On Monday 20 March, 1995, the guru of Aum, a
Buddhist doomsday cult decided to drop Sarin, a venomous gas, in the underground in Tokio.
This was an act of terrorism with unknown reasons which targeted ordinary citizens.
The consequence: the death of twelve people and thousands injured, many of them suffering serious after-effects.
Haruki Murakami, the writer, decided to interview the victims and some of the ex-members of the cult responsible for the attack trying to understand what happened that day and which were the reasons for the attack.
This attack was devastating for Japan, a country with a low percentage of violence and a strong economy.
An experience like that shows us how people behave in moments of panic. We can discover the best and the worst of humankind, and that is more true when the people really don’t know what is happening around them. They only know that something dangerous is happening, and that their lives and those of others are at risk.
This experience changed the lives of most of them, not only during the attack or after it, during the recovery, but forever. The way in which they deal with the present and future gave in many of the cases a 180º turn.
Life is precious and as a rule we are not conscious of this until something shake us up strongly.
Some of the victims blamed the actual way of living in Japan. They believed that is the reason for this attack.
“The idea that it’s wrong to harm others has gradually disappeared.”
People that always used the same carriage, at the same time of the day and took the same door, that day and that day only changed their habits. This was the difference between being affected by the gas or not.
When some of the victims started fainting one idea came to one of the assistants:
“Ah, a double love-suicide.”
I wonder: Is it so common to commit suicide in Japan? I have read a lot of books in which some suicide happens, and it is always presented like a normal situation.
Anger and incomprehension have been the two most common feelings after the attack.
“What on earth were those people sacrificed for?”
People changed their way of living.
“The most important thing for Japan at this point is to pursue a new spiritual wholeness. I can’t see any future for Japan if we blindly persist with today’s materialistic pursuits.”
Others started thinking about what really matters.
“Everyone worries about the smallest things in life and then something like this happens…”
People wake up to a reality that was not theirs.
“I mean, what can happen? Japan’s a super safe-country, isn’t it? No guns, no terrorists, hardly anything like that. It never occurred to me I might be in danger or that I had to get myself out of there.”
What we can learn about the ex-members of the cult is a different story. These are more related to understanding why someone chose to be part of a cult.
People who were so lonely that they were looking for an exit desperately.
“I was very happy. Even if it’s the police. I just felt happy being able to communicate with someone.”
People were looking for avoiding any responsibilities.
“I thought the way they did things made life easier – they’d give the order and you just did what they said. No need to think for yourself, or worry about every little detail, just do what you’re told.”
Of course, not everyone inside the cult had the same background and some of them were looking for enlightenment and liberation, or just a peaceful life.
Haruki Murakami was worn in Kyoto in 1949. He met his wife, Yoko, at university and they opened a jazz club in Tokyo called Peter Cat. The massive success of his novel Norwegian Wood (1987) made him a national celebrity. He fled Japan and did no return until 1995. His other books include After the quake, Dance Dance Dance, Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the world, A Wild Sheep Chase, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Sputnik Sweetheart, South of the Border, West of the sun, Kafka on the Shore, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and After Dark. He has translated into Japanese the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, John Irving and Raymond Carver.