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Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche
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Group Themed Reads: Discussions > June 2018 - Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

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message 1: by Peggy, Moderator (new)

Peggy (pebbles84) | 15599 comments One of the group reads for June is Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami. Please discuss the book in this thread.

Clément will be leading the discussion.

In order to receive a badge you must:
1. have completed the book before or during June 2018.
2. discussed it in this thread. Discussion must be more than "I read the book and I liked it". Discussion requires something more substantial and analytical of what you read, for example, thoughts, opinions, impact it had on you, what was your favourite part, was it what you expected it to be like etc. You may also like to review the book and post a link to the review in this thread. Please refer to our group spoiler policy for further information.
3. Report that you have read AND discussed the book in the reporting thread (include a brief summary of what you thought of the book).

General Rules:
1. Please mark your spoilers with the spoiler tags along with mentioning what stage of the book you are at so other's don't get a nasty shock. Chapter numbers/titles are generally best as they are the same across all formats and editions. See our spoiler policy
2. The book may be combined with the Year Long Challenge, Topplers, and Monthly Challenges.

Happy reading!


message 2: by Eliestal (last edited Jun 05, 2018 07:58AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Eliestal | 255 comments Welcome everyone!

If anyone is interested, you can use this book for the Yearly Challenge under Libra, Superheroes - Judge Dredd as the event of the book and the interviews all take place between 1995 and 1997. If you can use it for other tasks feel free to share!

This is the first Nonfiction book I read. I hope I will be able to make useful comments...

Without going into details, since I am away for work this week, I want to discuss some general points. I have read all interviews for the two first train lines.

(view spoiler)


message 3: by Peggy, Moderator (new)

Peggy (pebbles84) | 15599 comments I haven't been able to find a cheap copy, so I won't be joining unfortunately.

In case it's a bit quiet here: the toppler is going on until Saturday. I expect most people will start reading this after the toppler.


Eliestal | 255 comments Peggy wrote: "I haven't been able to find a cheap copy, so I won't be joining unfortunately.

In case it's a bit quiet here: the toppler is going on until Saturday. I expect most people will start reading this ..."


I know but I needed to post that before since I will also be away this week. In a way we had great timing this time ;)


message 5: by Peggy, Moderator (new)

Peggy (pebbles84) | 15599 comments Did anyone start reading this?


Saar The Book owl | 1926 comments Will order my copy this week. I'm a bit late.


Eliestal | 255 comments I am back from my work trip so I will post my next spoilers by the end of the week.

Even if you are late, I will still reply ;)


message 8: by Annerlee (last edited Jun 13, 2018 03:00AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Annerlee | 2713 comments I read this as part of last year's challenge, so will be interested in the discussion. My neighbour lent me a copy with a recommendation.

I think the book gives lots of insight into Japanese culture. I also couldn't get over how painstaking Murakami was in his research, seemingly capturing every little detail of what happened out of respect for the victims. His gentle and respectful word sketches of each victim he interviews and his comments about them struck me too.


Saar The Book owl | 1926 comments I've ordered my book yesterday in the library. I hope to get it this week.


Saar The Book owl | 1926 comments I've got my copy today and will start reading this evening. It already seems interesting.


message 11: by Dawn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dawn | 314 comments I was very interested in reading this book as I was living in Tokyo at the time of the attacks. Before reading this, I didn't know that one of the Aum terrorists boarded the train at my subway station. But what I found most disturbing was how unprepared the emergency services seemed to be. I had thought that because of the constant threat of a major earthquake the emergency services would be well prepared to deal with a large number of casualties.


message 12: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 18231 comments That must have been scary Dawn. What did you think of the book? Do you think it represented the victims and the attack well?

I have to say, that I read the sample on kindle and found it very interesting as i knew very little about the attack. I also love Murakami's writing style. But I can't get hold of a copy to continue on with it.


message 13: by Rusalka, Moderator (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rusalka (rusalkii) | 17854 comments I didn't think I would have time to join this one, but it looks like I may be able to sneak it in. I've just ordered the book, I'm hoping it arrives by the end of week and I'll finish my current read at the same time, and then I can squeeze it in next week.

