Growing up in the Seattle area, I have had only 2 earthquake experiences. both went something along the lines of
“is this an earthquake?”
“it is confirmed an earthquake-what is the best thing to do?”
…earthquake over before your thought process can finish. 20 seconds, tops. the 8.9 (9.0?) earthquake that hit japan was nothing simple to describe, but I’ll do my best to tell you how that day personally unfolded.
Friday, March 11th, morning time. I woke up not feeling well, probably caused by something I ate the day before. my gluten intolerance was getting a beating from all the soy I had been consuming. I contacted my boss to ask if I could come into work a little later. later came, I felt sick again and had permission to work from home. I took a nap to feel better and planned on working later. I think my gluten intolerance saved me a huge hassle of an even more inconvenient situation, had I felt fine that morning and went to work as usual. I woke up from my nap, and felt better. so I decided to have lunch with a friend at a nearby mall. we met up at Nakano Broadway, a haven for awesome old collector nerd things and such, one of my favorite places. we weren’t browsing for more than 20 or so minutes, when we casually start to stroll into one of the shops and everything starts swaying. I look up and the lights are rocking back and forth. the shelves are shaking, but nothing was violently flying off. I turn around to survey others reactions. everyone seems to be concerned, confused or amazed. my friend is stoically holding onto something and I did the same, reaching over to a theft detector for stability. all we could do was ride the waves.
I looked around for potentially dangerous objects (they were everywhere). we were on the third floor, swaying and shaking. some people walked by like nothing was happening, others stupidly ran for an escalator, most were just dumbstruck in where they stood. I kept thinking to myself 2 things: “this is going on for a really long time” and “Japan gets earthquakes all the time… this is how everyone is acting, is this no big deal?” as those thoughts switched back and forth in my head, the earthquake was still continuing. I read later it reportedly lasted for 6 minutes. It felt like eternity. when it finally died down, I felt like I had sea legs. it was troublesome to walk right away. the first thing I did was try to contact Devin. not happening. not a text or a call could get through. my friend and I paced a little to calm ourselves. I saw a magazine of puppies. we looked at it together, it helped.
after we resumed what we thought would be a semi normal day, made our way around the mall until a bit of time passes and another huge earthquake hits. this time I see an elderly woman clinging to a policeman in the hall. this is when my heart leaps into my throat and I feel as though I should panic more. will the building crumble? will the glass shatter? where should I go what should I do? we made our way to the stairs and stood against the concrete wall. it felt sturdy. people were rushing by in a panic. some dude with a red apron and crazy unkept hair was ushering people outside onto the fire escape. there were no formal announcements, but he was signaling for us to move. we didn’t think it to be a good idea, but since he was persistant we went along with it.
it was a large fire escape, rusty and all metal. people were using this opportunity for a smoke break. the second earthquake finally died down again. I saw people wandering back in to shop amidst crazy apron guy attempting to be a hentai hero or whatever. My friend could understand Japanese, so I felt safe knowing if we were hearing an important announcement, we could follow directions. we wander back in the mall, nerves (literally) shaken, trying our best but with no real hope of having a normal afternoon. I hear a woman’s voice over the music in the mall. my friend assures me it had nothing to do with the earthquake, just don’t stick gum on the floor, etc. what a confusing time, I had no idea how to act. we were in a 50+ year old building on the 3rd floor during two large and long earthquakes. we calmly survived both. I think we looked as cool as we could in the situation.
we carried on outside the mall where the atmosphere grew more and more strange. being in the mall, people seemed mostly normal… kids were still playing arcade games. once we turned the block outside, something felt different. it was quiet, but there were a lot more people around. it almost felt like the beginning of Shaun of the Dead, a looming apocalypse was coming on but we had not fully figured out the weight of it all just yet. things were just slowly building momentum by being slightly off. there were lines around public telephones. the air was still. I saw a lot of people across the street, realizing later they were waiting for buses… because every single train line in tokyo immediately shut down. before coming to these realizations, my friend and I went to Mr. Donut, because what else could we do.
it had been an hour already since the first earthquake. I still could not get through to devin. my friend and I debated what our actions should be. we assumed he was safe at home. but also had the notion that he could be meeting us. it was unsure. I took out a magazine, drank some tea and drew. some foreigners from a spanish speaking country sat next to us. I could tell by how they were talking excitedly, they were very shooken up by the earthquake. everyone else around us (Japanese) seemed calm. I was wondering still how to react, and being cautious of my surroundings incase a third wanted to strike. I looked out the window and the street lamp next to the window was swaying. a small aftershock. the foriengers next to us flipped out and bolted. being japan, I can’t imagine outside is any safer than inside. anything (and everything) will fall on you…no matter where you are. the best place to be in an earthquake in japan is not in japan. or maybe a rice field far out in the country.
