Tokyo Subway Attack of 1995

Lethal nerve gas attacks in the city of Matsumoto in 1994, and in the Tokyo subway system in 1995, led to the deaths of 19 people, as well as to a large number of injuries. 

-from here, here and here-

This report by Katty Kay was first broadcast in March 1995:

 On Monday March 20, 1995, five members of Aum Shinrikyo launched a chemical attack on the Tokyo subway, one of the world's busiest commuter transport systems, at the peak of the morning rush hour. The chemical agent used, liquid sarin, was contained in plastic bags which each team then wrapped in newspaper. Each perpetrator carried two packets totaling approximately 900 millilitres of sarin, except Yasuo Hayashi, who carried three bags. Aum originally planned to spread the sarin as an aerosol but did not follow through with it. A single drop of sarin the size of a pinhead can kill an adult.

Carrying their packets of sarin and umbrellas with sharpened tips, the perpetrators boarded their appointed trains. At prearranged stations, the sarin packets were dropped and punctured several times with the sharpened tip of the umbrella. Each perpetrator then got off the train and exited the station to meet his accomplice with a car. By leaving the punctured packets on the floor, the sarin was allowed to leak out into the train car and stations. This sarin affected passengers, subway workers, and those who came into contact with them. Sarin is the most volatile of the nerve agents, which means that it can quickly and easily evaporate from a liquid into a vapor and spread into the environment. People can be exposed to the vapor even if they do not come in contact with the liquid form of sarin. Because it evaporates so quickly, sarin presents an immediate but short-lived threat.

Aum Shinrikyo is the former name of a controversial group now known as Aleph. In 1992 Shoko Asahara, the founder of Aum Shinrikyo, published a landmark book, in which he declared himself "Christ", Japan's only fully enlightened master and identified with the "Lamb of God". He outlined a doomsday prophecy, which included a Third World War, and described a final conflict culminating in a nuclear "Armageddon", borrowing the term from the Book of Revelation 16:16. His purported mission was to take upon himself the sins of the world, and he claimed he could transfer to his followers spiritual power and ultimately take away their sins and bad works.

The Japanese police initially reported that the attack was the cult's way of hastening an apocalypse. The prosecution said that it was an attempt to bring down the government and install Shoko Asahara, the group's founder, as the "emperor" of Japan. Asahara's defense team claimed that certain senior members of the group independently planned the attack, but their motives for this were left unexplained.

Aum Shinrikyo first began their attacks on 27 June 1994 in Matsumoto, Japan. With the help of a converted refrigerator truck, members of the cult released a cloud of sarin which floated near the homes of judges who were overseeing a lawsuit concerning a real-estate dispute which was predicted to go against the cult. From this one event, 500 people were injured and seven people died.

On the day of the attack, ambulances transported 688 patients and nearly five thousand people reached hospitals by other means. Hospitals saw 5,510 patients, seventeen of whom were deemed critical, thirty-seven severe and 984 moderately ill with vision problems. Most of those reporting to hospitals were the "worried well", who had to be distinguished from those who were ill.

  • Popular contemporary novelist Haruki Murakami wrote Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (1997). He was critical of the Japanese media for focusing on the sensational profiles of the attackers and ignoring the lives of the victimized average citizens. The book contains extensive interviews with the survivors in order to tell their stories. Murakami would later add a second part to the work, The Place That Was Promised, which focuses on Aum Shinrikyo.
  • Atsushi Sakahara, a film producer, published an autobiography, Sarin Gas and Bean Cake (Kodansha, 2010), describing his experience surviving the subway attack.


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