1995 Tokyo Underground Gas Attack

I have been going back to Japan for holiday after my first visit in 2016. Since then I have been asking why it is so difficult to find trash bin in Japan.

At my recent trip to Japan, I joined a day tour to Hakone and the tour guide explain to us the reason for the difficulty in locating trash bin in Japan. Since the Tokyo Subway Gas Attack that happened on 20 March 1995, a lot of people are scared and demanded the government to do something to protect its citizens and help prevent any more attacks in the future.

One of the security measures taken was to remove trash cans from public streets, parks and train stations, as they could be potential hiding places for other terrorist weapons. You may also notice that most of the trash bins found in the public spaces have a transparent front and the trash bags are also transparent.

Japan Trash Bin

After I got back to Singapore, I did a search on the web to find out more about what happened twenty-three years ago.

Underground by Haruki Murakami

I went through my Kindle and found the book, Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami that I bought a while back and yet to read.


Murakami introduced the book by describing his motivations for interviewing the individuals who were affected by the attacks and putting the interviews into writing:

“The Japanese media had bombarded us with so many in-depth profiles of the Aum cult perpetrators—the ‘attackers’—forming such a slick, seductive narrative that the average citizen—the ‘victim’—was an afterthought …

Our media probably wanted to create a collective image of the “innocent Japanese sufferer,” which is much easier to do when you don’t have to deal with real faces…

Which is why I wanted, if at all possible, to get away from any formula; to recognise that each person on the subway that morning had a face, a life, a family, hopes and fears, contradictions and dilemmas—and that all these factors had a place in the drama…

Furthermore, I had a hunch that we needed to see a true picture of all the survivors, whether they were severely traumatized or not, in order to better grasp the whole incident.”

The interviews were conducted over nearly a year, starting in January and ending in December 1996. Draft interviews were sent to the interviewees before publication for fact-checking and to allow them to remove any parts they did not want to be published.”

Following are some of the comments by the individuals interviewed by Murakami that impressed upon me:

“…people foaming at the mouth where we were… That half of the roadway was absolute hell. But on the other side, people were walking to work as usual. …passersby glance my way with a “what on earth’s happened here?” expression, but not one came over. It was as if we were a world apart. Nobody stopped.” – Kiyoka Izumi (26)

“I’m not a sarin victim, I’m a survivor” – Toshiaki Toyoda ((52), a Station Attendant, a colleague of the two staff members (Mr Takahashi and Mr Hishinuma) who died. He was the only one of the three injured station attendants who survived, and one of the longest stay in the hospital.  

“It’s not even whether or not to take the subway, just to go out walking scares me now” – Tomoko Takatsuki (26)

 “Since the war ended, Japan’s economy has grown rapidly to the point where we’ve lost any sense of crisis and material things are all that matters. The idea that it’s wrong to harm others has gradually disappeared.” – Mitsuo Arima (41)

Many of the interviewees expressed disappointment with the way media sensationalised the attack, the inefficient emergency response system in dealing with the attack and the materialism in Japanese society

My Reflection

As I was reading the book, I could not help but asked myself if I have been one of the passers-by at the time, on my way to work, would I stop to help? I think I would. I doubt I could ignore and not do anything when I see people lying on the pavement by the street, people shouting for help.

Then, I observed a distinct similarity among the individuals being interviewed. All of them demonstrated strong work ethic. They went to the office an hour before the start of the official working hour and all of them prioritised work before their well-being. They focused on their work at hand over the discomfort they were experiencing till it was unbearable.

Another question that came to my mind is why would people follow someone like Shoko Asahara. Is it due to the society we live in is like a pressure cooker? Every day we are busy working just to make ends meet or to fulfil our material wants. At times we give ourselves too much stress, when someone promises us hope and future, we place our trust in the person or religion?

An important reminder to myself and everyone is to stay vigilant always as one never know what can or will happen.

Your thoughts?

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10 thoughts on “1995 Tokyo Underground Gas Attack

  1. Another great blog post, Audrey! Very interesting research you’ve done on this event. I had forgotten about it, so it’s good to be reminded that something can happen anywhere at any time. The important takeaway is that we should not let acts of terrorism deter us from traveling where and when we can. Otherwise, the terrorists win.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I was a big fan of Murakami’s book, one of the more unique topics and styles he’s written in so far. I’ll never forget re-reading it in front of my host dad, who on the day of the attack was two minutes late leaving so he missed his usual train, which turned out to be the one of the ones that was gassed… the shiver that ran down my spine was visible.

    Great thoughts though, not a lot of bloggers talk about books enough!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for stopping by. Definitely a blessing in disguise for your host dad. Glad to know he was not affected. And yes, it is a great book though not Murakami’s usual style of writing. May read the book again.

      Liked by 1 person

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