Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche - Haruki Murakami (2003)
Part I. UNDERGROUND
TOKYO METROPOLITAN SUBWAY: HIBIYA LINE (Departing: Naka-meguro)
The team of Toru Toyoda and Katsuya Takahashi planted sarin on a northeastbound Hibiya Line train leaving Naka-meguro for Tobu-dobutsu-koen (Tobu Animal Park). Toyoda was the perpetrator, Takahashi his driver-accomplice.
Toyoda was born in 1968 in Hyogo Prefecture, near Kobe, west central Japan, and was 27 at the time of the attack. One of the many science-trained “superelite” converts to Aum, he studied applied physics at Tokyo University Science Department and graduated with honors. Progressing to an elite postgraduate laboratory, he completed his master’s and was about to go on to doctoral studies, when he threw it all away and took vows.
Within the cult hierarchy, Toyoda belonged to the Chemical Brigade under the Ministry of Science and Technology.
On the defendant’s bench at his trial, his hair was close-cropped and he wore a white shirt and black jacket. He glowered at everyone, his sharp cheekbones accentuating his thin face. It was the severe scowl of a serious young student. There’s a certain courage, a fiery “seeker-after-truth” streak about him. He’s the type that never rests once he has set his mind on something—he likes to see things through to the end. Or perhaps he is more the type of person willing to martyr himself for a principle. He’s sharp-witted, but is apparently interested only in direct, quantifiable objectives.
A longtime practitioner of Shaolin kick-boxing, he keeps his backbone amazingly straight. Chin down, face turned to the front, eyes closed ever so slightly (or politely) as if in meditation—throughout the entire trial proceedings, he maintained that posture and never let it slip. Once only, when there was some unusual movement in the courtroom, did he gently open his eyes, and even then his gaze never met anyone else’s. His bearing seemed that of an ascetic undergoing the strictest discipline—or perhaps he actually was in training the whole time.
The contrast could not have been more marked between Toyoda and the spoiled, self-satisfied Ken’ichi Hirose seated next to him. There was just no knowing what Toyoda was thinking or feeling. It was as if he’d absolutely blocked out any wavering of emotion by sheer force of will.
On March 18 Toyoda received his gas attack orders from his superior at the Ministry of Science and Technology, Hideo Murai. Until then he had been involved with the cult’s Automatic Light Weapons Development Scheme and had dirtied his hands in various illegal activities, but even he was shocked by the plan to release sarin on the subway. With his abundant knowledge of chemistry and having also participated in the secret manufacture of sarin at Satyam No. 7, he could easily imagine the tragic consequences of the plan. It was nothing short of random mass slaughter. And he was being asked to take part himself.
Naturally Toyoda anguished over the possibilities. To an ordinary person with normal human feelings, even entertaining the notion of such an outrageous act must seem inconceivable, but Toyoda could not criticize a command from his master. It was as if he’d climbed into a car that was about to plummet down a steep hill at breakneck speed. At this point he lacked both the courage and the judgment to bail out and avoid the coming destruction.
All Toyoda could do—and this is exactly what his colleague Hirose did as well—was adhere to the teachings ever more zealously, to crush all doubts; in short, to shut down his feelings. Rather than leaping out of a speeding car by his own will and judgment, then having to face the consequences, it was far easier just to obey. Toyoda steeled his nerves. Resolution, rather than faith, would see him through.
Toyoda left Aum’s Shibuya ajid at 6:30 in the morning, and headed southwest in a car driven by Takahashi toward Naka-meguro Station on the Hibiya Line. On the way he purchased a copy of Hochi Shimbun and wrapped his two plastic packets of sarin in it.
His assigned train was B711T, departing at 7:59 for Tobu-dobutsu-koen. He boarded the first car, taking a seat near the door. As usual at this early hour, the train was crowded with commuters on their way to work. In all probability, for most of those who traveled with him, March 20, 1995, was just another ordinary day in their lives. Toyoda set down his bag by his feet, nonchalantly took out the newspaper-wrapped sarin parcels, and dropped them to the floor.
Toyoda was on the train a mere two minutes. When it stopped at the very next station, Ebisu, he unhesitatingly punctured the sarin packets several times with his umbrella, rose, and left. Then he rushed up the stairs to the exit and out to Takahashi’s waiting car. Everything went according to schedule.
Driving back to the Shibuya ajid, Takahashi started to show symptoms of sarin poisoning—this was the only miscalculation in the operation. Liquid sarin from Toyoda’s umbrella and clothes were taking effect. Luckily for him Shibuya is not far and there was no lasting damage.
The tip of Toyoda’s umbrella went straight through the plastic packets, spilling all 900 milliliters of liquid sarin onto the floor. Around the time the train reached Roppongi two stops later, passengers in the first car began to “feel strange,” breaking out in a panic just before the next station, Kamiyacho. They struggled to open the car windows, but even that was not enough to prevent the harmful effects. Many tumbled out onto the Kamiyacho Station platform and were taken by ambulance to hospital. Miraculously only one person died, though 532 were seriously injured.
Train B711T continued to Kasumigaseki with its first car empty, then all passengers were evacuated and the train taken out of service.*
“What if you never see your grandchild’s face?”
