Saturday, March 7, 2009
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche
by Haruki Murakami
Fast approaching the 14th anniversary on March 20, the religious terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo released Sarin gas on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. Officially they were following a doctrine that the sooner they bring about the end the sooner salvation would come; unofficially it shows the danger when religious fervor meets mental illness unchecked.
Murakami, a novelist, had recently returned to Japan after spending 8 years abroad, and was living two hours south of the city at the time of the attack. In hearing the news reports he became interested in the stories of the victims and undertook to interview as many as would let him. Given the do not cause problems, do not talk nature of the Japanese this proved quite challenging, but he eventually got approximately 200 people to consent. The English translation only contains a sampling of them. After the book came out it was seen as one sided so he endeavored to interview current or past members of Aum Shinrikyo, and eight of those are contained in the English version.
As with any account of victims of terrorist actions (see Love from Greg and Lauren) or violence (see I am the Central Park Jogger) you come away with a great sense of waste. The overwhelming delusion of what the perpetrators were trying to accomplish, and the futility of their results. It just brings devastating sadness to a few, and destroys whatever they had. Books like this (see Massacre at Mountain Meadows) need to be read so we the silent majority don't become sheep to the few megalomaniacs out there. The sad fact of life is people will just go along to go along, even if they really don't want to be where ever it was they ended up. And by the time they get there it is too late.
Most poignant to me was the story of Tatsuo Akashi, whose vibrant younger sister Shizuko was paralyzed on one side of her body and had her mind reduced to a toddler without any memories of her past. Because his parents are elderly, he is the head of the family and as such he travels an hour by train after work every other day to sit with her until visiting hours are over, then travels an hour back to work where he can then spend another hour going home. He has kept this schedule up since the attack. The day before she had spent the night at his house with his family and was going to ride the train into work in the morning. Seeing how long that would take he offered to drive her to the local underground line so she would not have to travel as much. This is what he lives with now, saying "Looking back on it now, if I hadn't suggested that to Shizuko, she would probably never have suffered like this." How did this or any attack bring anyone closer to their God?
Well worth the read so these people are not forgotten and so you can inoculate your own soul, because regardless of what you tell yourself, we are all susceptible to performing great evil; especially if we do not we could.