Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche - Haruki Murakami (2003)
Part I. UNDERGROUND
TOKYO METROPOLITAN SUBWAY: KODEMMACHO STATION
“I saw his face and thought: ‘I’ve seen this character somewhere’”
Ken’ichi Yamazaki (25)
Mr. Yamazaki was the young man whom Mr. Ichiha found collapsed and unconscious in front of Shibuya Station. It took some effort to trace him, but in the course of conducting these interviews we were able to follow up various leads.
By pure coincidence, Mr. Yamazaki had been at high school in Kyoto with the Aum High Command’s Yoshihiro Inoue. He saw his old classmate’s face on TV and recognized him immediately: “Hey, that’s Inoue!” He and Inoue had never gotten along, and talking to him it’s not difficult to see why. Mr. Yamazaki enjoys snowboarding, basketball, fast cars (though he says he’s calmed down considerably of late), and is altogether the outgoing sporty type; he would have nothing in common with the dark, introspective, even poetic sensibilities of Yoshihiro Inoue. From the moment he met Inoue on the school bus he thought to himself: “This guy’s off my list. Can’t even talk to him.” Ten years after that initial negative impression, far away in the subways of Tokyo, he was to be visited by a very unwelcome and horrific confirmation of these doubts. Strange are the encounters of a lifetime.
A dedicated snowboarder, no matter how busy he is, he makes time to go to the slopes with his girlfriend at least once a week during the winter. The only good thing to come of the gas attack is that it has brought him and his girlfriend closer together. It seems to have forced him to grow up very quickly. He’s curious as to what will become of Yoshihiro Inoue.
Mr. Yamazaki lives with his parents and younger sister in Shin Urayasu, east of Tokyo Bay.
I had such trouble finding a job after college; every place was “No,” straight down the list. I’d wanted to go into fashion design, but the big fashion manufacturers weren’t taking anyone on. So I decided to try other fields—architecture, telecommunications, anything not food-related. In the end, I came away empty-handed. This was the year after Japan’s “Bubble” burst and there was no work anywhere.
Somehow I managed to get into the clothing industry, where I worked until last March. I left because I never felt I was pushing myself to the best of my abilities. I wanted to do work where I’d be more appreciated.
I was telling my girlfriend this last October, and she’d just decided to resign too. So we were out of work and, in fact, we went to the company her father runs. It’s a small firm of 15 employees. We make men’s neckties, under license from an Italian maker, with three retail stores of our own in Tokyo.
Now I’m in sales there, which is great. Still, it’s totally a family operation. When I entered the company I had dinner with the president—her father—and he asked me, “Do you plan to marry my daughter?” I’d been planning to ask for her hand once I’d built up a track record with the firm, but hey, what a break! (hughs) “Of course, sir,” I told him, “I’d marry her tomorrow.” And it was, “Well, well, timing aside, you’re definitely the boy for our company.”
About March 20, the day of the gas attack … Well, let me see, were we busy then? Just a second, please. I still have my Filofax from then [goes into his room to fetch it]. Hmm, seems we were really busy. Several new store openings, so I was getting home late, at 11:00 or 12:00 P.M. Yes and, that’s right, I was going to driving school then as well.
I’d been revoked, and I was trying to get a new license. I’ve had points against me three times running, twice for speeding in Hokkaido. And once you’re revoked, they make you go back to driving school and learn everything all over again.
The morning of March 20, I left home thirty minutes earlier than usual. On Mondays there are the weekend sales figures to go through. Meetings, too. So I aim to arrive by 8:30. Thanks to which I ran into this sarin business. If it hadn’t been Monday, I’d have missed it.
I was pretty spaced out that morning. It’s always like that with me after a weekend. The day before, Sunday, I’d been out working in the evening. I went to a department store all the way out in Machida to talk things over with the sales staff there, deciding the layout, how to change the display. You can only do it after the store closes.
The following day was the Spring Equinox holiday, but still I had to work. I had to go to the opening of a redecorated Ginza department store. The fashion business might seem all show and glamour, but from the inside it’s really tough. And the pay’s not all that great either.
I always took the first or second car from the front of the train on the Hibiya Line. As soon as I changed in Hatchobori, there was an announcement: “Some passengers have been taken ill. We will stop the train at the next station, Tsukiji. Thank you for your cooperation.” When the train stopped in Tsukiji, the doors opened and—wham!—four people fell flat out from the car right behind mine. Straight out the door.
A station attendant came over, like they do when someone faints, but they were trying to lift up the people, which seemed odd. That’s when the panic started. A station attendant was shouting into a mike: “Ambulance! Ambulance!” Then it was “Poison gas! Everyone off the train! Go to the ticket barrier and head straight above ground!”
I didn’t run. I wonder why? I was kind of unfocused. I did get off onto the platform, thinking I ought to sit down. I wasn’t really paying much attention. There were others who didn’t run. There wasn’t any announcement that the train wouldn’t start again, but eventually everyone filed out. Only then did it strike me, “You mean I have to leave too?” And I stood up. I was about the last.
No one seemed in any rush to get out of there. They were walking casually. It was more the station attendants who were yelling, “Please walk faster! Get outside!” I couldn’t see any danger. No explosion or anything. The station attendants were all in a panic, but not the passengers. There were still a lot of people lingering in the station trying to decide what to do.
The people who’d collapsed didn’t even twitch. Had they passed out? Were they dead? Some had their feet in the train and their bodies on the platform, and had to be dragged out. I still didn’t sense any real danger. I don’t know why. In retrospect that seems odd—why wasn’t I afraid?—but then neither was anyone else.
I didn’t go over to the injured people. I went toward the Tsukiji Honganji temple exit. Suddenly I got a whiff of this sweet smell, really sweet, like coconut. I was climbing the steps, thinking, “What’s that?” when gradually it became difficult to breathe. Then I remembered that I had to call the office and tell them I was going to be late. There was a convenience store by the exit where I used the telephone. But it was still too early to call in to work, so I called home instead. My mother answered and I told her, “For some reason the train’s stopped at Tsukiji and I’ll never make it to work by 8:30.”
Even in the short span of that telephone call, my breathing became worse. It wasn’t like my throat was blocked or anything, I could breathe all right, but I wasn’t getting enough oxygen; I’d inhale and inhale, but it was as though my lungs weren’t working. It was strange. Like what happens when you wind yourself.
Only then did I begin to think things were a bit odd, that there might be some connection with the people who’d collapsed on the platform. After finishing my call, I went back to see the exit where I’d come up. I was gasping, but I had to know what was happening. Right at that very instant some Self-Defense Force soldiers or who-knows-who in gas masks and special combat gear went down the steps. There were station attendants being carried up on stretchers. They looked totally rabid: drooling, and their eyes completely white. One of them wasn’t responding to anything, and another seemed to be having a fit—he couldn’t walk straight and was groaning in pain. By then the roads were blocked off, and there were police cars and fire department cars all over the place.
I decided to walk to Yurakucho Station, take the Yamanote Line to Shibuya, then go by bus to Hiro-o, but the more I walked, the worse I felt. By the time I boarded the Yamanote Line train I felt I was done for. Everything was such an effort. The smell had penetrated my clothes. But somehow I had to make it to the Shibuya bus terminal. I knew for certain I’d run into someone from work there. Lots of our people commute by bus from Shibuya. But if I collapsed on the train, no one would help me. I had to get to the Shibuya bus stop even if I had to crawl all the way.
I got off the train at Shibuya and somehow managed to cross at the lights and reach the bus stop, where my legs just gave out. I sat on the sidewalk and leaned back against the handrail with my legs stuck out. Nobody looks that wasted in the morning, do they? Nobody except drunks, maybe. Which is why no one spoke to me. They saw me lying there and just assumed I’d been out on the town all night in Shibuya.
Finally, someone from work came along and spoke to me, but I couldn’t speak. I could barely breathe. My voice was like some old alcoholic’s with a paralyzed tongue. In any case, I couldn’t translate my thoughts into words. I’d try to speak, but nothing came across. Since I couldn’t explain, I just wanted any kind of help at all, but no one seemed to understand. I was getting a chill, colder and colder, just unbearable. Then another older colleague came by [Takanori Ichiba], and as fate would have it, he’d taken the Hibiya Line as well. He asked me, “Hey, did you get caught up in all that business at Tsukiji?” He put two and two together.
I was very lucky. If it hadn’t been for him, no one would have known how serious things were. He immediately went to phone for an ambulance, but all the ambulances were out on call. So he hailed a taxi and lifted me into it with the help of two other people from work. We all got in and went to the Red Cross Hospital in Hiro-o. In the taxi, one of them said, “What’s that sweet smell?” My clothes were soaked with sarin.