My friend eventually got through to his wife to make sure she was safe. she was, although she was stuck at the office that night I believe. a lot of people were stuck over night at places that day. the train lines all had to check the rails for damage. later it was reported that 20,000 people were stranded in tokyo that night. My friend and I attempted to walk back to my place to see Devin. it was a medium walk, maybe 20 or so minutes. the day started out sunny and pleasent. the tsunami threw a storm over tokyo, and it was cloudy, ominous and very windy by time we were trying to get home. we caught a bus half-way back and it was jam packed, tokyo train rush hour style. I was worried the bus would scrape the ground. we got off at the stop, and just walked a few more blocks. during that time the sun was setting a pink and gold, relfecting off huge skyscrapers in shinjuku in the distance. it looked like something from a movie, as 3 huge black helicopters flew over us. the sound that terrifies me most is the air raid siren. thankfully, that did not sound around me and my pants did not fill with pee. Devin told me later they started to play the signal briefly around our apartment but cut it short. whew.
as my friend and I neared my apartment, we attempted to make light of the situation, not fully knowing the catastrophies that happened up north, while we were alive and not completely stranded in Tokyo. we joked we would open the apartment door and find devin pinned under the mini-fridge. this fridge came up to devin’s hip, it was no real threat. later, continous jokes were made involving the mini-fridge toppleing and trapping us all. the furthering of the joke took to such a grand scale, that it gave us a laugh even through the tough days ahead.
Our other friend, Kai, actually stranded in shibuya (where I would have been EFFED if I had gone into work that day), walked all the way up to nakano (took him an hour), and brought us some food. all 4 of us hung out, being frightened by the news and anxiously reenacting our experiences during the earthquake. multiple aftershocks kept happening. later, over 600 aftershocks in the span of a week after the earthuake were recorded… over 44 of them with a magnitude of 6.0. the 4 of us opted to leave the stuffy 6 tatami mat apartment for a nearby cafe to attempt to relax and see the outside world wasn’t as bad as the news was saying. nakano was relatively unharmed in comparison. we were safe(ish). sendai was about 2.5 hours away from tokyo, and just off the coast of sendai was the earthqake, underwater. earthquake, mostly safe. tsunami–destruction of mass levels. over 17,000 are still missing, 2 weeks later. 10,000 have been pronounced dead. the equivlent of tokyo to sendai is if portland was hit with the earthquake and seattle was tokyo. inbetween there would be a nuclear powerplant that exploded. that was unfortunately the real reason devin and I were forced to flee tokyo, but this was later in the week.
the night continued as the 4 of us had a good time hanging out, but unfortunately due to insane circumstances. it was fun to be safe and together, and we could make jokes like headlines reading “thousands stranded in tokyo, kai stranded too.” speaking of which, by midnight that night, kai was able to take our nearby subway back to some connecting trains that had begun running again. he made it home safely, across tokyo. our other friend did not have connecting trains running to his place way down south by the water. we had a slumber party in our tiny apartment. we played super puyo puyo (where he destroyed us with his combo skills), watched some gaki no tsukai on devin’s computer, and ate snacks. when it was time to turn out the lights and go to bed, we then drifted to sleep talking about what our post-apocalyptic outfits would look like and what characters would be in our gangs.
epilogue: I didn’t sleep very well at all that night (I’m not sure anyone in japan did). at one point when we all thought it was safe to slumber, another huge aftershock shook us back to reality. even though devin was half asleep, he woke up saying a joke headline “another aftershock hits, gajin bites tongue”. poor devin.
and that was my day with the biggest earthquake to ever hit japan in recorded history. it could have been very much a lot worse. I am thankful that it was the best outcome of the worst disaster I’ve ever been through.