Hiroshige Sugazaki (58)
Mr. Sugazaki is executive director of the Myojo Building Management Corporation, a subsidiary of Meiji Life Insurance. A typical Kyushu man, hailing from the westernmost main island of Japan whose native sons are known to be ambitious and forthright—not to say stubborn—Mr. Sugazaki has an innate dislike of anything “crooked.” He has always been quick-tempered, which perhaps explains why he changed school five times. The son of a sake brewer, he for some reason hardly ever drinks.
He is small in stature, but tough and slim with an assertive posture, and you can hear the confidence in his voice. His powers of recall are frighteningly good. As the incredulous policeman taking down his account put it: “You have to suspect there’s a screw loose when someone remembers everything in such vivid detail.” At home he is the total master of the house and a strict father who has kept his three daughters so completely in line they have never once answered him back. They don’t make them like him anymore.
I don’t want to give the impression that he’s totally inflexible; he also has a more laid-back side. “In the old days,” he says, “I used to be very no-nonsense, but lately I’ve mellowed as a human being. At the office I try not to overextend myself, but rather underplay my role—like a lantern in broad daylight.”
After the gas attack, Mr. Sugazaki was rushed to the hospital. His heart and lungs had stopped working. Both the doctors and his family had resigned themselves to the possibility that he was already gone, but after three days in a coma he miraculously came back to life. A true life-or-death struggle.
I wake up at 6:30, eat a simple breakfast, and leave the house at around 7:05. I get the Toyoko Line to Naka-meguro, which takes thirty minutes. It’s not too crowded, though I almost never find a seat. If an express comes along I’ll always change. I’m a man in a hurry.
If I do get a seat, I read. Though I haven’t done much reading since the gas attack … I like history books. At the time I was reading Zero Fighter. Long ago I used to dream of flying, and I still take an interest in airplanes. I was page-turning straight through on the Toyoko Line, a fascinating read. Which is why I didn’t notice we’d reached Naka-meguro.
We line up in rows of three on the Hibiya Line platform. I usually line up around the third car from the front, but I was so preoccupied with my book I ended up farther back, about the sixth car down.
As soon as the door opened I turned right and got a seat. But then a woman came along and squeezed herself in, the fourth person in a seat meant for three, so that things were a little tight. “Well,” I thought, “better get my book out now. People get the wrong idea if you start fumbling around later.” I pulled out the book and carried on reading. I only had ten or twenty pages left and I wanted to finish it before I reached my station. But at Hiro-o, I looked up to see this man sitting directly to my left wearing a leather coat. I was still wrapped up in my book, but around Hiro-o it really began to get on my nerves. Leather coats often smell funny, don’t they? A disinfectant or nail-polish-remover kind of smell. “This guy stinks,” I thought, and I stared him right in the eye. He just stared back at me with this “You-got-a-problem, mister?” look.
But it really did stink, so I went on staring, only he doesn’t seem to be looking at me. He’s looking past me to something on my right. I turned around to look and saw something about the size of a notebook lying at the feet of the second person on my right. It’s like a plastic pack. In the news, they said it was wrapped in newspaper, but what I saw was plastic, and something spilling out of it.
“Ah, so that’s what’s making the place smell,” I thought, but I still just sat there. By that point, the third person to my right had gone. It must have been around Hiro-o or Roppongi I noticed that.
Soon everyone was saying, “Open the windows—it stinks.” So they all open the windows. I remember thinking, “It’s so cold, can’t you just put up with the smell?” Then an old lady sat down next to me. It was all wet under her feet, so she stood up and moved to a seat opposite, walking straight through the pool of sarin.
There’s nobody left at the back of the car. Everyone’s moved to the front, saying, “It stinks! It stinks!” This was around the time we’d reached Roppongi. By then my head was spinning. I heard the announcement, “Next stop, Roppongi,” and I thought to myself, “I really must be anemic today.” The symptoms were pretty much the same: a little nauseous, can’t see so well, breaking out in a sweat.
Still, I didn’t connect it at all with the smell. I was utterly convinced it was anemia. Lots of my relatives are doctors, so I’m familiar with the smell of medicinal alcohol or cresol. I thought maybe some medical person had dropped a bag of something and it had leaked out. “But why can’t someone pick it up?” I thought. I’m a little angry by now. Honestly, our morals have declined so far of late. If I’d been a bit more sound of body, I would have picked it up myself and tossed it out onto the platform.
But then after Roppongi, where the train slows, I knew something was wrong. My anemia was so bad I decided to get off at Kamiyacho and rest for a while, maybe let two or three trains go by. But when I tried to stand I couldn’t get up. My legs had gone. I grabbed the handstrap and sort of dangled from it.
I moved from strap to strap until I reached the pole near the door. Finally I stepped off the train, my hand out ready to catch myself at the far wall of the Kamiyacho platform. I remember thinking: “If I don’t make it to that wall and crouch down, I’m gonna fall and hit my head.” Then I blanked out.
Actually, I hadn’t left the train. I’d grabbed the stainless-steel pole and just slid down to the floor. What I thought was a wall was in fact the floor of the car, which felt chilly to my right hand. They ran a photo of me in the tabloids, so I could see later what happened.
They videoed me too. I was seen on television, lying like that on the car floor. I was flat out for at least half an hour. Nice and spread out (laughs). Then the station attendants carried me away. You can see it in the videos.
I came to in Toho University Omori Hospital, but I don’t know when that was. Maybe that afternoon of March 20, when I had a moment of consciousness, then fell unconscious again.
