Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche - Haruki Murakami (2003)

Part II. THE PLACE THAT WAS PROMISED

“‘If I stay here,’ I thought, ‘I’m going to die’”

Shin’ichi Hosoi (b. 1965)

Mr. Hosoi was born in Sapporo. He came to Tokyo to study at art school, hoping to become a cartoonist, but left after six months. While doing odd jobs, he came across Aum Shinrikyo and became a member. He worked in the Aum printing factory, then transferred to the Animation Division, where he could put his cartooning skills to work. Finally he ended up as a welder in the Science and Technology Division. In 1994 he was promoted to Master and was involved in the construction of Satyam No. 7, which housed a chemical plant. He just worked and had very little opportunity to do much training. Even so, he was able to accumulate a lot of practical experience.

After Aum was raided, he heard a warrant had been issued for his arrest so he turned himself in. After twenty-three days in detention the charges were dropped and he was released. While in detention that June, he posted his official resignation to Aum. He went back to Sapporo for a while but now lives in Tokyo again. During the interview he showed me several illustrations of life in the satyam.

Now he’s a member of the Canary Association, a group formed by people who have left Aum, and he’s critical of both Aum and Shoko Asahara.

I didn’t like elementary school. The reason was my older brother was handicapped—autistic—and he attended a special school; kids at my elementary school teased me about this and I had a lot of bad experiences.

Since I can remember, my mother spent all her time taking care of my brother and hardly paid any attention to me, so I played alone most of the time. I have a vivid memory of the age when I wanted attention and wasn’t able to get any. “Think of your poor brother,” is all I was told. This may have led me to hate my brother.

I was a pretty gloomy child, I suppose. What really decided this, I think, was when my brother died of hepatitis B. It was a huge shock to me. I was 14. Deep inside I’d always hoped that one day he’d be happy, that in the end he’d be saved. It was a kind of religious image. But reality wasn’t at all like I’d imagined—that the weak would someday be saved.

Around this time the book The Nostradamus Prophecies was popular. You know—the idea that the human race would vanish in the year 1999. This was happy news to me because I hated the world. It was unfair, and the weak would never be saved. When I thought about the limits of society, the limits of people, it made me even more depressed.

I wanted to talk to somebody about my feelings, but everyone was too busy studying, or else all they wanted to talk about was cars or baseball. I became a big fan of Katsuhiro Otomo’s [manga] comics, when he still wasn’t that well known. They were so real, so alive to me; the stories themselves were dark, but made me think, “You know, these kinds of things might really come true.” I often copied his work—Sayonara Nippon, Short Peace, Boogie Woogie Waltz, and others.

I wanted to leave home and go to Tokyo, so after graduating from high school I entered a school called the Chiyoda Industrial Arts School. They offered a major in cartooning. But I left after six months. There always seemed to be a wall separating me from the rest of the world, and coming to Tokyo the wall got higher. People treated me all right, and I got to know quite a few girls. I’d think, “This girl and I will get along okay,” only to find I’d built a wall between us. Classes were fine; my problem was more with people. I just couldn’t get along well with anyone. I went out partying, but drinking and all that didn’t do a thing for me. All the while my dislike of the world grew more intense.

Now that I look back on it I wonder, “What was all that about?” I finally get the chance to meet a lot of people and what do I do? Drive them away. But I couldn’t help it. So I left and made a living doing part-time jobs. I continued to study cartooning. My parents sent me a small allowance, but being all alone studying when you’re 18 or 19 is hard on you. You’re in a closed-off space and it affects you emotionally. I started to have a phobia about being with people.

They frightened me. I was convinced they were out to trick me or hurt me. Whenever I saw a happy couple walking down the street, or a family enjoying themselves, all I could think about was that they should all be smashed to smithereens—at the same time I hated myself for having such thoughts.

I’d left home to escape the depressing atmosphere after my brother died, but couldn’t find any peace no matter where I went. Everywhere was the same, and I grew to loathe the outside world. Leaving my apartment was like entering hell. Finally I ended up with a hygiene fetish. I had to wash my hands as soon as I got home. I’d stand in front of the sink washing my hands for thirty minutes—even an hour—without stopping. I knew I was ill, but I couldn’t stop myself. This went on for two or three years.

