Underground the tokyo ga.., p.27
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       Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.27

           Haruki Murakami

  A childish fantasy, admittedly. Yet, like it or not, when news of the Tokyo gas attack reached me, I have to admit those INKlings came to mind: shadowy figures poised waiting just beyond my train window. If I were to give free rein to a very private paranoia, I’d have imagined some causal link between the evil creatures of my creation and those dark underlings who preyed upon the subway commuters. That link, imaginary or not, provided one rather personal reason for writing this book.

  I don’t mean to cast the Aum cultists in the role of monsters straight out of the pages of H. P. Lovecraft. That I worked INKlings into Hard-Boiled surely says more about the primal fears latent inside me. Whether from my own mind or the collective unconscious, they were a symbolic presence, or else represented danger pure and simple. Never to be disassociated from the dark, always just out of our field of vision. Yet there are times when even we children of sunlight may find comfort in the gentle healing embrace of darkness. We need the sheltering night. But under no circumstances do we venture further, to open that locked door leading down to the deepest recesses. For beyond unfolds the impenetrably dark narrative of the INKling world.

  Thus, in the context my own narrative, the five Aum “agents” who punctured those bags of sarin with the sharpened tips of their umbrellas unleashed swarms of INKlings beneath the streets of Tokyo. The mere thought fills me with dread, no matter how simplistic. Yet I have to say it out loud: they should never have done what they did. For whatever reason.

  * The document that became known as the Unabomber manifesto was sent to The New York Times and The Washington Post in April 1995 by a person called “FC,” identified by the FBI as the Unabomber and implicated in three murders and sixteen bombings. The author threatened to send a bomb to an unspecified destination “with intent to kill” unless one of the newspapers published this manuscript, entitled “Industrial Society and Its Future.” The attorney general and the director of the FBI recommended publication and it appeared in a special supplement in both papers in September 1995. This led David Kaczynski to draw a comparison between the Unabomber and his estranged brother Theodore, who was arrested in April 1996. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998. [Tr.]



  “An Old Man Awake In His Own Death”

  by Mark Strand

  This is the place that was promised

  when I went to sleep,

  taken from me when I woke.

  This is the place unknown to anyone,

  where names of ships and stars

  drift out of reach.

  The mountains are not mountains anymore;

  the sun is not the sun.

  One tends to forget how it was;

  I see myself, I see

  the shore of darkness on my brow.

  Once I was whole, once I was young …

  As if it mattered now

  and you could hear me

  and the weather of this place would ever cease.


  When I wrote Underground I made it a point of principle to avoid reading any of the reports in the media about Aum. I put myself as much as possible in the same situation the victims of the attack found themselves that day: taken totally unaware by some unknown, deadly force.

  For this reason I deliberately excluded any Aum viewpoint from Underground. I was afraid it would only throw the book out of focus. Above all I wanted to avoid the kind of wishy-washy approach that tries to see the viewpoint of both sides.

  Because of this, Underground was criticized by some as one-sided, but I had, after all, intentionally set up my camera at one fixed spot. What I was after was a book that brought one closer to the interviewees (this doesn’t always mean one is on their side, however). I wanted a book that made you feel what these people felt, think what they thought. That isn’t to say I was totally oblivious to the social significance of Aum Shinrikyo.

  After Underground was published, and various repercussions from the events had settled down, the question “What was Aum Shinrikyo?” welled up inside me. After all, Underground was an attempt to restore a sense of balance to what I saw as biased reporting. Once that job was over, I had to wonder whether we were receiving true and accurate accounts of the Aum side of the story.

  In Underground, Aum Shinrikyo was like some unidentified threat—a “black box” if you will—which suddenly, from out of nowhere, made an assault on the everyday. Now, in my own way, I wanted to try to pry open that black box and catch a glimpse of what it contained. By comparing and contrasting those contents with the viewpoints gathered in Underground I hoped to gain an even deeper understanding.

  I was also motivated by a strong sense of fear that we had still not begun to deal with, let alone solve, any of the fundamental issues arising from the gas attack. Specifically, for people who are outside the main system of Japanese society (the young in particular), there remains no effective alternative or safety net. As long as this crucial gap exists in our society, like a kind of black hole, even if Aum is suppressed, other magnetic force fields—“Aum-like” groups—will rise up again, and similar incidents are bound to take place.

  Before I began working on The Place That Was Promised I felt uneasy; now it is finished I have an even stronger sense of foreboding. It wasn’t always easy finding victims of the gas attack willing to be interviewed and, for different reasons, it wasn’t an easy task finding Aum Shinrikyo members, or even former members, to interview. What sort of criteria could one possibly use to choose interviewees? How could you come up with a representative sample? And who could say it was truly representative? I was also worried that, even if we could find such people and listened to what they had to say, it would turn out to be just a lot of religious propaganda. Would we be able to interact in any meaningful way?

