Underground the tokyo ga.., p.30
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       Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.30
 

           Haruki Murakami

  I had no compunction about making my doubts known to people. One thing I found strange was that a lot of Aum followers died in car accidents. I asked a woman I knew well—Ms. Takahashi—about it. “Don’t you think it’s unusual that this many believers have died?” I asked her. “No, it’s all right,” she replied, “because four billion years in the future the Master will return as the Maitreya Buddha and will raise up the souls of those who died.” “What rubbish!” I thought.

  Also, Aum violently attacked Taro Maki, the editor of the Sunday Mainichi magazine, which had continued to criticize Aum. When I asked them why they just said: “Whether we’re attacked or whatever happens to us, people who have a relationship with the Master are blessed. Even if we fall into hell, he will save us later.”

  For a long time my relationship with Aum Shinrikyo was an on-off affair. One day in 1993, though, an Aum man named Kitamura came to my door. He’d called saying he wanted to talk to me, so I said okay. I’d been away from Aum for a while and wanted to catch up on the latest news. But the more he talked, the crazier he got. He talked about what would happen if World War III broke out, laser weapons, plasma weapons—like something out of science fiction. It was interesting, admittedly, but it made me think that Aum was getting into some pretty intense things.

  At the time Aum was putting a lot of pressure on me to become a member. The reason I ended up joining had to do with the woman I mentioned, Ms. Takahashi. My grandmother had just passed away and I was feeling sad about it. Ms. Takahashi called me and said she had something she wanted to talk over with me. “Actually,” she said, “I’ve just joined Aum myself, and would like to discuss it with you.” So we got together. She was 27, six years younger than me. It was like destiny. I felt it at a gut level. After that, she and I really opened up to each other. And in April 1994 I joined.

  My grandmother’s death must have had an influence. Also the company I was working for was starting to lay off people. To top it all, the illness I talked about before was still with me. I hoped that joining Aum might help clear it up once and for all.

  I’ll admit I was interested in Ms. Takahashi. Not in a romantic sense—but somehow I couldn’t get her out of my mind. I could see she was absorbed by Aum—but was it good for her to be so totally immersed in it? I was skeptical about Aum, and thought it best to raise these doubts with her. The fastest way to do so, I concluded, was for me to join Aum as well, in order to be able to see her and have opportunities to talk to her. I know it sounds a bit altruistic.

  Fortunately the entrance fee to join had gone down drastically to only 10,000 yen. Half a year’s dues came to 6,000 yen. And they gave us ten free tapes. After joining, in order to go through the initiation rite you have to watch ninety-seven Aum videos and read seventy-seven Aum books. A huge amount, but somehow I made it through them. The last thing you had to do was chant your mantra. We got a printed sheet and read it aloud over and over using a counter to click off the times. That’s why all Aum members have counters. We had to do that seven thousand times. I tried it for a while, but thought it was stupid and gave up. To my mind, it wasn’t any different from a Soka Gakkai service.

  They tried very hard to get me to become a renunciate. At this point Aum was struggling to increase its numbers. I still hadn’t undergone the initiation rites, but they said it didn’t matter. Still I resisted. Ms. Takahashi became a renunciate at the end of that year. She called me at work on December 20 and said, “I’m going to do it.” That was the last time we ever spoke. She became a renunciate and went away.

  When the gas attack occurred I was already distancing myself from Aum. There was a person Ms. Takahashi had proselytized and I was trying to convince that person not to join. Everyone knew I was critical of Aum’s methods. But a follower is a follower and in May 1995 the police took me in for questioning. By this time they knew who had been members. They probably had a list of names. Their methods were pretty archaic. “Can you trample on a photo of Shoko Asahara?” they demanded, like it was in the Edo period when they made the Japanese Christians renounce their faith by stepping on a drawing of Jesus. I had a direct experience of how frightening the police can be.

