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Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche Paperback – April 10, 2001

4.2 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

On March 20, 1995, followers of the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo unleashed lethal sarin gas into cars of the Tokyo subway system. Many died, many more were injured. This is acclaimed Japanese novelist Murakami's (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, etc.) nonfiction account of this episode. It is riveting. What he mostly does here, however, is listen to and record, in separate sections, the words of both victims, people who "just happened to be gassed on the way to work," and attackers. The victims are ordinary people bankers, businessmen, office workers, subway workers who reflect upon what happened to them, how they reacted at the time and how they have lived since. Some continue to suffer great physical disabilities, nearly all still suffer great psychic trauma. There is a Rashomon-like quality to some of the tales, as victims recount the same episodes in slightly different variations. Cumulatively, their tales fascinate, as small details weave together to create a complex narrative. The attackers are of less interest, for what they say is often similar, and most remain, or at least do not regret having been, members of Aum. As with the work of Studs Terkel, which Murakami acknowledges is a model for this present work, the author's voice, outside of a few prefatory comments, is seldom heard. He offers no grand explanation, no existential answer to what happened, and the book is better for it. This is, then, a compelling tale of how capriciously and easily tragedy can destroy the ordinary, and how we try to make sense of it all. (May 1)Forecast: Publication coincides with the release of a new novel by Murakami (Sputnik Sweetheart, Forecasts, Mar. 19), and several national magazines, including Newsweek and GQ, will be featuring this fine writer. This attention should help Murakami's growing literary reputation.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The deadly Tokyo subway poison gas attack, perpetrated by members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult on March 20, 1995, was the fulfillment of every urban straphanger's nightmare. Through interviews with several dozen survivors and former members of Aum, novelist Murakami (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) presents an utterly compelling work of reportage that lays bare the soul of contemporary Japan in all its contradictions. The sarin attack exposed Tokyo authorities' total lack of preparation to cope with such fiendish urban terrorism. More interesting, however, is the variety of reactions among the survivors, a cross-section of Japanese citizens. Their individual voices remind us of the great diversity within what is too often viewed from afar as a homogeneous society. What binds most of them is their curious lack of anger at Aum. Chilling, too, is the realization that so many Aum members were intelligent, well-educated persons who tried to fill voids in their lives by following Shoko Asahara, a mad guru who promised salvation through total subordination to his will. For all public and academic libraries. Steven I. Levine, Univ. of Montana, Missoula
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage International Ed edition (April 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375725806
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375725807
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"Underground" is a strange animal. Murakami is known for his fiction, which is the stuff of seemingly straightforward stories interlaced with strange jaunts into the supernatural, the superreal and the just plain odd. From the historical and subterranean epic of "Wind Up Bird Chronicles" to the science fiction netherworld of "Hard Boiled Wonderland" to the intertwined, haunted love stories of "Wild Sheep Chase" and "Dance Dance Dance" to the seemingly straightforward "Norwegian Wood" and "South of the Border", Murakami has staked out a territory all his own, and erected an aura of genius that no one can penetrate. So, from out of the blue, he turns from fiction and gives us this document of the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack and does it in such a way that it all but confirms his place as one of the most valuable writers working today.
"Underground" documents the coordinated efforts of members of the Aum cult to release Sarin gas on several subway trains in the midst of rush hour. Murakami takes what seems to be a roundabout approach and turns it into the very heart of the matter. Instead of clinically documenting each cult member's actions and the statistics of how many wounded and how many dead in a linear, start-to-finish timeline, Murakami tracks down those who were affected, from the relatives of the dead to those with minor side-effects, and interviews them not only about the attack and the effects it had, but how people reacted, how it changed their views on life and government and religion, and mostly, about the people themselves; where they work, what they do for fun, what kind of people they are. Murakami turns a true-crime document into a snapshot of Japanese life.
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Format: Paperback
The Tokyo subway sarin gas attack of 1995 is an event that continues to baffle and anger the Japanese. However, as Murakami points out in his book, it is also something the Japanese would prefer to condemn and move on from rather than analyze and try to understand. Murakami's approach is to interview survivors of the attack, relatives of those that have died, and members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult that, while not involved with the gas attack, were members of Aum at the time the attack occurred.
The first two-thirds of the book are dedicated to the survivors and relative interviews. While touching, shocking and surprising, after the first dozen or two, they begin to take on a numbing quality. So many of the stories share so many themes ("I had to get to work...", "I'm not so much angry as confused", etc.) that, in retrospect, they run together. In fact, the two things about the attack that stand out most in my mind are that (a) while some of the survivors and family members are incredibly angry over the situation, most are not so much angry as confused and hurt, and (b) while almost everyone agrees that the situation was handled incredibly poorly by the emergency services and lives were lost as a result, no one wants to sue. They merely wish to get on with their lives.
Where the book really shines, though, is in the Aum interviews. Murakami profiles members of the cult who came from different backgrounds, had different aims in joining Aum and saw different sides of it as members. In this section, we begin to see the breakdown of the "salaryman phenomenon" in Japan at a personal level. People who joined were mostly intelligent, if highly misguided, and wanted more from their lives than office work could give them.
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Format: Paperback
I'm a fan of Murakami's fiction so I decided to try out Underground for something different. I came away rather shaken and convinced that the man is a definite genius.
The book centres around the Tokyo subway gas attack that was perpetrated by members of the AUM "cult". They created a special "Science" division with some rather prominent people that, under the cult leader's directions, produced Sarin for the attack. Sarin, originally used by the Germans in WWII, was placed into plastic sacks that were then wrapped in paper. AUM specialists were trained to puncture these packages with specially-sharpened umbrellas on the subway line during morning rush hour. They then escaped at predetermined locations leaving the sacks (rapidly leaking their contents across subway car floors) in the subway.
A scary amount of effort by some rather intelligent people; a very interesting commentary on the complex interweaving of a moral-less science with a horribly-twisted psyche. The death toll was a lot less than it could have been considering the circumstances...
Murakami's genius lies in the fact that the reader is presented with the rather "simple" stories taken from interviews. Only a few interviews does Murakami actually intervene; everywhere else you have only the first person.
The emptiness of modern Japanese life that Murakami potrays so brilliantly in his other books hits home with disturbing force in these oral histories. People walk, much like robots, passed dying people in order to make it to work on time. People who are obviously suffering from the gas (partial blindness, breathing difficulties, etc.) "must get to work" and carry on as if the day was like any other. Scary.
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