  The editorial staff of the magazine Bungei Shunju, where these interviews were first published, found the Aum members and former members for me. In general the interviews follow the same style and format as the ones in Underground. I decided to be as indulgent as possible over each one, letting the interviewees take as much time as they wished to respond. Each interview lasted three or four hours. The tapes were transcribed and the interviewee was asked to go over the manuscript. They could omit parts that, upon reflection, they didn’t want to see in print, and add statements they thought were important that they had forgotten to make at the time of the interview. When I had their final go-ahead, the interview was published. As much as possible I wanted to use their real names, but it was often a condition of the interview that no indication would be given when a pseudonym was used.

  Generally few attempts were made to check whether the statements made in the interviews were factually accurate or not, other than when they obviously contradicted known facts. Some people might object to this, but my job was to listen to what people had to say and to record this as clearly as possible. Even if there are some details inconsistent with reality, the collective narrative of these personal stories has a powerful reality of its own. This is something novelists are acutely aware of, which is why I regard this as fitting work for a novelist.

  Yet the interviews in Underground and those collected here do not follow the exact same format. This time I often interjected my own opinions, voiced doubts, and even debated various points. In Underground I tried to keep myself in the background as much as possible, but this time I decided to be a more active participant. Sometimes, for instance, the conversation began to swerve too much in the direction of religious dogma, which I felt was inappropriate.

  I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert on religions, nor a sociologist. I am nothing more than a simple, not very refined novelist. (This is not false modesty, as many will testify.) My knowledge of religion is not much above the level of a rank amateur, so there was little chance I’d be able to hold my own if I got into the ring to debate doctrine with some devout religious believer.

  This was my concern when I began these int
erviews, but I decided not to let it hold me back. When I didn’t understand something, I just went ahead and exposed my ignorance; when I thought that most people would not accept a certain viewpoint, I challenged it. “It might hold a certain logic,” I’d say, “but your average person wouldn’t buy it.” I’m not just saying this to defend myself or show how bold I am. I wanted to take the time to clarify basic terms and ideas—to say, “Wait a second. What does that mean?”—rather than simply nodding my head and letting a lot of technical terms fly by.

  At a commonsense, everyday level, we were able to get our points across, and I feel I was able to understand the basic ideas the interviewees tried to convey. (Whether or not I accept them is another story.) This was more than enough for the type of interview I was conducting. Analyzing the interviewee’s mental state in detail, evaluating the ethical and logical justifications for their positions, etc., were not the goals I laid out for this project. I leave deeper study of the religious issues raised, and their social meaning, to the experts. What I’ve tried to present is the way these Aum followers appear in an ordinary, face-to-face conversation.

  Still, talking to them so intimately made me realize how their religious quest and the process of novel writing, though not identical, are similar. This aroused my own personal interest as I interviewed them, and it is also why I felt something akin to irritation at times as well.

  I have an abiding anger toward the Aum Shinrikyo members involved in the gas attack—both those who are under arrest and those who were involved in other ways. I have met some of the victims, many of whom continue to suffer, and I have personally seen those whose loved ones were stolen from them forever. I’ll remember that for as long as I live, and no matter what the motives or circumstances behind it, a crime like this can never be condoned.

  However, opinion is divided over the extent to which the entire Aum Shinrikyo organization was committed to the gas attack. I will leave any judgment here to the reader. I did not undertake these interviews with present and former members of the cult in order to criticize them or denounce them, nor in the hope that people would view them in a more positive light. What I am trying to provide here is the same thing I hoped to convey in Underground—not one clear viewpoint, but flesh-and-blood material from which to construct multiple viewpoints; which is the same goal I have in mind when I write novels.

  As a novelist, I will be sifting through what remains within me, bit by bit, investigating, putting things in order as I pass through the time-consuming process of shaping this into narrative form. It’s not the sort of thing that takes shape easily.

  These interviews were published in monthly installments in Bungei Shunju from April to October 1997, and were published serially under the title Post-Underground.

  “I’m still in Aum”

  Hiroyuki Kano (b. 1965)

  Mr. Kano was born in Tokyo, but soon moved to a neighboring prefecture where he grew up. In college his health declined and he began attending classes at a yoga training center run by Aum. After just twenty-one days Shoko Asahara advised him to become a renunciate, which he did five months later.

  At the time of the gas attack Mr. Kano was a member of Aum’s Ministry of Science and Technology, where he was involved mainly in computer-related work. Until the attack, his six years in Aum had been wonderful and fulfilling and he had made many friends.

  Though he has not officially left-Aum, he no longer lives communally with the other members, and keeps his distance from them. He lives alone in Tokyo, doing computer work at home, while still following his own regime of ascetic training. He is deeply interested in Buddhism, and his dream remains to construct a theoretical framework for Buddhism. Many of his friends have left Aum. At 32, he wonders what the future has in store for him.

  Our interview lasted a long time, but not once did he mention the name Shoko Asahara. He avoided referring to Asahara directly, using the terms “leader” or “guru,” or, once as I recall, “that person.”