Like Sarah, I really enjoy his writing, so will be interested how that translates to non-fiction.

I remember vaguely the attack from the news as a kid, but know no details or even who carried it out. I just remember gas in trains in Japan. And I remember my Mum being a little concerned when I went to Tokyo by myself in 2003. Be interested to learn more.


message 14: by Rusalka, Moderator (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rusalka (rusalkii) | 17854 comments Dawn wrote: "I was very interested in reading this book as I was living in Tokyo at the time of the attacks. Before reading this, I didn't know that one of the Aum terrorists boarded the train at my subway stat..."

Oh wow Dawn, how scary! I would have made the same assumption too, but interesting that they weren't prepared for that kind of emergency.

I remember the first time in Japan I was looking at all the earthquake stuff, and realising there was nothing about fires unless they were tied to earthquakes on signs and warnings and the like. Here in the south of Aus, everything is about fires. Everywhere there are signs and community campaigns all about fires, but no mention of other types of disasters. We'd be stuffed in an earthquake.

I find it very interesting how we all know what to do and prepare for our own natural disasters, but anything outside our bubble of "normal" disasters, we don't know how to handle.


message 15: by Dawn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dawn | 314 comments Sarah wrote: "That must have been scary Dawn. What did you think of the book? Do you think it represented the victims and the attack well?

I have to say, that I read the sample on kindle and found it very inter..."


The victims are allowed to speak for themselves, and their detailed accounts are fascinating. The total confusion and lack of understanding is clearly presented-victims continuing on to work, a train continuing in service with the sarin gas still in it. Shocking! Perhaps even more interesting was the second half of the book where the Aum Shinrikyo members describe their experiences in the cult-some positive, some more sinister.
I wonder how he got the cover photo in a time before everyone's cell phones had cameras. It really captures the attack so well- the collapsed commuter, the confused but helpful station attendants, and the other commuter in the background heading onto the train-everyone with no idea what has happened and how serious it is.


message 16: by Eliestal (last edited Jun 19, 2018 01:04AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Eliestal | 255 comments I agree that it was very interesting to see the details every victims gave. As passengers, I think it was quite normal that the confusion got to them and they continued as if nothing as happened since there were no announcement by the train stations.

I think that Japan is still concidered a very peaceful country, which is why, while prepared for natural desasters, man-made attacks were left behind. Factoring in the community aspect of their society, I think they would suspect large scale internal threat even less. The doctors account made it even clearer, as they were given no information about the ongoing situation and needed to rely on the television.
I haven't done my research yet but I wonder how the situation regarding terrorist attacks evolved after the incident.

If we consider the harsh work ethic, I suspected that most passengers would still likely go to work even if they showed symptoms.
If I understood correctly, most of the people interviewed were fired because they could not meet the same quotas as before. As I am not knowledgeable about those kind of subject, do you think the situation could have been handle differently considering the working environment in Japan?

Regarding the members of Aum, It was stricking to me that most people who were interviewed joined because they didn't fit the mold imposed by the education system or work environment. Since the group is an important aspect in the education system, I can understand why they would seek refuge in a group that seemed to accept them as they were. The way people were treated later was very shocking to me. The torture and working conditions of some members were trully frightening.

Regarding the cover, it might be a shot from the media since, the first interview told us that they were on site. If not, I wonder about it as well.

Finally, if you are interested, here are maps of the train lines with locations of the attack and the number of station were the service continued after the attack (Source: Wikipedia):
Chiyoda Line
Marunochi Line: Ogikubo-bound
Marunochi Line: Ikebukuro-bound
Hibiya Line: Tōbu Dōbutsu Kōen-bound
Hibiya Line: Naka-Meguro-bound


message 17: by Dawn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dawn | 314 comments Clément wrote: "I agree that it was very interesting to see the details every victims gave. As passengers, I think it was quite normal that the confusion got to them and they continued as if nothing as happened si..."
It is true that the media was there, but it seemed as though they were at the street level exits photographing the people lying by the exits. Those are the images I remember first seeing on TV when the news was breaking, and I thought "oh, another earthquake drill!" But the cover photo was taken underground on a train platform with a train still next to them.


