Underground the tokyo ga.., p.39
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.39Haruki Murakami
Yoshihiro Inoue was the only person I felt spiritually close to in Aum, and I wanted to question him about all this, but he was off on some secret work and I couldn’t contact him. The upshot was I spent several months in turmoil.
A year after I joined Aum, Murai ordered me to collect seismology data, but with all the uncertainty about the direction Aum was taking and the general confusion, I knew I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on work. I had no idea where Aum was going, so I just asked Murai point-blank: “There seems to be a hidden side to Aum. What’s your take on it?” At the time I was involved in some astrology work which put me closer to the Leader and I was able to see the daily comings and goings of the higher-ups. It was like—how should I put it?—as if their activities were all hidden behind a veil or something. The person who held the key to this hidden region was Mr. Murai, so I came right out and asked him. I couldn’t say it face-to-face, so I asked him over the phone. He was silent for a while, then he said: “I’m disappointed in you.” At that instant I knew that my life in Aum was over.
I don’t consider Aum’s crimes simply reckless behavior. Of course part of it was reckless, but there was a religious viewpoint pervading those actions. That’s what I want most to learn about. Probably only Asahara and Murai can explain it fully. The other followers were mere pawns, but not these two—they gave the orders, and decided things with a clear vision of their goals. The opponent I was really struggling against, standing up alone to, was the very motives of those two people.
Most of the people arrested in the gas attack were absolutely devoted followers of the Leader who wouldn’t let any doubts they might have about Aum stop them doing exactly as they were told. Compared to them, Toru Toyoda could still think for himself. Whenever I voiced doubts about Aum, he’d actually give it some thought. Then he’d say, “Okay, but Hidetoshi, the world is already in Armageddon, so it’s a little too late for that.”
I knew Toyoda quite well, as we entered Aum around the same time; after he took vows he was promoted to the leadership overnight. He rose up that fast. That’s how Aum used him. “I really don’t understand all that’s going on in Aum myself,” he told me, “but since I’m in the leadership now, I’d better behave like a leader.” When I heard this I thought: “Wow, he has it tough, too. Even worse than I do.” This was still before the gas attack. I was his driver for a while.
MURAKAMI: If Murai had told you to release the sarin, would you have disobeyed?
I think so, but there’s a trick to doing it. The people who carried out the crime were put in a position where they were caught off guard by the orders and couldn’t escape. They’d gather in Murai’s room and suddenly the leaders would broach the topic, telling them: “This is an order from the top.” An order from the top—that was like a mantra in Aum. The people who carried out the crime were chosen from among the strongest believers. “You’ve been specially chosen,” they were told. The leaders appealed to their sense of duty. Faith in Aum meant total devotion.
That’s why I wasn’t chosen to commit the crimes. I was still at the bottom of the heap and hadn’t yet reached enlightenment. In other words Aum didn’t trust me enough.
MURAKAMI: There’s one thing I don’t understand. When I did my interviews with victims of the gas attack, several of them told me that, based on their experience working for companies, if they had been in Aum and been ordered to release the sarin they might well have done it. But you were actually in Aum, yet say you’d have run away from it. Why is that?
Saying I’d run away might be less than honest. If I really search my heart I can say that if Murai had told me to do it, most likely I would have run away. However, if Yoshihiro Inoue had said to me, “Hidetoshi, this is part of salvation,” and passed me the bag with the sarin in it, I would have been very perplexed. If he’d told me to come with him, I might have done so. In other words, it comes down to a question of ties between individuals.
Murai was my boss, but he was cold and too far above me. If he’d told me to do it I would have asked him why, and if he’d insisted and said, “It’s a dirty job but it’s for the sake of Aum and I really want you to do it,” I like to think that I would have hidden my true feelings, said okay, and then, at the last minute, found a way to get out of it. Like [Ken’ichi] Hirose, who wavered and got off the train, I think I would have struggled over what I should do, but in the end would have found a way out.
But something about Inoue captivated me. He felt a strong sense of religious duty. If I’d seen him agonizing over the situation, I think I would have done anything to help out. He was a great influence on me. So if he’d pushed me, saying this was a mission only we could carry out, I might very well have gone along. I would have been operating on a different plane. What I mean is, in the final analysis, logic doesn’t play a strong role in people’s motivations. I doubt if the ones who did it were even capable of thinking logically when they were given the order to release the sarin. They didn’t have the presence of mind, got caught up in events, panicked, and did what they were told. No one who had the strength to think logically about it would have carried it out. In extreme cases of guru-ism individuals’ value systems are completely wiped out. In situations like that people just don’t have the mental stamina to connect their actions with the deaths of many people.
No matter how much you resist and try to put a stop to things, the fact is that in a group like Aum your sense of Self steadily deteriorates. Things are forced on you from above and you’re continually attacked for not accepting the status quo, not being devoted enough, and inevitably your spirit is broken. I was somehow able to hold out, but a lot of people who entered at the same time ended up broken.