  In elementary school I was healthy, taller than the other kids. I loved sports and was into all kinds of things. But in junior high I stopped growing and now I’m a little bit shorter than average. It’s like my physical development responded to my emotional state, and went downhill along with my health.

  I was a pretty good student, but I felt a kind of resistance to the whole idea of studying. For me, studying meant gaining wisdom, but schoolwork was just rote memorization, things like how many sheep there are in Australia or something. You can study that all you want, but there’s no way it’ll make you wise. To me, that’s what being an adult meant. To be able to have that kind of calm, that sense of intelligence. There was a huge gap between the image I had of what an adult should be and the actual adults around me.

  You get older, gain knowledge and experience, but inside you don’t grow as a person one little bit. Take away the outer appearance and the superficial knowledge and what’s left is no better than a child.

  I also had some major doubts about love. When I was around 19 I thought long and hard and came to the following conclusion: pure love for another person, and what people call romantic love, are two different things. Pure love doesn’t manipulate the relationship to one’s advantage, but romantic love is different. Romantic love contains other elements—the desire to be loved by the other person, for instance. If purely loving another was enough, you wouldn’t suffer because of unrequited love. As long as the other person was happy, there wouldn’t be any need to suffer because you weren’t being loved in return. What makes people suffer is the desire to be loved by another person. So I decided that romantic love and pure love for a person are not the same. And that by following this you could lessen the pain of unrequited love.

  MURAKAMI: It seems to me an overly logical approach. Even if they experienced unrequited love, most people wouldn’t carry the idea that far.

  I suppose so. But since I was about 12 I’ve always approached things in a philosophical way. Once I started thinking about something I’d sit there for six hours. For me, to “study” something meant precisely that. School was just a race to gain the most points.

  I tried talking with my friends about these things, but got nowhere. Even my friends who were good students would only say something like, “Wow. Pretty amazing stuff you come up with,” and that’d be the end of it. The conversation would hit a dead end. I couldn’t find a single person who wanted to talk about the things that I cared about.

  MURAKAMI: Most adolescents, when they worry about those kinds of things, really get into reading books. To find some helpful advice.

  I don’t like reading. When I read something I just see what’s wrong with the book. Especially philosophy books—I only read a few and couldn’t stand them. I always thought philosophy was supposed to provide you with a deeper consciousness so you could find a “remedy” to life’s problems. To really understand the purpose of living, to find fulfillment and happiness, and to decide what your life’s goals should be. Everything else was just a means to that end. But the books I read all seemed to be excuses for famous scholars to flaunt their linguistic skills: “Hey, look how much I know!” I could see right through this, and couldn’t stand those books. So philosophy never did anything for me.

  There was one other reality I came to ponder when I was in the sixth grade. I was staring at a pair of scissors in my hands and the thought suddenly struck me that some adult had worked very hard to create them, but that someday they would fall apart. Everything that has form will eventually fall apart. Same with people. In the end they die. Everything’s heading straight for destruction and there’s no turning back. To put it another way, destruction itself is the principle by which the universe operates. Once I reached that conclusion I started to look at everything in a very negative way.

  For instance, if my own life is headed toward destruction it doesn’t matter if I become prime minister or end up just one of the homeless, right? What’s the point of struggling? The horrible conclusion
I came to was that if suffering outweighs joy in life, it would be much wiser to commit suicide as quickly as possible.

  There’s only one way out, namely the afterlife. That’s the sole remaining hope. The first time I heard that expression “afterlife” I thought it was stupid. I read Tetsuro Tanba’s book What Happens After Death? just to see what kind of idiotic things were written in it. I’m the kind of person who has to pursue an idea to the bitter end once it takes hold of me. I’m not the type to just think, “What the hell, it’ll work out somehow.” I have to clearly differentiate what I understand from what I don’t. The same holds true for studying. For every new thing I learn, ten more questions will pop into my head. Until I can answer those, I can’t go on.

  Anyway, Tanba’s book was worthless, but he mentioned Swedenborg’s work, which I read and was amazed by. Swedenborg is a famous scholar, a physicist of Nobel Prize caliber, but after he turned 50 he became like a psychic and wrote down a lot of records of the afterlife. I was struck by how extremely logical his work was. Compared to other books on the subject, everything fit together logically. The relationship between his premises and his conclusions was utterly convincing and believable.

  I thought I should look a bit further into the afterlife, so I read a lot of material on near-death experiences. I was bowled over. The testimonies were strikingly similar. These were actual testimonies with the people’s real names and photographs. “They can’t all be conspiring to tell the same lie,” I thought. Later on I learned about the Law of Karma, and it was like a veil had lifted, and many of the doubts and questions I’d had since I was little were solved.

  I also learned that the basic Buddhist tenet of impermanence is the same as the idea I had about the law of the universe tending toward destruction. I’d always looked at this in a more negative way, but this made it very easy for me to get into Buddhism.

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