message 18: by Annerlee (last edited Jun 19, 2018 03:09AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Annerlee | 2713 comments What struck me was the work ethic of the underground attendants and their pride in fulfilling their job roles. Arriving at work early to help continuity and working hard and efficiently to keep the trains running at all costs. It's such a different work ethic than I'm used to in the west. It seems to me it doesn't leave much room for flexibility - there wouldn't be time to pause, re-assess and take action in a dangerous situation.


message 19: by Saar The Book owl (last edited Jun 19, 2018 10:09AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Saar The Book owl | 1926 comments That's scary, Dawn!

I've started reading today, but not far into it. Still it grabs me by the throath, also because of Murakami's writing style. He's able to hold the attention of the reader and although it is a NF - book, it reads lik a thriller.


message 20: by Rusalka, Moderator (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rusalka (rusalkii) | 17854 comments Unheard of in Australian online shopping, they posted my copy last night, within hours of purchase. So I may even have this tomorrow


Eliestal | 255 comments Annerlee wrote: "What struck me was the work ethic of the underground attendants and their pride in fulfilling their job roles. Arriving at work early to help continuity and working hard and efficiently to keep the..."

As must as it is great to see peolple taking pride in their work, I agree with your point. It seems like it is very by the book (do this before that time and then you can go to the next task).

Even though there is not much place for flexibility, this model seems efficient. What model would you be most confortable with?


message 22: by Peggy, Moderator (new)

Peggy (pebbles84) | 15599 comments Rusalka wrote: "Unheard of in Australian online shopping, they posted my copy last night, within hours of purchase. So I may even have this tomorrow"

In Dutch online shopping it's almost weird if you order something and you don't get it delivered next day. Most companies (especially bigger ones) promise that if you order before 10pm or 11pm, you'll receive it the next day. Which I personally think is a bit ridiculous.

I've been reading the comments here and it has made me more and more interested in this book.


message 23: by Peggy, Moderator (new)

Peggy (pebbles84) | 15599 comments Oh, Annerlee and Clément, I only now see your ratings. It wasn't that great then?


Annerlee | 2713 comments The.model is efficient I agree. Personally I would find it. A hard. Model to conform to. I would get. bored following procedures. I'm
a. bit. Of a nonconformist. But I realise this is probably the family. /culture I was brought up in... (A inaghh.. This. Phone!!!)


Saar The Book owl | 1926 comments Still reading it. I thought it would read fast, but it goes slow. Still interesting, though.


Eliestal | 255 comments Peggy wrote: "Oh, Annerlee and Clément, I only now see your ratings. It wasn't that great then?"

Regarding my rating, I didn't know if I should give it a 3 or 4.
One the point is, like Saar said, it is slow. Plus, I even though there were some differences in the interviews of the victims at one point it seems a little repetitive.

Plus, the content, even if it was an important and interesting subject to read about, I was not able to get into it like I would for a Fiction. It might be due to the fact that this is my first book of tha genre. Maybe my rating will change in the future as I get more familiar with the genre.

Plus 3 stars is 'I like it" so I thought it was appropriate since I did like it.


Annerlee | 2713 comments Peggy wrote: "Oh, Annerlee and Clément, I only now see your ratings. It wasn't that great then?"

I gave it two stars because it began to get too repetitive for me and I found it hard to keep interested. I could see that the author wanted to capture every last little detail out of respect for those involved - to try and understand what happened, but it got a bit too OCDish for me as the book wore on.

Having said that, the introduction was good and the afterward was masterful and very poignant as I remember. I would read the afterward again, but I gave my copy back to the girl next door.

I was probably a bit harsh giving it only two stars. Like Clément, I don't read much non-fiction and generally find it hard to get into,


message 28: by Peggy, Moderator (new)

Peggy (pebbles84) | 15599 comments Thanks for clarifying! I didn't mean to imply that both of your ratings don't match your posts, so no need to change!