When I finally came around for good, I was told I was well enough to move to the general hospital wing. It was March 23, though I was utterly convinced it was the day after the gas attack [March 21]. I had no awareness at all. But then, no awareness is paradise. True nothingness.
I didn’t have any near-death experience or anything like that. Only, I swear I heard a faint roar of voices coming from far off on the wind, like kids cheering at a baseball game, something like that, but hushed and indistinct, cut off now and then by the wind …
Actually, around that time one of my daughters was pregnant—in her fourth month, was it? I’d been anxious about it. It would be my first grandchild. Well, apparently my sister-in-law came in and said to me: “What if you never see your grandchild’s face?” Until then I’d shown absolutely no reaction to anything anyone had said, but this I heard and suddenly regained consciousness. My daughter had been at my side, saying, “Dad hold on! Don’t die!” and all I had heard was a vague murmur. But “What if you never see your grandchild’s face?”—those were the only words that reached me. My grandson was born in September, and thanks to him I came back to life.
I didn’t regain consciousness for three days, and after that my memory didn’t quite connect. Something somebody told me only half an hour before would go clean out of my head. That seems to be characteristic of sarin poisoning. The company president came to visit me several times, but I don’t remember him being there, or what we talked about. I hope I didn’t slight him. They say he dropped by ten times and I don’t remember a thing.
It was only around the eighth day that my memory began to kick in again. It was about that long, too, before I could eat real food. I had no physical symptoms: no eye pain, no headaches, no other pains, no itching. I didn’t notice that my vision was odd.
I probably shouldn’t say this, but all the nurses were beautiful! I even said so to my wife: “Nurse So-and-so is so beautiful. They say beautiful women are cold, but she’s so kind.” For some time after I carne around, I was convinced everyone in the world had turned beautiful on me (laughs).
I found nights at the hospital frightening, though. Lying in bed, I’d brush up against the bed frame and I’d feel like a cold, damp hand was about to drag me into the darkness. There was always someone around during the daytime so it was all right, but at night when I’d be trying to sleep, my hand or foot would touch the frame, and that cold hand would pull me under. The more conscious I became, the better my memories linked up and these frights got worse. I didn’t recognize them as hallucinations; I was sure there was a dead person in the ward whispering, “Come with me! This way, this way …” It was scary, but I couldn’t mention it to anyone. Ordinarily I’m the boss around the house, so I couldn’t admit to being scared (laughs).
I knew I had to get out of that hospital as soon as possible. If I couldn’t finish the hospital food, I’d get my wife to bag up what I had left and throw it out, to make it look as though I’d recovered. In that way, I was able to force the issue and get released in eleven days. I was supposed to have stayed in for at least fifteen days.
But back at home it was the same thing. Whenever I stepped onto a tatami mat, whenever I touched anything cold, those fears resurfaced. Even when I took a bath by myself. I couldn’t do it alone, I was too scared. My wife had to scrub my back. “Stay with me until I get out,” I told her. “I don’t want to be the last to leave” (laughs).
Some of the victims are afraid to take the subway, even now. I was scared at first, too. The company thought I’d be reluctant to use the subway and told me to take the bullet train instead. They even offered to buy me a commuter pass, but I turned it down. I didn’t want be coddled, and I didn’t want to run away, either. I went back to work on May 10, and from that very first day I took the exact same 7:15 Hibiya Line train that had been targeted in the gas attack. I even made sure I sat in the same car—the same seat. Once the train passed Kamiyacho, I looked over my shoulder and said to myself, “That’s where it happened.” At that moment I felt a bit queasy, but having gotten it over and done with, my spirits lifted. That wiped the slate clean of any anxieties.
Those who died from inhaling sarin probably had no idea they were going to die. The last few minutes they were unconscious, after all. There was no time to see their wives, their children. No one could have foreseen something like this was going to happen—there has to be a better way to put it—what I want to say is: what on earth were those people sacrificed for?
I want anyone who could do such a thing given the maximum punishment. I say this on behalf of the people who died. I can say this because I came back to life—but what did they possibly have to gain from killing them? It wasn’t this; it wasn’t that; I don’t know a thing about it; my disciples did it—all that is just crap. Killing people as if they were ants, all for purely selfish, egotistical reasons, or even just on a whim: It’s unforgivable. I pray that those who were sacrificed may rest in peace.
“I had some knowledge of sarin”
Kozo Ishino (39)
Mr. Ishino graduated from the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) Academy and entered the Air Self-Defense Forces. His present rank is air commander second class—roughly lieutenant colonel in the old military ranking.
Nevertheless he originally had no strong desire to enter the JSDF, Japan’s equivalent of the Reserves. If anything, he was the “nonpolitical type” as a youth, and could easily have gone to a good university, then found decent—if undistinguished—employment almost anywhere. When his elder brother entered the JSDF Academy, he went along for the admissions ceremony and found the facilities “not bad at all.” Still, he never dreamed he’d be going there himself. He sat the entrance exams merely as “a kind of exercise.”
He remembers thinking afterward, “Won’t it be great to do something different with my life instead of the typical office grind?”—and he decided to make a go of it, despite the fact that he lacked any spirit to rally to the nation’s defense. According to Mr. Ishino (sotto voce): “There aren’t actually that many in the Defense Academy with that kind of spirit.”
