Underground the tokyo ga.., p.3
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.3Haruki Murakami
I never watch television reports or anything on Aum. I don’t want to. I have no intention of giving interviews. If it will help those who suffered or the families of the deceased, then yes, I’ll come forward and talk, but only if they want to know what happened. I’d rather not be danced around by the media.
Of course society should severely punish this crime. Especially when you consider the families of the deceased, there should be no getting off easy. What are those families supposed to do … ? But even if those criminals get the death penalty, does that solve anything in the end? Perhaps I’m oversensitive when it comes to human mortality, but it seems to me that however heavy the sentence, there is nothing you can say to those families.
“I’ve been here since I first joined”
Masaru Yuasa (24)
Mr. Yuasa is much younger than Mr. Toyoda ( interviewed on this page), or the late Mr. Takahashi. He is more their sons’ age. He looks about 16 with his youthful, tousled hair. There is still something naive and boyish about him, which makes him look younger than he is.
He was born in Ichikawa, across Tokyo Bay in Chiba, where he spent his childhood. He became interested in trains and went to Iwakura High School in Ueno, Tokyo, which is the place to be for anyone who wants to work on the railroad. He initially wanted to be a driver, so he opted for studies in engine mechanics. He was employed by the Subway Authority in 1988 and has worked at Kasumigaseki Station ever since. Forthright and plaintalking, he approaches his daily duties with a clear sense of purpose. This made the gas attack all the more shocking for him.
Mr. Yuasa’s boss ordered him to help carry Mr. Takahashi on a stretcher from where he’d fallen on the Chiyoda Line platform to ground level and to wait there at the appointed area for an ambulance—which didn’t arrive. He saw Mr. Takahashi’s condition worsen before his eyes, but was powerless to do anything. As a result Mr. Takahashi failed to receive treatment in time and died. Mr. Yuasa’s frustration, confusion, and anger are unimaginable. It is probably for this reason that his memory of the scene is foggy in places. As he himself admits, some details have been completely blanked out.
This explains how parallel accounts of the same scene may diverge slightly, but this, after all, is how Mr. Yuasa experienced it.
In high school we studied Mechanics or Transport. The ones who took Transport were mostly statistics nerds, kept train schedules in their desk drawers (laughs). Me, I liked trains, but not like that. They weren’t an obsession.
Japan Railways [JR] was the big thing to aim for in terms of jobs. So many guys wanted to be Shinkansen [bullet-train] drivers. JR turned me down when I graduated, but Seibu and Odakyu and Tokyu and other private lines were generally popular, although the catch was that you had to live in areas served by those lines to get the job. Yeah, pretty tough. I’d always wanted to work on the subway and the Subway Authority was pretty popular. The pay’s no worse than anywhere else.
Station work involves all sorts of jobs. Not just ticket booth and platform duty, but lost property and sorting out arguments between passengers. It was tough joining at 18 and having to do all that. That’s why the first round-the-clock duty was the longest. I’d pull down the shutters after the last train and heave a sigh of relief: “Ah, that’s it for the day!” Not anymore, but that’s how it was at first.
The drunks were the worst thing. They either get all chummy when they’re drunk, or fight, or throw up. Kasumigaseki’s not an entertainment district, so we don’t get that many of them, but sometimes we do.
No, I never sat for the driver qualification. I had the chance to several times, but I thought it over and didn’t. At the end of my first year there was a conductor’s test, but after one year I’d only just got the hang of station work so I let it pass. Sure there were drunks, like I said, stuff I didn’t care for especially, but still I thought I’d better learn the ropes a bit more. I suppose my initial impulse to be a driver just changed over time while I was working around the station.
Kasumigaseki Station has three lines coming in: the Marunouchi, the Hibiya, and the Chiyoda. Each has its own staff. I was with the Marunouchi Line at the time. The Hibiya Line office is the biggest, but the Marunouchi and Chiyoda Line both have their own offices, their own staffrooms.
