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

Part I. UNDERGROUND

TOKYO METROPOLITAN SUBWAY: CHIYODA LINE

TRAIN A725K

Two men were assigned to drop sarin gas on the Chiyoda Line: Ikuo Hayashi and Tomomitsu Niimi. Hayashi was the principal criminal, Niimi the driver-accomplice.

Why Hayashi—a senior medical doctor with an active “frontline” track record at the Ministry of Science and Technology—was chosen to carry out this mission remains unclear, but Hayashi himself conjectures it was to seal his lips. Implication in the gas attack cut off any possibility of escape. By this point Hayashi already knew too much. He was devoted to the Aum cult leader Shoko Asahara, but apparently Asahara did not trust him. When Asahara first told him to go and release the sarin gas Hayashi admitted: “I could feel my heart pounding in my chest—though where else would my heart be?”

Boarding the front car of the southwestbound 7:48 A.M. Chiyoda Line, running from the northeast Tokyo suburb of Kita-senju to the western suburb of Yoyogi-uehara, Hayashi punctured his plastic bag of sarin at Shin-ochanomizu Station in the central business district, then left the train. Outside the station, Niimi was waiting with a car and the two of them drove back to the Shibuya ajid—Aum local headquarters—their mission accomplished. There was no way for Hayashi to refuse. “This is just a yoga of the Mahamudra,” he kept telling himself, Mahamudra being a crucial discipline for attaining the stage of the True Enlightened Master.

When asked by Asahara’s legal team whether he could have refused if he had wanted to, Hayashi replied: “If that had been possible, the Tokyo gas attack would never have happened.”

Born in 1947, Hayashi was the second son of a Tokyo medical practitioner. Groomed from middle and secondary school for Keio University, one of Tokyo’s two top private universities, upon graduating from medical school he took employment as a heart and artery specialist at Keio Hospital, after which he went on to become head of the Circulatory Medicine department at the National Sanatorium Hospital at Tokaimura, Ibaragi, north of Tokyo. He is a member of what the Japanese call the “superelite.” Clean-cut, he exudes the self-confidence of a professional. Medicine obviously came naturally to him. His hair is starting to thin on top, but like most of the Aum leadership, he has good posture, his eyes focused firmly ahead, although his speech is monotonous and somehow forced. From his testimony in court, I gained the distinct impression that he was blocking some flow of emotion inside himself.

Somewhere along the line Hayashi seems to have had profound doubts about his career as a doctor and, while searching for answers beyond orthodox science, he became seduced by the charismatic teachings of Shoko Asahara and suddenly converted to Aum. In 1990 he resigned from his job and left with his family for a religious life. His two children were promised a special education within the cult. His colleagues at the hospital were loath to lose a man of Hayashi’s caliber and tried to stop him, but his mind was made up. It was as if the medical profession no longer held anything for him. Once initiated into the cult, he soon found himself among Asahara’s favorites and was appointed Minister of Healing.

Once he had been called upon to carry out the sarin plan, Hayashi was brought to Aum’s general headquarters, Satyam No. 7, in Kamikuishiki Village near Mt. Fuji, at 3 A.M. on March 20, where, together with the four other principal players, he rehearsed the attack. Using umbrellas sharpened with a file, they pierced plastic bags filled with water rather than sarin. The rehearsal was supervised by Hideo Murai of the Aum leadership. While comments from the other four members indicate that they enjoyed this practice session, Hayashi observed it all with cool reserve. Nor did he actually pierce his bag. To the 48-year-old doctor, the whole exercise must have seemed like a game.

“I did not need to practice,” says Hayashi. “I could see what to do, though my heart wasn’t in it.”

After the session, all five were returned by car to the Shibuya ajid, whereupon our physician Hayashi handed out hypodermic needles filled with atropine sulphate to the team, instructing them to inject it at the first sign of sarin poisoning.

On the way to the station, Hayashi purchased gloves, a knife, tape, and sandals at a convenience store. Niimi, the driver, bought some newspapers in which to wrap the bags of sarin. They were sectarian newspapers—the Japan Communist Party’s Akahata (Red Flag) and the Soka Gakkai’s Seikyo Shimbun (Sacred Teaching News)—“more interesting because they’re not papers you can buy just anywhere.” That was Niimi’s little in-joke. Of the two papers, Hayashi chose Akahata: a rival sect’s publication would have been too obvious and therefore counterproductive.

Before getting on the subway, Hayashi donned a gauze surgical mask, of the sort commonly worn by many commuters in winter to prevent cold germs from spreading. The train number was A725K. Glancing at a woman and child in the car, Hayashi wavered slightly. “If I unleash the sarin here and now,” he thought, “the woman opposite me is dead for sure. Unless she gets off somewhere.” But he’d come this far; there was no going back. This was a Holy War. The weak were losers.

As the subway approached Shin-ochanomizu Station, he dropped the bags of sarin by his right foot, steeled his nerves, and poked one of them with the end of his umbrella. It was resilient and gave a “springy gush.” He poked it again a few times—exactly how many times he doesn’t remember. In the end, only one of the two bags was found to have been punctured; the other was untouched.

Still, the sarin liquid in one of the bags completely evaporated and did a lot of damage. At Kasumigaseki two station attendants died in the line of duty trying to dispose of the bag. Train A725K was stopped at the next station, Kokkai-gijidomae—the stop for the Japanese National Assembly—all passengers were evacuated, and the cars were cleaned.

Two people were killed and 231 suffered serious injuries from Hayashi’s sarin drop alone.*

“Nobody was dealing with things calmly”
Kiyoka Izumi (26)
*

Ms. Kiyoka Izumi was born in Kanazawa, on the north central coast of the Sea of Japan. She works in the PR department of a foreign airline company. After graduation she went to work for Japan Railways (JR), but after three years she decided to pursue her childhood dream of working in aviation. Even though job transfers to airline companies are extremely difficult in Japan—only one in a thousand “midcareer” applicants is accepted—she beat the odds, only to encounter the Tokyo gas attack not long after starting work.

Her job at JR was boring to say the least. Her colleagues objected to her leaving, but she was determined. It was good training, but the union-dominated atmosphere was too confining and specialized. She wanted to use English at work. Still, the emergency training she received at JR proved invaluable in unexpected circumstances …

At the time I was living in Waseda [northwest central Tokyo]. My company was in Kamiyacho [southeast central Tokyo], so I always commuted by subway, taking the Tozai Line, changing at Otemachi for the Chiyoda Line to Kasumigaseki, then one stop on the Hibiya Line to Kamiyacho. Work started at 8:30, so I’d leave home around 7:45 or 7:50. That got me there a little before 8:30, but I was always one of the earliest to start. Everybody else showed up just in time. With Japanese companies, I’d always learned you were expected to arrive thirty minutes to an hour before starting, but with a foreign company the thinking is that everyone starts work at his or her own pace. You don’t get any brownie points for arriving early.

I’d get up around 6:15 or 6:20. I rarely eat breakfast, just a quick cup of coffee. The Tozai Line gets pretty crowded during rush hour, but if you avoid the peak, it’s not too bad. I never had any problem with perverts copping a feel or anything.

I never get ill, but on the morning of March 20 I wasn’t feeling well. I caught the train to work anyway; got off the Tozai Line at Otemachi and transferred to the Chiyoda Line, thinking, “Gosh, I’m really out of it today.” I inhaled, then suddenly my breathing froze—like that.

I was traveling in the first car on the Chiyoda Line. It wasn’t too crowded. All the seats were pretty much taken, but there were only a few passengers standing here and there. You could still see all the way to the other end.

I stood at the front next to the driver’s compartment, holding the handrail by the door. Then, like I said, when I took a deep breath, I got this sudden pain. No, it wasn’t so much painful. Really it was like I’d been shot or something, all of a sudden my breathing completely stopped. Like, if I inhaled any more, all my guts would come spilling right out of my mouth! Everything became a vacuum, probably because I wasn’t feeling well, I thought; but, I mean, I’d never felt so bad. It was that intense.

And then, when I think back on it now it seems kind of odd, but I thought, “Just maybe my grandad’s died.” He lived up north in Ishikawa Prefecture and was 94 years old at the time. I’d heard he’d been taken ill, so maybe this was a kind of sign. That was my first thought. Maybe he’d died or something.

After a while I was able to breathe again somehow. But by the time we passed Hibiya Station, one stop before Kasumigaseki, I got this really bad cough. By then everyone in the car was coughing away like mad. I knew there was something strange going on in the car. The other people were so excited and everything …

Anyway, when the train stopped at Kasumigaseki I got off without giving it much thought. A few other passengers called out to the station attendant, “Something’s wrong! Come quick!” and brought him into the car. I didn’t see what happened after that, but this attendant was the one who carried out the sarin packet and later died.