He’s so retiring, you’d never know he was a military man. He wears a suit to work, speaks ably and affably; truly the competent young technocrat. His profession notwithstanding, he is entirely sincere and straightforward in his worldview and values. He hasn’t a biased bone in his body. Heaven knows, we’d all have problems if he did.
Many thanks to him for kindly granting me this interview amid an impossible workload and chronic lack of sleep.
I’ve always liked airplanes a lot, though I never collected models or anything nerdy like that. It’s just that, a human is so small and I wanted to see bigger things. So if I was to enter the JSDF I wanted to be a pilot. But you can’t be a pilot with anything less than 20/20 vision, it’s a rule, and for some reason during my four years in the academy, my eyesight got worse and worse. I wasn’t even studying all that hard … I thought I’d slip by somehow, but, well, I got shot down during the in-flight exams. That only left ground duties, though my heart wasn’t really in it.
Ever since, my career has been in Attack Intercept Command. There are twenty-eight radar sites around the country that maintain surveillance of Japanese airspace. Should any unidentified foreign aircraft approach, we scramble our intercept fighters and guide them to target. Watching the radar, we send our pilots. That’s our job.
Knowing that I couldn’t be a pilot, quite frankly, came as a bit of blow, but after thinking things over I realized there still had to be something here for me. My first posting was a radar site at Wajima, on the Noto Peninsula, Ishikawa Prefecture. A bit of a backwater. It’s all right in summer when the tourists come. Young girls, too. But in winter there’s absolutely nothing to do. It was lonely. Being single, the stress builds up. It was a struggle adjusting to that environment at first, but Wajima’s a nice place. It’s like my second home.
After six years of training there, suddenly I was sent to Tokyo. What a transfer, eh? (laughs) Ever since then I’ve been in Air Recruitment at the Roppongi JSDF headquarters.
I got married ten years ago. Not long after I transferred out of Wajima to Tokyo. A friend of a friend introduced us. We have two kids, a boy of eight and a girl of five. Bought a house six years ago in Saitama. Caught the “Bubble” right at its height …
I take the Yurakucho Line from—Station. If it’s not raining, I get off at Sakuradamon and walk to Kasumigaseki. Then it’s the Hibiya Line to Roppongi. It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes.
Our JSDF work doesn’t really have office hours, each unit is on twenty-four-hour duty. There are shifts straight through the night to deal with anything that might come up. Technically we work in two shifts starting at 8:00 and 9:15. Meetings start around 9:00.
I come home late, generally about midnight. The kids are asleep by then, of course, but we’ve just got so much to do: upgrading our defense capabilities; furthering U.S.-Japan cooperation; contributing to UN peacekeeping operations—from the smallest projects to the biggest schemes, we’ve got to take care of them. Sometimes it might just be that the photocopier’s broken.
March 20 falls at the end of the fiscal year, so the workload’s lighter than usual. Quite a few of the men in my section took days off between the national holidays. I wanted to take the extended holiday weekend myself, maybe catch up on a little sleep, but we can’t all take off at the same time, so I went to work.
The train was emptier than usual. I remember I got a seat all the way to Sakuradamon. There was no meeting that day, so I could take my time. I got to Sakuradamon about 8:20, then walked to Kasumigaseki, and went down to the station platform.
But when I tried to go through the ticket barrier there was a signboard saying something like: “Due to a bombing just now, all trains have been canceled.” I went on down anyway and there were all these people waiting on the platform. “Well, if these people are waiting,” I thought, “there’s bound to be a train eventually.” So I lined up with everyone else. But there was no sign of a train. I gave up and headed for the Chiyoda Line platform. I could just as easily walk from Nogizaka Station.
But the platform was so packed you couldn’t move. Well, it so happened that the train on the opposite side of the platform was just waiting there with its doors wide open, so I decided to walk down through its cars. It was a Hibiya Line train from Naka-meguro, bound for Kita-senju. I must have walked through at least four or five cars. There wasn’t a soul on board. A few others were doing the same, though. It didn’t feel the least bit odd to be walking through the cars like that. There was nothing suspicious on the platform, either. It seemed like a perfectly ordinary train that had stopped due to an electrical fault or something.*
The Chiyoda Line was still running. There were a few delays, but I waited a while and got on a train. Then, just before Nogizaka Station I began to feel listless, lethargic. And when I got off, I was having heart palpitations. It was hard to climb the stairs, but my work is so hectic I’m chronically short on sleep and I often lose track of my health. I thought it was just fatigue from lack of sleep, but then every-thing was dark. It occurred to me they might be testing the lights in the station. It wasn’t until I entered the JSDF building and couldn’t turn my head properly that I thought: “Something’s not right here.”
At the office it wasn’t long before reports came in on TV about the confusion at Kasumigaseki. The trains had been canceled and everything was in complete uproar. My superior told me, “Shouldn’t you call home and tell your wife you made it here all right?,” so I did. They still didn’t know about any sarin at the time. I imagined it was an ordinary accident. Well, I started to work at my desk, but even typing was difficult—the computer screen was so dark. After a while the announcement came that it was sarin. I immediately thought, “Sarin? I must have inhaled some myself.”
That’s not to say all JSDF officers are briefed about sarin. But back when I was assigned to the Foreign Ministry we were closing negotiations on a ban on chemical weapons, so I had some knowledge of sarin. And of course I’d heard about the Matsumoto incident, although personally I wasn’t very interested. To be honest, I didn’t believe it was really sarin. I thought it was probably some other toxin. I just couldn’t see anyone being able to produce chemical weapons in Japan. For one thing, they’re not easy to manufacture.
