Wednesday, March 20, 2013

That was a very bad year: '95 Aum subway gas attack marked - The Japan Times

'95 Aum subway gas attack marked - The Japan Times

1995 was a tough year for Japan.  January of that year saw 6,434 people die in the Hanshin earthquake and March witnessed the Aum gas attack in Tokyo.  Only 13 died, but over 5,000 suffered injuries.  Both have left lasting impacts on the Japanese psyche.  You should learn more about it from Haruki Murakami's Underground:  The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche to learn more about it.  It's one of the most moving books I've ever read.

Murakami interviewed a number of people who were involved in the drama that day, all of whom would carry with them the after-effects for the rest of their lives.  The emotional impact comes from the ordinariness of these people, their openness about what happened to them and the varying ways in which they deal with what happened.  It's been many years since I read it, and I had not yet visited Japan at the time.  Maybe I should revisit Underground to see for myself if it affects me the same way, or if I recognize attitudes and beliefs I didn't before.

I can't think of a time where I've been on a subway or train in Tokyo and I haven't found myself thinking about Aum and Underground.  Or the possibility for some similar, chaotic mass event to recur.  Once done, a subway gassing, like a building bombing or a school shooting, begins to float around as a possibility, no longer remote but very real.  And yet we can't exist in a state of paranoia.  We can't avoid subways or airplanes forever.  Sooner or later, the need to be somewhere brings us into these zones where things happen, or might happen.  We buy our tickets and ride nevertheless.  How you view this tendency just to carry on afterwards may depend on your optimism or pessimism.

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