Underground the tokyo ga.., p.6
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.6Haruki Murakami
That day I was running a little later than usual. I took the Toyoko Line just before 7:00, reached Naka-meguro around 7:15, took the Hibiya Line to Kasumigaseki, and changed to the Chiyoda Line. I encountered the sarin gas in the one-station interval between Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-gijidomae.
I always take the front car when I change trains at Kasumigaseki. That puts me right by the exit closest to my office. The bell was ringing when I reached the Chiyoda Line platform, so I raced to get on, but the train just sat there. I saw two station attendants wiping the floor in front of me. Liquid had leaked from a box, spilling out like water … The train remained stationary while the attendants did their business mopping up the liquid. This delay meant I caught the train.
No, it wasn’t with mops, they were wiping the floor with wads of newspaper. The train had to get going again as soon as possible, so they can’t have had time to fetch mops. An attendant carried the leaking box out of the car and finally the train pulled away. I only found out later, but it turns out the station attendant who carried out the box died. The other one died the day after.
We were delayed about five minutes at the station. All that time, the station attendants were right in front of me cleaning up. The car wasn’t especially crowded, but there was nowhere to sit, so I just stood and watched them clean up. Thinking back on it I suppose there was a smell, but at the time I didn’t notice. It didn’t seem at all unusual. All the passengers were coughing, though, as if someone had left something behind that had evaporated. Yet even so, not one of them got up to change seats. After the train departed, I saw the floor was still dirty and moved a few feet away.
I didn’t notice anything else out of the ordinary until I got off the train at Kokkai-gijidomae. A lot of people coughing, but that was all. I didn’t pay much attention, I just went to the office. The TV is always on at work so we can keep up with the exchange rates. I was half watching the news when something strange happened. There seemed to be some big furor going on. The screen showed mainly Tsukiji Station and thereabouts.
The day before, I’d just gotten back from a ten-day business trip to South America. The next day was the Spring Equinox holiday, so there was no pressing reason for me to come in, but I’d been away for a while, so I thought I’d just see what work had piled up. But the office was dark. What’s happened? I wondered. Was the place always this dark? When I saw the TV report I didn’t think for a moment it was the very same train I’d taken, but slowly I started to feel ill: contracted pupils were a symptom, apparently. Everyone said I ought to go to a hospital.
First I went to a nearby eye doctor and had my pupils examined. No amount of light applied or taken away stimulated any movement of the iris. Already some policemen had come in for tests and had been referred to nearby Akasaka Hospital. There were a few other sarin victims and they’d set up a production line to test blood pressure and the like. Akasaka Hospital still didn’t have any antidote, but I was put on a drip for an hour and a half, then I was told, “Would those who feel all right now please go home and come back tomorrow.” They didn’t do a blood test or anything. Come to think of it now, Akasaka Hospital didn’t run any proper tests on me at all.
By this time they’d pretty much established it was sarin poisoning. I knew that’s what I had too. They were talking about it on TV and it had been the same train, the same car … They hardly looked at me at Akasaka Hospital, so I thought maybe I’d just go home and die (laughs). But I’d been standing in the train, then moved to the back of the car, so I was still on the safe side. Those who were sitting in the same car and didn’t move away were hospitalized for a long time. I heard this from the detective who came around later to gather information.
The pupil contraction didn’t improve for a while. I went to the eye doctor at Akasaka Hospital for about ten days. But they didn’t really give me any treatment.
The fact is, the very day of the gas attack I worked straight through at the office until 5:30. I didn’t feel well enough to eat lunch, of course; had no appetite. I came out in a cold sweat, had chills, and everyone said I looked pale. If I’d actually collapsed I’d have packed it in and gone home, but since I wasn’t falling over or anything … Everyone was saying it’s probably hay fever. I’d just returned from South America, so it could be some kind of allergic reaction, they said. But my eyes wouldn’t focus, my head ached. Thank goodness my job is mainly dealing over the phone and I could leave the reading to one of the girls.
The next day was a holiday, so I just lay down and rested. Everything still seemed dark, and I had no get-up-and-go. Couldn’t sleep much at night. I was groaning, apparently. I’d dream and wake up halfway. I was scared that if I went to sleep I might never wake up again.
I live alone now, but at the time I had a family. A wife and kids. Sorry to drag out the sordid details (laughs). But, well, at the time I was with my family, though I might just as well have been alone …
Well, I’d hung up the clothes I was wearing that day in the wardrobe, and the kids started complaining that their eyes tingled. I have two kids and it was the youngest whose eyes hurt. I didn’t know what was going on, but I decided it couldn’t hurt just to throw out the suit, so I trashed it and everything else, even threw out my shoes.
In the end, people died and others suffered terrible aftereffects, so of course you have to feel angry toward the criminals; but me, I probably feel a little different from everyone else who came to harm traveling in that car. Anger, yeah, but my symptoms were relatively minor, so mine is a more objective anger. It isn’t personal.
