work, so to have her squeeze my hand in front of the boss … (laughs) That blew our cover!

  I was in the same class as Yoshihiro Inoue at Rakunan High School in Kyoto. We never took any of the same courses, but we were in the same grade level. We took the same bus to school from Hankyu Omiya Station, so I got to know him fairly well. A good friend of mine took the same courses as Inoue, which is why we traveled together. I never got friendly with him.

  And yet I still remember him extremely vividly. My first impression was that he was incredibly strange. Weird. Twisted. I disliked him from the start. That’s why I never talked to him. You can tell whether you’ll get along with someone from just a few words; well, I never got along with him. I’d listen to my friend’s conversations with Inoue and I thought: “This guy gives me the creeps.” I went to a school in Tokyo in my junior year, but I heard later from my friend that Inoue had been doing zazen in class, meditating for hours. *

  I had lots of friends. I was into bikes, and we’d all go out riding. I liked being outdoors, but Inoue didn’t.

  About two weeks after the gas attack, when they showed the Aum people in the papers and on TV, I saw his face and thought: “I’ve seen this character somewhere.” I rang up my old school friend and he said, “Yep, it’s Inoue, all right.”

  I was furious. I remembered the unpleasantness I had felt back in high school. I was just outraged. I’d changed high schools, but I still had some pride in the old place. I couldn’t believe any graduate from Rakunan could do such a terrible thing. It was such a shock, a real letdown.

  I’m still keeping an eye out for news of him. I just want to see what they’ll do with him, how far his so-called sincerity goes.

  “He was such a kind person. He seemed to get even kinder before he died”

  Yoshiko Wada (31)

  wife of the late Eiji Wada

  Mrs. Wada was pregnant when her husband died. A daughter, Asuka, was born not long afterward. Mrs. Wada was often in the media spotlight after the gas attack, and many Japanese now know her face. Before meeting her I glanced over all the magazine and newspaper articles I could find, but the difference between the image I’d invented and the person I actually met was startling. Of course, that image was a complete fabrication on my part and no one was to blame, but it did make me pause to consider how the media works—how they make up whatever image they want.

  The real Yoshiko Wada (as opposed to the media invention) was bright, articulate, and smart. By “smart” I mean she chose her words as carefully as she had chosen her way of life. Although I had never met her late husband, somehow I knew that anyone who had chosen her as a mate had to h
ave been an all-right guy.

  The shock of losing her husband must have been great. I doubt if one can ever recover from such a thing. But throughout the three hours I interviewed her, she never once lost her composure or her smile. She was very open with her replies, however indelicate my line of questioning, and only once became tearful, at the very end. I apologize for putting her through so much.

  She met me with Asuka in her arms and even saw me off at the station afterward. The streets were almost deserted in the summer heat. Walking outside, she looked like any other happy, young suburban housewife. My parting words were pretty lame—“Please be healthy and happy” or something like that—I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Words can be practically useless at times, but as a writer they’re all I have.

  I was born in Kanagawa [southwest of Tokyo], but we moved to Yokohama [south of Tokyo] when I was in elementary school and I’ve lived here ever since. I went to school in Yokohama, worked in Yokohama. I’m a Yokohama girl, so of course I love the place. Last year when I had my baby, I spent a long time at my in-laws’ up in Nagano. The air was much cleaner, a complete change of environment, which was great and all, but when I got back here I was so happy I cried.

  Most of my friends are here in Yokohama. Friends from high school, from work, skiing friends, we all go back ten years … Friends really helped me a lot. They’re all married now, but still we get together from time to time and have a barbecue or go bowling or something.

  When I left high school, I went to work for the Yokohama Savings and Loan as a clerk. I left soon after I got married. Before that I lived with my parents. I’m an only child, but I was always arguing with them, especially with my dad. Over stupid little things, really. “You said this.” “No, I never said that!” (laughs) I was pretty selfish. I’m living with Dad now, but we don’t argue anymore.

  I met my husband skiing. Another girl at work had a boyfriend working for Japan Tobacco, and he just happened to bring him along. This was in February 1991.

  My husband was really into skiing. I’d only begun to ski at 20, so I was nowhere near his level. Still, I’d go skiing maybe five times a season. Though my parents didn’t want to let me go. They said it was too dangerous (laughs). They were so overprotective. I had a curfew until I was 25. Had to be home by ten (laughs). Sometimes I’d get back late and find myself locked out, so I’d end up sleeping at a friend’s house. Thinking back on it I suppose I was pretty bad. Now that I have my own child, I know, you get angry because you care.

  My mother died of breast cancer four years ago. It spread all over her body. Dad stopped working to stay by her side. It was hard on him, I know. But even then, he and I, we were arguing the whole time. I feel terrible about it now, but at the time I just couldn’t help it. On the other hand, it’s because we argued so much then that we can get along together now

  My dad tells me I’ve changed a lot. Mellowed a bit. Maybe I’m more of an adult. Asuka’s the big reason, probably. I look at the baby and even if I’m worked up I have to smile.

  As first impressions go, my husband didn’t seem like much when he was skiing. No charm whatsoever. He wore glasses behind his goggles. I tried talking to him, but it was like, “What’s with this guy?” He was so unfriendly. He was just so wrapped up in his skiing he couldn’t be bothered with anyone else. He couldn’t rest unless he was skiing in front. He barely spoke.