Breathing was the hardest thing, but aside from that I felt numb all over, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open, as though all the strength had drained out of my body and I was drifting off into a deep sleep. I really thought I was going to die. I couldn’t move. Still, I wasn’t frightened. It wasn’t painful. I thought, “Maybe this is what it’s like to die of old age. If I have to die, let me at least see my girlfriend’s face.” More than even my parents, she’s the one who came to me, in the end. Like, “Just tell her I wanted to see her face.”
I don’t remember how long it was before my work colleague found me, but I do remember being furious at all the people who pretended not to see me lying there. Assholes! How cart human beings be so cold? Someone’s in agony right there in front of them and they don’t say a word. They just avoid you. If I’d been in their place, I’d have said something. If there’s someone looking ill on the train I always say, “Are you okay? Want to sit down?” But not most people—I really learned that the hard way.
I was hospitalized for two days. They told me to stay longer, but I felt like I was some kind of guinea pig for testing a rare disease, so I went, home. The doctor said, “You ought to stay here so that we have examples for other cases like yours.” No thank you! On the train back, I was still wheezing, but I just wanted to get home, eat some good food, and take it easy. Strangely enough, my appetite was unaffected. Alcohol and cigarettes were completely out of the question for a long time, though.
The lethargy persisted for about a month. I took off another week from work, but for a very long time I wasn’t on top of things physically. I still had difficulty breathing and I couldn’t concentrate on my work. In sales, I have to talk like I am now—but the thing is, for every word I spoke I’d have to make an effort—aah, ahh—to draw in enough oxygen. Climbing the stairs was simply impossible. I often had to take time off. I just wasn’t up to sales.
Honestly, it would have been better for me to take some time off with sick pay, but the company wasn’t that generous. It was nine to five, plus overtime just like always. It was hard for me, but on the other side of the coin I suppose it had its interesting moments for others. In a funny kind of way. I’d go to clients and they’d say, “Yamazaki, I hear you got gassed with sarin.” Everyone knew. I tried not to think too deeply about it, but the hardest thing was that no one really understood what I’d gone through. No, my changing jobs had nothing to do with the attack.
Even now I can’t take too much strenuous exercise. I used to be able to snowboard for two hours straight without stopping, but now it’s one and a half hours at the very most.
For a while after returning home I used an oxygen bottle when I had trouble breathing. You know, like the ones the baseball players use at the Tokyo Dome. No bigger than a can of insect spray, with a nozzle. My girlfriend bought it for me.
For me, the only good thing that came of the gas attack was coming to more of an understanding with my girlfriend. Until then we argued all the time. We didn’t really consider each other’s feelings. I was never quite sure how she felt about me. So I was really surprised when she came rushing to the hospital in floods of tears. “I thought you were going to die,” she said, she was really upset. My boss was beside me at the time, and in plain view of him she held my hand and wouldn’t let go. She came to the hospital every single day and when I checked out and went home, she came with me too. We’d always kept our relationship a secret at work, so to have her squeeze my hand in front of the boss … (laughs) That blew our cover!
I was in the same class as Yoshihiro Inoue at Rakunan High School in Kyoto. We never took any of the same courses, but we were in the same grade level. We took the same bus to school from Hankyu Omiya Station, so I got to know him fairly well. A good friend of mine took the same courses as Inoue, which is why we traveled together. I never got friendly with him.
And yet I still remember him extremely vividly. My first impression was that he was incredibly strange. Weird. Twisted. I disliked him from the start. That’s why I never talked to him. You can tell whether you’ll get along with someone from just a few words; well, I never got along with him. I’d listen to my friend’s conversations with Inoue and I thought: “This guy gives me the creeps.” I went to a school in Tokyo in my junior year, but I heard later from my friend that Inoue had been doing zazen in class, meditating for hours.*
I had lots of friends. I was into bikes, and we’d all go out riding. I liked being outdoors, but Inoue didn’t.
About two weeks after the gas attack, when they showed the Aum people in the papers and on TV, I saw his face and thought: “I’ve seen this character somewhere.” I rang up my old school friend and he said, “Yep, it’s Inoue, all right.”
I was furious. I remembered the unpleasantness I had felt back in high school. I was just outraged. I’d changed high schools, but I still had some pride in the old place. I couldn’t believe any graduate from Rakunan could do such a terrible thing. It was such a shock, a real letdown.
I’m still keeping an eye out for news of him. I just want to see what they’ll do with him, how far his so-called sincerity goes.
“He was such a kind person. He seemed to get even kinder before he died”
Yoshiko Wada (31)
wife of the late Eiji Wada
Mrs. Wada was pregnant when her husband died. A daughter, Asuka, was born not long afterward. Mrs. Wada was often in the media spotlight after the gas attack, and many Japanese now know her face. Before meeting her I glanced over all the magazine and newspaper articles I could find, but the difference between the image I’d invented and the person I actually met was startling. Of course, that image was a complete fabrication on my part and no one was to blame, but it did make me pause to consider how the media works—how they make up whatever image they want.
The real Yoshiko Wada (as opposed to the media invention) was bright, articulate, and smart. By “smart” I mean she chose her words as carefully as she had chosen her way of life. Although I had never met her late husband, somehow I knew that anyone who had chosen her as a mate had to have been an all-right guy.
The shock of losing her husband must have been great. I doubt if one can ever recover from such a thing. But throughout the three hours I interviewed her, she never once lost her composure or her smile. She was very open with her replies, however indelicate my line of questioning, and only once became tearful, at the very end. I apologize for putting her through so much.
She met me with Asuka in her arms and even saw me off at the station afterward. The streets were almost deserted in the summer heat. Walking outside, she looked like any other happy, young suburban housewife. My parting words were pretty lame—“Please be healthy and happy” or something like that—I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Words can be practically useless at times, but as a writer they’re all I have.
I was born in Kanagawa [southwest of Tokyo], but we moved to Yokohama [south of Tokyo] when I was in elementary school and I’ve lived here ever since. I went to school in Yokohama, worked in Yokohama. I’m a Yokohama girl, so of course I love the place. Last year when I had my baby, I spent a long time at my in-laws’ up in Nagano. The air was much cleaner, a complete change of environment, which was great and all, but when I got back here I was so happy I cried.
Most of my friends are here in Yokohama. Friends from high school, from work, skiing friends, we all go back ten years … Friends really helped me a lot. They’re all married now, but still we get together from time to time and have a barbecue or go bowling or something.
When I left high school, I went to work for the Yokohama Savings and Loan as a clerk. I left soon after I got married. Before that I lived with my parents. I’m an only child, but I was always arguing with them, especially with my dad. Over stupid little things, really. “You said this.” “No, I never said that!” (laughs) I was pretty selfish. I’m living with Dad now, but we don’t argue anymore.
I met my husband skiing. Another girl at work had a boyfriend working for Japan Tobacco, and he just happened to bring him along. This was in February 1991.
My husband was really into skiing. I’d only begun to ski at 20, so I was nowhere near his level. Still, I’d go skiing maybe five times a season. Though my parents didn’t want to let me go. They said it was too dangerous (laughs). They were so overprotective. I had a curfew until I was 25. Had to be home by ten (laughs). Sometimes I’d get back late and find myself locked out, so I’d end up sleeping at a friend’s house. Thinking back on it I suppose I was pretty bad. Now that I have my own child, I know, you get angry because you care.
My mother died of breast cancer four years ago. It spread all over her body. Dad stopped working to stay by her side. It was hard on him, I know. But even then, he and I, we were arguing the whole time. I feel terrible about it now, but at the time I just couldn’t help it. On the other hand, it’s because we argued so much then that we can get along together now
My dad tells me I’ve changed a lot. Mellowed a bit. Maybe I’m more of an adult. Asuka’s the big reason, probably. I look at the baby and even if I’m worked up I have to smile.
As first impressions go, my husband didn’t seem like much when he was skiing. No charm whatsoever. He wore glasses behind his goggles. I tried talking to him, but it was like, “What’s with this guy?” He was so unfriendly. He was just so wrapped up in his skiing he couldn’t be bothered with anyone else. He couldn’t rest unless he was skiing in front. He barely spoke.
But in the evening when we went out drinking suddenly he changed completely, I mean, he really opened up, even told jokes. He was like a different person. We stayed at the ski resort three days, but we never got close personally, though I guess we were attracted to each other.
To be honest, when I first met him, I instinctively felt: “Here’s someone I could go out with, maybe even marry.” It was like, well, a woman thing. So I thought, “Might as well give him my phone number.” I was pretty sure of myself (laughs).
We were both 26 and we both drank a lot: beer, whiskey, sake, wine, you name it. He really liked having a good time.