I remembered that sarin causes contraction of the pupils, so I went to the bathroom and washed my eyes, then looked in the mirror. And what do I see but my pupils are like tiny dots. I went to see the medic and there were already several others there all with sarin injuries. There were a good number of sarin victims in the JSDF headquarters alone. Maybe more than in other places. We start work a little earlier than elsewhere, and lots of people commute on the Hibiya and Chiyoda lines. But to the best of my knowledge, no one here has suffered from any aftereffects.*
In Europe terrorism is more frequent, if not exactly commonplace, but Japan up to now has had almost nothing like that. I studied overseas in France for a while and all the time I was there I remember thinking, “I’m so glad Japan’s a safe place.” Everyone said so: “We envy you Japan’s safety record.” And then to come home and straightaway this happens! Not only random terrorism, but with a chemical weapon like sarin—it was a double shock.
“Why?” was all I could think. Even with the IRA, I could at least see things from their side and maybe begin to understand what they hoped to achieve. But this gas attack was simply beyond all comprehension. I’m just lucky to get off with minor symptoms and no aftereffects, though that’s no consolation to those who lost their lives or still suffer from it. The dead are dead, of course, but there are surely more meaningful ways to die.
I hope they examine the gas attack from every conceivable angle. Okay, I personally feel that the people who did it are unforgivable. Japan, however, is a juridical state. I believe we must have a full debate to satisfy everyone, and use it as a test case of where responsibility lies with incidents of this sort. We must give serious thought to how we can make good such crimes and how any retribution is to be decided. Granted this case is unusual because it involves the unprecedented element of brainwashing, but still we must try to establish general standards. Furthermore, in order to prevent the recurrence of such a terrible incident, there needs to be a public debate about how we as a nation deal with such crises.
After this experience we must make every effort to ensure that this prosperous and peaceful nation, built on the labors of previous generations, is preserved and passed on for generations to come. The most important thing for Japan at this point is to pursue a new spiritual wholeness. I can’t see any future for Japan if we blindly persist with today’s materialistic pursuits.
There’s another thing that has occurred to me since the gas attack: I’ve just turned 40 and up to now I’ve been living carelessly. It’s about time I took control of myself, gave some deep thought to my own life. This is the first time I’ve ever had such fears. I’ve been concentrating on my career all these years, So I’ve never known real fear.
“I kept shouting, ‘Please, please, please!’ in Japanese”
Michael Kennedy (63)
Mr. Kennedy is an Irish jockey. Having won countless major races, he is now retired. He was invited to Japan to coach young Japanese jockeys in professional equestrian skills at the Japan Racing Association (JRA) riding school in Chiha, east of Tokyo.
Born in Ireland, he still keeps a family house in the suburbs of Dublin. Healthy and active, he is outgoing by nature and loves meeting people. He really took to Japan, living here for four years with no complaints. The only thing he missed from his homeland, was “conversation.” Away from the big city, English speakers are few and far between—it gets lonely.
Nevertheless, Mr. Kennedy enjoyed passing on his experience to promising young jockeys at the riding school. He always smiled whenever the subject of his students came up.
No doubt the gas attack came as a big shock to him. I don’t know if he’s completely over it. While an attack of this nature makes no distinction between Japanese and foreigners, I sympathize with Mr. Kennedy, caught up in incomprehensible circumstances in a foreign country where he didn’t even speak the language.
Several weeks after this interview, he completed his contract with the riding school and returned to Ireland.
I’ve been in Japan four years now. That’s a long time and I miss my family, but I go back to Dublin twice a year and my wife comes here once, so that’s three honeymoons a year (laughs).
I’ve been a jockey for thirty years. I was an apprentice at fourteen and went professional at twenty. I’ve been lucky. I’ve had some injuries. I’ve broken my ribs seven or eight times, fractured a chest bone, had my shoulder knocked out, but nothing serious, thank God.
I retired in 1979, when I was 47, and I became the manager of a training ground in County Kildare. We had fifteen hundred horses in training. I was responsible for the facilities—the grounds, the tracks, the gallops. During my spare time, we had an apprentice training school, the RACE—Racing Apprentice Center of Education—where I’d go twice a week in the evening and go through racing videos with the kids. Then during the day I’d see them riding on the tracks. I was able to keep an eye on them and talk with them about their riding styles.
Now the JRA—the Japan Racing Association—had affiliations with the RACE, and I met many of these Japanese and gave them some insights into racing. I didn’t know anything about Japanese racing, but the JRA were anxious to get a teacher.
So in March 1992, I came over to have a look at the school and went to racetracks in Miho and Mito. I went to Utsunomiya and Tokyo. I was really impressed by the facilities. Beautiful places. People were very nice to me. I went back to Ireland and told them I was leaving, I was going to take this job. Were they surprised! (laughs).
I live in a special dormitory at the school now. Very nice. I’ve become accustomed to living on my own; I’ve become a real bachelor. In the four years I’ve been in Japan, I’ve seen changes. The standard of riding is much better now. It was a little bit old-fashioned when I first arrived. The younger riders have got more imagination, more flair, but I still think they can improve their technique by becoming more communicative with the horses. Maybe it’s the culture that regards horses as inferior?