MURAKAMI: I’m surprised you could live that way for so long. It couldn’t have been easy.

Yeah. I barely spoke to a soul those couple of years. I talked to my family occasionally, or to people at my job, that’s it. I started to sleep longer, over fifteen hours a day. Otherwise I’d feel awful. My stomach bothered me, too. It would hurt all of a sudden. I’d go pale, break out in a sweat, and breathing was difficult. I was scared that if things kept on like this I might die.

I thought I’d try a dietary cure and yoga to see if they helped. That way I’d be able to get control of my life again. I went to a bookstore and came across Shoko Asahara’s book Beyond Life and Death, which I stood reading for a while. It claimed that kundalini awakening could be attained in three months. I was amazed. “Is that really possible?” I wondered. I’d already read Outline of Theosophy and had some basic knowledge of yoga so I went back to my room and tried it out. Along with the dietary cure I did the training outlined in the book for three months. I’m the type of person who totally concentrates on something and I never missed a day. Four hours a day or so.

I was less interested in awakening kundalini than in just getting healthy. About two months into it the base of my spine started to vibrate, which is something you experience before kundalini awakening. But I still had my doubts. I felt a strong warmth like boiling water was coiling up my spine to my brain, as if it was wreaking havoc with the insides of my brain, writhing like a living thing. I was dumbfounded. Here was something beyond my control, something incredible happening inside my body. I actually fainted.

In three months I had reached kundalini awakening, just as Shoko Asahara’s manual had said. So he was absolutely right. That’s when I started to become really interested in Aum. The Aum magazine Mahayana had just published its fifth issue, and I bought it and all the back numbers and devoured them. They had photos and personal testimonies from some very appealing, remarkable individuals. If these kinds of people were devoted to him, then the “Revered Master” must be a pretty amazing man.

What I liked most about the Aum books was that they clearly stated that the world is evil. I was happy when I read that. I’d always thought that the world was unfair and might as well be destroyed, and here it was all laid out in black and white. Instead of simply destroying the world, though, Shoko Asahara said: “If one trains and is liberated, then one can change the world.” I was fired up reading this. “I want to be this man’s disciple and devote myself to him,” I decided. If I could do that, I wouldn’t mind abandoning all the dreams, desires, and hopes of this world.

MURAKAMI: You say the world is unfair, but in what way?

Well, things like inborn talent, family background. No matter what the situation, bright people are bright, people who can run fast can run fast. And people who are weak never see the light of day. There’s an element of fate that I thought was too unfair. But in Asahara’s books this is explained as the workings of karma. If in a previous life a person did evil things that’s why he’s suffering now, likewise if a person did good in a previous life that’s why he now lives in such a good environment and is able to make full use of his abilities. I read this and was convinced. It was time for me to avoid evil and start accumulating merit.

Originally I just planned to use dietary cure and yoga to regain my health and after I got back on my feet I’d return to normal life, but at Aum I found myself developing a Buddhist mind-set completely new to me. One thing I can say is that Aum books helped me get back on my feet when I was in an awful state.

I think it was December 1988 when I went to the Setagaya dojo, became a member, and was able to talk to one of the enlightened practitioners. He gave me all sorts of advice. He told me I should participate in what they called the “Mad Intensive Training” seminar that took place once a year at the Mt. Fuji headquarters. It’s a pretty radical name, isn’t it? [laughs] You go through this for ten days, they told me, and your training makes tremendous progress, so by all means you should go; the problem was, though, it required a 100,000-yen donation and I didn’t have that kind of money. Also, I wondered whether such rigorous training so soon after joining might not be counterproductive. The head of the training, Tomomitsu Niimi, insisted that I go, and eventually I gave in and went.