We saw each other a lot after that ski trip. He was living in a single men’s dorm in Kawaguchi, so we’d generally meet somewhere in the center of Tokyo. We often went to the cinema, saw each other every week, and if possible at weekends, too.
Yeah, it really seemed we were made for each other. Like it was fate or something. We courted for a year and never once was I bored.
He mentioned marriage to my dad even before saying anything to me. He said to my dad: “I’d like to ask your permission to see Yoshiko socially with the understood intention of marriage.” Of course I liked him and all, but the two of them talking among themselves like that before I knew anything about it really got on my nerves.
We were married in June the following year. My mom had died that February and we were in mourning, so we put off the wedding until then. I guess I really wanted to wear a wedding dress and everything. We planned to live with my dad in Yokohama after getting married. We didn’t want to leave him all alone … it was my husband who suggested it. So he ended up commuting from Yokohama to Oji, two hours each way. Every day, he’d leave the house at six in the morning. I was fighting with Dad the whole time then and my husband always had to settle things between us. He had it hard. He’d come back home at 11:00 or 12:00 at night, dead tired.
We lived with Dad for ten months, then we moved to Kita-senju. Japan Tobacco happened to have some company housing there, but that now put me an hour and a half away from my job in Yokohama. After a year of commuting, I was worn out. My husband said, “Why kill yourself like that? You do what you want.”
So I became a housewife. Three meals a day plus afternoon nap? Not bad if you ask me (laughs). You can watch TV all day. I’d never watched daytime TV before, so at first I was—happy! And by July, I was expecting. Kita-senju was a nice place to live. Lots of shops, near the station, and the company housing was spacious. I had friends there too.
In November 1994, my husband got transferred from Oji to the main plant in Shinagawa [closer to Yokohama]. Then he had to work on-site at the new head office they were building in Toranomon [central Tokyo]. The building was scheduled for completion in April 1995 and he had to look after installation work and construction. He was an electrical specialist, so he was in charge of the elevators and lighting and air-conditioning systems. I could tell he was happy to get away from desk work.
He’d come home and tell me about his day over a beer. That was the best part, hearing him talk about the company, about his colleagues, like, “There’s this guy who’s this or that, what do you think I should do?” He usually joked most of the time, but at work he could concentrate, real serious, just like that. He was so reliable.
Both of us wanted children. We wanted about three. Especially me, probably because I was an only child. I was so overjoyed when I found out I was pregnant. We settled on my daughter’s name before she was born. I heard it in a dream. I dreamed this child was running off somewhere and I was chasing her, calling out that name. I couldn’t remember it myself, but my husband told me he heard me shouting, “Asuka! Asuka!”
We hardly ever quarreled. Still, I was irritable while I was pregnant. I’d get at him for the most trivial things but he just took it all in his stride. He usually just laughed it off. He was such a kind person. He seemed to get even kinder before he died.
If he got home from work and the cooking had gone wrong he’d just say, “It’s all right, I’ll get takeout.” He even asked around at work about what I should be eating during pregnancy. He really cared for me. And when I had morning sickness and could only eat sandwiches and grapefruit jelly, he’d always buy them for me on the way home from work.
The Sunday before March 20 we went shopping together. Something he’d ordinarily never do.
It was raining that morning so we slept in, but it had cleared up by the afternoon so I said, “Let’s go shopping,” and for once he said, “Fine.”
We went to buy baby clothes and diapers, stuff like that. My belly was already big by then and I had a hard time walking, but the doctor was always telling me: “Move! Move! Move!”
After that we ate dinner. He was eager to go back to work the next day. He’d taken Friday off, but the April I office completion date was looming and it was preying on his mind. Also that particular Monday they had a welcoming party of some sort, which he was looking forward to.
He always got off at Kasumigaseki on the Hibiya Line to go to the Toranomon office. He’d generally get up at 7:00 and leave heme by 7:30. That day he got up really early, around 5:30. Usually I didn’t have time to make him breakfast, but the night before he’d said: “On occasion, it’d be nice to be pampered and woken up to a real breakfast.” “Well, if that’s what he wants,” I thought, and I forced myself to get up early and cook for him. He just seemed to crave a little pampering.
I’ve never been a morning person, I usually forget breakfast. And he wasn’t a morning person either, so it was always “Never mind,” up and out the door at the last minute, catch a quick bite on the way to work. But that morning I set two alarm clocks, got up bright and early, made toast and coffee and fried eggs and sausages for him. He was so happy he shouted: “Wow! Breakfast!”
It was as though he had some kind of premonition. Besides saying he wanted me to make him breakfast, I remember him saying something like, “If anything ever happens to me, you know you have to hang on in there and fight.” It was right out of the blue, caught me completely off guard, and I asked him, “What makes you say a thing like that?”
It turned out that at the new office there would be a shift system, so he’d have to sleep over for two nights. There’d be days he wouldn’t be coming home, so he wanted to make sure I could handle things on my own. But then if he stayed over two nights, he’d get three days off and that would give him more time with the baby, which was a pleasant prospect.
He left the house around 7:30. I understand he caught the 7:37 Hibiya Line train departing from Kita-senju. I sent him off, washed up, then puttered around a bit before settling down to watch the Morning Wide Show. Across the TV screen they ran subtitles: “Such-and-such happened at Tsukiji Station,” but I didn’t worry because I thought he said he commuted by the Marunouchi Line.
At 9:30 a call came from the company saying, “He seems to have gotten mixed up in this mess. We’ll call back later.” Then ten minutes later, it was, “He’s been taken to Nakajima Hospital. We’ll fax you the details so you can get in touch directly.” So I called them up, but they were in total confusion. “We can’t even keep track of who’s here,” they said, and hung up. So all I could do was be patient and wait.
It was just before 10:00 when the call came: “It looks pretty bad, so come to the hospital as quickly as possible.” I was getting ready to leave when the phone rang again with the message: “He just died.” I think it was his boss. He was saying, “Keep calm, Mrs. Wada, keep calm!”
Well, leaving the house was okay, but I had no idea where I was going. I didn’t even know which subway line to take. Both the Hibiya and Marunouchi lines were canceled. I went to the taxi stand at the station, but there were about fifty people lined up. “This is no good,” I thought, so I made straight for a cab company nearby. All the cars were out on call. They radioed, but I waited and waited and still nothing came. Luckily the man at the cab company spotted a taxi sitting empty over by the train crossing, so I took that.
By then the body had been transferred from the hospital to the central police station in Nihonbashi. I took another taxi to Nihonbashi, but traffic was jammed from an accident on the expressway. We left Kita-senju at 10:10 and reached the police station around 11:30. In the taxi I heard my husband’s name. The driver had the news on and they were reading out the names of the deceased. “That’s me,” I said. “My husband’s died.” The driver asked me, “Should I turn off the radio?” but I said, “No, keep it on. I want to know what’s happening.”
That hour in the taxi was torture. My heart was pounding, I thought it was going to leap out of my mouth. What if I went into labor right there and then? But I also thought: “I can’t be sure until I see his face. I won’t believe until I see his face for myself. There’s absolutely no way it could happen, there has to have been some mistake. Why, oh why would my husband be the one to die?” That’s all that kept spinning through my head: “I won’t cry until I know for sure”… I just hoped against hope.
They were examining the body, so it was 1:30 before I got to see him. I had to hang around in the police station all that time. The telephone was ringing nonstop and everyone was running about in a blind panic. Total confusion. My husband’s boss and a police officer explained everything to me, though at that point many details still weren’t clear. It was only the most sketchy explanation: “He inhaled something and that’s what killed him.”
I called my dad immediately. “Just come,” I told him. As soon as I saw Dad’s face, I couldn’t fight back the tears. My husband’s parents are farmers; if the weather’s good, they’re always working outdoors, so I couldn’t get through to them. His boss kept trying to phone them, but no one answered. I wanted to see my mother-in-law as soon as I could. I just sat there, unable to speak, thinking: “What am I doing here?” It was all I could do just to nod at the detective’s questions.
I finally got to see my husband face-to-face downstairs. Upstairs was the police station, the ground floor was the morgue. That’s where I got to see him. In a tiny room not more than two tatami mats in size, if that. They’d laid him out, covered with a white sheet. Completely naked and covered with a white sheet. “Don’t touch him,” they told me. “Don’t go too near.” There was something on him and if I touched him, it would penetrate my skin.
But before they’d warned me not to, I’d already gone and touched him. He was still warm. There were bloodied bite marks on his lips. Scabs, as if he’d bitten down really hard. And on his ears and nose, too, crusted, where he’d bled. His eyes were shut. It wasn’t a suffering face. But those scars, those blood marks, they looked so painful …
They didn’t let me stay very long because it was “dangerous.” I was in there maybe a minute… no, not even a minute. “Why did he have to die?” I said. “Why did he leave me here?” And I broke down.