I was in Tokyo on March 20. I’d been in town for St. Patrick’s Day. The Emerald Ball was on Friday the seventeenth and I stayed with friends in Omote-sando. It’s sort of a ritual every year. You’d be surprised how many Irish there are in Tokyo.
On Saturday, I stayed the night at a friend’s house in Setagaya. On Sunday I went to a small Franciscan church in the morning, then there was the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. At the parade I met the Irish ambassador, James Sharkey, and he invited me to dinner near his home in Roppongi. I was delighted. It was at the Hard Rock Cafe—very, very informal. We had some drinks—I can’t drink too much, two glasses of beer is my limit—and the ambassador said to me, “You don’t have to go back out to the school tonight. Why don’t you stay at my place?” So I stayed in Roppongi that night.
I got up at 6:30 on Monday morning and said to his daughters, “Tell the ambassador I’ve left.” But the girls insisted I stay for breakfast. Then I took my time and strolled down to Roppongi Station to get the subway. I was going to take the Hibiya Line as far as Kayabacho, then come out to Nishi-funabashi by the Tozai Line.
As I came down the steps at Roppongi, the first train was moving out and it was packed. This was around 7:30. The next train came and half the front carriage was empty. I couldn’t believe it—half-empty—great! I entered at the rear door of the carriage and there was this big pool of some oily substance and a ball of newspaper—as if somebody had been mopping it up. I think actually it was still leaking out of the container that was wrapped in newspaper.
I moved right down the carriage looking at it, walked around it, and sat down, thinking, “What can that be?” Then I noticed that nobody came near it; there was only one other man next to me. Everyone else was at the front of the carriage. “Odd,” I thought, then quickly decided to join them.
There was a girl starting to slump forward. She looked like she’d been crying. One man opened the window a bit because the train was moving now, and I said, “More, more.” This particular gas is a heavy gas, so it sinks down. It wasn’t so bad a stink, but then my sense of smell isn’t so good. It stung my eyes and I began to feel a bit numb.
The next thing I knew, that girl had fallen over. She was very young, only about twenty-one, and she looked in a bad way. I don’t know if she died or not.
When we got to Kamiyacho, we all piled out onto the platform and collapsed. Everyone panicked. We didn’t know what to do; we were left sitting there. People told the driver, and he came and looked, then he went back and made a call on the radio. The station was getting polluted with the fumes, but we all just stayed there.
Now my eyes were beginning to weep too and I wasn’t sure what was happening. Some people lay stretched out on the platform. I was sitting down. My eyes were streaming. I was trying to keep my hand on my shoulder bag, and my other hand held the hand of the unconscious girl. We had to get her out. We went one way, then stumbled back the other way, before we finally made it up the stairs. We got to the ticket barrier, but they were telling us to stay put: “Wait, wait, wait!” they said, and I kept shouting, “Please, please, please!” in Japanese. The girl was leaning on me and commuters were pushing past me.
We stayed huddled there at the top of the stairs, then suddenly a man with a briefcase came down, reached under the gate to open the barrier, grabbed the girl who was in my arms, and carried her up the stairs. Then someone was helping me.
We got out onto the street, and somebody told us to sit on the curb. I thought, “Fresh air, now we’ll be okay,” but then I began to feel really sick. I knew I was going to throw up all over myself, so I leaned to the left and was sick on the road. I think maybe it was lucky I vomited, because it attracted attention when the ambulances came ten minutes later. By then I’d reached the panic stage, thinking, “Why doesn’t someone come and help us?”
I knew it was gas, obviously. And it affected me so badly; I felt so ill. I knew it was something serious, because it was getting progressively worse. The others were just sitting around, some with handkerchiefs over their mouths. They didn’t know what was wrong.
When we got off the train, my first thought was to sit and wait for the next one. I really thought I’d be okay but no, it was deadly stuff. And then the train continued on from Kamiyacho. It probably had to, but that stuff was still on board.
By then there were about thirty or forty people on the street, sitting around, lying down. I often wonder about that girl who was unconscious. She was the most serious, maybe because she was small and she’d got on who knows how many stations before. I heard a girl of twenty-one had died and I always wondered if it was her. She looked like a secretary—a nice, decent, respectable sort of girl. There was one other foreigner, too. A big, tall man. I wonder what happened to him?
I was one of the first taken by ambulance. I don’t remember the name of the hospital, but it wasn’t too far from Kamiyacho. I was put on oxygen, intravenous drips. I had lots of needles in me. I was in the hospital for four days. JRA people were there the whole time, because Kamiyacho is the headquarters of the JRA. Once I’d been in the hospital a few hours I knew I was going to be all right. The shock of getting worse—you’re out in the fresh air and you should be getting better, but you just feel worse—that was frightening. Once in the security of the hospital my attitude changed. I knew I was out of danger. My eyes were still sore, my head ached, and I was quite sick, but that gradually passed. Then the problem was my kidneys. They had to flush out my kidneys to get the chemicals out of my system.
When I checked out of the hospital, I went back to the ambassador’s house and stayed another two or three days.
I slept very, very little for three weeks. I was afraid to go to sleep. I imagined someone was hitting me with a mallet. Always the same dream. As time went by the blows got softer, then it was only a pillow. Sarin has that effect: when you fall asleep you suddenly wake up again. I was afraid of the dark. I had to leave the lights on. Some nights I didn’t sleep at all.
