Tuesday, August 11, 2009
"Into the inferno
However prepared you are, the first time you descend into the Tokyo subway during the morning rush hour, it's still a shock. There's nothing frantic, disorderly or impolite when it comes to boarding a train. But the number of people stoically squeezing into each carriage is extraordinary: it's not a question of finding somewhere to stand where you won't step on your neighbours, you are simply thrust up against a flexible wall of silent, smartly dressed, odourless humanity.
Claustrophobic, certainly, but in the event it's an oddly comforting sensation. No one complains or sticks out an awkward elbow; everyone is accommodated, the doors slide shut, the train moves off. Before long, eyes closed, you, too, are drifting off to sleep, securely wedged upright within this rocking cradle - at least until the next stop. It is a very Japanese moment.
The notion that deliberate harm could befall anyone cocooned on such a train is profoundly disturbing. But on the morning of Monday 20 March 1995, five senior members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult board different trains, drop plastic bags to the floor and puncture them with the sharpened tips of their umbrellas. They leave. People in the carriage start to cough. Leaking out of the bags is sarin - the nerve gas that was invented by Nazi scientists and later used by Iraq against Iran and the Kurds. A drop of sarin the size of a pinhead is sufficient to kill a person: within a matter of hours, 12 Tokyo commuters and subway staff will be dead, and another 5,000 will be less seriously affected. "
Been reading this while comuting between home and work, a bit of masochism, I think, but at the same time being a fan of Murakami's, I think this is a decisive book to really understand his work.