Maybe it sounds strange, but it’s not like I don’t understand all this religious fanatic stuff. I’ve always had a feel for that side of things. I don’t want to reject it straight out. I’ve always enjoyed the constellations and myths from the time I was small, which is why I wanted to be a sailor in the first place. But when you start organizing and forming groups, I don’t go in for all that. I have no interest in religious groups, but I don’t believe taking that sort of thing seriously is necessarily all bad. I can understand that much.
But it’s strange, you know, while I was in South America I was invited out to karaoke by someone from the Japanese Embassy in Colombia, then almost went back the next day to the same place, but I said, “No, let’s try somewhere new.” And that very day, the place got bombed. I remember thinking when I got back home, “At least Japan’s a safe place,” and the next day I go to work and the gas attack happens (laughs). What a joke. But seriously, when I’m in South America or Southeast Asia, death is never far away. Accidents are commonplace to them, not like in Japan.
To be honest, the day after the gas attack, I asked my wife for a divorce. We weren’t on the best of terms at the time, and I’d done my fair share of thinking while I was in South America. I had meant to come out and say my piece when I got home, then I walked straight into the gas attack. Still, even after all I’d been through, she would barely speak to me.
After being gassed I phoned home from the office to tell my wife what had happened and my symptoms and everything, but I got almost no reaction from her. Perhaps she couldn’t really grasp the situation, exactly what had occurred. But even so, well, I knew then that we’d come to a turning point. Or else, the state I was in had gotten me all worked up, maybe that’s what it was. Maybe that’s why I came straight out with it and said I wanted a divorce. Perhaps if this sarin thing hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have been talking about divorce so soon. I probably wouldn’t have said anything. It was a shock to the system and at the same time a kind of trigger.
My family had been in such a mess for so long, by then I didn’t consider myself very important. Not that the possibility of dying wasn’t real, but, had I died, I probably could have accepted it in my own way as just a kind of accident.
“Luckily I was dozing off”
Aya Kazaguchi (23)
Ms. Kazaguchi was born in Machiya, Arakawa Ward, northeast Tokyo, and has never lived anywhere else. She likes it in
After graduating from high school, she went to business school and studied data processing and bookkeeping, then found work with a clothing manufacturer. She is in charge of one of the company’s own brands. It is an exclusive line that targets the “cute” and “frilly” tastes of debutantes and young wives from good families. Her father works in the clothing industry, which is how she was introduced to her present employer. Ms. Kazaguchi has no great interest in the clothing business, but she is happy to be able to use her computer and word-processing skills on the job.
She likes reggae, and her favorite sports include snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing. “I admit I’m shallow,” she jokes. She enjoys going out with her friends, many of whom she met at grade school. Most of them have stayed in Machiya too.
Fit and strong-willed, she is making the most of her free-and-single years. With her straight, shoulder-length hair, I imagine she’s popular with boys. And, for what it’s worth, her mother’s my age—so she’s young enough to be my daughter.
It takes about forty minutes to get from my house to the office. I take the Chiyoda Line from Machiya Station to Nijubashi-mae Station, walk to Yurakucho Station, then change to the Yurakucho Line for Shintomicho Station. I generally get to the office around 9:05. Office hours start at ten after, so I aim for ten to twenty-five minutes’ leeway. I’ve never been late. I catch the same trains every day.
They’re, like, supercrowded. The Chiyoda Line between Machiya and Otemachi is impossible. You can’t even move your arms. When you get on they shove in—oomph!—from the back, then just pile in willy-nilly. You get “feelie” guys too, sometimes. No fun.
At Otemachi there are all these connections, but once past there it clears out a bit. Nijubashi-mae’s only the next stop, so it’s pretty much crowded the whole way for me. From Machiya to Nishi-nippori, Sendagi, Nezu, Yushima, Shin-ochanomizu, Otemachi … can’t do a thing. You’re just trapped there. Once I’m on, I stand by the door just leaning into this solid mass of people, maybe sleeping. Yeah, that’s right, I can doze off standing up. Almost everyone does. I just close my eyes nice and quiet. Couldn’t move if I wanted to, so it’s easier that way. People’s faces are so up-close, like this, right? … so I close my eyes and drift off …
March 20 was a Monday, wasn’t it? Yeah. Mondays around then our section had meetings first thing at 8:30. So that day I had to go in earlier than usual, left the house about 7:50. Took a different train than usual. Earlier, so a bit emptier. I actually felt I had some room. So I get on, settle into my nook between the seat and the door, just the perfect setup for a nice little nap.
I always board the front car, second door down. I head for the corner, hide in there, and don’t move. But at Nijubashi-mae Station the door opens on the opposite side from Machiya, and at Otemachi I have to move to the other door.
So that day I’m trying to do that, getting ready to open my eyes. I can’t move without opening my eyes, right? (laughs) Only I notice it’s hard to breathe. It’s like, there’s this tight pressure in my chest, and as much as I try to inhale, no breath comes in … “That’s odd,” I’m thinking, “must be because I got up early” (laughs). I thought I was just spaced out. I’m pretty bad at waking up anyway, but this was just a little too stuffy.
It was okay while the door was open and let in some fresh air, but once the door closed at Otemachi the stuffiness got worse. How can I describe it? It was as if the air itself had shut down, even time had shut down … no, that’s a bit exaggerated.