I left the Chiyoda Line platform and headed for the Hibiya Line as usual. When I reached the platform at the bottom of the stairs I heard the emergency alarm go off: Bee-eee-eep! I knew immediately from my time working for Japan Railways there’d been an accident. That’s when an announcement came over the station PA. And just as I was thinking “I’d better get out of here” a Hibiya Line train arrived from the opposite direction.

I could see from the station attendants’ confusion that this was no ordinary situation. And the Hibiya Line train was completely empty, not a passenger on board. I only found out later, but in fact that train had also been planted with sarin gas. They’d had a crisis at Kamiyacho Station or somewhere, and dragged off all the passengers.

After the alarm there was an announcement: “Everyone evacuate the station.” People were making for the exits, but I was beginning to feel really sick. So instead of going straight out, I thought I’d better go to the toilet first. I looked all over the station to find the stationmaster’s office, and right next to that the toilets.

As I was passing the office, I saw maybe three station attendants just lying there. There must have been a fatal accident. Still, I carried on to the toilet and when I came out I went to an exit that emerged in front of the Ministry of Trade and Industry building. This all took about ten minutes, I suppose. Meanwhile they’d brought up the station attendants I’d seen in the office.

Once out of the exit I took a good look around, but what I saw was—how shall I put it?—“hell” describes it perfectly. Three men were laid on the ground, spoons stuck in their mouths as a precaution against them choking on their tongues. About six other station staff were there too, but they all just sat on the flower beds holding their heads and crying. The moment I came out of the exit, a girl was crying her eyes out. I was at a loss for words. I didn’t have a clue what was happening.

I grabbed hold of one of the station attendants and told him: “I used to work for Japan Railways. I’m used to dealing with emergencies. Is there any way I can help?” But he just stared off into space. All he could say was: “Yes, help.” I turned to the others sitting there. “This is no time to be crying,” I said. “We’re not crying,” they answered, though it looked like they were crying. I thought they were grieving for their dead colleagues.

“Has anyone called an ambulance?” I asked, and they said they had. But when I heard the ambulance siren, it didn’t seem to be coming our way. For some reason, we were the last to get help, so those in the most serious condition were last to be taken to the hospital. As a result, two people died.

TV Tokyo cameramen were filming the whole scene. They’d parked their van nearby. I ran after the film crew, saying: “Now’s not the time for that! If you’ve got transport, take these people to the hospital!” The driver conferred with his crew and said, “All right, fine.”

When I worked for JR, I was taught always to carry a red scarf. In an emergency you could wave it to stop trains. So there I was, thinking “scarf.” Someone lent me a handkerchief, but it was so small I ended up giving it to the TV-crew driver and instructing him: “Get these people to the nearest hospital. It’s an emergency, so honk your horn and drive through red lights if you have to! Just keep going!”

I forget the color of the handkerchief; it was just some print. I don’t remember whether I told him to wave it or tie it to his side mirror. I was pretty excited at the time, so my memory’s not that clear. Later when I met Mr. Toyoda, he reminded me, “I never returned your handkerchief,” and gave me a new one. He’d been sick in the backseat and used mine.

We managed to lift Mr. Takahashi, the station attendant who died, into the back, along with another assistant. And still there was room, so one more station assistant got into the van. I think Mr. Takahashi was still alive at that point. But at first glance I thought, “He’s a goner.” Not that I’d ever witnessed death, I just knew. I could picture it; he was going to die this way. But still I had to try and help, somehow.

The driver pleaded with me, “Miss, you come along with us,” but I said, “No, I’m not going.” There were still lots of others being brought above ground and someone had to look after them, so I stayed behind. I don’t know to which hospital the van went. I don’t know what happened to them afterward either.

Then there was that girl nearby, crying and trembling all over. I stayed with her and tried to comfort her, saying, “There there, it’s all right,” until finally the ambulance came. All that time I looked after lots of different people, all of them white-faced, completely washed out. One man, fairly old by the look of him, was foaming at the mouth. I had no idea humans could foam like that. I unbuttoned his shirt, loosened his belt, and took his pulse. It was really fast. I tried to rouse him, but it was no use. He was completely unconscious.

This “old man” was in fact a station attendant. Only he’d removed his uniform jacket. He was pale and his hair was thin, so I mistook him for an elderly passenger. I later found out he was Mr. Toyoda, a colleague of the two staff members [Mr. Takahashi and Mr. Hishinuma] who died. He was the only one of the three injured station attendants who survived, and he was one of the longest in the hospital.

The ambulance arrived. “Is he conscious?” they asked. “No!” I yelled. “But he has a pulse!” The ambulance team put an oxygen mask over his mouth. Then they said, “There’s one more [i.e., a respirator unit]. If there’s anyone else in pain, we’ll take them.” So I inhaled a little oxygen, and the crying girl took a good long dose. By the time we had finished there was a media stampede. They surrounded the girl and the poor thing was seen on television all day.

While I was looking after everyone, I completely forgot my own pain. It was only at the mention of oxygen that it occurred to me, “Come to think of it, I’m breathing funny myself.” Yet at that very moment, I didn’t make a connection between the gas attack and my condition. I was all right, so I had to look after the people who had really suffered. Just what the incident was I didn’t know, but whatever it was it was big. And like I said before, I’d been feeling under the weather since the morning, so I was convinced my feeling a little off was just me.

In the midst of all this, a colleague from work passed by. He helped me rescue the girl from the clutches of the media. Then he suggested we walk to the office together, so I thought, “Okay, we’ll walk to work.” It takes about thirty minutes on foot from Kasumigaseki to my office. As I was walking, I found it a bit hard to breathe, but not so bad that I had to sit down and rest. I was able to walk.

When we got to the office, my boss had seen me on TV, and everyone was asking, “Ms. Izumi, are you really okay?” It was already ten o’clock by the time I got to the office. My boss said, “How about resting a bit? You shouldn’t tax yourself,” but I still didn’t really understand what had happened, so I just got on with my work. After a while a message came from Personnel: “Seems it was poison gas, so if you start to feel ill you’re to report to the hospital immediately.” And just about then my condition was getting worse. So they put me in an ambulance at the Kamiyacho intersection and took me to Azabu Hospital, a small place not far away. Twenty people had gone there already.

I had coldlike symptoms for a week after that. I had this asthmatic cough, and three days later a high fever, with a temperature of over 40°C [104°F]. I was sure the thermometer was broken. The mercury shot up all the way to the top of the scale. So actually my temperature might have been even higher. All I know is I was completely immobilized.

Even after the fever resided, the wheezing persisted for about a month; clearly the effects of sarin in my bronchial tubes. It was incredibly painful. I mean, I’d start coughing and never stop. It was so painful I couldn’t breathe. I was coughing all the time. I’d be talking like this and suddenly it would start. In PR you have to meet people, so working under those conditions was really hard.

And I kept having these dreams. The image of those station attendants with spoons in their mouths stuck in my head. In my dreams, there were hundreds of bodies lying on the ground, row upon row far into the distance. I don’t know how many times I woke in the middle of the night. Frightening.

As I said, there were people foaming at the mouth where we were, in front of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. That half of the roadway was absolute hell. But on the other side, people were walking to work as usual. I’d be tending to someone and look up to see passersby glance my way with a “what-on-earth’s-happened-here?” expression, but not one came over. It was as if we were a world apart. Nobody stopped. They all thought: “Nothing to do with me.”

Some guards were standing right before our eyes at the ministry gate. Here we had three people laid out on the ground, waiting desperately for an ambulance that didn’t arrive for a long, long time. Yet nobody at the ministry called for help. They didn’t even call us a taxi.

It was 8:10 when the sarin was planted, so that makes over an hour and a half before the ambulance arrived. All that time those people just left us there. Occasionally the television would show Mr. Takahashi lying dead with a spoon in his mouth, but that was it. I couldn’t bear to watch it.

MURAKAMI: Just supposing, what if you’d been one of those people across the road at the time, on your way to work. Do you think you’d have crossed over to help?

Yes, I think so. I wouldn’t have just ignored them, no matter how out of character it might have been. I’d have crossed over. The fact is, the whole situation made me want to cry, but I knew if I lost control that would have been the end of it. Nobody was dealing with things calmly. No one even caring for the sick. Everyone just abandoned us there the whole time and walked on by. It was absolutely terrible.

As to the criminals who actually planted the sarin, I honestly can’t say I feel much anger or hatred. I suppose I just don’t make the connection, and I can’t seem to find those emotions in me. What I really think about are those families that have to bear the tragedy, their suffering is so much bigger to me than any anger or hatred I might feel toward the criminals. The fact that someone from Aum brought sarin onto the subway … that’s not the point. I don’t think about Aum’s role in the gas attack.