The body was transferred to Tokyo University Law Medical Department at 4:30. Dad tried to give me courage, but his words didn’t even reach me. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t think. “What am I going to do now? What am I going to do now?” was all I could manage.
The next day, I bid him a final farewell at Tokyo University. They didn’t let me touch him then, either, nor my mother-in-law, who came down from Nagano. We could only look. I couldn’t believe they’d left him overnight in such a lonely place. Even the police department would have been better. His parents came all the way to Tokyo and they wouldn’t even show them Eiji’s body at the police station. Talk about cruel.
My husband’s elder brother took the body back to Nagano by car. My in-laws and Eiji’s grandfather, I, and my dad went by train. I cried the whole way. I told myself, “Control yourself.” I had to see the funeral through; after that I didn’t care. My in-laws were trying their hardest, after all, so I should. Like they say, the Buddha doesn’t like to see weeping. But I just couldn’t…
The baby moved inside me. As soon as I cried, it was rolling this way and that. After the funeral, my stomach bulge sank lower and lower. Everyone was worried for me. They said that births often follow quickly after a shock.
We keep a little picture of the deceased on the Buddhist altar, right? I put that by my bedside in the labor room, and it gave me strength. My mother-in-law and my husband’s friend’s mother were also there to cheer me on. It took thirteen hours in all. “Quite normal,” they told me. “This is normal?” I thought (laughs). The baby weighed six pounds, eleven ounces, heavier than expected. During the birth I was so preoccupied I completely forgot about my husband. It was that painful. I almost passed out, but my mother-in-law came into the delivery room and slapped me on the cheeks: “Hold on!” I don’t remember any of this, though.
When it was all over I was so tired, all I wanted to do was sleep. Most women probably think, “How wonderful” or “What a cute baby”—but not this one. After pushing so hard, I just had to let go …
It took forever to lose weight after the birth, but my mother-in-law took care of everything. She looked after Asuka, I was without a mother of my own, and Dad wouldn’t have had a clue what to do. My mother-in-law was a real veteran, having helped my brother-in-law’s wife with her children, so I felt like I was safe on board a luxury liner. If it had been just me, I might have gone mad. That’s the good thing about extended families.
Eiji’s brother had two children (and a third one around the same time as mine) and whenever I started sobbing those kids came and asked, “Auntie, you okay?” or “Is it because Eiji died?” I couldn’t keep crying with children around. They were a great consolation.
I returned to Yokohama that September, after living about half a year with my in-laws. It practically became a second home (laughs). I still go there a lot. I enjoy it. Everyone welcomes me, and my husband’s grave is there.
A year on, I’ve managed to put things behind me a bit. It’s gradually sunk in that he’s not around anymore … My husband used to go to America on business trips for two or three months at a time, so on one level it seemed normal, him not being here. Even after he died I’d think, “Ah, he’s off again on one of his trips.” The whole year was like that, as if he’d suddenly step through the door and say, “I’m home!” I’d wake up in the morning and think, “He’s away,” but then I’d see his picture on the altar. Some part of me still couldn’t accept what had happened. I seemed to be living a mixture of reality and fantasy. Like I’d be thinking, “He’ll be coming home soon” even while visiting his grave. But now, a year later, I’m much clearer in my own mind: “Yes, he’s dead.”
That was the hardest part. Going on walks, seeing a father carrying a baby on his shoulders was almost too much to bear; or overhearing a young couple’s conversation—I just didn’t want to be there.
I’ve read what they said about me in the papers, but they never write what’s really important. For one reason or another I once appeared on TV. Afterward the man from the TV station told me there was “lots of response” and “many letters,” not that they sent me anything. What a shabby operation (laughs)! I don’t want to be on TV anymore. Never again. They just don’t tell the truth. I’d hoped for a little truth, but the station’s got its own agenda about what it broadcasts. They never showed what I really wanted to say.
For example, when that lawyer Sakamoto disappeared, if the Kanagawa police had been allowed to investigate in depth like they were supposed to, the gas attack would never have happened.* All the victims would have been spared. That’s what I wanted to say, but they cut all that out. When I asked why, they said they’d be under pressure from advertisers if they broadcast that. And the same goes for newspapers and magazines.
When we took the coffin to Nagano there were TV crews ready with their cameras. Talk about insensitive!
When I came home to Yokohama, everyone knew all about me. I’d walk down the street and people would point at me: “Look, there she is. That sarin widow.” My back tingled, I felt like I was being stabbed. I couldn’t stand it, so I moved.
The first time I went into the Public Prosecutor’s Office for a hearing, they had the testimony of the person who had carried my husband out of the station. They also had testimonies from the station attendants. The prosecutor asked me did I want to know how my husband had died? “Of course,” I said, and they read them to me. “What? Do you mean to say he died in such agony?” I thought. I wanted to give the ones who did it a taste of their own medicine. Why were we even keeping them alive? Give them the most extreme punishment, the sooner the better, that’s what I think. I always will. The trial proceedings just irritate me. What possible reason was there to kill my husband? What am I supposed to do with this emptiness now that our future’s been destroyed?
I’d like to kill Asahara with my own two hands. If it were allowed, I’d like to kill him slowly and painfully. Hayashi, the culprit who gassed the Hibiya Line train, is still on the loose.*
I just want to know the truth. The truth, and not a minute too soon …
Even the media, they didn’t say a thing about how the victims died in agony. Not a word. There was a little at the time of the Matsumoto incident, but with the gas attack, nothing. Strange. So I’m sure the majority of people out there probably imagine they just keeled over and died “normal” deaths. The same with all the newspaper articles. I only learned how painfully my husband died when the prosecutor read me those testimonies. I want more people to know the truth about just how horrible it was … Otherwise, it all becomes somebody else’s problem.
The only good thing is Asuka. When she spoke her first words … Some little gesture, some food she likes will remind me of him. I’m always telling Asuka, “Dada was like this.” If I didn’t tell her, she’d never know. When Asuka asks, “Where’s Dada?” I point to the photo on the altar and say, “Dada, Dada.” She says, “Nighty-night” to the photo before going to sleep. It makes me want to cry.
I still have a few videos from ski trips, our honeymoon. You can hear his voice, so I’ll play them for her when she gets a bit older. I’m so glad we took those videos. Even I’m starting to forget his profile. At first, I could still feel every part of his face in my fingers, but gradually it’s all going away …
Forgive me … It’s just that, without the body, it all starts to fade.
I’m thinking of teaching Asuka to ski. My husband always said he would. I’ll wear my husband’s gear and teach her. My husband and I wore the same size. I think I’ll start next season. It’s what he would have wanted.
“He was an undemanding child”
Kichiro Wada (64) and Sanae Wada (60)
parents of the late Eiji Wada
Kichiro and Sanae Wada live in Shioda-daira in the countryside on the outskirts of Veda, not far from Bessho Hot-springs. The autumn leaves were falling when I visited the Wada household, the hills were tinged crimson and gold, the apple trees in the orchards were laden with ripe red fruit. It was an idyllic picture of the mountainous Nagano Prefecture at harvesttime.
The area had once been the center of silk production, with vast tracts of mulberry trees whose leaves were used to feed the silkworms. After World War II the land was converted to rice fields, which brought the local silk industry to a sudden halt.
“Government’s way of doing things don’t make much sense for a farming village as small as ours,” says Mr. Wada. He is a man of few words—though there are plenty of things he could say if he wanted to. His wife, Sanae, by contrast, is your affable, talkative “mother” type.
The Wadas have about two and a half acres in rice, as well as vegetables and apples. As I was leaving for Tokyo, they gave me an armful of apples fresh from their orchard—they were delicious!
For the first few years after they married the Wadas survived by farming alone, but as times got tougher Mr. Wada was forced to work in a factory to make ends meet, only tending the fields on his days off. The double workload really wore him out. When their son died in the gas attack, he could scarcely recover from the shock and he left his factory job.
I asked him what sort of child Eiji had been. “Didn’t have much to do with raising the boy,” he told me, “best ask my wife.” He had too much on his hands to deal with the children, I suppose, and yet, at the same time, I got the distinct impression he found the subject of his dead son too painful to talk about.
“He was an undemanding child.” Comments to that effect were repeated over and over again in the course of the interview. Eiji had been a strong, independent young man who never caused his parents any worry. Not until the day his body was sent home without a word of explanation …
MOTHER: Eiji was born at 5:40 in the morning on April 1. I just knew I couldn’t hold out until morning, so when dawn came we went to the midwife’s place. That was around 4:00. I gave birth almost immediately.
It was an easy birth. He only weighed five pounds. The older one was eight pounds, so Eiji was a lot smaller. It was a natural birth, over in an hour and a half, no need to call in the doctor. With his big brother, though, what an ordeal!
We didn’t have any choice but to raise goats. Had lots of grass all around anyway. So I’d milk the goats and drink their milk to give me lots of milk so I could breast-feed Eiji. That’s how I got Eiji to grow up healthy. Always stayed a little skinny, though, never put on much weight. But we never once had to put him in the hospital.
He was an undemanding child. Whatever it was, he could always do it for himself. When he went for an interview with Japan Tobacco, we asked, “Would you like one of us to go with you?” which only annoyed him: “Who’s gonna come with me? I’ll go alone!” (laughs) Or when he was living alone, I’d say, “Shall I come and houseclean for you?” and he’d say: “Housecleaning I can do for myself!” These last ten years there’s been only three times I had to go out of my way for Eiji: when he got engaged, then for the wedding, and then when we had to bring back his body.
The older boy, he’s more the quiet type, but Eiji was active, a whiz-bang do-it-yourselfer. Even did his own cooking. That’s why we never had any problem bringing him up. He’d decide everything for himself.
When it came time for high school, we told him, “Why not try and go on to university?” But he said, “I like electrical stuff, so I’ll go to a vocational school and not go any higher.” The boys had talked it over. The elder one said, “It’ll be easier if I just stay on here and take on the family farm,” and Eiji said, “I don’t expect anything from here, so I’ll go off on my own.” The two of them decided it between themselves.
The older boy did try going to university in Tokyo, but said he couldn’t see himself living in that crazy mixed-up place and came back to agricultural school here. But not Eiji. That boy could make it anywhere. He took to city life straightaway. After graduating from the electrical program, he went to work for Japan Tobacco in 1983. My sister’s husband worked there already. When he was about to retire, he said, “Why doesn’t Eiji join Japan Tobacco?” This was just around the time they were computerizing the machines, and when Eiji went in for the interview, he said, “I want to join so I can learn these computer systems,” so maybe that’s why they gave him the job. At the training in Nagaoka everyone else was a university graduate, he told me, only two out of twelve were straight out of high school.
He said that in Nagaoka the snow piled up a meter deep. So the next thing he’s saying he wants to learn to ski. He needed equipment so could I send him money? Which I did. So then he really got into skiing, was skiing all the time. It was on a ski slope that he met Yoshiko.
At Nagaoka he was away from home, starting a new life alone, but he didn’t seem lonely. He made lots of friends, he was making money for himself and was free to have fun with it.
When they told us Eiji had died, honestly, my head went totally blank. You hear about people “blanking out,” but it really did happen. Didn’t know what was what.
Wasn’t anybody home at the time. His company and the police rang up, but everyone was out. Before that I’d been putting up miso, like I always make up a batch in April, but since I had to go and help with Eiji’s baby, I put it up a month ahead of time. That kept me busy. On the twentieth the weather was clear, so I washed the laundry that had been piling up, ran all sorts of errands. Father had gone to prune the apple trees in the orchard that morning, and my blood pressure was up a little, so I went to the hospital for medicine, which is why nobody was at home.
Eventually they got through to my elder sister, who said, “I call you a thousand times and there’s no one there. Haven’t you seen TV?” On the way back from the hospital I was going to buy some flowers, it being Higan [the Buddhist equinox], but first I went home for a bit. That’s when the phone rang.
“Such good weather, why would anyone be watching TV? If it rains I’ll watch, but now I’m just too busy.” That’s when she said, “Listen, don’t get alarmed. Brace yourself.” And I was like, “Brace myself? What’s this all about?”
And it was, “Just now on the TV, they said Eiji’s dead.” That’s when everything went blank. That was it. I can’t recall another thing. It came that hard. The shock, it just wiped out everything …
It was a year before they married that he brought Yoshiko home. Brought her in the wintertime. Eiji only ever came home twice a year, at Obon [the Buddhist festival of the dead, in August] and at year-end, and this was in the winter. Because we’d just finished all our winter preparations. As I recall, Yoshiko didn’t stay with us that time, she went back home the same day.
All along I’d been saying, “Wouldn’t it be better to get a bride from the country? So it’d be easier to come up here, it being home country to you both.” And Eiji would say, “No, a country girl would be just as much a bother. I’ll find my own, don’t you worry, Mother. I’ll worry about that myself.”
FATHER: That was fine by me. Let him choose who he likes and stay with her, that’s all that matters. A parent has no right to interfere in a child’s marriage. Let them do it for themselves, is what I say.
MOTHER: Their wedding was at a chapel in Aoyama. A small ceremony. “Dozens of people wouldn’t fit in the hall,” he told us, so only really close relations attended. But when I said, “We’ll have to throw another ceremony again when you come up to the country,” he told me, “I’m the second son. Brother’s the one going to carry on the family line. Me, who knows whether I’ll even end up back here or not, so there’s no need to do anything special for me.”
We heard that Yoshiko was expecting when they came to visit at New Year. I’d somehow sensed it when they came up in August. The color in her cheeks hadn’t looked so good then, and I thought to myself, well, just maybe. So I asked her and she said, “I suppose I could be.”
FATHER: On March 20, like my wife said earlier, I was pruning the apples out back. Been at it since morning. Have to finish before the end of March. We got forty apple trees in all.
Our eldest lives with us, but under a separate roof. Meals and everything we take separate. He’s got his wife and kids with him. So if our phone rings, you can’t even hear it over there. And anyway his wife was pregnant then too, and she was out getting medicine at the birth clinic.
But it just so happens the older boy was listening to the radio at work when the name “Eiji Wada” came out. Then he flew over to our place. He’d called and called on the phone but nobody answered, so he guessed we were out in the field. But even before him, my wife’d come home and got that phone call first.
Word came from the police, too. Headquarters had phoned the local police post, told them to go straight out and find us, is what happened. And just when my wife was on the phone, the police came driving up.
MOTHER: I didn’t want Father to keel right over in the field if he suddenly heard about it, so we went out to the apple orchard and told him, “Come here a second.” Four of us went to Tokyo. Father, me, our eldest boy, and my sister’s husband, who pushed Eiji to join Japan Tobacco. We caught the 2:00 train from Ueda, and we got into Ueno Station around 5:00. It was still light out. Someone from Japan Tobacco came to meet us and took us by taxi to the Central Police Headquarters. No one breathed a word on the way. It was dead silence. We just kept quiet in the car and got out when we were asked.
But by then the body was no longer with the police. It had been sent over to Tokyo University Forensics. So after all that we couldn’t even see our Eiji that day and we were put up overnight in the Japan Tobacco guest house. I couldn’t sleep that night. The next morning at 9:00 we all went to Tokyo University Hospital and finally got to see him. Without thinking, I touched Eiji and they yelled at me.
How was I supposed to know you weren’t supposed to touch him? I just couldn’t help myself. Apparently Yoshiko touched him and they shouted at her, too. But to a mother, she’s got to touch him and feel he’s cold before she finally admits to herself, “It’s too late.” Otherwise nothing’s going to convince her.
Everything in my head was just wiped clean away. I couldn’t understand anything. But I kept control, you know, so I didn’t cry. I was reduced to a complete idiot, my body still moving but that was it. We had to send him to meet Lord Buddha and give him a funeral. When your head goes empty, even tears don’t come.
It’s strange, but in my head all I could think about was preparing the rice fields. Two children … grandchildren on the way, rice planting to do, gotta do this, gotta do that, my mind was keeping me busy. So there I was, getting ready to transplant the rice seedlings when the TV crew showed up.
FATHER: I didn’t answer nothing to the reporters. I got so mad at them. They even followed us to the crematorium. Even took pictures of the birthing clinic. I told ’em please go away, but no matter what I said they just wouldn’t go. They pushed themselves on the neighbors. And they asked us, “They want us to talk, so what should we do, Mr. Wada?” but I told them, “Don’t say nothing.”
Just once, when I was riding my tractor and they came up shoving a mike at me, saying, “Mr. Wada, any comment?” just once I answered. I said: “I’d like to see the killers get an immediate death penalty for their crime. And they’ll have to amend Japan’s Constitution. That’s all. Now please go home.” I just wouldn’t have anything more to do with them and I went straight back to the field. The TV station set up a camera in front of our house, aiming for when I came home. So I just scooted around back on my bike. At the time, there was just so many people come to report on us. Saying they were writing something for magazines or whatever.
I just barely hung on, knowing the rice planting had to get done or else. And when rice planting was done, I just collapsed. All sorts of thoughts were in my head, but think and think there’s just no end to it. No matter how much you think, the dead boy’s not coming back. I had to tell myself, can’t keep feeling this way forever. Still, there’s no forgetting, either. Every time I think back over it all, I get these feelings stewing again in my gut.
