Life in Tokyo: From the quake ’til 3/14

Where to start?

Life over the last few days in Tokyo has been very unpredictable to say the least.
Everyone is watching t.v. for live updates about the status of nuclear reactors, stressing about what might happen. Work has been canceled for the next week for most teachers I know. I was woken up from a much needed sleep-in session by yet another quake this morning at around 10:20am, followed by news of an explosion at reactor #3.

Obviously, the damage out east is unbelievable. I’ve seen so many videos of houses, cars and ships floating through towns being destroyed that it’s clear things can’t return to anything near normal for weeks, if not months. How to begin to clean up at all is a big question.

Some of us are just beginning to worry about economic repercussions, but being in Tokyo, we’re still mostly on the edge of our seats hoping another big one doesn’t hit.
As has been reported by many news agencies, there is a 70% chance of another quake measuring M7.0 or more in the next few days. I’m hoping the one this morning was that one.

On 3/11 at the time of the initial quake, I was stepping onto a Yamanote line train, the main line in Tokyo ringing the central city. I had avoided a lady with suitcase in front of me and was off-balance, so didn’t understand at first that things were shaking too. It didn’t take long to realize what was going on, but of course nobody thought it was going to progress into the size quake that it did.

And then we shook for 5 minutes. Pretty hard.

Most people around me were holding onto a railing or anything stable, I took a video with my iPhone at around the 1-minute mark which I”ll try to upload later.

It was around that time that we started realizing that phone and 3G services were out.  Nearly everyone was on the phone or texting someone.  I tried to call my girlfriend and her mother, but my phone just beeped and said “Call Failed”.  Surprisingly, I could still get web-pages and checked the Japan meteorological agency’s site for news about the quake.  I don’t remember what I read there as the quake continued to shake.

Everyone was ordered off the train and they announced that train service was canceled for the rest of the day.

I stayed on the platform for the first 10-15 minutes.  The shaking wasn’t scary, but clearly pretty serious and not like the usual smaller quakes we get.  The whole station was shaking lightly, signs and train and power cables visibly swaying and rattling.  After the main shaking had stopped, I ventured down into the station proper, looking around for information.

That’s when the first aftershock hit, which was a very strange sensation as that section of the station has no windows or view to the outside, and as everything is screwed to the walls or the floor, nothing was moving but the rolling motion was clearly a wave.  Like being on a small boat after a big one has gone past and going over the wake.

I took videos on and off for the next 3 hours while standing around in Shinjuku and later just walking home. My footage is not surprisingly unremarkable compared to what I’ve seen. Some other cell-phone videos I’ve seen have shown the central sky-scrapers swaying quite dramatically in relation to one another.

I didn’t realize the magnitude of the disaster until I had walked down the street and could see one of the big-screens in the downtown. It was then that I saw live coverage of the tsunami sweeping over farmland and destroying greenhouses and taking tractors and everything with it – fast.  I realized my girlfriend was not at work like a normal day and had actually gone on a tour of a customer’s greenhouse, and I didn’t know where. I think that’s when I actually started to get worried.  I guess it starts to get personal at a different time for everyone.

I’ve had so many friends e-mail me and comment on Facebook asking if I’m okay and saying they’re thinking of me, which is really quite touching.

I started walking home to Ogikubo from where I was in Shinjuku, about a 1 and 1/2 hour walk.  I’m lucky, some people were too far away from home to get back, without train services or a car.  Traffic was very slow anyway.  Firetrucks and ambulances were going by into central Shinjuku, business people were standing on the sidewalks, some of them going back into their buildings already.

I decided to cut through Asagaya, where quite a few of my friends live and ended up running into a friend at a convenience store.  We got some drinks and food and headed to his place a block away to watch the news with some of his other friends.  I finally hear from my girlfriend through a sputtering of e-mail and 3G messages.  Relieved, I stayed there for another few hours, until 9:30pm, the whole time being hit by aftershocks measuring 4.0-6.5 by the television’s reports.  Once his friend’s cell-phone and the t.v. bleeped an alarm/warning sound I’ve never heard before and we all ran down the stairs into the street.  Frightening!

I finally took off to go home but stopped by a local pub where I connected with 6-7 other friends.  We shared drinks and stories and laughed, letting out some stress and trying to relax.

I finally made it home at 12:00 or so.  My apartment suffered almost no damage at all, even relative to some of my Tokyo friends’ apartments.

Since then I’ve packed emergency backpacks for both my girlfriend and I.  We spent yesterday finding food for a few days, maybe enough for a week.  A lot of staples were sold out or almost sold out when we arrived.  We were lucky to get rice, eggs and milk.  Though no bread.  We have some apples and cookies already, and a few other things that could be scraped together for a “meal” if necessary.  One of my Tokyo friends recently posted on Facebook that he witnessed 4 old ladies fighting over the last pack of toilet paper in a supermarket!

We spent the day watching the t.v. like everyone else I think.  I had sent an e-mail to my parents almost immediately after the quake.  We have since Skyped a few times to talk about the whole ordeal.  They encouraged me to start this blog.

Like anyone reading this I think, we’ve been shocked by the extent of the damage and the unbelievable footage coming out of Miyagi and Iwate prefectures especially.  The death toll keeps climbing.

I just want to post this and take a break.  I’ll update later.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Marcus McLeod on March 14, 2011 at 6:51 am

    Looking forward to next installment Erik

    Reply

  2. Posted by Peter Jensen on March 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Thanks for the details, can’t wait to hear more from you!

    Reply

  3. Posted by (John Van Atter) on March 14, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Glad to hear that you came through so well

    take care

    John & Pat Van Atter

    Reply

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