I never watch television reports or anything on Aum. I don’t want to. I have no intention of giving interviews. If it will help those who suffered or the families of the deceased, then yes, I’ll come forward and talk, but only if they want to know what happened. I’d rather not be danced around by the media.

Of course society should severely punish this crime. Especially when you consider the families of the deceased, there should be no getting off easy. What are those families supposed to do … ? But even if those criminals get the death penalty, does that solve anything in the end? Perhaps I’m oversensitive when it comes to human mortality, but it seems to me that however heavy the sentence, there is nothing you can say to those families.

“I’ve been here since I first joined”
Masaru Yuasa (24)

Mr. Yuasa is much younger than Mr. Toyoda (interviewed on this page), or the late Mr. Takahashi. He is more their sons’ age. He looks about 16 with his youthful, tousled hair. There is still something naive and boyish about him, which makes him look younger than he is.

He was born in Ichikawa, across Tokyo Bay in Chiba, where he spent his childhood. He became interested in trains and went to Iwakura High School in Ueno, Tokyo, which is the place to be for anyone who wants to work on the railroad. He initially wanted to be a driver, so he opted for studies in engine mechanics. He was employed by the Subway Authority in 1988 and has worked at Kasumigaseki Station ever since. Forthright and plaintalking, he approaches his daily duties with a clear sense of purpose. This made the gas attack all the more shocking for him.

Mr. Yuasa’s boss ordered him to help carry Mr. Takahashi on a stretcher from where he’d fallen on the Chiyoda Line platform to ground level and to wait there at the appointed area for an ambulance—which didn’t arrive. He saw Mr. Takahashi’s condition worsen before his eyes, but was powerless to do anything. As a result Mr. Takahashi failed to receive treatment in time and died. Mr. Yuasa’s frustration, confusion, and anger are unimaginable. It is probably for this reason that his memory of the scene is foggy in places. As he himself admits, some details have been completely blanked out.

This explains how parallel accounts of the same scene may diverge slightly, but this, after all, is how Mr. Yuasa experienced it.

In high school we studied Mechanics or Transport. The ones who took Transport were mostly statistics nerds, kept train schedules in their desk drawers (laughs). Me, I liked trains, but not like that. They weren’t an obsession.

Japan Railways [JR] was the big thing to aim for in terms of jobs. So many guys wanted to be Shinkansen [bullet-train] drivers. JR turned me down when I graduated, but Seibu and Odakyu and Tokyu and other private lines were generally popular, although the catch was that you had to live in areas served by those lines to get the job. Yeah, pretty tough. I’d always wanted to work on the subway and the Subway Authority was pretty popular. The pay’s no worse than anywhere else.

Station work involves all sorts of jobs. Not just ticket booth and platform duty, but lost property and sorting out arguments between passengers. It was tough joining at 18 and having to do all that. That’s why the first round-the-clock duty was the longest. I’d pull down the shutters after the last train and heave a sigh of relief: “Ah, that’s it for the day!” Not anymore, but that’s how it was at first.

The drunks were the worst thing. They either get all chummy when they’re drunk, or fight, or throw up. Kasumigaseki’s not an entertainment district, so we don’t get that many of them, but sometimes we do.

No, I never sat for the driver qualification. I had the chance to several times, but I thought it over and didn’t. At the end of my first year there was a conductor’s test, but after one year I’d only just got the hang of station work so I let it pass. Sure there were drunks, like I said, stuff I didn’t care for especially, but still I thought I’d better learn the ropes a bit more. I suppose my initial impulse to be a driver just changed over time while I was working around the station.

Kasumigaseki Station has three lines coming in: the Marunouchi, the Hibiya, and the Chiyoda. Each has its own staff. I was with the Marunouchi Line at the time. The Hibiya Line office is the biggest, but the Marunouchi and Chiyoda Line both have their own offices, their own staffrooms.

The Sunday before the gas attack I was on round-the-clock duty in the Chiyoda Line office. They were short-staffed and I was filling in. A certain number of personnel has to be there for overnight duty. The staff on the other lines help each other out, like one big family.

Around 12:30 we lower the shutters, lock up the ticket booths, shut off the ticket machines, then wash up and turn in just after 1:00. The early shift finish work around 11:30 and are asleep by around 12:00. The following morning the early shift rises at 4:30 and the late shift at 5:30. The first train leaves around 5:00.

Wake up and first thing it’s clean up, raise the shutters, prepare the ticket booth. Then we take turns eating breakfast. We cook our own rice, make our own miso soup. Meal duty’s posted up there with all the other duties. We all share.

I was on late shift that night, so I woke up at 5:30, changed into my uniform, and reported to the ticket booth at 5:55. I worked until 7:00, then went to have breakfast from 7:00 to 7:30. Then I went to another ticket booth and worked there until 8:15 or so, then called it a day.

I was walking back to the office after the handover to my replacement when the Chief Officer, Matsumoto, came out with a mop. “What’s that for?” I asked, and he said he had to clean inside a car. I’d just gone off duty and had my hands free, so it was, “Fine, I’ll go with you.” We headed up the escalator to the platform.

There we found Toyoda, Takahashi, and Hishinuma with a bundle of wet newspapers on the platform. They’re stuffing it all by hand into plastic bags, but there’s liquid coming from them and spilling onto the platform. Matsumoto mopped up the liquid. I didn’t have a mop, and most of the newspaper had been bagged, so I wasn’t much help. I just stood to one side, watching.

“What’s this all about?” I wondered. There was a very strong smell. Then Takahashi walked over to a trash can at the end of the platform, probably to fetch some more newspaper to wipe up where it was still wet. Suddenly he sinks down in front of the bin and keels over.

Everyone ran toward Takahashi, shouting, “What’s wrong?” I thought maybe he was ill, but nothing too serious. “Can you walk?” they asked, but it’s obvious he can’t, so I called the office over the platform intercom: “Send up the stretcher!”

Takahashi’s face looked awful. He couldn’t talk. We laid him on his side, loosened his tie … he looked in really bad shape.

We carried him down to the office on the stretcher, then phoned for an ambulance. That’s when I asked Toyoda, “Which exit is the ambulance supposed to come to?” There’s protocol for situations like this, saying where ambulances are supposed to pull up and so on. But Toyoda’s tongue-tied. Kind of odd, but all I could think at the time was he was probably too confused to speak.

Anyway, I dashed up Exit AII. Yes, before carrying Takahashi up, I got up there myself and waited to signal the ambulance when it came. So I’m out of the exit and waiting by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

On the way to Exit AII I ran into one of the Hibiya Line staff, who tells me there’s been an explosion at Tsukiji Station. Nothing more was known. A suspicious object had been found in our station that month on the fifteenth, so I’m thinking as I wait for the ambulance: “This is turning into one weird day.”

But I wait and I wait and no ambulance. Soon other office staff come up and it’s, “No ambulance yet? What’ll we do?” We decide we ought to bring Takahashi up above ground. I’ve been outside all this time, but these two or three people who came up from the office tell me they’ve all started feeling sick down there. So they don’t want to go back. It turns out they kept whatever was in those plastic packets in the office, and that’s what’s to blame.

Well, Takahashi still has to be carried up, so we all head downstairs again. Back at the office, there was a woman passenger who felt ill, sitting on the sofa by the entrance. Takahashi’s behind her on a stretcher on the floor. By then he wasn’t moving, practically frozen stiff. A lot worse than he looked before, barely conscious. The other staff were trying to talk to him, but there was no response. The four of us carried him above ground on the stretcher.

But we wait and wait and still there’s no sign of an ambulance. We were getting pretty frustrated. Why wasn’t anything coming? Now I know that all the ambulances had rushed over to Tsukiji. You could hear sirens in the distance, but none coming this way. I couldn’t help feeling anxious, thinking they’d got the wrong location. I almost felt like shouting out: “Hey, over here!” Actually, I did try running in that direction, but I felt dizzy myself … I put it down to not having had enough sleep.

When we carried Takahashi up, there were already newspeople at the exit. This woman with a camera was snapping away at Takahashi lying there. I shouted to her: “No photos!” Her male assistant came in between us, but I told him, too: “No more photos!”—but taking pictures was her job.

Then a TV Tokyo van came along. They were asking so many questions, like “What’s the situation here?”—but I was in no mood to be interviewed. Not when the ambulance was taking forever to come.

Suddenly I realized the TV crew had a big van, so I struck a deal with them: “You’ve got wheels, you have to take Takahashi.” I was probably kind of angry, the way I spoke. I don’t remember in detail, but I was pretty worked up, after all. Nobody knew what was going on, so it took some negotiating. No one said straightaway, “Oh, I get it,” and sprang into action. The discussions took a while. But once things were settled, they lowered the backseat and laid Takahashi on it along with another station attendant [Mr. Ohori] who was also feeling ill. He’d been with Takahashi all the time, but started vomiting when he came above ground. Another member of staff [Mr. Sawaguchi] also went with them.