@Clément: you're right, 3 is not bad. I may have gotten the wrong impression from the posts and I didn't read spoilers. I can imagine that this is a book that could be slow and a bit repetitive.


message 29: by Suki (last edited Jun 26, 2018 03:38AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 18 comments I found it very frightening that this group of people were so disconnected that none of them balked at being ordered to go out and endanger the lives of so many people.

(view spoiler)


message 30: by Rusalka, Moderator (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rusalka (rusalkii) | 17854 comments Good to see you, Suki. Been a while :)


message 31: by Rusalka, Moderator (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rusalka (rusalkii) | 17854 comments The work ethic of the Japanese is very prevalent in the testimonies I have read so far (just started the second line). "I can't see but I went to work anyway" is so weird from my Australian point of view. However to my little knowledge of Japanese culture and work ethic, this seems very in line.

I have a Tokyo Metro map in my travel toilet and I had a look yesterday. I felt a bit ill, as I have stayed on two of the three lines, and traveled all three repeatedly every time I go to Tokyo.


message 32: by Renee (new)

Renee (elenarenee) | 1650 comments Hi all I have this book but it has not been the right time for me to read. I have needed light and happy reads this month. I will be looking back on this thread in a couple months.


Annerlee | 2713 comments Renee wrote: "Hi all I have this book but it has not been the right time for me to read. I have needed light and happy reads this month. I will be looking back on this thread in a couple months."

A good decision Renee. This book is definitely not a light and happy read.


message 34: by Suki (new) - rated it 4 stars

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 18 comments Rusalka wrote: "Good to see you, Suki. Been a while :)"

Good to see you, too! Sorry it's been so long. :)


message 35: by Suki (last edited Jun 26, 2018 08:44AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 18 comments Rusalka wrote: "The work ethic of the Japanese is very prevalent in the testimonies I have read so far (just started the second line). "I can't see but I went to work anyway" is so weird from my Australian point o..."

The Japanese work ethic really is mind-boggling. That was something that struck me, too, in almost every victim statement, they continued on to work; but while it may not have saved lives, it was certainly helpful that work colleagues that weren't affected by the attacks were there to make sure they got to the hospital.

I'm so glad you weren't riding the subway on the morning of March 20, 1995, Rusalka! It's always a very strange feeling when something awful happens in a place you know well.


Eliestal | 255 comments The work situation in Japan is a complex subject. I don't know a lot about it myself so don't take my word for granted. If anyone has more info, I am very interested!

I think the goal for a company is to be a second family for the employee. Because of that, people would be less likely to not do their part or leave the company. That's why it is pretty common, more so than in the west, to see coworker go drinking together after work. The problem, I think reside in the "don't bother other" mentality that push people to do more and more.
For me this is the main cause of work related problem like Karōshi (death by overwork).


message 37: by Rusalka, Moderator (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rusalka (rusalkii) | 17854 comments Suki wrote: "Good to see you, too! Sorry it's been so long. :)"

Don't apologise :D We all know life gets in the way. Nice to have you back though.


message 38: by Rusalka, Moderator (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rusalka (rusalkii) | 17854 comments Suki wrote: "I'm so glad you weren't riding the subway on the morning of March 20, 1995, Rusalka! It's always a very strange feeling when something awful happens in a place you know well."

It was Dawn living there at the time. I've just ridden the lines a couple of times years later.


message 39: by Rusalka, Moderator (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rusalka (rusalkii) | 17854 comments Re: work ethic

I'm glad it wasn't just me who noticed it. And also the fact that people were watching the coverage about it and the symptoms, and still going "That's not me" and carrying on working.
Dawn, can you remember if the TV coverage was just terrible?

And had forgot about Karōshi, Clément. But I remember being taken through an area full of bars of salarymen the first time I visited, and my Dad's friends explaining to me that these guys were expected to party with the boss, until the boss went home, and then be back at work by 7.30am in the morning.

It's very odd from the land of the "Sickie", where you call in sick when you are not because you just don't feel like going in - chucking a sickie.


Saar The Book owl | 1926 comments Almost finished and will then share my thoughts, but it's already interesting reading the comments.


message 41: by Peggy, Moderator (new)

Peggy (pebbles84) | 15599 comments Almost the end of the month. Don't forget to report if you haven't done so yet.


Saar The Book owl | 1926 comments At first, I had no idea this was an informative book. I thought that it was anohter novel of Murakami, because I was a teenager when the gas - aatack happened and also living in another continent.
This book suprised me by the hard work that Murakami put in it to handle the stories from the survivors with great dignity and respect. He does his upper best to translate the words onto paper.
It is also interesting to read that there is a read line, but every survivor deals with what happend in a different way. Also what they observed, what they felt, saw...is different from each other.
The 'afterwards' was intriguing to read on the question about why people want to join a cult.
The insight on Japanese culture, work ethic...was a bonus.
It struck me that the persons who suffered from the sarin - effect kept going to work and minimalised the simptoms, as if it was nothing. Just 'a cold'. They seem to be so loyal to their boss...
Also that it looks like a 'cover up - affair'. No need to talk about it, this can't be happening in our safe Japan...If you stood up against it, it's like almost no one will have your back. There is almost no after help for people who are still suffering years later.
It's bizarre that the emergency reacted so late. if this would happen here (we had a terror attack a couple of yearas ago), the reaction would be the opposite.


message 43: by Rusalka, Moderator (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rusalka (rusalkii) | 17854 comments I am still reading this one, and will keep on discussing. I am a third through the book, and need a bit of a break from the "I got on the train through the same door in the same carriage I ride every day. I felt ill. Like very ill. I went to work anyway. I worked away and saw reports on the news with my symptoms. Decided that wasn't me and kept working. Then eventually went to hospital." stories.

Will come back to it in a couple of days.


message 44: by Rusalka, Moderator (last edited Jul 03, 2018 07:43AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rusalka (rusalkii) | 17854 comments Saar wrote: "if this would happen here (we had a terror attack a couple of yearas ago), the reaction would be the opposite..."

I was thinking of the exact same thing Saar earlier today. But it was 1995. I think we would have here in Australia acted the same. We had in 1996 the worst mass shooting ever at a tourist attraction which led to our gun ban here. And that went as smoothly as it could when a lunatic starts shooting people in public.

But that's sort of a known quantity. You know that a guy with a gun will likely kill people. I'm not sure in 1995 we would have thought the same about a spill of liquid.

Working in a tourist attraction in post 9/11 I can say in Aus we would be very cautious, and have huge amounts of protocols in place to deal with this. But I honestly wonder if the world has sort of shifted that dramatically in 20 years to be automatically suspicious instead of just thinking it was rubbish like these guys sort of did... It's interesting.


Saar The Book owl | 1926 comments Rusalka wrote: "I am still reading this one, and will keep on discussing. I am a third through the book, and need a bit of a break from the "I got on the train through the same door in the same carriage I ride eve..."

Yes, that's was my struggle also. It was so very repetitive at some points. The personal story of the victims was at some points more interesting than the actual facts. I didn't know that there was a mass shooting in Australia, Rusalka. Here, I think, a couple of years ago it was our first terrorism attack. So, I don't know how we would react several years ago. Maybe not so alert as now. I think living in this world now, it depends in what country you live on regard of being suspicious. In Belgium we have these levels of being alert for terrorism: code red, code orange and code green. I think now it's still orange.


message 46: by Rusalka, Moderator (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rusalka (rusalkii) | 17854 comments Sorry, worst mass shooting for us. It was the Port Arthur massacre https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Ar....

But seems it's hard to assess the almost incompetent inaction by the subway people in 1995, by 2018 standards.


Saar The Book owl | 1926 comments Yes, there you have a point.


message 48: by Rusalka, Moderator (new) - rated it 2 stars


Saar The Book owl | 1926 comments Yes, I just saw it too. I hope that after 23 years the victims might finally get some peace. I don't know, but I thought there were more than 13 victims.


message 50: by Sandra, Moderator (new)

Sandra (sanlema) | 9824 comments Rusalka wrote: "Did you guys see this? Just popped up on my news feed here at work:

Aum Shinrikyo: Ex-leader of Japan doomsday cult involved in sarin subway attack executed, local media says"


I just saw it and came here to ask if you all had read it.


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