“Strange,” I’m thinking. That’s when the people hanging on to the handstraps started coughing. The car was pretty empty by then, maybe three or four people still standing in front of the seats. But I was so short of breath, I just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. All I could think was, “Can’t this train go any faster?” It’s two, maybe three minutes between Otemachi and Nijubashi-mae, and all that time I was desperate for air. When you fall down and you wham your chest, sometimes you can’t breathe. You inhale all right, but can’t push the air out again—it was kind of like that.
That’s when I look, and by the door opposite me there’s something wrapped in newspaper. I was standing right in front of it and hadn’t even noticed. It was about the size of a lunch box and the newspaper it was wrapped in was dripping wet. Water or some kind of liquid seeping out all around. I took a closer look, and the thing was sloshing around to the rhythm of the train.
I’m a downtown girl, so I know when you go to the fish shop, they wrap it in newspaper. That’s what I thought it was: someone had bought fish or something and left it behind. But who’d buy fish and be traveling on the train first thing in the morning? One middle-aged man also seemed to think it was odd and had gone over, just staring at it. He was forty-something, a salaryman. He didn’t touch it, though, just peered at it like, “What’s that?”
Meanwhile the train reaches Nijubashi-mae, so I get off and everyone else who gets off with me is coughing. I’m hacking away, too. About ten people got off and every one of them was coughing, so I knew there had to be something, it wasn’t just me. I knew I had to rush if I was to be on time. My heart was pounding and I ran along the platform, went straight up the passageway, and suddenly was out of breath. I slowed down and felt much better, but now my nose was running like mad. My heartbeat was back to normal, though.
By the time I got to the office and we were in the meeting, I Started to feel really sick, like I’m going to throw up. Then it came on the news that something had happened on the subway, and I think, “Aha, so that’s it!” When I heard I felt faint … I’m a real coward. I went straight to St. Luke’s Hospital.
They put me on a drip for two hours and ran blood tests, then told me, “Okay, you can go home now.” The tests didn’t show up anything out of the ordinary. I showed no sign of contracted pupils, I just felt sick. I was still wearing the same clothes. I was really suffering then, but I’ve gotten better over time. Luckily I was dozing off. That’s what a detective told me. My eyes were shut, and my breathing was lighter and shallower (laughs). Just lucky, I guess.
“Everyone loves a scandal”
Hideki Sono (36)
Mr. Sono works in the Aoyama fashion district, at the Tokyo branch of a haute couture clothing manufacturer. He’s in sales. After the “Bubble” burst and Japan’s 1980s affluence dried up, most fashion-related businesses fell on hard times, or as Mr. Sono puts it, “We came back to our senses.” Tired of the excesses of the previous decade—old men cavorting around with young girls, spending a fortune on image, selling overpriced brand-name clothes—he seems somewhat relieved that the economy has bottomed out. “Now we can finally get back to normal.”
Although he says he’s “cut out for sales,” Mr. Sono has nothing of the usual hard-sell salesman about him. He seems rather cool and introverted. He doesn’t care much for drinking or group tours or golf, but golf is important in sales, so he can’t very well not play. He goes to the golf course, opens his long-neglected golf bag, and aska his playing partners, “Er, which club do I need now?”—he’s that level of golf er.
“With society the way it is, everyone just chasing after money, I can sort of understand how young people might be attracted to something more spiritual like religion. Not that I am myself.” He has experienced some fairly severe aftereffects from the gas attack, but harbors no personal anger or spite toward the Aum perpetrators. He doesn’t know why.
“I work in clothing, but I have virtually no interest in clothes myself,” he says. “I’ll see something, say ‘I’ll take that one,’ and buy it. I don’t labor over it.” If so, though, how come he’s such a sharp dresser?
My wife and I live alone. We married at 24, so that makes thirteen years. We live in Chiba
On March 20, I left the house thirty minutes early. I had a bit of business I wanted to take care of before work. It was the show season and I had a lot of little things to do for that. Added to which we’re in sales, and it was almost time to start cranking out the figures—how many units of what item sold for the whole month. We’ve got our quotas—this much we have to sell—based on budget projections. I had to get the figures in to Head Office during the course of that week, then put in an appearance at a meeting the following week.
Actually, March 20 was the day my wife left the company where she’d worked for six years. It was an editing job at an advertising magazine, really demanding work that was wearing her down so she wanted to leave. Now she freelances as a copywriter. And also that day was her birthday, too. Which is why I remember the events of March 20 so clearly.
I always take the first car at the front of the train. That puts me nearest the exit, which brings me out by the Hanae Mori boutique building at Omote-sando. That day I happened to get a seat all the way from Shin-ochanomizu. I’d gotten up early and was pretty beat, so I was thinking, “Ah, what a break!” As soon as I sat down I was fast asleep. I woke up at Kasumigaseki Station, four stops later. I felt like I was going to cough and that’s what woke me. And there was this weird smell. A lot of people were moving to the next car down. They were opening and closing the doors between the cars.
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes