Monday, May 31, 2010

underground –The Tokyo gas attack & the Japanese psyche

The subway Sarin incident  300px-Marunouchi-ogi_map_sarin_attack

On the 20th of March 1995, 5 members of the Aum shinri kyo cult entered the Tokyo subway system and upon boarding the trains released a lethal gas.The method used was a chemical agent in liquid form, called Sarin, they each carried two packets or about 900mls ( a pinhead sized drop can kill an adult and their families), which were dropped on the train floors then pierced with sharpened umbrella subway The 5 members then left their individual trains to meet with their accomplices and were driven off.
This act, by the Aum shinri kyo was,and to this date is still, the most serious terrorist attack in Japanese history. In a society that had been considered virtually crime free, this attack caused widespread fear and disruption on a scale that simply overwhelmed all concerned.
The perpetrators of this attack, were members of the Aum shinri kyo cult founded by Shoko Asahara. Its name translates into English as  The Supreme Truth. This Japanese religious group was obsessed with the apocalypse, in fact, Asahara published a book in which he declared himself Christ , outlining a doomsday prophecy culminating in nuclear Armageddon

  Haruki Murakami both shocked and fascinated by the media’s response to the attack, wrote the nonfiction 1-1-1-1-3-1-1-3-0-0-0account “Underground”.He says in the preface that his reasoning was that the Japanese media failed to cover their own publics perspective, choosing to concentrate on the Aum and demonizing all involved with the cult. Murakami wrote the book originally  as a series of interviews with the victims of the attack, trying to find out what it felt like to be there at the time, what have they thought since and what answers ( if any) they have they arrived at. In allowing the individuals free reign to express themselves, with not more than a brief introduction/description from the author we get to hear the accounts from a cross reference of Japanese society and we come to some basic understanding of what it meant to be there.
But this being Murakami, he  returned to the subject by interviewing the lesser cult members. In trying to gain perspective of the Aum we start to realise  that there are striking similarities between the victims (everyday salary men) and the cultist. Both show an extreme and perverse stoicism, to carry on regardless of the harm to self, both show a blinkered herd instinct to follow their chosen path, whether this was  their position at work or enlightenment.There were examples of victims, blinded, nauseous, unable to breathe crawling to their place of employment, or to maintain their planned routine. Aum followers, drugged, tortured (physically and mentally) by their fellow seekers, betrayed by their heirarchy, are still in the Aum.
This ties in with the subtitle of the book “The Tokyo gas attack and the Japanese psyche”, here Murakami reveals a people lonely and alienated, trapped in a society enthralled by industrialisation and modernity. A people lost from their traditions, spirituality and the family ties of its past. In writing this book he questions his  culture? Did its total acceptance of narrow conformity lead to the Aum’s  renunciation of society and its obsession with armegeddon, are the Aum a reaction to a culture so led by consumerism, that the individual is permanently buried under a perpetual mountain of product? Some of these questions are answered, but most lead to more questions that his society and; ours  will need to find answers. For that reason this series of accounts acts as a moral compass, in a society in search of one.images

This book gives an insight into a culture, that most of us will never penetrate. It allows a brief glimpse into a society that appears locked down to any outsider. I’m not that sure I understand all its nuances and; I may need to read it again, but that wouldn’t be a hardship, despite the seriousness of the subject matter it was a compelling book to read.

For fans of Haruki Murakami this is a good place for information


Gina Choe said...

Great review! How strange that both the Aum followers and the victims of the attack had the same sort of mentality. It frightens me because I wonder how I'd act in that situation.
I haven't ready Murakami, though I've been meaning to. Do you recommend starting off with this one or Wind-Up Bird Chronicles?

@parridhlantern said...

Even those followers that disagreed with the way the Aum were heading, still remained.This made Murakami question the mentality of his culture,by interviewing both the Aum & the victims,linking these with the past history of his society.He then attempted to try & answer some of the questions, he thought arose from what was the greatest terrorist act in his country.whether he answered or not is probably down to interpretation, but just the questioning can act as a way marker pointing to the clash between the individual & the state.
One of if not the question of our time( in my umble opinion).
My first Haruki Murakami was Kafka on the shore, so I have a soft spot for that one,tho Wind up is a brilliant book.A good non-fiction Murakami is What I talk about,when I talk about running( although I may be biased as I've reviewed it)

Novroz said...

Great review parish! I knew about this incident and have been wanting to read this book since I knew Murakami's work. But never have a chance to do it. I will one day tho

@parridhlantern said...

Thanks, Novroz. This is a book that often gets missed amongst his works, which is a shame, so if you can read it do so as it's worth the time you spend on it, & a good one for the challenge.

Mytwostotinki said...

Excellent review, and although I was reluctant to pick this book up because I am not a big fan of Murakami's fiction, I think it is a remarkable, even extraordinary book. Victims are frequently marginalized and that happened also to the sarin attack victims. Thanks to Murakami's always very respectful and empathic way to conduct the interviews, the survivors have their dignity restored. The second part with the interviews of the Aum members was also very interesting and to be frank shocking. That many of the (former) members still subscribe to the opinion that Aum was something great and the poison gas attack a somehow marginal, not central part of the cult was deeply disturbing for me to read. My own review:

@parridhlantern said...

Yes I also found their blindness shocking