  The police came to question me again in 1995, when an ANA [All Nippon Airways] plane was hijacked in Hokkaido. “You know something about it, right?” they insisted. They came all the time. It was like being stalked. No matter what I did, someone was always watching me. A spooky feeling. The police are supposed to protect citizens, but here they were frightening me to death. I hadn’t done anything wrong, but still I was afraid all the time that I might be arrested. They were picking up Aum believers one after another for petty offenses. They’d trump up some charges like forgery or something, and I was sure they’d do the same to me.

  They phoned me all the time, asking if anyone in Aum had been in touch. I should have just put up with it, but I was stupid enough to let my curiosity about what was happening inside Aum get the best of me and I went all the way to a satyam in Osaka to see another woman renunciate I knew. I wondered how she felt in the midst of this police crackdown.

  I bought a few issues of the Aum magazine Anuttara Sacca to take back with me. You couldn’t get Aum books and magazines in bookstores anymore, and I wanted to see what was in them. Just as I left the satyam two policemen stopped me for questioning, asking me what I was up to inside. I was afraid, and also didn’t want to be bothered, so I somehow brushed them off and hightailed it out of there. No wonder the police kept an even closer eye on me.

  MURAKAMI: At the time did you believe that the gas attack on the subway was the work of Aum?

  I did. I was positive they did it, but still I couldn’t suppress my curiosity about Aum. I was interested in the essence of this religious group that had been attacked by society, whose books no bookstore would stock, yet which still actively published its journals—this strange kind of life force that sprang back every time no matter how much you tried to crush it. What was going on in Aum? What did the followers really think? That’s what I wanted to know. A journalist’s viewpoint, I suppose. Nothing like what was ever shown on television.

  MURAKAMI: How do you feel about the gas attack itself?

  It’s completely wrong and cannot be condoned. No doubt about that. But you have to distinguish Shoko Asahara from the ordinary rank-and-file believers. They aren’t all criminals, and some of them have truly pure hearts. I know many people like that and I feel sorry for them. They don’t fit into the system because they’re not comfortable with it, or because they’ve been excluded from it. That’s the kind of people who join Aum. And I like them. It’s easy for me to be friends with them. I feel much closer to them than to people who are well adjusted. The real culprit is Asahara himself. He was tremendously powerful.

  What’s funny is that being with the police so much I started to make friends with them. At first I was scared, but gradually we got to be friendly. They’d ask me if any mail had come from Aum and I’d show them everything. Once I cooperated, the police became much more open and kinder to me. “Well now,” I thought, “even the police can be pure and honest sometimes. They’re all working as hard as they can. So if they make a reasonable request of me, I’ll cooperate.”

  New Year rolled around and I got a card from Ms. Takahashi’s mother. She wrote, “We were completely wrong.” She’d been a devout Aum follower herself, at first. She’d gone through the initiation. I wanted to see Ms. Takahashi, no matter what. There was so much I wanted to talk to her about. I mentioned this to the police and showed them the card.

  That’s probably what gave them the idea that they could use me as a spy. They called me in and sounded me out about the idea. Whether they actually used the word “spy” or not I can’t recall, but that was the gist of it. In other words, would I go into the Aum organization to gather information and report back to them? Naturally the idea of being a spy wasn’t appealing. I just wanted to find a way to be with Aum followers. I was already friends with the police, I thoug
ht, so what the hell. I’ll give it a try.

  I’m the type who just goes with the flow. A loner, basically, with no friends. The type who’s stuck at the bottom of the company ladder and is always getting yelled at. Nobody would ever take me seriously. So when the police said to me in all sincerity, “Do your best and try to get some information for us,” I was very happy. Even if it’s the police, I just felt happy being able to communicate with someone. At my company, I never made any friends. My Aum friends were all gone, and Ms. Takahashi had become a renunciate and disappeared. So, “If it’s for a short time, okay,” I thought. And that’s what I told them. I shouldn’t have.

  MURAKAMI: Was being a police spy a valuable experience?

  All I wanted was to get in touch with Ms. Takahashi, to bring her back. Not as a spy or anything, I just wanted to be in contact with Aum members. But if I tried that on my own, without cooperating with the police, I would have been pegged as an Aum person, and I was afraid of that. They would have treated me as a criminal. Having the police back me up would make the whole thing go more smoothly. Also I thought I might be able to persuade a few members to quit Aum. But that was dishonest. Don’t you think?