I was in a sort of trance. I continued to do my work, trying to get back on track. I would come to the office, but I wasn’t really normal. It took a while, but I got better with time. My eyes were still sore, so I had to use drops. I went back to the hospital twice to be checked and I got a clean bill of health.
I watched TV in hospital and I saw myself falling down. I was afraid my wife would see it and be worried, so I called home to Ireland. “Everything’s all right,” I said. My daughter was staying over that night and my wife said: “That was your dad. He’s been in an accident in the subway.” And my daughter ran downstairs and saw me on television! So it’s a good thing I called.
People were very nice. I got letters from people who could hardly write an English sentence, but I understood what they were saying, and it was lovely of them.
Of course, Tokyo is known as a safe city. The gas attack hasn’t changed my opinion of Japan; there’s no country in the world as safe as Japan. Wonderful! If all the world were like Japan, there’d be very little trouble.
I’m not easily frightened. There’s not much I’m afraid of. Men like me grow old but never feel old—and that’s often a danger (laughs). You think you can still do things. It was a frightening experience.
I’ll tell you what’s changed: I took a long, hard look at myself and I said, “Michael, what are you worrying about?” Everyone worries about the smallest things in life and then something like this happens …
No, I didn’t think much about the possibility of dying. Riding horses all my life, I was always flirting with death.
“That kind of fright is something you never forget”
Yoko Iizuka (24)
Born in Tokyo, Ms. Iizuka works at a major city bank. A keen sportswoman, many regard her as outgoing, but she thinks of herself as “laid back.” She isn’t really the type to forge ahead on her own initiative, she seems too polite.
Nevertheless, when you read her account you’ll see that she is clearly not “laid back.” She has a certain moral strength and gritty determination. Yet at the same time, she has her vulnerable, sensitive side.
I know it must have been hard for her to recount that day to a complete stranger. No doubt I made her remember things she would rather have forgotten. I can only hope that this interview helped her to “draw a line under it all,” as she herself put it, after which she can move ahead in a positive direction.
I had the flu on March 20. I’d been feverish for days, with a temperature of 39°C [102.2°F]; it just wouldn’t go down. I took maybe one day off, I’m not sure. I made a real effort to go to work. If I take time off it leaves everyone else in the lurch.
That day I was running 37°C [98.6°F], which was only a slight temperature, less than it had been, but I was coughing like mad and my joints ached from the fever dragging on. Plus I was taking lots of medication, which made it hard to see the symptoms when I got hit with the sarin …
I still had an appetite, though. I always eat a good breakfast. Otherwise I’m in a daze and can’t get my head in gear. I wake up around 5:00, which leaves plenty of time for doing things. I leave home at 8:00, so that’s more than two hours. I can read, watch a video, things I can’t do at night when I come home because I’m so run-down.
But that day I was still a little feverish and I knew that sleep was important, so I got up at 6:30, later than usual. March 20 was an important day for me. I was taking on a new responsibility at work, so that morning I was pretty nervous.
I ride the Hibiya Line from —— Station, then change to the Marunouchi Line at Kasumigaseki. The first car is convenient for changing later, but it’s awfully crowded, so I always take the second car, the rear door. But that day the train came as soon as I reached the platform, so I rushed to get on at the middle door. I moved back in the car and stood about halfway between the second and third doors.
I never hold the handstraps, they’re dirty. I don’t hold anything. When I was little my parents always told me: “You shouldn’t touch the handstraps in trains because they’re filthy.” I’m quite steady on my feet. I play tennis; my legs are in shape, so I’m fine not holding anything. I wear high heels to work, so there’s plenty of spring in my stride.
I always catch the 8:03 Tobu-dobutsu-koen-bound train, so I generally see the same faces. That day a lot of people were coughing, all the way to Roppongi. I thought there must be something going around. “Oh no, just what I needed to knock me flat on my back again,” right? So I took out a handkerchief and covered my mouth.
But when the train reached Roppongi, about five people came running out of the first car and said something to the station attendant at the head of the train. The station attendant’s always standing at the very front of the platform at Roppongi, but these passengers just flew out of the car as if they’d been dying for the doors to open. I saw them and thought, “That’s odd, what’s going on?” They seemed to be complaining about something. This meant the train left Roppongi a little behind schedule.
Just before Kamiyacho, the person next to me said, “I can’t see.” Then someone collapsed. To my left, people were just tottering then falling down. From that moment on the train there was complete chaos. A man was shouting, “Everyone open the windows! Open them or we’ll die!” And he went around opening windows from one end of the car to the other.
When the train reached the station, people were shouting; “Everyone had better get out!” “Get off! Get off!” I didn’t know what was happening, but decided to get off anyway just in case. The person who’d said “I can’t see” got off too, but then collapsed on the platform. A man went to the driver’s cabin and started pounding on the window. The station attendant was at the rear end of the Kamiyacho platform, so he let the driver know something was wrong.
Sarin had been left by the third door of the first car. The door where I usually get on. I saw it when everyone left and the car was empty. A square parcel. Liquid seeping out and forming a puddle. I remember thinking, “That must be the cause of it all.” But until everyone got off the car was too crowded to know it was there.
I’m told the old man who sat right in front of the parcel died. He was foaming at the mouth by the time the train reached Kamiyacho. Completely unconscious apparently. People lifted him up and helped him off the train.