MURAKAMI: All right, but what if Shoko Asahara himself ordered you—“Takahashi, I want you to do it”—what would you have done?
I think I would have stood up to him. If he’d been able to give me a reasonable explanation, I would have listened. But if he couldn’t, I would have kept asking questions until I was convinced. That alone would have excluded me from the job. I’d spoken my mind in front of him before, and he told me I’m a very straightforward type of person. I don’t think either Shoko Asahara or Hideo Murai would have been able to move me because they never opened up to me.
MURAKAMI: Hold on. A moment ago you used the expression “in extreme cases of guru-ism,” so this implies that you yourself were outside this system, right? If the essence of faith in Aum Shinrikyo is guru-ism, isn’t that a logical contradiction?
As I mentioned before, when we went through the “Christ Initiation” I started to have serious doubts about Aum’s methods. I was completely disillusioned at the gulf between believers and the Leader.
MURAKAMI: Then what kept you in Aum? There was Shoko Asahara, doctrine, and your fellow believers. Which of the three was it?
I had almost nothing left. I placed all my faith in Inoue. I was lonely in Aum, isolated. They made me do research on astrology in the Ministry of Science and Technology, something I wasn’t interested in at all. There was no way I wanted to see scientific data about the movements of the stars used for some dubious enterprise like fortune-telling. One constant theme in Aum was the desire for supernatural power, but I can’t understand the mentality of people who are into that. To me, it’s a complete waste of time.
To get back to your question, why did I stay? I’d already abandoned everything else. When I entered Aum I burned every photo album I owned. I burned my diaries. I broke up with my girlfriend. I threw everything away.
MURAKAMI: But you were barely 20 years old. You could have started again. Don’t take offense, but at that age there wasn’t all that much to abandon, was there?
Well, I’m sure it wouldn’t seem like much … [laughs] But you know, I think I’m a pretty stubborn person, a trait all Aum followers share. This stubborn insistence on things that don’t really matter to anyone else as we press on with our mission. Also, focusing like that you get a sense of fulfillment. And Aum was able to
When I joined Aum and took vows, I was drunk on the sense of having discarded the world, though I question whether it was actually my own will that led me to take vows. Maybe I just wanted to believe that. The gas attack brought me to my senses and I left Aum. Things I’d thought were mystical became illusions that vanished without a trace. It’s like you’re sleeping soundly and someone yells “Fire!” and suddenly you find yourself out on the street. That was the way it felt. I’ll be grappling with these Aum incidents for the rest of my life. I don’t want them to fade into the background.
MURAKAMI: I’d like to ask you once more about the idea of the end of the world. Is the Apocalypse that Aum talks about the same as that of Judaism and Christianity? The idea of the millennium is a Western concept, after all, and Nostradamus has nothing to do with Buddhism.
No matter what special spin Aum might put on its idea of Armageddon, I don’t think it can compete with the Christian idea of the Apocalypse. It’s absorbed into the Christian idea. That’s why you can’t really explain these Aum-related incidents by looking only at the core of what makes up Aum—namely, Buddhism and Tibetan esoteric religion.
Earlier I said that I don’t think that an apocalyptic vision is confined to myself as an individual; what I meant was that, whether you’re Christian or not, we all inevitably bear the same apocalyptic fate.
MURAKAMI: To tell the truth, I don’t really understand what you’ve been calling an apocalyptic vision. But I have the feeling that, if that vision is to have any kind of meaning at all, it has to lie in how you internally deconstruct it.
You’re absolutely right. Apocalypse is not some set idea, but more of a process. After an apocalyptic vision there’s always a purging or purifying process that takes place. In this sense I think the gas attack was a kind of catharsis, a psychological release of everything that had built up in Japan—the malice, the distorted consciousness we have. Not that the Aum incident got rid of everything. There’s still this suppressed, viruslike apocalyptic vision that’s invading society and hasn’t been erased or digested.
Even if you could get rid of it at an individual level, the virus would remain on a social level.
MURAKAMI: You talk about society as a whole, but in the so-called secular world, ordinary people—by which I mean people who maintain a relative balance in their lives—deconstruct that kind of viruslike apocalyptic vision, as you put it, in their own way, and naturally substitute something else for it. Don’t you think so?
Yes, it does come down to a process of deconstruction. Something like that has absolutely got to take place. Shoko Asahara couldn’t deconstruct it, and lost out to apocalyptic ideas. And that’s why he had to create a crisis on his own. The apocalyptic vision of Shoko Asahara—as a religious figure—was defeated by an even greater vision.