The Sunday before the gas attack I was on round-the-clock duty in the Chiyoda Line office. They were short-staffed and I was filling in. A certain number of personnel has to be there for overnight duty. The staff on the other lines help each other out, like one big family.
Around 12:30 we lower the shutters, lock up the ticket booths, shut off the ticket machines, then wash up and turn in just after 1:00. The early shift finish work around 11:30 and are asleep by around 12:00. The following morning the early shift rises at 4:30 and the late shift at 5:30. The first train leaves around 5:00.
Wake up and first thing it’s clean up, raise the shutters, prepare the ticket booth. Then we take turns eating breakfast. We cook our own rice, make our own miso soup. Meal duty’s posted up there with all the other duties. We all share.
I was on late shift that night, so I woke up at 5:30, changed into my uniform, and reported to the ticket booth at 5:55. I worked until 7:00, then went to have breakfast from 7:00 to 7:30. Then I went to another ticket booth and worked there until 8:15 or so, then called it a day.
I was walking back to the office after the handover to my replacement when the Chief Officer, Matsumoto, came out with a mop. “What’s that for?” I asked, and he said he had to clean inside a car. I’d just gone off duty and had my hands free, so it was, “Fine, I’ll go with you.” We headed up the escalator to the platform.
There we found Toyoda, Takahashi, and Hishinuma with a bundle of wet newspapers on the platform. They’re stuffing it all by hand into plastic bags, but there’s liquid coming from them and spilling onto the platform. Matsumoto mopped up the liquid. I didn’t have a mop, and most of the newspaper had been bagged, so I wasn’t much help. I just stood to one side, watching.
“What’s this all about?” I wondered. There was a very strong smell. Then Takahashi walked over to a trash can at the end of the platform, probably to fetch some more newspaper to wipe up where it was still wet. Suddenly he sinks down in front of the bin and keels over.
Everyone ran toward Takahashi, shouting, “What’s wrong?” I thought maybe he was ill, but nothing too serious. “Can you walk?” they asked, but it’s obvious he can’t, so I called the office over the platform intercom: “Send up the stretcher!”
Takahashi’s face looked awful. He couldn’t talk. We laid him on his side, loosened his tie … he looked in really bad shape.
We carried him down to the office on the stretcher, then phoned for an ambulance. That’s when I asked Toyoda, “Which exit is the ambulance supposed to come to?” There’s protocol for situations like this, saying where ambulances are supposed to pull up and so on. But Toyoda’s tongue-tied. Kind of odd, but all I could think at the time was he was probably too confused to speak.
Anyway, I dashed up Exit AII. Yes, before carrying Takahashi up, I got up there myself and waited to signal the ambulance when it came. So I’m out of the exit and waiting by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
On the way to Exit AII I ran into one of the Hibiya Line staff, who tells me there’s been an explosion at Tsukiji Station. Nothing more was known. A suspicious object had been found in our station that month on the fifteenth, so I’m thinking as I wait for the ambulance: “This is turning into one weird day.”
But I wait and I wait and no ambulance. Soon other office staff come up and it’s, “No ambulance yet? What’ll we do?” We decide we ought to bring Takahashi up above ground. I’ve been outside all this time, but these two or three people who came up from the office tell me they’ve all started feeling sick down there. So they don’t want to go back. It turns out they kept whatever was in those plastic packets in the office, and that’s what’s to blame.
Well, Takahashi still has to be carried up, so we all hea
But we wait and wait and still there’s no sign of an ambulance. We were getting pretty frustrated. Why wasn’t anything coming? Now I know that all the ambulances had rushed over to Tsukiji. You could hear sirens in the distance, but none coming this way. I couldn’t help feeling anxious, thinking they’d got the wrong location. I almost felt like shouting out: “Hey, over here!” Actually, I did try running in that direction, but I felt dizzy myself … I put it down to not having had enough sleep.
When we carried Takahashi up, there were already newspeople at the exit. This woman with a camera was snapping away at Takahashi lying there. I shouted to her: “No photos!” Her male assistant came in between us, but I told him, too: “No more photos!”—but taking pictures was her job.