Several people collapsed on the platform. A few of them fell over flat on their faces. Lots more were crouching or propping themselves up against the wall. I asked the man who had said “I can’t see” if he was all right.
I knew it was an emergency, but to be honest it didn’t occur to me that it was anything really serious. I mean, what can happen? Japan’s a supersafe country, isn’t it? No guns, no terrorists, hardly anything like that. It never occurred to me I might be in danger or that I had to get myself out of there. I mean, just walking the streets there are people who fall ill, aren’t there? Normally at times like that you ask, “Are you all right?” Just one passenger helping out another.
I knew something was a little “off” the moment I boarded the train. I could smell something like paint thinner or nail-polish remover. A smell that packed a punch, but I had no trouble breathing or queasiness or anything. Not at Roppongi and not at Kamiyacho. I’d had that handkerchief over my face the whole time, so maybe that kept me from breathing in so much sarin on the train. Still, I had gone over to people who had collapsed and spoken to them. I’d been rubbing up against them—maybe that’s when my eyes were affected.
The train behind ours had already left the previous station, so our train quickly pulled out with the first car empty. An announcement said: “The train will proceed to Kasumigaseki. Please take any car other than the first. All the rest are still in service.” My main thought was, “I can’t be late for work.” Of course, I felt bad about leaving people just lying there on the platform, but it was an important day for me so the pressure was on not to be late.
I wanted to be as far away as possible from that parcel, so I moved right to the end of the train and traveled in the fourth car to Kasumigaseki. But while I was changing to the Marunouchi Line, everything went dark. I felt weak, too. I thought maybe it was the cold remedy I was taking, so I didn’t pay it much attention. The train went above ground for a while from—Station, and for some reason the sky was dark, as if it were black and white. Or sepia, just like an old photograph. “That’s odd,” I thought, “today was supposed to be sunny.”
I arrived at the bank just at the last minute. I practically slid under the door, then rushed to change clothes and got right down to work. But something strange happened. Around 9:30, as I was getting started, I began to feel funny. First my eyes wouldn’t focus. I couldn’t read anything at all. Then I felt sick, like I was about to throw up. But it was an important day, and I knew I had to just bear with it—though everything went in one ear and out the other. I was “Yes, yes” all the time, pretending I was listening, but I felt sick, breaking out in a cold sweat. My nausea was terrible, but then I’d also felt the same with my flu, so I couldn’t tell the difference. No, I take that back. I didn’t feel like I was going to throw up, I only felt queasy.
After 11.00 everyone went out to lunch. I was in no condition to eat, so I declined and went instead to the company sickroom. That’s when I finally found out I was suffering from sarin. Extremely serious, they told me. I rushed straight to the hospital.*
I never was much one for going out and about, but these days I spend all my Saturdays at home. When I do go out, I feel run-down straightaway. It’s all I can handle just to go back and forth to the bank and do my job. I get back home and I’m a wreck. Even at work, 3:00 comes around and I’m thinking, “I am so tired.” Just worn out. It wasn’t like this before. It’s been this way the whole time since the gas attack.
Maybe it’s partly psychological. I’ve tried to somehow put the whole incident behind me. But that kind of fright is something you never forget, no matter how hard you try. I don’t think the memory will go away as long as I live. The more I try to forget, the more it comes out—that’s what I’m starting to think. I can control it psychologically, depending on my mood, but it’s difficult. There are times when I can see things objectively, and times when I go faint if I confront things head-on. It goes in waves. I see it very clearly. All of a sudden, something will set it off and the gas attack will cross my mind. And when that happens I close up inside.
I often have dreams about it too. Not so much right after the attack, but lately all the time. They’re so vivid. Then I wake up with a start in the middle of the night. Now that’s frightening.
Even when I’m not dreaming, sometimes I’ll find myself in a confined space and I’ll just stop, especially underground—in the subway or an underground entrance to a department store. I’ll start to get on a train and my feet won’t move. That’s happened more and more since February. That’s nearly a year after the event. Times like that, I feel that no one understands. Everyone at work is really considerate and everything. My family’s been very kind too. But no one can really understand what it’s like, this fear. Not that I’d really want them to …
Still, it makes a big difference, the way my boss at work and family and friends are so supportive. And then there are those with far more serious symptoms who are much worse off than me.
My parents were against me giving this interview. This isn’t really the time for me to be remembering things I’ve been trying so hard to forget, but I made up my mind and accepted so that it would be a kind of cutoff point. I can’t keep creeping around avoiding things forever.
* Toru Toyoda was sentenced to death. Katsuya Takahashi is still at large and is the subject of a special police investigation. [Tr.]
* In fact, sarin packets had been discovered in the first car and the train had been taken out of service, though it remained in the station with all the doors open.
* Mr. Ishino was taken immediately to JSDF Central Hospital in Setagaya, southwest Tokyo. Luckily he had only minor symptoms, so he was discharged after one night, although his feelings of fatigue and lethargy persisted. His contracted pupils returned to normal after a month.
* Ms. Iizuka’s recovery did not go altogether smoothly. For one week she could not see at all. Nausea and lethargy sapped her strength. Although she suffered from almost continual headaches, she didn’t miss a day of work the whole time. She was in great pain, but continued to work out of a sense of duty. Even now, a year later, the fatigue persists. Since the gas attack, she’s virtually given up tennis. Any physical activity, even climbing the stairs, leaves her short of breath. Her condition improves only very slightly.