“You know which hospital?” the driver asked, but nobody had a clue. So I got in the front seat next to the driver and went along too, directing them to Hibiya Hospital, which is where we always sent people whenever they got ill at the station. A woman said, “Wave a red cloth or something from the window so they know it’s an emergency.” We didn’t have a red cloth, so she gave us her handkerchief. Not red, just an ordinary pattern. I sat in the front seat waving that handkerchief out the window all the way to the hospital.

This was around 9:00, so traffic was pretty heavy. I was already so out of it, after all that time waiting for an ambulance that never came. I can’t even remember the driver’s face or the woman who gave me the handkerchief. No recollection at all. I was just gone. There was no time to think about what was going on. I do remember Ohori throwing up in the backseat. That I do remember.

The hospital wasn’t open when we arrived. We took Takahashi out of the van on the stretcher and I went to the reception desk. “We’ve got an emergency here,” I said, then went back outside and waited by Takahashi. He wasn’t moving at all. Ohori had crouched down, immobile. Still no one came out of the hospital. They must have decided it wasn’t all that serious. After all, I must have looked confused and hadn’t given them any details. We just waited and waited and nobody came out.

So I went to Reception again, and raised my voice: “Please! Somebody come! This is serious!” Then a few people came out, saw Takahashi and Ohori’s condition, and rushed them inside. How long did it take? Two or three minutes.

Sawaguchi stayed at Reception while I went back to the station exit with the TV van driver. By then I’d calmed down a lot, or at least I was telling myself I had to calm down. I apologized to the driver for Ohori throwing up all over the seat, but he didn’t seem to mind. It was only then that I could manage even a simple conversation like that.

By then, I think they’d carried up Toyoda and Hishinuma, neither of them moving. They were trying to resuscitate them with oxygen masks and massaging their chests. Around them other staff and passengers were sitting down outside the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Nobody knew what on earth was going on.

Finally an ambulance arrived. My memory fails me here, but I seem to recall Toyoda and Hishinuma were taken away separately. Only one patient to an ambulance, so one of them had to be taken by car. They were the only ones to leave at that time. None of the others were as critical. By then, so many people had gathered around Exit AII: news crews, police, firemen—I remember the size of the crowd. The media were in full swing, mikes out, interviewing passengers and subway staff. They probably couldn’t get into the station anymore.

Once the scene was under control, I walked to the hospital. When I got to the lobby, the TV was on. It was the NHK [Japan Broadcasting Corporation] news. They were showing live reports from the gas attack. That’s when I learned Takahashi had died, from a running subtitle on-screen. “Ah,” I thought, “he didn’t make it. We were too late …” I can’t tell you how sad I was.

My own condition? Well, my pupils were contracted and everything looked dark. I was coughing a little, too. Nothing too serious. They put me on a drip, just in case. I got off lightly. Probably because I’d gone outside early on. Ohori was in the hospital for ages.

After the drip, I walked back to the station with a few of the staff. The Chiyoda Line trains weren’t stopping at Kasumigaseki Station, so we went to the Marunouchi Line office. What with this and that, it was evening before I finally got home. It had been a long, long day. I took off the next day and returned for round-the-clock duty on the twenty-second.

To be honest, my memories of the gas attack jump around. This or that detail I remember with burning clarity, but the rest is very sketchy. I was pretty wound up. Takahashi’s collapse and taking him to the hospital—those things I remember fairly well.

I wasn’t especially close to Takahashi. He was the assistant stationmaster and I’m only one of the younger staff—our positions were totally different. His son works for the subway, at another station, about the same age as me. I suppose that made us like father and son, though I never felt much age difference talking to Takahashi. He was never one to pull rank. He was the quiet type, everybody liked him. He was always polite to passengers, too.

The gas attack didn’t upset me to the point where I thought: “I can’t take it, I have to change jobs.” Not at all. I’ve been here since I first joined. Can’t compare it with others, but I really like it here.

“At that point Takahashi was still alive”
Minoru Miyata (54)

Mr. Miyata has been a chauffeur for TV Tokyo for six years. He waits long hours on standby at the TV station until a news item breaks, then rushes to the scene in a van full of outside-broadcast equipment. Sometimes he has to put his foot down, and he’ll drive a thousand miles, all the way from Tokyo to Hokkaido, if he has to. A tough job.

A professional driver, he’s been chauffeuring since the mid-1960s. He’s had a thing for cars ever since he was a boy. His face lights up when he talks about them. He’s almost never had an accident or a ticket; although when he was ferrying victims from the Tokyo gas attack to the hospital, he admits he couldn’t avoid breaking the rules a little.

He speaks quickly, and never mulls over his words. He is a model of split-second timing. His decisiveness helped save the day at the scene of the attack.

I had a Toyota Hi-Ace van with TV TOKYO in big letters on the side. The staff members who come with me change all the time, but the van’s always the same, loaded and ready to go when a news item breaks. I generally work from 9:30to 6:00, but sometimes do overtime and get called out in the middle of the night.

You need real skill. It’s big trouble if the other stations beat you to the scene. A car will only go so fast, so it’s a matter of choosing the clearest route to get there a little faster, and that takes thought. In my spare time I’m always studying maps, memorizing routes. Ask me to go almost anywhere in the entire Tokyo region and I’ll know the way.

Some incident comes up every day. There’s never a day when nothing happens. I never get a break (laughs).

On March 20 I was at the station from 8:30. There are three of us in the van: me; Ikida, the cameraman; and Maki, the video engineer. We were scheduled to shoot some stock footage of Ueda Hollow over in the Kabutocho financial district, but there was no hurry. I’d planned to drive to the Kamiyacho crossing, then out to Showa Avenue, but when we reached the intersection everything was in complete confusion. “What’s going on here?” I thought. So I slowed down, keeping my eyes peeled. “They’ll call us in on this one before we get over there,” said Ikida.

Then just before the Shimbashi Tunnel, right on cue, the call came from the station telling us to make tracks for the Kasumigaseki crossing, the big open area near all the ministries: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries … When we got there I could see three or four subway workers in green uniforms collapsed on the ground by the exit. Two or three were sprawled out, and some were crouching. This young station attendant’s shouting at the top of his voice: “Quick! Somebody call an ambulance!”

We were the first media on the scene. They were carrying people out on stretchers. Next to them was a policeman barking into his radio: “Get some ambulances here now!” But by that time St. Luke’s and other hospitals were already in a panic and no ambulances were coming that way. They were even using unmarked police cars to carry the victims, it was so bad. Everybody screaming their heads off. Ikeda was shooting the whole scene.

That’s when somebody—maybe one of the injured—spoke up: “How about instead of filming us, you help take one or two people to the hospital?” But we’re loaded with equipment and stuff. We can’t just run off. So me and the crew talk it over. “What the hell are we going to do?” “It’ll look bad if we don’t take them.” In the end, I said, “Okay, I’ll go.” I ran to the shouting station attendant and asked where it is I’m supposed to be going. “Take them to Hibiya Hospital,” he says. Which is strange, I thought at the time, because Toranomon Hospital’s the closest. But it turns out that Hibiya’s the one affiliated with the Subway Authority.

We unloaded all the equipment, just in case something came up, but the van hasn’t got a flashing red light, so the young station attendant sits in the front seat next to me, his hand out the window waving a red handkerchief, and we’re off and heading for Hibiya Hospital. The red handkerchief was a loan from this young nurse at the scene. She told us to wave it to show we were an emergency vehicle. In the car we had Assistant Stationmaster Takahashi, who died, and another guy—don’t know his name—also a station attendant, 30-something, wasn’t as bad as Takahashi. He even managed to get in the van by himself. We laid them both flat out across the backseat. The young station attendant kept asking, “Takahashi, you all right?” That’s how I knew his name. But Takahashi was hardly conscious, he could barely groan in response.

Hibiya Hospital was near Shimbashi Station. A pretty big place. It only took about three minutes to get there … All that time the young station attendant had his hand out the window waving the handkerchief. We ran all the red lights; went the wrong way down one-way streets. The police saw us, but it was just: “Go ahead, quick!” We were desperate; I knew it was life-or-death.

But you know, the hospital wouldn’t let us in. This nurse comes running out, and even when we told her, “They’ve been gassed in Kasumigaseki Station,” she just said something about there being no doctor available. Abandoned us there on the pavement. How she could do that, I’ll never know.

The young station attendant went inside, practically in tears, to plead with the receptionist—“He’s going to die, you have to do something.” I went in with him. At that point Takahashi was still alive. His eyes were blinking. We lowered him out of the van and he lay on the pavement, the other guy crouching by the roadside. We were all just blown away, so angry the blood just rushed to our heads. There we were for ages—can’t really say how long—kicking our heels.