Aum was a small group at one time, with maybe two hundred renunciates. Since it was so small, you were able to meet Shoko Asahara soon after you joined. He was different then, kind of wiry and muscular. Back then he walked with heavy, vigorous strides. You felt something amazing, something awesome in his presence. You could feel this sort of terrifying ability he had to see through everything at a glance. People said, “He’s so gentle,” but when I first met him he scared me.

I had a chance to do “Secret Yoga” with him, one-on-one, and he told me, “You’re in a serious state of makyo.” That’s the state you reach as your training progresses and spiritual impediments arise. I told him, “In order to progress in my training I’d like to become a renunciate as soon as possible.” “Wait for a while,” he said. “You can’t escape makyo. You need to work at your training in order to free yourself from it.”

The next time I saw Asahara, he had slipped into the dojo, all smiles, to observe the bhakti [a service held by followers]. When I saw him, I thought: “Wow, this is a man of a thousand faces.” Now he wasn’t frightening at all, he was beaming, and just being near him, watching him, made me ecstatic.

Three months after joining I was given permission to become a renunciate. When I did “Secret Yoga” with Asahara he said: “You can become a renunciate, but on one condition: leave your part-time job and get a job at a bookbinder’s.” I was pretty surprised. Why a bookbinder’s? “Aum is planning to open a printing factory,” he said, “so I want you to study bookbinding techniques.” “Okay. I understand,” I replied, and straightaway I found a job at a bookbinder’s that included room and board.

I discovered that there are a lot of different machines in a bookbinding plant: folders, binders, cutting machines … I had no idea where to begin or how much I should learn. He’d simply said, “Study bookbinding.” Anyway, I did my best to absorb everything I could. On Sundays, when the factory was deserted, I studied how the machines were constructed. I don’t have much of a technical background, but I soon worked out which buttons to push and how certain parts fit together. I wasn’t allowed to operate the machines, but I picked up a lot just by keeping my eyes open. After working there for three months I was instructed to become a renunciate. I packed my bags and left the factory for good.

Once you take vows, you can’t eat the things you like—ice cream and so on. That was a bit tough for me. Food, rather than sex, was hardest for me to overcome. The night before I became a renunciate I ate and drank everything I could lay my hands on, because it was my last chance.

My parents were dead set against it, but I truly believed that my becoming a renunciate would, in the final analysis, be a blessing to them, so I didn’t worry much about what they said. Originally in order to be a certified samana[renunciate] you have to donate 1.2 million yen and finish six hundred hours of standing worship, but as they were rushing to get the bookbinding plant up and running, they made an exception for me.

About an hour’s drive from the Mt. Fuji headquarters was a place called Kariyado. The printing plant was a small prefab building. I was astounded to learn that I was the only one who had any background in bookbinding. I’d expected just to be a staff member of a team, but here I was a brand-new renunciate in charge of bookbinding. I couldn’t believe it. There were anywhere from ten to twenty people assigned to bookbinding, ten to printing, and about twenty to photoengraving. It was a fairly large-scale operation.

The machines they’d purchased, however, were pieces of junk that had been sitting in a warehouse somewhere for decades. Everyone complained about it. All the machines were like antiques on their last legs. Just to get them up and running was a major task. I wasn’t all that up to speed on these machines to begin with, so it took three months from the time we got them to the time they were operational. Even after that some of them didn’t run well. I think we did a good job, considering.

The first thing we printed and bound was the twenty-third issue of Mahayana. Until then all Aum’s publications had been contracted out to other printers, but now we could just about print them ourselves.

One thing that really surprised me was that after I became a renunciate there was no time set aside for us to do our ascetic training. I asked one of my superiors why and according to him you can’t make progress until you accumulate merit, and I was at the stage where I should just work and build up merit. So I worked for a whole year in the bookbinding plant. Every day was tough. We’d snatch just four hours of sleep a night, especially during the elections—that was draining. I was in charge of the folding machine. We kept the machines running even when we went to the toilet. Every second counted.

After the election there were fewer print jobs. We had a lot of time on our hands. Things were in an uproar at Naminomura, but for those of us at the printing plant, the days were peaceful.