I’ve been trying hard to come to terms with these Aum-related incidents. I go to the trial as often as I can. But when I see and hear Asahara at the trial I feel as though he’s making an idiot out of me. I get nauseated, and actually vomited once. It’s a sad and dreary feeling. Sometimes I think it’s not worth watching, but I still can’t take my eyes off him. No matter how grotesque a figure Asahara appears, I can’t just dismiss him. We should never forget that, if even for a short time, this person named Shoko Asahara functioned in the world and brought about these tragic events. Unless I overcome the “Aum Shinrikyo Incident” inside me, I’ll never be able to move on.
* Vajrayana is very similar to conventional Buddhism, with the crucial difference that it offers followers a “fast path” to salvation instead of the slow path like the Mahayanas. This faster path is also interpreted by some as condoning murder as an aid to liberation. [Tr.]
* Hayao Miyazaki is a successful manga cartoonist, animator, and director. His films include Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind, Princess Mononoke, and Porco Rosso. [Tr.]
* Soka Gakkai is a lay Buddhist association that embraces the philosophy and teachings of Nichiren, a thirteenth-century Japanese Buddhist sage and scholar. There are more than ten million members of Soka Gakkai in Japan and seventy-six worldwide organizations that make up Soka Gakkai International. [Tr.]
* Yuta is a southern-island term for a kind of shaman. [Tr.]
* Fumihiro Joyu was a senior member of and spokesman for Aum Shinrikyo. In 1997 he was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of forgery and perjury and was released in December 1999. He has since rejoined the cult. [Tr]
* Cosmo cleaners: air filtration equipment designed by Aum members to thwart poison gas attacks, among other things. [Tr.]
* In English the word “astral” is an adjective, but in Japanese it often appears as a noun. It still refers to some kind of ethereal existence beyond the physical. [Tr.]
* Shoko Asahara’s real name is Chizuo Matsumoto. [Tr.]
* Eleven days after the gas attack, the Tokyo police chief Takaji Kunimatsu was shot dead outside his apartment by an unidentified assailant who escaped on a bicycle. [Tr.]
† A few days after Takaji Kunimatsu was murdered, the Aum science minister Hideo Murai was stabbed to death. He may have been assassinated by Aum members because he knew too much. [Tr.]
* Robert Jay Lifton is the author of Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism (Metropolitan Books, 1999). [Tr.]
Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and now lives near Tokyo. His work has been translated into more than forty languages. The most recent of his many honors is the Franz Kafka Prize.
Books by Haruki Murakami
After the Quake
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
Dance Dance Dance
The Elephant Vanishes
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
Kafka on the Shore
South of the Border, West of the Sun
A Wild Sheep Chase
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
ALSO BY HARUKI MURAKAMI
Murakami’s trademark humor and psychological insight are here distilled with an extraordinary, harmonious mastery. Combining the pyrotechnical genius that made Kafka on the Shore and The Windup Bird Chronicle international bestsellers, with a moving infusion of heart, Murakami has produced one of his most enchanting fictions yet.
AFTER THE QUAKE
Set at the time of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, Murakami’s characters emanate from a place where the human meets in the inhuman. An electronics salesman who has been abruptly deserted by his wife agrees to deliver an enigmatic package—and is rewarded with a glimpse of his true nature. A man who has been raised to view himself as the son of God pursues a stranger who may or not be his human father. A collection agent receives a visit from a giant talking frog who enlists his help in saving Tokyo from destruction.
BLIND WILLOW, SLEEPING WOMAN
This superb collection of stories generously express Murakami’s mastery of the form. Here are animated crows, a criminal monkey, and an ice man, as well as the dreams that shape us and the things we might wish for. Whether during a chance reunion in Italy, a romantic exile in Greece, or in the grip of everyday life, Murakami’s characters confront grievous loss, or sexuality, or the glow of a firefly, or the impossible distances between those who ought to be closest of all.
DANCE DANCE DANCE
As he searches for a mysteriously vanished girlfriend, Murakami’s pro
THE ELEPHANT VANISHES
With his genius for dislocation, Murakami makes this collection of stories a determined assault on the normal. A man sees his favorite elephant vanish into thin air; a newlywed couple suffers attacks of hunger that drive them to hold up a McDonald’s in the middle of the night; a young woman discovers that she has become irresistible to a little green monster who burrows up through her backyard.
HARD-BOILED WONDERLAND AND THE END OF THE WORLD
Japan’s most popular fiction writer hurtles into the consciousness of the West. Murakami draws readers into a narrative particle accelerator in which a split-brained data processor, a deranged scientist, his undemure granddaughter, Bob Dylan, and various thugs, librarians, and subterranean monsters collide to dazzling effect.
KAFKA ON THE SHORE
This book is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home—either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister—and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that he cannot fathom. As their paths converge, Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder.
Toru, a college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman. But their relationship is colored by the tragic death of their mutual best friend years before. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.
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