I’m not much of a drinker, but I like my sake. So whenever Eiji came home, us three’d drink together, father and sons. That sake always tasted the best, like nothing else. A little drink in us and the talk’d just spring to life. We’d put away a sho [1.8 liters] in an evening. We’re a close family. Never once argued.
MOTHER: He was a kind child. When he got his first pay, he bought me a watch. And also whenever he came back to visit, he’d always bring something for his big brother’s kids. When he went to America and Canada on business, he bought us souvenirs.
He even bought souvenirs for Asuka before she was born. A while back, when Asuka came up to visit, she was wearing clothes that Eiji had bought her in America. That’s how much he looked forward to the child being born. I mean he really was looking forward to it, and yet … when I think how those idiots went and killed him, it’s so pathetic.
FATHER: At the time of the Matsumoto incident, why didn’t the police do a better job of investigating? If they’d done that, this whole mess would never have happened. If only they’d pushed harder on the case back then.
MOTHER: Still, his wife and baby are fine; she bore us a splendid grandchild. I try to remember that. If I hung around here sobbing all the time, I’d be no good helping her after the birth, so I had to pull myself together, and it’s gotten me through this far.
FATHER: There’s farming to be done, what we’ve always done. Once the rice seedlings are set it’s time to transplant them to the rice fields, once that’s done it’s picking the apple buds, then it’s pollinating the blossoms … there’s no rest, the work keeps on coming. Working like that wears you down physically and when you’re tired out you sleep like a log. We’ve got no time for neuroses or tranquilizers. That’s just how it is for farmers.
Koichiro Makita (34)
Mr. Makita works in film production. From 1988 to 1994, he had his own company and was doing independent production, but when the recession set in he went to work for his present company. He’s in charge of visual development for computer-game software.
In compiling this book, I laid down a rule for myself not to interview anyone more than once—no later additions—but Mr. Makita was an exception. My tape recorder wasn’t working properly and wouldn’t play back what we recorded the first time, so unfortunately I had to beg for a second attempt—in order to “get more detail.” Maybe the mishap with the tape recorder was some kind of message; the second time around, Mr. Makita gave me a long, in-depth interview.
Mr. Makita was not reluctant to speak, but neither is he the type to volunteer information about himself. His answers generally stayed within the bounds of the questions asked. Not one to pry, I found it hard to ask directly about the effects of the gas attack on his family. Although sometimes, afterward, I regretted my own reticence.
I commute to work on the Hibiya Line. It’s incredibly crowded, especially at Kita-senju Station, where lots of people transfer and they’ve been doing all these repairs that have cut into the platform space—it’s really dangerous. One little push and you could easily fall onto the tracks.
When I say it’s crowded, I was boarding a train once when my briefcase got swallowed up in the torrent of people and swept away. I was holding on, trying not to let go, but I just had to or my arm would have broken. The case just disappeared. I thought I’d never see it again (laughs). I had to wait until the crowd thinned out to find it. At least there’s air-conditioning now. Summers were just unbearable in the past.
Some people get off at Akihabara, so finally there’s a little breathing space. At Kodemmacho, there are no longer people rubbing up against you, and at Kayabacho you might even find a seat. On past Ginza, there’s room to read a magazine.
My wife and I have a daughter, four years old. We’ve been married five years. We rent our house. It’s where my family lived when I was small, but while I was still in school my parents and brother all died one after the other, so I’m the only one left. Now I have my own family and we’ve taken the place on. It’s in a residential area, a little on the small side, but there are all the modern conveniences.
I originally wanted to be in music. I was in a college band, and for three years after that, too. Strictly amateur, mostly techno stuff. I didn’t even have space to set up my instruments.
Once out of college I became a typical salaryman. But that just wasn’t me. I barely survived the office environment. I was working for a computer company, but I hated it. The work kept me very busy. Hardly any time off. It was going nowhere, so I resigned after a year and a half.
Then after a while I got a job with an audiovisual company, which went bust after a few years, so I formed my own company. I never really wanted to be self-employed, but it proved necessary for tax reasons. There were three of us at its peak, but as the economy worsened less work came in, and for the last year it was just me.
March 20 was a Monday. I had an appointment with my boss, so I went to work early. If I’d waited a few trains at Kita-senju, I might have gotten a seat, but I’d have lost fifteen minutes, so I hurried onto the first train that came. Sit or stand, you’re still packed in face-to-face, so sitting’s not all that comfortable anyway. That day, the train was packed. Monday mornings are the worst.
I always take the fourth car from the front, by the rear door. The time is fixed, so it’s generally familiar faces, but that day it was a different train, so I didn’t know anyone. I remember that impression, of how things were a little different.
There was absolutely no chance of getting a seat until Tsukiji. That was unusual. I can usually get a seat around Kayabacho … So anyway I finally got a seat, when there came an announcement, “One passenger has collapsed. The train will make a temporary first-aid stop at this station.” I sat and waited, but then after about two minutes the message changed to “Three passengers have collapsed.”
Out on the platform there was this wall of people. It was all happening in the next car where the packet of sarin was. What’s going on? I wondered and stuck my head out the door, but I couldn’t see what was wrong. Then a middle-aged man came walking from that direction saying, “Sarin! Sarin!” I distinctly remember him saying, “sarin,” but he sounded drunk.
Hearing that, several people around me stood up, though they didn’t seem in any particular hurry. They weren’t running to escape or anything.
A little while after that there was another announcement: “Poison gas has been detected. It is dangerous underground. Please head for safety above ground.” At that all the passengers stood up and got off the train, but still there wasn’t any panic. They walked a little faster than normal, but there was no pushing or anything. Some put handkerchiefs to their mouths or were coughing, but that’s all.
The wind was blowing through the station from the back toward the head of the train. Which is why I thought, “I’m all right, the trouble’s in the next car up, upwind from here.” And the way out was also upwind, toward the exit at the back of the train. Meanwhile, I felt a strange tickle in my throat. You know when the dentist gives you anesthetic and it’s seeping back into your throat? Just like that. To be honest, I was scared. The realization that I might be gassed to death suddenly hit me. If it was sarin, it was serious. I saw what it did in Matsumoto; you breathed it in and you died.
I went out the exit and up the stairs. Outside, I wanted to have a cigarette, but I could barely draw air into my throat before I was coughing hard. That’s when I knew I’d breathed the gas. “I’d better call the office,” I thought. There were two phone booths outside the station, but both had long lines. I had to wait fifteen or twenty minutes for my turn. It was still before office hours, but I told the girl who answered: “There’s been some terrorist activity. I’m going to be late.”
After I finished my call, I looked around and saw that there were lots of people crouching on the ground, dozens of them. Some looked unconscious, some had been carried up the stairs. Before I’d made my call there had only been a few, but in only fifteen or twenty minutes the place was in an uproar, though not yet the war-zone atmosphere they showed on TV.
This detective person was walking around asking out loud, “Did anyone see the culprit who planted the poison gas?” Then straightaway an ambulance arrived.
They still hadn’t sealed off the entrance to the subway and quite a few people were going down for a look. I was thinking, “That can’t be safe.” But eventually I remember a station attendant appeared and shut the entrance.
I knew I’d inhaled poison gas, so I was concerned, but I didn’t know whether to leave the area or not. It’d be better if I got tested, right? It’s only asking for trouble to avoid the issue and take another train to work, then collapse midway.
On second thought, though, I could still walk—unlike the ones they carried up—so that must mean I wasn’t in such a bad way. When the first-aid team came and said, “Everyone who’s feeling ill, please get in the ambulance,” I didn’t. I thought I was okay.
So I walked to Shintomicho Station and took the Yurakucho Line to get to work. When I got there, the executive director contacted me to ask if I was all right. I explained the situation, and he told me, “They’re saying it was sarin, so you’d better get to a hospital quick and have some tests.”
The hospital was nearby. Actually, things had started to look dim the moment I’d entered the subway at Shintomicho, but at the time I thought it was because of the brightness of the sun outside. I later learned it was due to the sarin. The tickle in my throat was almost gone; I could smoke. Anyway, I wanted them to test me.
But they told me, “We can’t test for sarin here.” The doctors can’t have been watching the news. They had absolutely no idea what had happened. This was around 10:30. Naturally they’d never tested for sarin before and had no idea how to go about it. After making me wait for an hour while they looked it up, they told me, “Well, it’s like a pesticide, so the thing to do is drink a lot of water and flush it out of your system. But for now you’re okay.” All right, I’m okay for now, I thought, and went to the reception area to pay the bill. Then a nurse who’d been watching television came and told me, “We can’t treat for sarin here. The TV said they can do a full treatment at St. Luke’s Hospital. Over there they’ve got the medicines and they can run a proper test. You’d better go check with the police.”