When we didn’t have work to do we were free to train. During this period our leader was off somewhere else and we had a pretty laid-back attitude toward things.

In the beginning if I wasn’t around the machines ground to a halt; after a time, though, everyone was able to operate them, so I asked the higher-ups for a transfer. You weren’t supposed to ask for a transfer, but since I had training as a cartoonist I used some leftover paper and created a twenty-page comic-book version of the Jataka sutra. I completed three of these books and showed them to my superiors. I attached a letter saying, “I have this training as a cartoonist, and if it can be put to use for liberation purposes, I would like to be transferred.”

I didn’t expect anything to come of it. No one else acted this self-centeredly and I was sure they’d just ignore it, but I was surprised to get a phone call from the General Affairs office telling me to report the next day to the Design Division. There was a Cartooning Section there, but with only one person assigned to it; before long, however, there was a plan to create an Aum-produced operetta that would include animation, so they hurriedly assembled followers who could draw to help out. There were about twenty to thirty people, and later I was appointed head of the Animation Division.

We had some really talented people in our group, but the biggest help was that one of the samana had worked as an assistant cameraman at an animation studio. We formed teams and produced quite a lot of cartoons. I worked there for three years altogether. Looking back on it, those years were a very peaceful time for me.

I say things were calm, but actually human relations within the group were fragmented. Usually a leader of a division holds the rank of Master but I was just a swami, a lower rank. I felt pressure from above, at the same time as my subordinates tried to win me over to their viewpoints, so it wasn’t easy. For example, in order to study the techniques we had to watch ordinary cartoons, but our leaders said we couldn’t. But I had to watch some of them. People would confront me, saying: “The Master forbade this, so why are you watching it?” In other words, our Animation Division was split into two factions: one gave priority to improving the quality of our work, the other gave priority to our training. It got harder and harder to get things done.

Relations between the sexes weren’t easy, either. There were many cases of men and women getting too close and running off with each other, so Asahara warned in his sermons: “Female samana are not to approach men. Don’t just keep your distance, but detest them.” I was often singled out for criticism. At any rate it was a pretty brutal atmosphere.

MURAKAMI: It certainly doesn’t look like you were heading for liberation, does it?

I couldn’t stand it anymore. There was a time when I was thinking of leaving. I did my best in spite of everything, since I was serious about achieving liberation, but it wore me out.

Twice I sent resignation letters to my superiors: “I can’t be in Aum anymore.” This was in ’92, I think. My superior passed these along to Murai and others. They talked me out of it, so I just let things slide.

MURAKAMI: If you had left Aum, do you think you would have made a successful transition to life in the secular world?

I wonder. Certainly my attitude toward the world had changed since I became a renunciate. The world I had entered as a renunciate was a kind of hodgepodge. There were all sorts of people there I’d never met before. Everyone from gung-ho elite types to athletes, artists. In this jumbled-up place I discovered that all these diverse people had the same human weaknesses I had. I lost the prejudices I’d had. “Everyone’s the same,” I realized. Guys who got good grades suffered just like I did. It was a very valuable lesson for me.

The samana, too, had a fundamental loathing of the outside world. “The unenlightened”—that was their term for people who lived normal lives. Since these people were heading straight for hell, the samana had some choice words for them. For example, they didn’t worry about it if they banged into a car belonging to someone from the outside. It was like they were the ones practicing the truth, looking down on everyone else. They were too busy striving for liberation, so even if they put a dent in someone’s car, so what? I thought this was a bit much. No matter what they felt about the people outside, there was no need to make fun of them, or hate them that much. I’m sure I had my own list of things in the outside world I hated, but when I saw this, I just thought, “Enough.” I no longer hated the things I use to hate.

MURAKAMI: That’s interesting. Usually when people join cults you expect those tendencies to get even worse, but in your case you managed to lay them aside.

Maybe my tough experiences in middle management had something to do with it [laughs]. The Animation Division was closed in 1994. Most of the workers were called into a conference room and told to report to the Science Division. The name later changed to the Ministry of Science and Technology. They needed some welders and just assumed that people in the Animation Division must be good with their hands. I was speechless. How can you possibly compare animation to welding?