Then a little later a doctor comes out and they carry the two of them in on stretchers. The point is, they didn’t have the least grasp of the situation. There’d been no word to the hospital about any injured people heading their way, so they were in the dark. Couldn’t cope. It was 9:30 by then, over an hour since the gas attack. And yet the hospital didn’t know what had happened. We must have been the first there with victims from the attack. They didn’t have a clue.

It was pitiful to see the young station attendant watching his colleague, his superior, not knowing if he was going to pull through or not. In desperation he kept repeating, “Examine him, hurry, hurry!” And me, I was so worried, I stood around in front of the hospital for an hour or more, but I heard nothing, so I returned to the scene. I never went back to Hibiya Hospital and never saw that young station attendant again. That night I learned Takahashi had died, which made me so sad. To think that someone you’d transported didn’t make it.

Anger toward the Aum cult? No, it goes beyond anger. But who are they kidding? They say they just did what Asahara told them to, but they’re the ones who did it, so they should stand trial fully prepared to die.

I’ve been to the Aum headquarters’ Kamikuishiki Village lots of times on the job. Most of the cultists there, they look spaced out, like their souls have been sucked away. They don’t even laugh or cry. Like Noh masks, expressionless. I suppose you’d call it mind control. But not the Central Command. They’ve got expressions, they’re thinking. They haven’t undergone any mind control. They gave the orders. They joined forces with Asahara in that Universal State of theirs. Whatever they plead, there’s no excuse. Why not give them all the death penalty?

When you’ve worked as long as I have, you get to see all kinds of scenes. I even went to the Kobe earthquake. But the Tokyo gas attack was different. That was really and truly hell. Okay, so there were lots of problems with how it was reported, but the people interviewed knew what a nightmare it was.

“I’m not a sarin victim, I’m a survivor”
Toshiaki Toyoda (52)

Born in Yamagata Prefecture in northeastern Japan, Mr. Toyoda joined the Subway Authority on March 20 in 1961thirty-four years to the day before the gas attack. “After graduating I came to Tokyo with literally just a futon to sleep on,” he recalls. He wasn’t particularly interested in the subway, but a relative’s introduction landed him the job. He has worked in Tokyo as a station attendant ever since, but he still has a slight Yamagata accent.

Talking to Mr. Toyoda is a lesson in professional ethics. Or perhaps that should be civic ethics. Thirty-four years on the job have done him proud and made him someone people can depend upon. Just to look at him is to see the very model of a good citizen.

From what Mr. Toyoda tells us I would venture a guess that, to a greater or lesser degree, his two colleagues—who unfortunately sacrificed their lives while trying to dispose of the sarinboth shared his ethical stance.

Even at his age he jogs twice a week so that he has no problem doing the more physical tasks around the station. He even takes part in interstation sports events. “It’s good to forget about the job and work up a good sweat,” he says.

We talked for at least four hours. Not once did he complain. “I want to conquer my own weak spirit,” he says, “and put the gas attack behind me.” Surely easier said than done.

Since interviewing Mr. Toyoda, every time I’m on the subway I look very carefully at all the station attendants. They really do have a tough job.

I want to say first of all that I’d really rather not talk about this whole thing. I spent the night before the gas attack at the station along with Takahashi, who died. I was on monitor duty that day for the Chiyoda Line, and two colleagues died while I was responsible. Two men who ate in the same canteen as me. If I must speak, that’s what comes to mind. To tell the truth, I’d rather not remember it.

MURAKAMI: Understood. I appreciate how difficult this must be, and I certainly don’t mean to open up wounds that are only now beginning to heal. However, for my part, the more living testimonies I can bring together in writing, the more accurate the picture I can put across to everyone of just what happened to the people who found themselves in the Tokyo subway on March 20, 1995.

Well, all right, then, I’ll do my best…

That day I had round-the-clock duty, so I’d stayed overnight and was working on Platform 5 until 8:00 A.M. About 7:40 I handed over to Okazawa, the assistant Stationmaster, saying, “Everything’s in order.” Then I went around to check the ticket barriers and other parts of the station before returning to the office. Takahashi was there. When I’m out on the platforms, Takahashi has to stay in the office; when Takahashi’s out on the platforms, I’m in the office—that’s how our shift alternated.

Before 8 A.M. Hishinuma also came out to see an out-of-service train. Hishinuma was from the Transport department, so he was supervising the drivers and conductors. It was good weather that day and he was joking as we drank our tea: “Train’s never late when it’s my duty.” Everyone was in good spirits.

About the same time Takahashi went to the platform upstairs, while I stayed in the office relaying the day’s messages to those just reporting for work. Pretty soon Okazawa came by again, picked up the intercom, and said: “There was an explosion or something at Tsukiji Station, so they’ve stopped the train.” Stopping the Hibiya Line train meant that we were going to be rushed off our feet, because if something happens at Tsukiji, they send the train back to Kasumigaseki. Next came a phone call from Central Office: “Suspicious item sighted on board. Please verify.” It was Okazawa who took the call, but I said, “I’ll go and have a look, you wait here,” and headed out to the platform.

But when I got to Train A725K, all the doors were closed. It seemed ready to depart. I noticed there were spots all over the platform, almost like paraffin or something. There are ten cars and each car has four doors. Up toward the front of the train, I could see where this paraffin stuff must have dripped out of the second door of one of the cars. And around the base of a pillar were seven or eight big wads of newspaper. Takahashi was on the platform—he’d been trying to mop up the stuff.

Hishinuma had boarded the cab and was talking with the driver, but there seemed to be no particular operational problems. Just then a train pulled in on the opposite platform and maybe the breeze dispersed the sarin.

It didn’t look as if an ordinary dustpan could collect all the wads of newspaper, so I called out to Takahashi, “I’ll go get plastic bags,” and went back to the office. I told the station attendants: “Paraffin or something’s spilled all over the platform, so get a mop. Any free hands come along for backup.” Okazawa let someone else take over and followed me. Around this time they announced over the station PA that the Hibiya Line had been shut down.

I got covered in sarin, so my memory’s a bit vague on the order of things, but on the way back to the platform someone must have handed me a mop. Now, a mop’s something we use every day. If we don’t mop up muck and standing water immediately, a passenger could fall and get hurt. If someone spills a drink on the platform, it’s the mop straightaway. Sprinkle sawdust over it, wipe it clean. Just comes with the job.

As I said, there were these bundles wrapped in newspaper placed at the base of the pillar. I crouched down, picked them up, and put them in a plastic bag that Okazawa held open for me. I didn’t know what was in them, but whatever it was they were sticky with some kind of oily substance. The draft from the train hadn’t budged them, so they must have been on the heavy side. After that Hishinuma came along, and all three of us gathered up the newspaper into plastic bags. Initially I’d had it in my head that this was paraffin, but there wasn’t any paraffin or petrol smell. Hmm, how would I describe the smell? Very difficult.

I only heard this later, but apparently the smell disgusted Okazawa, so he kept looking away. I also thought it was pretty horrible. I once witnessed a cremation in the country and the smell was a bit like that, or else like a dead rat. A real stink.

I can’t remember if I was wearing gloves or not. I always carry gloves (he pulls out gloves) just in case, but you can’t open plastic bags very well with gloves on. So I can’t have been wearing them. Later on Okazawa told me: “Toyoda, your hands were bare. That stuff was dripping from your fingers.” I didn’t think much about it at the time. But as it turned out, no gloves was better. They would have soaked UP the sarin and carried the poison around with you. Bare hands let it drip off.

We managed to bag up all the newspaper, but still there was the paraffin stuff on the platform. At the time I was scared it might explode. The staff at Tsukiji had mentioned explosives, and only a few days before, on March 15, they’d found a booby-trapped attaché case at our station, on the Marunouchi Line, which they say was probably Aum’s doing as well. It had boccilinus bacteria in it or something. The assistant member of staff who carried the attaché case out of the trash can over to an exit said: “For a second there, I felt sure my number was up.”

In my line of work, I always tell my wife: “Remember, I may not come back tonight.” You never know what’s going to happen on the job. Maybe they’ll plant sarin, or maybe there’ll be a fight and somebody’ll have a knife. Or then again, there’s no telling when some psycho might suddenly come up from behind and push an assistant onto the tracks. Or if there’s explosives, I can’t very well tell a subordinate, “You take care of it.” Maybe it’s my character, but I just can’t; I have to do it myself.

The bags were clear plastic trash-can liners. We closed them as best we could, but then we were thinking about where to take the stuff, so we probably forgot to tie them. Me and Okazawa carried them back to the office staff room. Takahashi stayed on the platform, cleaning.

