Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami
Translated from the Japanese by Alfred Birnbaum and Philip Gabriel
Vintage International, New York, 2001
Borrowed from my local Library.
After reading Kafka on the Shore, and not being sure what I thought of Haruki Murakami, I decided to read his book on the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo Tokyo gas attacks. Murakami says in his introduction that he was motivated to write Underground because he had been living away from Japan, wanted a deeper understanding of his home country and felt an obligation to those who had died in and survived the attack. He wanted to have their voices heard.
Underground is actually two books that were published separately in 1997 and 1998. The first part,. Underground, is made up of interviews with survivors of the 1995 attack in the Tokyo subway system, the second part, The Place That Was Promised, contains interviews with people who had been involved with Aum Shinrikyo.
From the interview with Toshiaki Toyoda, a Subway Authority workman.
There were ordinary passengers who unfortunately lost their lives or suffered injuries just because they were traveling on the subway. People who are still suffering mentally or are in pain. When I consider their lot, I don’t have the luxury to keep seeing myself as a victim. That’s why I say: “I’m not a sarin victim, I’m a survivor.” Frankly, there are some latent symptoms, but nothing to keep me bedridden. I’m just glad I survived.
The fear, the mental wounds are still with me, of course, but there is no way to flush them out of my system. I could never find words to explain it to the families of those who died or sacrificed their lives on the job. From page 38.
Murakami shows great respect for the people he interviewed, never interfering with their answers and yet drawing them out. I am deeply impressed by his level of caring and by his commitment to his fellow citizens. I am also moved by the survivors, their willingness to share their stories and their commitment to their culture and to each other. I find the difference between our two culture profound.
I also really appreciate the depth of Murakami’s intelligence, his clarity of thought and willingness to probe deeply into his own psyche.
From Blind Nightmare: Where Are We Japanese Going?
…I am a novelist, and as we know a novelist is someone who works with “narratives”, who spins “stories” professionally. Which meant to me that the task at hand was like a gigantic sword dangling over my head. It’s something I’m going to have to deal with much more seriously from here on. I know I’m going to have to construct a “cosmic communication device” of my own. I’ll probably piece together every last scrap of junk, every weakness, every deficiency inside me to do it. (There, I’ve gone and said it – but the real surprise is that it’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do as a writer all along!)
So then, what about you? (I’m using the second person, but of course that includes me.)
Haven’t you offered up some part of your Self to someone (or something), and taken on a “narrative” in return? Haven’t we entrusted some part of our personality to some greater System or Order? And if so, has not that System at some stage demanded of us some kind of “insanity”? Is the narrative you now possess really and truly your own? Are your dreams really your own dreams? Might not they be someone else’s visions that could sooner or later turn into nightmares? From page 233.
The second part of this book is made up of interviews with people connected to Aum Shinrikyo at the time of the attacks. It is chilling how easily these people, all of whom seem intelligent and humane, were disconnected from their families, their peers and any sense of empathy or compassion. They became “mindless” but sincerely thought otherwise. Read that quote from Blind Nightmare again.
I will definitely read more of Murakami’s work, even as I struggle to make sense of it.