Before joining the Science Division we were all investigated to see if we were spies. I remember thinking: “If Shoko Asahara has supernatural powers, why can’t he use them to weed out the spies?”

The majority of the Animation Division members were transferred to the Welding Division, and sent to Kamikuishiki. At Satyam No. 9 they were making storage tanks and stirrer machines. We didn’t know the first thing about welding, so we were assigned as assistants. The order had gone out to speed up production, so we did our best, but it actually slowed down. Asahara gave the order to finish everything by May 1994. These were giant tanks, huge two-ton monsters. We’d bend these metal plates, shape them into a cylinder, weld the joints, fit premade panels over this and weld them.

The work was hard, up to sixteen hours a day. We were wiped out, and sometimes didn’t get enough offerings [food]. We didn’t eat for two days once. Everybody complained. Some people just downed tools. I wasn’t used to this kind of work myself, and got injured, burned, my face blackened, my glasses were falling apart. But no one ran away. “This is all for the sake of enlightenment,” I kept telling myself.

In time I was appointed a Master. Probably they recognized my leadership in the Animation Division and how hard I’d worked at welding. When you get promoted to Master they give you a wristband and say: “Give it your best!” That’s it. I’ll admit being a Master does change your outlook on the world. Friends of mine started to address me very formally, which brought home to me again the huge gap between Masters and those below.

After I became a Master I was one of a select few allowed free access to Satyam No. 7. The Security Group kept strict guard on it. Inside were all the storage tanks we’d assembled in Satyam No. 9. It looked like some chemical plant and had a weird feeling to it I can’t explain, an oppressive atmosphere. I had no idea what they were going to manufacture there. The ceiling was as tall as a three-story building, with these huge tanks all in a row. And the smell was indescribable, like all sorts of industrial-strength detergents mixed together. And there was this weird light. The metal was all rusty, and the floor was wet. There was this strange, whitish mist hanging in the air. Everyone who worked there got ill. They all staggered around, and at first I thought they were just sleepy. Actually it was affecting their bodies.

I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I saw that Aum was sinking a large amount of cash into this and whatever it was represented the cutting edge. I wondered if it would push enlightenment forward in one fell swoop. Only a limited number of people were allowed to see this, and I felt a sense of privilege at being one of the chosen. Still, I wondered what it was all about. It didn’t look like weapons.

In autumn 1994, if memory serves, there was an accident. I was on the third floor of Satyam No. 7 taking a rest when this whitish smoke—like dry ice—came up behind us. The guy next to me said we’d better run for it. Just breathing a bit of it blinded me and gave me a piercing pain in my throat. It had an acrid, acidic smell. “If I stay here,” I thought, “I’m going to die.” Satyam No. 7 was a dangerous place.

On January 1, 1995, the order came to hide the inner recesses of Satyam No. 7. “Make all the equipment look like the face of the god Shiva,” we were told, in order to conceal it. I was put in charge of the artwork. Huge slabs of Styrofoam were delivered in the middle of the night, and we glued them over those parts of the plant we didn’t want people to see.

MURAKAMI: But with so many huge tanks you weren’t able to cover them all, were you?

First we built a wall with boards on the facade of the factory, then put Styrofoam pictures of Shiva on top. The rest of the places we wanted to hide we made into makeshift altars. We used partition boards to hide the second-floor area, made it like a maze, you know, like photo exhibitions. Anyway, our superiors told us to do whatever it took to fool people. The CBI [Construction Division], led by Kiyohide Hayakawa, did most of the work. I designed the faces. The finished product was awful. Pure amateur junk.

“This won’t fool anyone,” I thought. Hiromi Shimada came over to see the finished product and declared it a religious facility, but the overall appearance was wrong. “This won’t work,” I thought, but everyone was scared of Hayakawa and kept their mouths shut.