  MURAKAMI: Dishonest or not, it’s a convoluted story.

  It is indeed. I felt sorry for Ms. Takahashi, and felt I had to do something. That’s all I was thinking about. If things continued as they were, she’d be treated like a criminal. I had to try to persuade her, but I had no idea where she was. If I cooperated with the police, I might get some information. But I never did find out her whereabouts. I asked all the time, but the police couldn’t track her down. All they knew was that she was still a renunciate. Maybe they did know but just didn’t tell me.

  At any rate, since the Fukui and Kanazawa branches were shut down, the plan to have me infiltrate Aum fell through.

  MURAKAMI: So it ended up well for you, didn’t it? By the way, are you interested in Nostradamus’s prophecies?

  Very much so. Nostradamus had a great influence on my generation. I’m planning my life’s schedule around his prophecies. I have a desire to kill myself. I want to die. I don’t mind dying very soon. But since the end is coming in two years, I think I might be patient for a bit longer. I want to see with my own eyes what will happen at the end. I’m interested in doomsday religions. In addition to Aum, I have contacts among Jehovah’s Witnesses. What they talk about is nonsense, though.

  MURAKAMI: When you say “the end,” is that when the present system will be wiped out?

  I prefer to think of it as being reset. It’s the desire to push the reset button on life. I imagine it as a catharsis, very peaceful.

  “Each individual has his own image of the Master”

  Mitsuharu Inaba (b. 1956)

  Mr. Inaba is still an active member of Aum Shinrikyo. He lives with several other Aum members in a two-story apartment building in Tokyo. It’s difficult to rent anywhere if you’re in Aum, but the landlord of this particular place was very understanding: “If you have no other place to stay as you make the transition back to normal life, then go ahead.” Cockroaches seem to spring up wherever Aum followers live, and during our interview I saw quite a few of them crawling across the tatami mat. This must be a worry for the landlord. Neighbors are aware they’re in Aum and give them the cold shoulder.

  Mr. Inaba was born in Hokkaido in 1956. He seems to have been a quite ordinary child, but according to him he was always brooding over the meaning of life. This tendency is present in many Aum believers. His intellectual pursuits took him from philosophy to Buddhism, then to Tibetan Buddhism, and finally to Aum Shinrikyo. An elementary and junior high teacher, he became a renunciate at 34. At the time of the gas attack he belonged to the Aum Defense Ministry and worked maintaining Cosmo cleaners. *

  Now he scrapes by tutoring once a week. Life is hard. “Do you know any students you can introduce to me?” he asks with a smile. He’s a very serious, calm person, and I imagine he’s a good teacher. He lights up when he recalls teaching the children of renunciates inside Aum.

  In his room there is a small altar with a photograph of Master Asahara and one of His Holiness Rinpoche, the new leader of Aum.

  I didn’t want to be a teacher, but according to my mother, that was the only path open to me [laughs]. I spent two years after high school studying for the college entrance exams before I got in. One whole year I was ill. I had some sort of philosophical struggle going on in me, a period of great discontent. I went to the hospital and it turned out my blood pressure was 180. After this I stayed at home to get better. I took medicine to lower my blood pressure. I was the kind of person who broods over things, and is too sensitive to his surroundings. By “philosophical struggle” I mean that I realized I had to do certain things in a certain way, and knowing I couldn’t manage it made me hate myself. I was young and hardheaded.

  I majored in elementary education in college, with a concentration in educational psychology. I chose the elementary level because I like children. Still, I was plagued by the question of what I should do with my life. I had the notion that there were things the children would teach me. I would both teach, and be taught at the same time.

  I graduated from college and found a job in an elementary school in Kanagawa Prefecture. It wasn’t so hard for me to leave home. I was used to moving, and was sure I could make friends no matter where I went.