Sugatani was at the office, ready to start his shift. I was trembling all over by then. I tried to check the train timetable, but couldn’t read the numbers. He said, “It’s okay, I’ll put the call into Central for you.” Then, for want of a better place, I put the plastic bags at the foot of a chair in the office staffroom.

Meanwhile, Train A725K had already gone. They’d removed the suspicious items, swept out the cars, and just let it carry on. That was Hishinuma’s department, so he’d probably been in touch with Central Office and asked for the go-ahead to continue to the next station.

Takahashi always stood on the platform at the front of the train, so naturally when a passenger tells him, “There’s something strange inside,” he’ll try to deal with it as quickly as possible. I didn’t actually see it—this is just a guess—but I’ll bet Takahashi took it upon himself to remove the stuff. He was the nearest, after all.

There was a trash can on the opposite platform, so that must be where Takahashi got the newspapers to swab the car floor. It was probably just him and Hishinuma. If there’d been mops handy they’d have used them, of course, but they had to use newspaper. They had to think fast. It was the middle of rush hour, after all, with about two and a half minutes, more or less, between trains.

After that I checked the office clock, thinking to jot down a memo. In my work, I make a habit of making memos straightaway. Later I have to enter everything in the record book, so reminders are a must. It was 8:10, I remember, I was trying to write an “8” but my pen was shaking too much. I was trembling all over, but I couldn’t just sit idly by. That’s when my eyesight went. I couldn’t make out the numbers. My field of vision got smaller and smaller.

Just then word came in that Takahashi had collapsed on the platform. An attendant who was helping clean up went to get a stretcher, and together with another staff member they tried to give Takahashi first aid. I was in no shape to go and help. I was shaking too much. It was all I could do to touch-dial the subway phone. I tried to call in to Central Office—“Takahashi’s collapsed. Send support.”—but I was trembling uncontrollably and my voice wouldn’t come.

I felt so bad it seemed doubtful I would make work the next day, so I started to check over my paperwork and things. I thought it best to tidy up while I could. They’d already called an ambulance to take us to the hospital and I didn’t know when I’d be back. Tomorrow was out of the question. That’s what I was thinking, shaking all over as I tried to pack up. All the time those bundles of sarin-soaked newspapers were right there at my feet.

Takahashi was unconscious when they took him away on the stretcher, and I called out, “Hang in there, Issho!” But he didn’t move. All I could see in my narrowed field of vision was a woman passenger. She was in the office. That’s when I thought I’d better do something about the plastic bags. If the stuff blew up here, it’d endanger the passengers and staff, too.

Word came in that Takahashi’s teeth were chattering, just like an epileptic. I lifted the plastic bags, hoping to get rid of them, but knew I had to do something about Takahashi first. I issued instructions: “Stuff a handkerchief in his mouth. Careful he doesn’t bite your hand.” I’d heard that’s what you’re supposed to do during epileptic seizures. By then my nose was running, my eyes were sore. I was in a terrible state, though I was completely unaware of this. I only learned that later.

I told an attendant who had just arrived: “Take these plastic bags over there,” to a bunk room in the back where they’d be less dangerous if they exploded. There they’d be sealed off behind a stainless steel door.

The woman, I learned later, was the one who’d spotted the suspicious object on board and had come to inform us. She had begun to feel sick and got off one station before at Nijubashi, then caught the next train to Kasumigaseki.*

Hishinuma returned from the platform. “What the hell was that stuff we brought in here?” he said. “I’ve never had the shakes so bad. In all my years on the subway, I never saw anything like it.” He had come off the platform along with Takahashi on a stretcher. Hishinuma had lost his eyesight too, but now he had to signal the next train, because the station attendant was out of commission.

“Okay for now,” I thought, “I’ve done my job. Cleaned away the unidentified stuff. Hishinuma and Takahashi are both back inside. I’ve done the immediate tasks at hand.” And I’d instructed a member of the support staff to meet the ambulance at Exit All, the Trade Ministry exit. That’s the most convenient place for an ambulance pickup. “We’ve done our jobs, so it’s just a matter of the ambulance getting here”—I was focused on that. So I had them bring Takahashi on the stretcher into the office to wait.

I went to wash my face. Nose running, eyes watering, not a pretty sight. Have to make myself a bit more presentable, I thought. I stripped off my jacket and washed my face at the sink. I always take off my uniform when I wash so as not to get it wet. Sheer habit. Only later did I find out that taking my uniform off was a good thing, because it was soaked with sarin. Same goes for washing my face.

Just then I started to tremble really badly. Not like shivering from a chill or something, this was much worse. I wasn’t cold, but my body wouldn’t stop shaking. I tried to hold my stomach in tight, but it didn’t help. I headed over to the lockers to grab a towel, was wiping my face as I walked back, when I just couldn’t stand any more. I went faint and collapsed.

I felt like throwing up, couldn’t breathe. Me and Hishinuma had dropped at the same time, more or less. We complained of pains almost simultaneously. I can still hear his voice in my ear: “Agh, it hurts!” I can also hear others around us saying, “Hang in there, they’ve called the ambulance” and “Hold on, it’s on its way.” After that I don’t remember a thing.

I didn’t think I was going to die. I’ll bet even Takahashi didn’t think he was going to die. After all, an ambulance was coming to take us to the hospital. I was more worried about my work, what I needed to do.

I was foaming at the mouth. My hands just wouldn’t let go of the towel. That’s when one of the staff members did a smart thing. There were respirators in the office, which Konno took out and put on me and Hishinuma. I couldn’t even hold the mouthpiece in place. My eyes were wide open. Hishinuma somehow managed to hold his own mouthpiece, so my symptoms were worse at that point.

They’d used the only stretcher to carry Takahashi, so there was nothing left for us. Someone went to the Uchisawaicho office to fetch a stretcher from there, and as my symptoms were more serious, they carried me out first. They laid Hishinuma on some sheets and carried him out like that. Then we all waited at the exit for the ambulance.

I was taken to Jie Medical University Hospital, but it was 11:00 the next morning before I came around. I had two tubes shoved in my mouth for oxygen and to keep my lungs working. I couldn’t talk. And I had drips in my neck, feeding something into both arteries. My family was all around.

After that, four of the Kasumigaseki staff came to visit. I still couldn’t speak, so I borrowed a pen. I couldn’t hold it properly, so I clutched it in my hand and somehow managed to write ISSHO, Takahashi’s first name, two simple characters. One of the guys just crossed his hands in an “X.” I knew it was bad news. “Takahashi didn’t make it,” he said. I wanted to ask about Hishinuma, but his name wouldn’t come. I had a mental block. So I scrawled TRANS for “transport staff.” Another two-handed “X.” That’s how I knew he’d lost his life too.

After that I wrote KASUMI. Had any other station attendants been hurt? But they said everyone was okay; I was the one in the most serious condition.

“So it’s only me who survived,” I realized. I still had no idea what on earth had happened, but here I’d been close to death and had survived. The more people worried over me and came to see me, the stronger the realization grew that I’d been saved. I felt happy to have survived and ashamed for what had happened to the others. This put me on edge and that night—the twenty-first, when I regained consciousness—I couldn’t get to sleep. Kids get all excited and can’t sleep the night before a school trip—well, it was like that. I’d been spared, thanks to everyone. They’d pitched in and come to the rescue quick, which saved my life.

I was hospitalized until March 31, after which I convalesced at home for a while, then returned to work on May 2. I gradually got my strength back, but it was a lot harder to get a grip on my mental state. First, I was hardly sleeping. Barely two or three hours, then—bang!—I’d wake up and not be able to get back to sleep. It went on like that for days. And that was the good part.

After that came the anger. I was irritable, irrational, got upset at everything. It was clearly some sort of hyperexcited condition. I didn’t drink, obviously, so I was short of any psychological release. I couldn’t concentrate, either. I feel a lot more relaxed now, but this rage sometimes flares up over nothing.

At first my wife was really careful with me, but it seems I was so demanding over every little thing it became aggravating for her. It was time to get back to work. I wanted to put on my uniform again and be back on the platform. Returning to the job was the first step.

I have no physical symptoms, but psychologically there’s this burden. I’ve got to get rid of it somehow. Of course, when I first went back to work I was scared the same thing might happen again. It takes positive thinking to overcome fear, otherwise you’ll carry around this victim mentality forever.

There were ordinary passengers who unfortunately lost their lives or suffered injuries just because they were traveling on the subway. People who are still suffering mentally or are in pain. When I consider their lot, I don’t have the luxury to keep seeing myself as a victim. That’s why I say: “I’m not a sarin victim, I’m a survivor.” Frankly, there are some latent symptoms, but nothing to keep me bedridden. I’m just glad I survived.

The fear, the mental wounds are still with me, of course, but there’s no way to flush them out of my system. I could never find words to explain it to the families of those who died or who sacrificed their lives on the job.