On the day of the gas attack I was away from the Welding Division. I was assisting the number two man at the Ministry of Science and Technology, Kazumi Watanabe, at Seiryu Shoja. I heard that the Tokyo subway had been gassed with sarin, but I never imagined it was the work of Aum. From what I’d gathered up to then, I believed Aum might take up weapons to fight in case of an attack by Freemasons or the U.S. or whatever, but I never thought Aum would be involved in indiscriminate killing. I mean, that would be outright terrorism.

Two days later, though, the police stormed Kamikuishiki. When I heard there were more than two thousand police outside, I realized this was no joke. Seiryu was left untouched in the first police raid for some reason. We gathered up plans at Seiryu that might be incriminating and burned them. We went to Murai’s room, too, and burned all the books about weaponry. We found bulletproof vests, too, and cut them up. The police raid on Seiryu took place, I’m certain, after the sniper attack on Secretary Kunimatsu.*

I began to think that Aum actually did it after I saw with my own eyes what was supposed to be a vehicle for spraying sarin. That was in April, I think. I’m not sure if it was before or after the police raid.

MURAKAMI: Where was that?

In Seiryu. I can tell you I was pretty shocked when I saw this huge sprayer truck with a chimney attached. “We’d be in deep trouble if they found this,” I thought. Right away we got orders from above and ten of us dismantled it.

After the police raid the people in Seiryu weren’t able to work anymore, so all of them returned to Tokyo to distribute handbills. I went to Satyam No. 5, where I helped with bookbinding and drew comic books under the supervision of Michiko Muraoka. They were a parody of the police arresting Aum members on unrelated charges. Around that time Murai was stabbed to death.

Naturally I was shocked when I heard this, but at the same time I felt a sense of peace. It’s hard to describe my emotions at the time. How should I put it? I thought it was the end of Aum—a sort of indescribable feeling. I think I was paralyzed, unable to act. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I really wanted to get out. But I didn’t have the strength to do it, so I just tried to blend in with the background. And there was my position to consider. Pride made it hard for Masters to get out. I’d lost a lot of respect for Shoko Asahara. He’d blown one thing after another. None of his predictions came true. The ones he made on Ishigaki Island were way off, the ones about Comet Austin were all wrong, and some of the samana were openly starting to say: “The Leader’s predictions don’t seem to come true, do they?”

Even Murai just did what he was told to do from above, no matter how absurd. For him it was just “Yes” this and “Yes” that. I began to have major doubts about everything. The people below me started to grumble. I got sick and tired of the whole selfish atmosphere. Still, I didn’t have the willpower to quit, but when Murai was killed I felt I was able finally to go back to the real world.

Murai had been an important person to me. After Asahara he was the one person who most symbolized Aum. Everywhere I went Murai was somehow involved in what I was doing—at the printing plant, the Animation Division. Still, I didn’t feel sad when he died. My strongest feeling was: “Aha! Now I can get out!” I know it’s wrong to say this.

But before I could leave I was arrested. Someone told me: “Ikuo Hayashi and Masami Tsuchiya and others have confessed, and it seems like a lot of the Science and Technology people are being rounded up.” “Suppose I’ll be next,” I joked, but a warrant for my arrest had actually been issued. My name was in the newspaper. “Wanted for murder and attempted murder,” it said. I think that was on May 20, 1995. Of course I never murdered anyone, but either charge could bring the death penalty or a life sentence. I was stunned.

I couldn’t very well go into hiding, so I followed advice from my superiors and turned myself in to the Yamanashi Prefecture police. At first I kept silent. “I refuse to answer,” I said, and didn’t for three days. But I couldn’t keep that up forever. Aum threatened me, saying that if I talked I’d be cast into eternal damnation, but I no longer believed that. If I’m going to hell, well, let it happen, and I told the police everything I knew.

The investigation was harsh. The detective in charge tried to force me to sign a statement saying that I knew sarin was being produced in Satyam No. 7. “If I didn’t know, I didn’t know,” I said. Finally I felt cornered and wrote a false confession admitting that I knew about the sarin. Later on, I explained it all to a prosecutor.

