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Before I read Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami, I didn’t know why this was such an important date for the people of Japan. On this day almost 17 years ago, members of a religious cult called Aum Shinrikyo coordinated a poisin gas attack on various Tokyo metro lines. The perpetrators placed small plastic bags filled with sarin on subway cars, poked the bags open with the tip of an umbrella and fled the subway, leaving people to suffer on the trains. Over a dozen were killed and thousands were injured – we can only imagine the massive chaos and terror of that day in the heart of Tokyo. Many people went to work not even realizing they had been poisoned by sarin until their vision went almost black. Many hospitals were clueless how to treat the victims since they knew nothing about sarin. Thousands of people still suffer health problems from the attack ranging from Post-traumatic stress disorder to loss of vision. Shoko Asahara, the mastermind behind Aum Shinrikyo, is on death row awaiting execution.

Shoko Asahara

Here is a seven-part series by the Discovery Channel about the sarin gas attacks:

If you can, please try to read Underground. It is a rather disturbing read on so many levels – as one reader on amazon named Yuri Kuzyk shared, “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…”must get to work” and carry on as if the day was like any other.” In addition to the voices of the victims as well as former members of Aum Shinrikyo, Murakami shares some insightful thoughts about the incident and Japanese culture in an essay. Incidentally, Haruki Murakami is one of Japan’s most famous authors. I’d like to read more of his books, but I am not sure which book to start with – any suggestions?

Here’s a short description of Murakami’s writing style from Wikipedia:

“Murakami’s fiction…is humorous and surreal, and at the same time focuses on themes of alienation and loneliness.Through his work, he is able to capture the spiritual emptiness of his generation and explore the negative effects of Japan’s work-dominated mentality.His writing criticizes the decline in human values and a loss of connection among people in Japan’s society. He is considered an important figure in postmodern literature. The Guardian praised him as “among the world’s greatest living novelists” for his works and achievements.”