Tokyo Train Attack

This is so unbelievably terrifying.

Trains are unavoidable necessities for most people in Tokyo. The train lines move about 40 million passengers a day, just in Tokyo. That’s more than the population of Canada. The stations are kept clean, the trains are on time, and, with a few exceptions, train perverts (chikan) were the most pressing issue. Tokyo needs its trains, and its train system has risen to the challenge.

Of course there is a history. Years ago, there was the sarin gas attack. But it’s important to remember that it looms in the public mind because of its solitary nature. No plague of copycat attacks followed. The cult responsible faced justice. There was, however twisted, a reasoning of sorts behind their act. This was discovered, understood, and the attack was never forgotten, but allowed to fade.

Now there is a second attack in a matter of months, hitting people in one of the most vulnerable places they can be. Imagine a train car, sometimes crowded, sometimes nearly empty. A locked tube full of strangers wanting to go home, hurtling through dark tunnels from one station to the next. There’s no easy escape. People are tired and bored, and only pay attention if something squirrelly happens. Everyone is depending on the next person to be okay. Be normal, and follow the rules, so we can all just get where we’re going. Just please let the train be on time, and please let it not be so crowded, so maybe I can get a seat?

Twice in three months the next person was not okay.

Two data points. It isn’t much. But it’s enough to wonder where the next person is, who is so not okay that he’ll lash out at blameless fellow travellers. The train car that you absolutely have to take is a mystery box full of people who compete for precious seats, and now may also want to kill you.

I can’t remember where I heard it, but the idea has been floating around for some time, I think, that we are, collectively, suffering a trauma that no one acknowledges. We talk about masking and cleaning, and people do so, as totems of good luck, while vaccination continues and we wait for the pandemic to burn itself away, or a new sense of what is normal to establish itself. But we don’t talk about it in terms of trauma. We talk about how hard it is but not the damage that it has done, to have our lives curtailed in so dramatic a fashion. We are managing because we have to.

But there is a massive constellation of coping strategies for the stress of daily life that was cut off when the pandemic hit: everything from students blowing off steam after school to isolated elderly chatting with friends in public places. We bear the weight of our trauma the same way we bore the daily grind, because we have to, this time without watering holes to share our woes.

Trauma, in all of its forms, will only stay internalized for so long before it starts to deform its tiny, person-shaped home. It comes out as chaos.

These thoughts are still malformed lumps of clay, typed out in the wake of a horrific act. In a way it’s wishful thinking. Collective trauma has a reason. It’s a known quantity, with at least the potential for a solution. It isn’t the random act of a madman, without recourse and forever lingering in the public spaces we need in order to live. I want there to be a clear problem behind it, so that a systemic answer may be found.

It just seems suspect, I suppose, that after two long years of collective anxiety, chaos and madness follow.

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