In the end they dropped the charges and released me. Their decision to prosecute or not apparently rested on whether I had participated in a meeting at Satyam No. 2 concerning the making of sarin. Thankfully I hadn’t. At first the police were pretty mean, accusing me of being one of the people who released the sarin. It was terrible. They shoved me around a bit. Going through that day after day affected my heart. They interrogated me three times a day and each session was really long. I was worn out. They held me for twenty-three days.

After I was released I went back to Sapporo. I began to have mental problems and stayed in the hospital for about a month. I had trouble breathing and my senses steadily dimmed. I felt as though I were floating. Something was terribly wrong with me. I underwent a lot of tests and in the end they said it was probably psychological.

MURAKAMI: If Murai had ordered you to release the sarin, what do you think would have happened?

I’m sure I would have hesitated. My way of thinking is a bit different from people like Toru Toyoda and others. Even if Asahara himself had ordered me to do it, if I wasn’t convinced it was the right thing, I wouldn’t have cooperated. I didn’t do everything I was told. Of course the atmosphere around me was a big influence. I think even the people who did it were confused. If we’d been under attack from the police or the Self-Defense Forces or something, I might have done it, but this was different—killing complete strangers.

Anyway, the chances of me being selected to commit the crime were pretty slim. I wasn’t one of the elite. The Ministry of Science and Technology was divided into the “Brain Trust” and the “Subcontractors,” which included the kind of welding work I did: on-site labor. In contrast, Toyoda and the others were part of Asahara’s handpicked elite “Brain Trust.” There were about thirty masters in the ministry and I belonged to the lowest group.

Still, when I heard some of the names of people involved, it surprised me. Asahara must have selected the ones he thought would go along with it, no questions asked. These elite people did everything they were told. It was the same with Murai: not a word of criticism, no running away. They’re impressive when you think about it. Most people couldn’t handle it for as long as they did—three or four years.

Only Yasuo Hayashi was different. He belonged to the Subcontractors group. He wasn’t a part of the elite, but had been promoted from the Construction Division. The people around him were superelite—guys doing research on superconductors, subatomic particles, and the like, and there he was, basically an electrician.

Hayashi started out as an all-right guy, but steadily his personality changed. We were at the same stage once and could have friendly talks together, but when he became a Master he started getting overbearing, arrogant. At first he was good-natured, but in the end he lashed out at people. He was the type who wouldn’t blink an eye at stepping all over his subordinates if that’s what it took. I think he just snapped.

From the beginning the Ministry of Science and Technology was given preferential treatment by Asahara. It had so much money. Even in the Ministry there was a big difference between the Brains and the Subcontractors. As someone once put it: “To be a success in the world of Aum you had to be either a graduate of Tokyo University or a beautiful woman.” [laughs]

MURAKAMI: You were in Aum Shinrikyo for about six years. Do you ever feel you wasted that time?

No, I don’t think it was a waste. I met a lot of people, shared some tough times. It’s a good memory for me. I was able to confront human weaknesses, and I think I matured. It might sound odd to speak of it as fulfilling, but there was a sense of adventure: we didn’t know what the next day would bring. When I was given some huge task to do, I felt uplifted because I could focus my energy on it and complete it.

I feel psychologically more at ease now. Of course I have the kinds of troubles ordinary people have, like being disappointed in love. So there are parts that aren’t so easy. But hey—that’s life. I feel I’m living like ordinary, everyday people now.

It took me a long time to reach this emotional equilibrium; about two years. After I left Aum I was completely lethargic. When I was there I had the strength that came from knowing I was a “practitioner of the truth,” which gave me the strength to test myself to the limits. Now I have to use my own powers if I want to do anything. This hit me quite strongly after I left Aum and led to my depression. It wasn’t an easy transition.

But what’s different is that now I have confidence in myself. When I was in Aum I gained a lot of practical experience, and felt certain that even if things weren’t working out there I’d be able to make it on my own. That was a major step for me.

I live in Tokyo now. What gets me through each day are my ex-Aum friends. We think alike, and it helps me know I’m not alone in this hard world.