I was still unsure, so I went to the police post in front of the hospital and asked the officer there to tell me which hospital to go to for sarin testing. He must have thought I was a serious case and immediately called an ambulance. They took me straightaway to a hospital about twenty minutes away.
As I was a “serious case,” three doctors were waiting for me. I was so, embarrassed I had only light symptoms. “You’re not so bad. If no further irregularities show up today, then you’re all right,” they told me. No drip, no drugs.
So I was right back into the swing of things. My pupils weren’t badly contracted—I scarcely remember how long the condition lasted.
After the gas attack the police somehow became convinced I was one of the culprits. Two detectives came to my home and gave me a grilling. One of them looked me in the eyes and said: “Have you always worn your hair like that?” After I went over the events of that whole day, they showed me two likenesses, one of which looked quite like me. “During the gas attack, did you happen to see anyone like either of these?” No, I answered, I hadn’t, but I really felt they suspected me. According to these detectives, there was a high probability that the culprits had been contaminated themselves and had gone to a hospital for treatment.
Two or three weeks later the phone rang: “Mr. Makita?” came this voice. “Yes?” “Police. We take it you’re back home now.” It seems they wanted to obtain a statement, so I was to report to the precinct. It occurred to me that I’d been under surveillance, probably tailed. They still hadn’t positively linked the thing to Aum and everyone was on edge.
More than any anger toward Aum, I feel disgust. I despise people who turn a blind eye to the dangers of that kind of religion. I especially dislike the ones who try to recruit new people to their organization.
When I was in college, in the course of only three years, I lost my parents and my younger brother. Father had been in and out of hospitals, so it was no great shock when he died. But my mother had a heart murmur and was going in for observation, then died two days later. They hadn’t even operated. I was totally floored. No one had even imagined she might die. Then my brother died in an accident. By that point I couldn’t help thinking, “People can die at any moment.” I almost felt as if it were my turn next.
I just slept and slept. Twelve hours at a strech. Sleep that long and your sleep becomes very shallow. I dreamed a lot.
Around that time, I was approached by one of these new religions. This recruitment type came on to me, saying, “That kind of misfortune just keeps repeating, so you had better change your fate here and now. Shouldn’t you accept a faith … ?” Truly tasteless as far as I was concerned. Maybe that’s why I’m so down on religion.
“The very first thing that came to mind was poison gas—cyanide or sarin”
Dr. Toru Saito (b. 1948)
Dr. Saito has worked at Toho University’s Omori Hospital Emergency Care Center for twenty years. The staff are real professionals. The center is where they bring in life-or-death cases and where split-second decisions are critical. In most instances, there is no time to wonder “What shall we do?” That’s where Dr. Saito’s experience and intuition come into play. His knowledge of symptoms is encyclopedic.
Coming from such a background, his speech is succinct, clear, and authoritative. To see him on the job is singularly impressive: it’s hard work every day with not a moment’s rest to calm his nerves. I’m grateful he could spare time in his busy schedule to talk to me.
I am a circulatory specialist with Internal Medicine Ward 2. Hence my duties at the Emergency Care Center mainly concern arterial valve and heart irregularites. The center here has brought together a rather special team of veteran doctors from several different hospital departments. There are some twenty doctors in total, working in twenty-four-hour shifts.
The day before the gas attack, I was on supervisor duty, responsible for overseeing the running of the hospital. Sunday supervisor duty runs from nine to nine, Sunday morning to Monday morning. During the daytime I’m generally in the ward examining patients.
That morning I was in the doctors’ lounge watching TV with a cup of instant ramen for breakfast. The first reports came in about 8:15: “Poison gas at Kasumigaseki Station. Heavy casualties.” “What’s this?” I thought. The very first thing that came to mind was poison gas—cyanide or sarin.
MURAKAMI: So city gas pipes or any other possible gases simply did not occur to you?
It’s unlikely inside a subway station. From the very first, I thought there probably had to be a criminal involvement. Already with the Matsumoto incident there had been talk that just maybe it was Aum, so almost automatically it all clicked: “Poison gas—crime—Aum—sarin or cyanide.”
It was likely the victims would be brought to our hospital, so I thought we had better be prepared to deal with either cyanide or sarin. Actually, for cyanide poisoning we always keep a treatment kit to hand. For sarin, however, there are two remedies—atropine and 2-Pam—both of which we’ve used before.*
Actually, up until the Matsumoto incident I knew virtually nothing about sarin. There was no need for me to be up on such a specialist military weapon. But with Matsumoto, there were symptoms like low blood cholinesterase and visible contraction of the pupils, enough to make us doctors think it must be due to some kind of organophosphate.
Now, phosphates have long been used in fertilizers and pesticides, and sometimes people have ingested them to commit suicide. In twenty years here I’ve treated about ten of these phosphate poisoning cases. To put it simply, sarin is phosphate in gaseous form.
MURAKAMI: So whether one ingests an organophosphate fertilizer or sarin gas, one gets the same lowering of cholinesterase and contracted pupils?
Exactly the same symptoms. But these agricultural chemicals have up to now been liquids that don’t usually evaporate. That’s why we can spray them on roses and stuff. But since ultimately sarin is a gaseous organophosphate, doctors in Emergency Care basically know we can treat sarin poisoning cases the same way we treat organophosphate poisoning. It was only thanks to the Matsumoto incident that we discovered this.
Atropine is used in cases where the pulse is slow or as a preliminary to anesthetic, so it’s used both in emergency care and outpatient wards in most hospitals. 2-Pam, however, is a specialized antidote to organophosphates. The pharmaceutical department might stock just a little of it.
As the gas attack was televised there was some discussion about it being either sarin or cyanide. There were interns in the lounge at the time and I told them, “Get some background on sarin.” Actually we had studied the Matsumoto incident in my university toxicology lectures. We’d put together a ten-minute videotape of TV news footage as a teaching aid, so I told them, “Look at that.” And all the interns saw what I was saying. “Now you understand about sarin. Otherwise, here are the kits in case it’s cyanide.” So we prepared ourselves and waited for the victims to come in.
Around 9:30 the TV reported that the Tokyo Fire Department had detected acetonitrile. The fire department has a special Chemical Alert Brigade car for on-site gas detection. And their report showed acetonitrile, which meant a hydrocyanide compound—cyanide.
A call came in to our hotline: “Be prepared to take a victim from the subway.” So we got ready the cyanide-poisoning kit and waited in Emergency. It was 10:45 when they brought in the patient. His pupils were contracted and he was in a fairly serious comatose state. He’d move if pinched, but otherwise there was no response. If this was cyanide, it would be what’s called acidosis: blood acidity. Acidosis indicated cyanide, but contracted pupils were an indication of sarin. That was the critical point of differentiation.
Blood tests showed no acidosis. Reflexes were way down. All symptoms of sarin poisoning. Everyone was shaking their heads: “Doctor, this just has to be sarin.” “Yes, it looks like sarin, but then the news report did say acetonitrile. Let’s try half the cyanide kit just to be on the safe side.”
About thirty minutes later there was a gradual recovery of consciousness, so we thought the cyanide kit had done the trick. His condition improved dramatically after injection. We don’t really understand why. I would guess that the perpetrators had mixed acetonitrile into the sarin in order to slow evaporation, giving them time to escape. Pure sarin would have evaporated much too quickly and in all probability killed them straightaway.
Around 11:00 the police department confirmed it was sarin. Again I found this out on TV. Did anyone think to contact us? Not a word. All our information came from TV. But by that time all the patients showed sarin-related symptoms, so we’d already begun using atropine.
About then a call came in from Shinshu University Medical Department. It was the doctor who’d treated the patients of the Matsumoto incident. He’d been calling around all the emergency care centers and hospitals in Tokyo saying, “If you want, I’ll fax you our data on sarin treatment.” “Fire away,” I said, and the faxes piled up.
Looking over the data, the most critical thing we learned was how to tell those patients who required hospitalization from those who didn’t. Without direct experience we lacked any practical basis for making a judgment. According to the data, there was no need to hospitalize patients with contracted pupils who could still walk and talk. Fine. People whose cholinesterase levels were normal did not need immediate treatment. That was helpful. If we’d had to take in everyone who came to us, we’d have been in a real fix.
MURAKAMI: Could you explain briefly about cholinesterase?
If you want to move a muscle, the nerve endings send out an order to the muscle cells in the form of a chemical, acetylcholine. It’s the messenger. When the muscles receive that they move, they contract. After the contraction, the enzyme cholinesterase serves to neutralize the message sent by the acetylcholine, which prepares for the next action. Over and over again.