I try not to hate Aum. I leave them to the authorities. I’ve already gone beyond hatred. My hating them wouldn’t help anyway. I don’t follow the news reports on the Aum trial—what would be the point? I know what’s what without looking. Going back over the circumstances won’t solve anything. I’ve no interest in the verdict or the punishment. That’s for the judge to decide.

MURAKAMI: What exactly do you mean, you know “what’s what without looking”?

I already knew society had gotten to the point where something like Aum had to happen. Dealing with passengers day after day, you see what you see. It’s a question of morals. At the station, you get a very clear picture of people at their most negative, their downsides. For instance, if we’re sweeping up the station with a dustpan and brush, just when we’ve finished, someone will flick a cigarette butt or a piece of litter right on the spot where we’ve cleaned. There are too many self-assertive people out there.

There’s an upside to passengers too. A guy around 50, always travels on the first train of the day, always used to greet me, he probably thought I’d died until I returned to the job. Yesterday morning when we met, he said: “Alive and well means you’ve still got things to do. Don’t give up the fight!” It’s such an encouragement just to get a cheerful greeting. Nothing comes of hatred.

“It’s not even whether or not to take the subway, just to go out walking scares me now”
Tomoko Takatsuki (26)

Ms. Takatsuki lives with her husband at her grandmother’s house in Shibuya Ward, west central Tokyo. But at the time she got caught up in the Tokyo gas attack, the newlyweds were living in the outlying suburbs of Kawasaki to the south.

Their present house in Shibuya is the old family home where her mother grew up. Her grandmother now leases out the upper floor as flats, one of which they occupy. “It’s more convenient here to get into the center of town,” says Ms. Takatsuki, “plus the rent’s cheap.” But her grandmother is quick to add, “My legs aren’t so good anymore, so they moved here to look after me.”

Ms. Takatsuki is a slim, young-looking 26-year-old who could still pass for a student. While she plays down her own trauma—“Why interview me when I escaped unharmed?”—listening to her story it becomes clear that the gas attack still affects her even today. A strong woman, she’s nonetheless not the type to come forward and talk without being prompted. It takes time for her true feelings to come out.

Her tall, silent husband thoughtfully left the room for the interview. They met at a party to which she hadn’t wanted to go, but was urged on by a friend.

My office is in Kamiyacho, so it used to take almost an hour to commute from the house in Kawasaki. I never found it a long journey. An hour’s about average for your typical salaryman.

I get up about 5:30. Eat breakfast, leave the house, get to the office at 7:30. Office hours begin at 9:00, so I have a full hour and a half at my desk to read the newspaper or have a bite to eat.

Well, the trains are crowded. So I leave the house early, around 6:30. I don’t like traveling on crowded trains. And the Odakyu Line, as you’d expect, has plenty of weirdos (laughs). I’ve never had trouble getting up early or anything, I was just a bit late that day.

It’ll be five years this year since I started with the company. I graduated in political economy, but since working here I’ve been assigned to the Systems Department. I had to train for three months … Now I develop in-house software. There are 150 people in our department alone—more men than women.

The day of the gas attack fell between holidays, so only about half the staff showed up for work, but I wasn’t going anywhere so I went to the office-just the same. I usually travel with my husband, but for some reason I was running late that day and left the house alone.

I got off at Kasumigaseki, where I always change to the Hibiya Line, but the trains were so crowded and there was still time before office hours started, so I thought I’d walk the rest of the way. It’s about a fifteen-minute walk. Then what do I see but a station attendant lying on the platform, in real pain. But the other station attendants were just standing around doing nothing. It was so odd. I stood there off to one side, just watching. Usually I’d have bounded up the stairs to catch my train, but this one time I felt like, “Let’s just give this a moment.”

Soon a station attendant came down the stairs and I thought, “Ah, I’ll bet he’s gone to call the ambulance. Time for me to get going.” Then suddenly I started to feel really bad myself. “Standing here looking at all this has made me ill,” I thought. “It’s affected me”—I mean, women are more susceptible, aren’t they?—so I decide I’d better go straight outside.

I’m up the stairs, but my head’s a total vacuum, my nose is streaming. I’m crying, too. So I think, “Oh no, I’ve caught a cold.” I’m outside by now, but everything looks so dark. “I must be running a temperature,” I thought. I mean, when you’re running a fever, you just sort of space out, don’t you? So I walked on for a bit, but it gradually became more and more painful. I told myself, “I knew I shouldn’t have stood there watching that collapsed station attendant.”

My eyes hurt long after I reached work. The tears and runny nose just wouldn’t stop, and I kept saying, “My eyes hurt! My eyes hurt!”—I raised quite a fuss at the office. It was so painful I just couldn’t work. It was dark inside, too. I glanced over to make sure the lights weren’t switched off. “Strange,” I thought, “how can everything be so dark with the lights on?” It was darker than if I’d been wearing sunglasses. Everyone else said, “It’s not dark at all,” as if they thought I was mad.

Later on the general manager came around asking, “Anyone here feeling ill?” I told him my eyes hurt and they’d mentioned the same symptoms on TV, so he told me to go to the hospital. But they still didn’t know at that point it was poison gas. Some sort of explosion on the subway, was all they could say … There was one other person in the company who suffered injuries a lot worse than mine—hospitalized for a week, apparently.

As it turns out, sarin hadn’t been planted on the train I took, I’d inhaled it at the station. I couldn’t tell at the time. It was in the train across the platform. I was at the rear of the train and the sarin was at the front of the train opposite me. So when I got off my train I was right there … Talk about bad luck. That station attendant died, you know.

But when I left the station at that point, there was no ambulance and everyone was walking around like normal. You’d never have guessed anything was wrong. There was only that station attendant who keeled over. I thought he’d had a heart attack or something. If the station attendant hadn’t been lying there, I might have just walked on by without noticing a thing.

Anyway, my eyes hurt, so I knew I ought to see an eye doctor. I didn’t know what to expect. I went to an ordinary local eye clinic, but the doctor took one look at my eyes and said: “Nothing to worry about. The pupils are just a little contracted, that’s all.” “But it hurts,” I said. At which point the senior doctor came out and said: “Hmm. This is bad. Better get to a major hospital.” So I took a taxi to Toranomon Hospital, because it’s the nearest. But by then the hospital was swamped with hundreds of people, and they directed me to the Jie Med. School instead, but in the taxi I heard on the news that that was full up, too. Okay, what about St. Luke’s? Full up as well… So what am I supposed to do?

About this time someone came along and said: “What about Teishin?” Teishin Hospital in Gotanda, affiliated with the Ministry of Communication. It probably wouldn’t be so crowded. By then we knew from the news that the cause was sarin. But what did that mean? How was I supposed to be treated for it? Even the doctor said, “I really don’t know how I can help you” (laughs). The eye clinic had washed my eyes, just in case, which seemed to help. So I told the doctor and he said, “Okay then, let’s wash everyone’s eyes” (laughs). The staff at the hospital said, “We don’t know about this, but it’s worth a try.”

Another good thing was, as soon as I got to the office I changed my clothes. At our company we wear uniforms. This seemed to help. Later they ran blood tests and put me on a drip. They decided I should be hospitalized. I was feeling really nauseated, plus my insides never were the greatest in the first place. I thought they’d finally packed up. The nausea went away after a while, but my eyes still hurt and I had a fever.

I was only hospitalized for a day. My husband came to see me, all worried. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. My eyes hurt, so I couldn’t watch TV, couldn’t leave my hospital room. I was out of touch. Still, I felt quite secure.

The twenty-first was a holiday, so I went to work on the twenty-second, but I couldn’t sit ten minutes in front of a computer screen. “I’m off,” I said, and just went home. They didn’t know whether to believe me at the office or not. It was like, “Well, whatever you say.” I told them that was hardly a nice attitude, but then it was, “Well, how are we supposed to know?” Okay, the symptoms weren’t pronounced, but still …

For a whole week I was like that and couldn’t do any work. I’d try to look at something and just couldn’t focus. It was all a blur. When I tried to explain it to someone, all I’d get was, “But your eyes never were that good, were they?”

I went to the hospital several times, but my pupils just weren’t returning to normal. It took about a month. Even now they still hurt a bit. Hmm, I wonder. Sometimes I still worry. No, it’s not that my eyesight’s ruined. My vision isn’t especially bad. It does affect my work, though. Still, I’m glad it’s just my eyes.

Afterward people who’d been injured were scared to go on the subway, or so I hear from reports, but that really wasn’t the case with me. Maybe it’s because the sarin wasn’t on my train. Two days later when I took the subway to work in the morning I didn’t feel especially wary. There were others with me in the car, and—how can I put it?—it lacked reality for me. Someone right in front of me on the platform had died, but it still wasn’t real.