  But in the evening when we went out drinking suddenly he changed completely, I mean, he really opened up, even told jokes. He was like a different person. We stayed at the ski resort three days, but we never got close personally, though I guess we were attracted to each other.

  To be honest, when I first met him, I instinctively felt: “Here’s someone I could go out with, maybe even marry.” It was like, well, a woman thing. So I thought, “Might as well give him my phone number.” I was pretty sure of myself (laughs).

  We were both 26 and we both drank a lot: beer, whiskey, sake, wine, you name it. He really liked having a good time.

  We saw each other a lot after that ski trip. He was living in a single men’s dorm in Kawaguchi, so we’d generally meet somewhere in the center of Tokyo. We often went to the cinema, saw each other every week, and if possible at weekends, too.

  Yeah, it really seemed we were made for each other. Like it was fate or something. We courted for a year and never once was I bored.

  He mentioned marriage to my dad even before saying anything to me. He said to my dad: “I’d like to ask your permission to see Yoshiko socially with the understood intention of marriage.” Of course I liked him and all, but the two of them talking among themselves like that before I knew anything about it really got on my nerves.

  We were married in June the following year. My mom had died that February and we were in mourning, so we put off the wedding until then. I guess I really wanted to wear a wedding dress and everything. We planned to live with my dad in Yokohama after getting married. We didn’t want to leave him all alone … it was my husband who suggested it. So he ended up commuting from Yokohama to Oji, two hours each way. Every day, he’d leave the house at six in the morning. I was fighting with Dad the whole time then and my husband always had to settle things between us. He had it hard. He’d come back home at 11:00 or 12:00 at night, dead tired.

  We lived with Dad for ten months, then we moved to Kita-senju. Japan Tobacco happened to have some company housing there, but that now put me an hour and a half away from my job in Yokohama. After a year of commuting, I was worn out. My husband said, “Why kill yourself like that? You do what you want.”

  So I became a housewife. Three meals a day plus afternoon nap? Not bad if you ask me (laughs). You can watch TV all day. I’d never watched daytime TV before, so at first I was—happy! And by July, I was expecting. Kita-senju was a nice place to live. Lots of shops, near the station, and the company housing was spacious. I had friends there too.

  In November 1994, my husband got transferred from Oji to the main plant in Shinagawa [closer to Yokohama]. Then he had to work on-site at the new head office they were building in Toranomon [central Tokyo]. The building was scheduled for completion in April 1995 and he had to look after installation work and construction. He was an electrical specialist, so he was in charge of the elevators and lighting and air-conditioning systems. I could tell he was happy to get away from desk work.

  He’d come home and tell me about his day over a beer. That was the best part, hearing him talk about the company, about his colleagues, like, “There’s this guy who’s this or that, what do you think I should do?” He usually joked most of the time, but at work he could concentrate, real serious, just like that. He was so reliable.

  Both of us wanted children. We wanted about three. Especially me, probably because I was an only child. I was so overjoyed when I found out I was pregnant. We settled on my daughter’s name before she was born. I heard it in a dream. I dreamed this child was running off somewhere and I was chasing her, calling out that name. I couldn’t remember it myself, but my husband told me he heard me shouting, “Asuka! Asuka!”

  We hardly ever quarreled. Still, I was irritable while I was pregnant. I’d get at him for the most trivial things but he just took it all in his stride. He usually just laughed it off. He was such a kind person. He seemed to get even kinder before he died.

  If he got home from work and the cooking had gone wrong he’d just say, “It’s all right, I’ll get takeout.” He even asked around at work about what I should be eating during pregnancy. He really cared for me. And when I had morning sickness and could only eat sandwiches and grapefruit jelly, he’d always buy them for me on the way home from work.

  The Sunday before March 20 we went shopping together. Something he’d ordinarily never do.

  It was raining that morning so we slept in, but it had cleared up by the afternoon so I said, “Let’s go shopping,” and for once he said, “Fine.”

  We went to buy baby clothes and diapers, stuff like that. My belly
was already big by then and I had a hard time walking, but the doctor was always telling me: “Move! Move! Move!”

  After that we ate dinner. He was eager to go back to work the next day. He’d taken Friday off, but the April I office completion date was looming and it was preying on his mind. Also that particular Monday they had a welcoming party of some sort, which he was looking forward to.

  He always got off at Kasumigaseki on the Hibiya Line to go to the Toranomon office. He’d generally get up at 7:00 and leave heme by 7:30. That day he got up really early, around 5:30. Usually I didn’t have time to make him breakfast, but the night before he’d said: “On occasion, it’d be nice to be pampered and woken up to a real breakfast.” “Well, if that’s what he wants,” I thought, and I forced myself to get up early and cook for him. He just seemed to crave a little pampering.

  I’ve never been a morning person, I usually forget breakfast. And he wasn’t a morning person either, so it was always “Never mind,” up and out the door at the last minute, catch a quick bite on the way to work. But that morning I set two alarm clocks, got up bright and early, made toast and coffee and fried eggs and sausages for him. He was so happy he shouted: “Wow! Breakfast!”

  It was as though he had some kind of premonition. Besides saying he wanted me to make him breakfast, I remember him saying something like, “If anything ever happens to me, you know you have to hang on in there and fight.” It was right out of the blue, caught me completely off guard, and I asked him, “What makes you say a thing like that?”

 
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