However when the cholinesterase runs out, the acetylcholine message remains active and the muscle stays contracted. Now muscles work by repeated contraction and expansion, so when they stay contracted we get paralysis. In the eye, that means contracted pupils.
The faxes from Matsumoto told us that a cholinesterase level of 200 or below meant the patient required hospitalization. Usually those hospitalized made a full recovery and were discharged in a few days. Unless the cholinesterase level is very low, we don’t get anything approaching paralysis. Even among our own outpatients, there were those whose readings were way down yet seemed otherwise fine. The pupil contraction persisted three or four more days, but it didn’t paralyze the breathing.
Most of the seriously injured regained consciousness within a day. The ones we couldn’t save were those whose heart or lungs had stopped before they got to the hospital. Either that, or they were infibrillated on arrival to restart their heartbeat, but became “vegetables” as a result.
MURAKAMI: Did any remedial information come in from either the fire department or the police? With such unusual symptoms you’d think that broadcasting agreed medical guidelines from a central source would be the fastest way to reach the most people.
No, nothing of the sort came in straight after the event. There was a bulletin from the Tokyo Bureau of Health in the early evening, around 5:00 (pulls out a file and reads): “We greatly appreciate your looking after patients from this morning’s incident. We have obtained some sarin-related information. Sarin is a … etc., etc.” By the time this came in, we’d more or less dealt with the situation. The only ones who contacted us early on and sent us the necessary information were the Shinshu University Medical Department. That was of real practical help.
MURAKAMI: So it was as if each medic team, each hospital was told, “You’re on your own”?
Well, yes, in effect. Knowledge about sarin was inadequate. For instance, at one hospital the doctors and nurses examining and treating the patients began to feel dizzy. Their clothes were impregnated with the gas. They became secondary casualties. Even we weren’t aware that we should have asked the patients to undress first thing. We just didn’t even think about it.
“There is no prompt and efficient system in Japan for dealing with a major catastrophe”
Dr. Nobuo Yanagisawa (b. 1935)
Head, School of Medicine, Shinshu University, Nagano Prefecture
March 20, when the Tokyo gas attack happened, was in actual fact our graduation day at Shinshu University. As head of the hospital I was obliged to attend the ceremonies and had changed especially for the occasion. That day I also had an Admissions Committee meeting, so I’d scheduled absolutely nothing else. That was the stroke of luck in the midst of misfortune.
Another thing: I’d researched the Matsumoto incident and edited the findings, which were supposed to be published that day [March 20] as well. That’s how things just happened to work out.
Well, that morning, a reporter from the Shinano Daily News rang my secretary saying, “Something strange has happened in Tokyo. Seems kind of like the Matsumoto sarin business.” I got that message around 9:00. “What now?” I thought, and switched on the TV and all the victims seemed to be reporting acute symptoms of organophosphorus toxicity: eye pain, tears, blurring vision, running noses, vomiting … that sort of thing. Not enough, however, to single out sarin as the cause.
But one victim among them reported a contraction of the pupils. This person came on camera saying: “When I looked in the mirror my eyes were so small.” Which all added up to organophosphorus toxicity. And since people in the subway were reporting such intense symptoms, it had to be a gas. Now, as for organophosphorus compounds used in chemical warfare, that could only mean sarin, soman, tabun, that line of compounds. The same as in Matsumoto.
By the time I had my TV on over a thousand people had been taken to St. Luke’s Hospital. I just knew the staff must be having a hell of a time, maybe even panicking. And that got me worrying.
We ourselves were really in a pinch when Matsumoto happened. Seeing all those patients coming in with unaccountable symptoms. We’d guessed that it was probably organophosphorus intoxification and treated them accordingly; but none of us had the slightest clue it was sarin.
I immediately called in two doctors from Neuropathology and Emergency, and told them to contact St. Luke’s and any other hospitals that were thought to have taken in these patients. We faxed information to every single hospital they mentioned on TV: “Treat with sulfuric atropine and 2-Pam as antitoxin, etc., etc.”
First thing, I called St. Luke’s. This was between 9:10 and 9:30. I couldn’t get through, but I managed to get a line straightaway on my mobile. “Get me the person in charge of Emergency,” I said, and gave a general rundown: “Do this and this and this to treat your cases.” Then I told them I’d fax in more detail. Ordinarily I ought to have cleared all this through the head of the hospital, but I thought talking directly to the doctors in the wards would be faster. But there was a mixup somewhere. I heard later from someone at St. Luke’s that they were scouring the library until 11 A.M. trying to determine the toxin.
We started sending the faxes around 10 A.M. I still had to attend the graduation ceremony, so I left the two doctors from Neuropathology and Emergency in charge and went. There was a final proof of the Matsumoto Sarin Incident Report on my desk outlining the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of sarin gas poisoning, so they just kept faxing out copies. I keep thinking in retrospect how lucky we were to have had that on hand. But even so, there were so many pages, so many places to send to, it took an amazing effort.
The most important thing in a mass disaster is triage: the prioritizing of patients to receive treatment. In the Tokyo gas attack, serious cases had to get first treatment, while lighter cases were left on their own to naturally get well over time. If the doctors treated everyone who came in, in the order they came in, lives may have been lost. If you don’t have a good grasp of the situation and people come in screaming, “I can’t see!” the whole scene can easily descend into a state of panic.
The doctor’s dilemma is having to decide who gets priority: the patient who can’t breathe, or the one who can’t see? Difficult judgments come with dangerous situations. It’s the hardest thing about being a doctor.
MURAKAMI: Is there some sort of practical manual on what to do in a mass disaster, a guide doctors can all refer to?
No, nothing like that. Even with us, until the Matsumoto incident we had almost no idea what to do.
When I came back at noon, the phones were ringing everywhere. Requests were coming in from clinics all over the place saying, “Send us information too!” I mean, they had sarin victims in over a hunded facilities. That whole day was one big uproar. We were faxing nonstop.
If it had been an ordinary day with no graduation ceremony, I’d have been up to my neck in hospital work from 8:30 A.M. straight through, snowed under with one thing after another. Even if someone had told me, “Something strange has happened in Tokyo,” I wouldn’t have had the time to watch anything on TV until lunchtime. We probably wouldn’t have been able to respond so quickly. It was just a very, very lucky coincidence.
Actually the most efficient thing to do would’ve been to get in touch with the fire department and let them get the word out to all these places. Well, we did try to contact the fire department, but we couldn’t get through.
The biggest lesson we learned from the Tokyo gas attack and the Matsumoto incident was that when something major strikes, the local units may be extremely swift to respond, but the overall picture is hopeless. There is no prompt and efficient system in Japan for dealing with a major catastrophe. There’s no clear-cut chain of command. It was exactly the same with the Kobe earthquake.
In. both the Matsumoto incident and the Tokyo gas attack, I think the medical organizations responded extremely well. The paramedics were also on top of things. They deserve praise. As one American expert said, to have had five thousand sarin gas victims and only twelve dead is close to a miracle. All thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the local units, because the overall emergency network was useless.
We sent faxes to at least thirty medical facilities. On the seven o’clock news the next morning they reported seventy people seriously injured. The thing about sarin poisoning is that even really serious cases can recover in a few hours if properly treated. Knowing what to do can make a huge difference.
I really thought I had to get word out, so I called the Tokyo Health Bureau, but nobody answered. It was after 8:30 by the time I got through. The person who came on the line said something like, “Well, we all have our jobs to do”—where’s the sense in that?
The fire department ought to have been quicker in getting to the scene, monitoring the whole situation, and stationing triage teams to give precise instructions. That way, the ambulance crews could respond on the spot. And probably emergency medics ought to go with them too. Active input from the medical side is vital if you want to stop people panicking.
To be perfectly honest, the way things are with us doctors in Japan, it’s almost unthinkable that any doctor would go out of his way to send unsolicited information to a hospital. The first thought is never to say too much, never to overstep one’s position.
But with the gas attack I had other motives too. One of the seven people who died in the Matsumoto incident was a medical student here at Shinshu University. A coed, extremely bright, who by rights ought to have been at that day’s graduation ceremony. That simple fact kept me going.
* Zazen is a form of seated meditation. [Tr.]
* In November 1989 anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto was murdered, along with his wife and their baby son. It was not until October 1998 that cult member Kazuaki Okazaki was sentenced to death for murdering the Sakamotos. He had crept into the family home and injected them with lethal doses of potassium chloride, then strangled them. Shoko Asahara has also been charged with murdering the Sakamotos. [Tr.]
* He was finally arrested in December 1996. [Tr.]
* Sarin inhibits the action of cholinesterase, an enzyme produced by the liver. 2-Pam (Protopam or pralidoxime chloride) is a cholinesterase reactivator, also used as an antidote in cases of organophosphate pesticide poisoning. [Tr.]