Then a TV Tokyo van came along. They were asking so many questions, like “What’s the situation here?”—but I was in no mood to be interviewed. Not when the ambulance was taking forever to come.
Suddenly I realized the TV crew had a big van, so I struck a deal with them: “You’ve got wheels, you have to take Takahashi.” I was probably kind of angry, the way I spoke. I don’t remember in detail, but I was pretty worked up, after all. Nobody knew what was going on, so it took some negotiating. No one said straightaway, “Oh, I get it,” and sprang into action. The discussions took a while. But once things were settled, they lowered the backseat and laid Takahashi on it along with another station attendant [Mr. Ohori] who was also feeling ill. He’d been with Takahashi all the time, but started vomiting when he came above ground. Another member of staff [Mr. Sawaguchi] also went with them.
“You know which hospital?” the driver asked, but nobody had a clue. So I got in the front seat next to the driver and went along too, directing them to Hibiya Hospital, which is where we always sent people whenever they got ill at the station. A woman said, “Wave a red cloth or something from the window so they know it’s an emergency.” We didn’t have a red cloth, so she gave us her handkerchief. Not red, just an ordinary pattern. I sat in the front seat waving that handkerchief out the window all the way to the hospital.
This was around 9:00, so traffic was pretty heavy. I was already so out of it, after all that time waiting for an ambulance that never came. I can’t even remember the driver’s face or the woman who gave me the handkerchief. No recollection at all. I was just gone. There was no time to think about what was going on. I do remember Ohori throwing up in the backseat. That I do remember.
The hospital wasn’t open when we arrived. We took Takahashi out of the van on the stretcher and I went to the reception desk. “We’ve got an emergency here,” I said, then went back outside and waited by Takahashi. He wasn’t moving at all. Ohori had crouched down, immobile. Still no one came out of the hospital. They must have decided it wasn’t all that serious. After all, I must have looked confused and hadn’t given them any details. We just waited and waited and nobody came out.
So I went to Reception again, and raised my voice: “Please! Somebody come! This is serious!” Then a few people came out, saw Takahashi and Ohori’s condition, and rushed them inside. How long did it take? Two or three minutes.
Sawaguchi stayed at Reception while I went back to the station exit with the TV van driver. By then I’d calmed down a lot, or at least I was telling myself I had to calm down. I apologized to the driver for Ohori throwing up all over the seat, but he didn’t seem to mind. It was only then that I could manage even a simple conversation like that.
By then, I think they’d carried up Toyoda and Hishinuma, neither of them moving. They were trying to resuscitate them with oxygen masks and massaging their chests. Around them other staff and passengers were sitting down outside the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Nobody knew what on earth was going on.
Finally an ambulance arrived. My memory fails me here, but I seem to recall Toyoda and Hishinuma were taken away separately. Only one patient to an ambulance, so one of them had to be taken by car. They were the only ones to leave at that time. None of the others were as critical. By then, so many people had gathered around Exit AII: news crews, police, firemen—I remember the size of the crowd. The media were in full swing, mikes out, interviewing passengers and subway staff. They probably couldn’t get into the station anymore.
Once the scene was under control, I walked to the hospital. When I got to the lobby, the TV was on. It was the NHK [Japan Broadcasting Corporation] news. They were showing live reports from the gas attack. That’s when I learned Takahashi had died, from a running subtitle on-screen. “Ah,” I thought, “he didn’t make it. We were too late …” I can’t tell you how sad I was.
My own condition? Well, my pupils were contracted and everything looked dark. I was coughing a little, too. Nothing too serious. They put me on a drip, just in case. I got off lightly. Probably because I’d gone outside early on. Ohori was in the hospital for ages.
After the drip, I walked back to the station with a few of the staff. The Chiyoda Line trains weren’t stopping at Kasumigaseki Station, so we went to the Marunouchi Line office. What with this and that, it was evening before I finally got home. It had been a long, long day. I took off the next day and returned for round-the-clock duty on the twenty-second.
