Underground : The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, Paperback

Underground : The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (11 ratings)


The true story behind an act of terrorism that turned an average Monday morning into a national disaster.

In spite of the perpetrators' intentions, the Tokyo gas attack left only twelve people dead, but thousands were injured and many suffered serious after-effects.

The novelist Haruki Murakami interviews the victims to try and establish precisely what happened on the subway that day.

He also interviews members and ex-members of the doomsday cult responsible, in the hope that they might be able to explain the reason for the attack and how it was that their guru instilled such devotion in his followers.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Publishing
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: True crime
  • ISBN: 9780099461098



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Showing 1 - 5 of 11 reviews.

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The story of the Tokyo subway bombing as told by the victims and some members of Aum. Very redundant, it took me a while to appreciate how he told the story. I was a little freaked getting on the subway after finishing the book.

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Harrowing emotional accounts of the Tokyo sarin gas attacks.

Review by

"Underground" consists of two parts (published in Japan as separate volumes): 60 interviews with victims of the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attack - mostly survivors, with some family members of the victims and a couple of medics - followed by interviews with eight former or current members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult.Murakami's aim in the first part (explained in a final chapter) was, firstly, to humanise the stories of the victims, and secondly to understand whether there was anything within Japanese society which made the cult, and the attack, possible. He also wanted to work on something specifically Japanese, to mark his return from living in the US.He certainly succeeded in his first aim - the stories of what individuals actually experienced on the day may seem quite similar, but they gradually build up a very effective picture of the horror of the events of that day, all the more terrifying for the everyday setting.I'm not so sure about the second. Some of the details certainly seem to me to be typically Japanese - the fact that people carried on struggling to get to work even though they could hardly see or walk, the small number of voices who were angry at the unco-ordinated reaction of the emergency services, the fact that very few of the interviewees talk about their personalities when describing how they reacted to events - but most of it could have happened anywhere. Even the cult members interviewed are recognisable personalities - the nihilistic teen, the woman who turns to spirituality after starting to question whether there's more to life than parties, karaoke and meeting men. I found their stories more interesting than those of the victims - partly because it's an experience which I can't imagine ever having (and a good insight into the way that people were brainwashed), and partly because the stories themselves are more varied. But what they all have in common is that they were attracted to the cult because its worldview was easier to deal with than the contradictions and confusions of the real world - life within the cult was tough, but there was a clear system of rewards and punishments for your actions - very seductive when you are used to it, and probably the reason why it was possible to order adherents to carry out such horrific crimes. This book is, in many ways, Murakami's response to this argument - the accreted detail of seventy lives explicitly stands against the totalitarian logic of a cult like Aum. It is a deeply humane work, much more than simple reportage.

Review by

Fascinating book following the events surrounding the ‘Sarin’ nerve gas attacks that took place on 20th March 1995 on the Tokyo underground train system, carried out by members of the Japanese cult AUM. Murakami has done an excellent job in his documentation of the event, speaking to both victims and perpetrators alike, in order to get the full picture of this terrifying and senseless act. Providing an insight into the considerable aftermath these events have had on the consciousness of the Japanese people as a whole. Very sensitive handling of his material, written from a highly personalized perspective, he manages to get to the heart of the matter without resorting to sensationalism or tabloid mentality. Well researched, with much persistence in some cases in getting the victims to come forward to talk. Second Murakami book I read after 'Kafka On The Shore' and pleasantly surprised by his none fiction writing.

Review by

Interesting read. The book starts out with interviews of some of the victims of the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo underground, March 1995. Not knowing so much about this attack, this was interesting, yet after a while also a bit repetitive. The stories are sad, shocking, and even a bit scaring for a commuter like me. They made me wonder: how would I behave in such a situation? How different are the Japanese from Europeans, or do commuters all over the world behave the same? Are we commuters a scaring kind of subculture, living hours of our days in public transportation, no communication with our fellow travellers, absorbed in our own thoughts and worlds, like zombies? Do we get stuck in this zombie world even if we experience a life threatening attack? Do we prefer to continue on to our jobs, even if we cough, even if our vision is seriously troubled, even if our fellow travellers are left on the ground, mortally wounded? This is what struck me most, how these people had their routines, and wanted to stick to it to the utter end. And now, most of them find it hard to talk about this event, because most of all, they want to forget, continue the old routine. What fascinated me more, however, was the second part of the book containing interviews with Aum followers and former followers. The interviewees were not involved in the Sarin gas attack, not even indirectly, but they were part of this cult. Who were these people? Were they really the monsters that were described in the media? It struck me - and it feels a bit cruel to say this - that these people were so much more interesting characters. It seemed to me that Murakami really did his uttermost best to write down the statements of the victims with a lot of respect, and that he sincerely detests the gas attack, let me be clear about that. But in the end, he too was more interested in the people who committed the crimes, or were at least part of the organization responsible for the attack. Having read several of Murakami's novels I am not amazed by his interest in the Aum followers. These people seem to have more than a few characteristics in common with Murakami's main characters. Most of all, they wonder about the world, about the meaning of life, they feel they cannot adapt to the routine of daily life, they do not feel at home in a capitalist and materialistic world, they are looking for a kind of spirituality that they can't find in the standard religions. They feel they need to retreat from the "normal world" to find a deeper truth within themselves. This reminded me strongly of the guy in the Wind up bird chronicles, the guy who sat at the bottom of an empty well for I don't know how many days.It seemed to me that in the short notes of the author, the preface, the conclusions, Murakami is visibly searching for answers within himself, answers to questions like: why do I - and my main characters - have so much in common with these people, could I have committed a crime as horrific as this gas attack, where did it all go wrong? How did all these intelligent and sympathetic people end up in a crazy movement? In the end, he seems rather happy to have found at least one difference, which is that he accepts the confusion and the illogic ways of reality, that he uses them in a positive (literary) way, instead of turning away from them like the Aum followers did. Still, he isn't that sure, ending his book with the sentences: "That might very well be me. It might be you."

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