I get a lot of headaches. I suppose it’s on account of the sarin, but then I always did get headaches, so who knows? Only the frequency of my headaches has increased … That and when my eyes get tired, I begin to feel nauseated. That’s the most unsettling thing of all. There’s just no end to it once you start thinking, then you have to tell yourself, “No, that has nothing to do with it.” On TV this doctor said, “Once the symptoms go away, there’s no fear of aftereffects,” but who really knows yet? I just hope nothing shows up later.

Of course it irritates me. I don’t see why the criminals should be pardoned. I’d just like to know what they thought they were doing. I’d demand a full explanation and an apology. I’d absolutely insist on it.

I might easily have died there, I do think about that. I’m still nervous going out alone. It’s not even whether or not to take the subway, just to go out walking scares me now. So now whenever I go out, I try to go with my husband. Is this a psychological aftereffect? … But I do often wonder, maybe I will die. I was always the nervous type and thinking like this doesn’t help, it gives me knots in my stomach.

My husband is really worried about me, maybe more concerned than I am. He says I was discharged from the hospital so quickly, perhaps I should have stayed longer. Whenever anything happens, he blames it on the sarin. I’m glad he’s here for me. I wish we had more time to spend together, just the two of us. During our morning commute when we split up at the station, I think, “Oh, I don’t want to go off alone.” Since that day, we’ve never had a fight. We used to before, over anything. Lately I wonder, supposing we parted at the station after having a fight and something happened—what would I do?

“The day after the gas attack, I asked my wife for a divorce”
Mitsuteru Izutsu (38)

Mr. Izutsu works as the shrimp import buyer for a major trading house, but originally he was a sailor. After graduating from Tokyo Merchant Marine University, he sailed foreign sea routes until a severe recession in the shipping industry persuaded him to cut short his seafaring career at 30 and take a desk job at a shrimp import company. After seven years, he changed jobs to his present company as its shrimp specialist.

Seafood imports command higher prices than meat, but market values fluctuate greatly, making it a risky, make-or-break business. It requires a fair amount of overseas experience. Mr. Izutsu was never particularly drawn to the shrimp business, but his interest in foreign-related work gave him an opening into the fisheries trade. Actually, two years ago, when he left his last job, he wanted to start his own company and went to his present firm in the hope of raising capital. “Can’t be too optimistic, now that Japan’s Bubble has burst,” they told him. “But perhaps you’d consider working with us for a while?” And so he became a salaryman. It’s not your typical résumé.

This means his outlook is subtly different from that of the usual company man. Talk to him and you sense his fiercely independent spirit. He speaks his mind, though is never overbearing. He simply has his own way of thinking and likes to think things through to the end.

He practiced judo at the university, and still keeps in shape. Youthful in appearance, he dresses neatly and has a penchant for smart ties. All in all a striking individual—who one morning just happened to be gassed on the way to work.

I live in Shin-maruko now, but back then I lived right in Yokohama at Sakuragicho. My office is in Kokkai-gijidomae, right in the heart of Tokyo, so I take the Toyoko Line, which connects to the subway. Work starts at 9:15, but I generally try to get there good and early by 8:00. At that hour the trains aren’t so crowded and there’s no one at the office, so I can get some work done in peace. I wake at 6:00: my eyes just snap open automatically. I’m a morning person, so I’m not much of a night owl. Unless there’s something going on, I’m asleep by ten in the evening. Although there aren’t many nights when there’s “nothing going on.” There’s overtime and business dinners, and I go out drinking with the guys from work too.

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 Machiya and has never thought of moving. She lives with her mother and father and a sister who is fourteen years younger than she. Though she’s a working adult in her own right, and sometimes considers striking out on her own, she still “sponges” off her parents.

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. I leave the house around 7:30 and catch the 8:15 Chiyoda Line from Matsudo. Needless to say, I can never get a seat on the Chiyoda Line. I’m standing for forty-five minutes throughout. I can sometimes get a seat at Otemachi. I’m still half asleep, so if I can get a seat, I’ll sit. Getting a seat means a good fifteen minutes’ rest.

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.

When I opened my eyes, I saw a station attendant in a green uniform coming in and out. The floor was wet, too. The wet patch was maybe five meters away from me. The criminals had pricked their bags of sarin and got off at Shin-ochanomizu. But anyway I’d been fast asleep and hadn’t seen a thing. The police questioned me over and over about it, but what I didn’t see I didn’t see. They thought that sounded suspicious. I was traveling to Aoyama and the Aum headquarters are in Aoyama.

The train continued on to the next stop, Kokkai-gijidomae, where we all had to get off. No explanation was given over the PA, just, “This train is going out of service—all passengers please disembark.” But between Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-gijidomae I was really in pain. I was coughing, I couldn’t breathe. When we reached Kokkai-gijidomae there were people near me who couldn’t even move. One woman in her fifties had to be lifted off by the station attendants. There were maybe ten people in the car and some of them held handkerchiefs over their mouths, coughing.

“Hey, what’s going on here?” I thought, but I had to get to work. I had a whole list of things to do. Stepping out onto the platform, who knows how many people were squatting there? The station attendants had rounded up all those who were feeling sick, there must have been fifty in all. Two or three were completely immobilized, one or two lay stretched out on the platform.

Oddly enough, though, the atmosphere wasn’t tense at all. Even though I was feeling strange. I’d inhale and no breath would come. It was almost as if the air was running out. I could still walk, though, so I thought I was fine. Instead of joining the “sick” group, I just caught the next train. It came straightaway, but no sooner had I gotten on than my legs started to feel shaky. My eyes stopped working. Suddenly it was as if night had fallen. “Damn,” I thought, “I should have stayed back there with the others.”

When I got to Omote-sando Station, I asked the attendant, “I don’t know why I’m feeling so out of sorts … did something happen in the subway?” And he said, “There seems to have been an explosion at Hatchobori.” “There was something wrong with the train I was on just now, too,” I said, but this was explained away as “gasoline or something has been spilled inside.” Totally mixed-up information. Then I went to the stationmaster’s office and I told them, “I feel awful. I can hardly see,” but news had yet to reach Omote-sando Station. Their response was, “Why don’t you just sit down for a bit? Would you like a cold drink?” Very kind, but they didn’t have a clue.

“This is useless,” I thought, so I gave up and I went out above ground. It was a wonderful clear day, but everything was dark. “Uh-oh, this looks bad.” I went to a hospital, near the office, but when I got there I couldn’t really explain what had happened. “This is probably an emergency: I just left the subway and …” You know, I spelled it out as clearly as possible, but they couldn’t see me straightaway. I called the office: “I’m not feeling so good. I’ll be a little late.” In the end I waited there for three hours. Three hours and they didn’t do a damn thing! My breath was getting shorter and shorter, my eyesight dimmer and dimmer … I was going out of my mind, so I telephoned the Subway Authority, just to get some kind of explanation. After all, they had rounded up on the platform those people who were feeling ill. I wondered what had happened to them. But I couldn’t get through on the phone.

At 11:00 news came that it was sarin. Finally the doctors would have a look at me! They got the picture. Straightaway it was transfusions, hospitalization. I was their first sarin patient, so suddenly the doctors were fascinated. They gathered around, poking me all over the place for symptoms, chatting among themselves: “See, this is what it does.” I was in there for three days.

I was so exhausted I slept really well, but the three months after that were tough. I was tired all the time. Try and do something and I’d be worn out. My eyes had gone, my focus was blurry and my field of vision was tiny. My job involves a lot of driving, but after dark I couldn’t see a thing. My vision’s normally okay, but I couldn’t even make out street signs. And if I can’t read a computer screen I can’t do business.

I probably went a little funny in the head, too. Seriously. I went around telling people, “Something’s out there. You’ll see, something strange is going to happen.” I was buying survival gear at camping stores (laughs). After I came back to normal, I thought, what a fool I’d been … but at the time I was deadly serious. Now, what am I going to do with a survival knife?

It’s odd, but I didn’t feel anything like anger. Of course, it makes me angry to think of those who died. It makes me especially sad to think of the dead station attendants who carried out the sarin. If they hadn’t been there, I might have died too. But I don’t feel any personal hatred or bitterness toward the criminals. It feels more like I had an accident. Maybe you were expecting another response?

Either way, I couldn’t stand the media coverage of Aum. I don’t even want to look at it. Yes, you could say it’s reinforced my mistrust of the media. The long and the short of it is, everyone loves a scandal. They just enjoy saying, “Oh, what a shame.” I’ve even stopped reading magazines.

* Ikuo Hayashi was sentenced to life imprisonment. At the time of going to press he was serving time in prison and Tomomitsu Niimi was still on trial. [Tr.]

* Numbers in parentheses refer to the age of the interviewee at the time of the Tokyo gas attack. [Tr.]

* This woman refused to be interviewed.