To be honest, my memories of the gas attack jump around. This or that detail I remember with burning clarity, but the rest is very sketchy. I was pretty wound up. Takahashi’s collapse and taking him to the hospital—those things I remember fairly well.
I wasn’t especially close to Takahashi. He was the assistant stationmaster and I’m only one of the younger staff—our positions were totally different. His son works for the subway, at another station, about the same age as me. I suppose that made us like father and son, though I never felt much age difference talking to Takahashi. He was never one to pull rank. He was the quiet type, everybody liked him. He was always polite to passengers, too.
The gas attack didn’t upset me to the point where I thought: “I can’t take it, I have to change jobs.” Not at all. I’ve been here since I first joined. Can’t compare it with others, but I really like it here.
“At that point Takahashi was still alive”
Minoru Miyata (54)
Mr. Miyata has been a chauffeur for TV Tokyo for six years. He waits long hours on standby at the TV station until a news item breaks, then rushes to the scene in a van full of outside-broadcast equipment. Sometimes he has to put his foot down, and he’ll drive a thousand miles, all the way from Tokyo to Hokkaido, if he has to. A tough job.
A professional driver, he’s been chauffeuring since the mid-1960s. He’s had a thing for cars ever since he was a boy. His face lights up when he talks about them. He’s almost never had an accident or a ticket; although when he was ferrying victims from the Tokyo gas attack to the hospital, he admits he couldn’t avoid breaking the rules a little.
He speaks quickly, and never mulls over his words. He is a model of split-second timing. His decisiveness helped save the day at the scene of the attack.
I had a Toyota Hi-Ace van with TV TOKYO in big letters on the side. The staff members who come with me change all the time, but the van’s always the same, loaded and ready to go when a news item breaks. I generally work from 9:30 to 6:00, but sometimes do overtime and get called out in the middle of the night.
You need real skill. It’s big trouble if the other stations beat you to the scene. A car will only go so fast, so it’s a matter of choosing the clearest route to get there a little faster, and that takes thought. In my spare time I’m always studying maps, memorizing routes. Ask me to go almost anywhere in the entire Tokyo region and I’ll know the way.
On March 20 I was at the station from 8:30. There are three of us in the van: me; Ikida, the cameraman; and Maki, the video engineer. We were scheduled to shoot some stock footage of Ueda Hollow over in the Kabutocho financial district, but there was no hurry. I’d planned to drive to the Kamiyacho crossing, then out to Showa Avenue, but when we reached the intersection everything was in complete confusion. “What’s going on here?” I thought. So I slowed down, keeping my eyes peeled. “They’ll call us in on this one before we get over there,” said Ikida.
Then just before the Shimbashi Tunnel, right on cue, the call came from the station telling us to make tracks for the Kasumigaseki crossing, the big open area near all the ministries: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries … When we got there I could see three or four subway workers in green uniforms collapsed on the ground by the exit. Two or three were sprawled out, and some were crouching. This young station attendant’s shouting at the top of his voice: “Quick! Somebody call an ambulance!”
We were the first media on the scene. They were carrying people out on stretchers. Next to them was a policeman barking into his radio: “Get some ambulances here now!” But by that time St. Luke’s and other hospitals were already in a panic and no ambulances were coming that way. They were even using unmarked police cars to carry the victims, it was so bad. Everybody screaming their heads off. Ikeda was shooting the whole scene.
That’s when somebody—maybe one of the injured—spoke up: “How about instead of filming us, you help take one or two people to the hospital?” But we’re loaded with equipment and stuff. We can’t just run off. So me and the crew talk it over. “What the hell are we going to do?” “It’ll look bad if we don’t take them.” In the end, I said, “Okay, I’ll go.” I ran to the shouting station attendant and asked where it is I’m supposed to be going. “Take them to Hibiya Hospital,” he says. Which is strange, I thought at the time, because Toranomon Hospital’s the closest. But it turns out that Hibiya’s the one affiliated with the Subway Authority.
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes