Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gas Attack Hit Tokyo's Weak Spot

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gas Attack Hit Tokyo's Weak Spot

Article excerpt

The Achilles' heel of Tokyo is its complex system of commuter trains and subways that feed several million people into the heart of the capital every morning.

Tokyo, with its 11 million people, could not be the ultramodern center of government, business, tourism and the arts without its intricately coordinated trains.

With a regularity and punctuality that is foreign to most Americans, trains arrive and depart in hundreds of stations, letting off and picking up thousands of commuters of all ages.

The suspected terrorists who used the nerve gas sarin on Monday to paralyze the subway system must have known that vulnerability very well.

Eight people were killed and almost 4,700 were overcome when containers releasing the gas were left on trains and on platforms in central Tokyo during Monday's morning rush hour. The attack was on two lines that serve the financial center and the government center near the Imperial Palace.

Yoshiaki Shibusawa, president of the Japan-America Society of St. Louis, said: "It's very sinister. Tokyo is like New York in its subway system."

Shibusawa, who returned to St. Louis Monday from Tokyo, said he had been leaving Tokyo about the time of the nerve gas attack. He heard about it when his plane landed in Chicago.

***** `Absolutely Stunning'

Professor Marvin Marcus, who teaches Japanese literature at Washington University, said, "This must have been absolutely stunning to Japan, maybe even worse than the earthquake in Kobe." Although the Kobe earthquake in January killed more than 5,000 people, Japanese are used to feeling tremors and earthquakes every few days. But such a massive gas attack on a subway system is unprecedented.

Marcus has been visiting Japan for his research for more than 20 years. He lives with a family in the Tokyo area and regularly uses the same subway system that was struck Monday. "For people on the trains, there is no sense of being threatened," he said. "There is no looking around. It's a public space. . . .

"The worst thing would be someone throwing up on you or being on a very crowded train."

Security on the system is light, so commuters see few uniformed police. …

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