  I was put in charge of my own class from the very first year. Forty kids to a class, and it wasn’t easy in the beginning, believe me. It totally occupied me for a while. Actually it was a lot of fun. I was a teacher for a total of ten years, and the five or six years I was in elementary school were the best. I got on well with the parents, too. We’d get together sometimes to sing, eat homemade cakes, and so on. I never had any bad experiences with the rest of the staff.

  People tried to find someone for me to marry. My parents even tried to set me up. And I did go out with a few women for a while. But all the time I knew that eventually I was going to renounce the world.

  MURAKAMI: So you were already thinking about that?

  Yes, I was. It was before I found out about Aum, but what I had in mind was more becoming a traditional renunciate. The image I had was of quietly retiring from the world at 60 and living a simple life.

  When I was in college I was really into Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, but gradually my interests turned to Eastern thought, especially Zen. I read all kinds of Zen books, and did the kind of do-it-yourself practice called “lone wolf Zen.” But I couldn’t bring myself to follow the ascetic aspects. So next—chronologically, about the time I got my job—I started to get interested in esoteric Shingon Buddhism, particularly Kukai. I climbed Mt. Koya, did a pilgrimage around Shikoku during summer vacation, visited Toji Temple when I went to Kyoto—that sort of thing.

  People put down Japanese Buddhism as “Funeral Buddhism,” saying all it’s concerned with is conducting funeral ceremonies, but I think you should look at it in a more positive way, at its staying power over many centuries. Surely within those traditions there’s got to be some place where authentic Buddhism is practiced. I didn’t pay much attention to the so-called new religions. No matter how wonderful they might be, I thought, they had at most a history of thirty or forty years. I’d stick to Shingon Buddhism.

  After four years teaching in elementary school I was asked all of a sudden if I would move over to junior high.

  I was about four years into teaching at the junior high when I came across some Aum books. The bookstore carried a small magazine called Mahayana, which I bought and read. This was when it first came out, maybe the fourth or fifth issue. There was a special section devoted to esoteric yoga, which I didn’t know much about. I wanted to learn more.

  One Sunday a colleague of mine and I went to Shinjuku to buy some teaching materials. We took the Odakyu Line on the way back, and near Gotokuji Station there was an Aum dojo in Setagaya. We had some time to spare, so I thought I’d just drop by. Joyu happened to be giving a
talk entitled “The Po-a Gathering.” Po-a here meaning the raising of one’s spiritual level.

  I was really impressed by what he said. It was so clearly stated—the way he used metaphors, for instance. It was very appealing, especially to young people. After the sermon he took questions, and his answers were extremely precise, each one perfectly tailored to the person who asked it.

  A month later I joined. I made it very clear it was for three months or half a year, just for me to check it out. It was about 3,000 yen to join, and yearly fees were 10,000 yen, quite cheap. Once you join you receive these periodicals, and can attend all the sermons. Sermon meetings were divided into those for the general public, those for lay followers, and those for anyone who had taken vows. I went to the dojo once or twice a month.

  When I became a member I didn’t have any personal problems or anything. It was just that, no matter where I found myself, I felt like there was a hole inside me, with the wind rushing through. I never felt satisfied. From the outside you wouldn’t imagine I had any troubles. When I became a renunciate people would ask me, “What could possibly be troubling you? How could you have any problems?”

  MURAKAMI: In everybody’s life there are times when you feel pain, sadness, depression. Something that shakes you to the core. You never experienced anything like this?

  Nothing extreme, no. Not that I can recall anyway.

  In the summer I spent three days at the newly built headquarters at Mt. Fuji. But it wasn’t until autumn 1989 that I began to get serious about attending the dojo. I’d go every Saturday night and return on Sunday. During the week I trained on my own at home, especially when I got to the point where I received sakti-pat—I had to get in shape for that. The introduction of energy there is very delicate; you have to concentrate on training for it. I did asana [yoga], breathing exercises, simple meditation; there were three-hour courses and you had to get twenty units. As you continue to train you feel a transformation come over you. Your mental outlook grows more upbeat, more positive. You’re like a new person.

 
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