Another 'firsthand account' from another online friend (Sherrie/Orchid64 via her blog http://japanesesnackreviews.blogspot.com/2011/03/my-quake-experience.html)
During the quake, people in Shinjuku leave their office buildings and stand in the street for fear of their buildings falling down with them still inside. (Click any picture for a larger version.)
Note: I wasn't going to write this, but I feel it's something that is worth putting out there. If I still wrote for my personal blogs, I'd put this there. As it is, I'm placing this here as a bookmark. It's not related to food, so those who aren't interested can just skip this until a food review comes up on Monday.
About 6 years ago, I had just finished work on a Saturday afternoon and walked to the local subway station. As I stood on the platform, I felt a strange and somewhat intense shuddering under my feet. I didn't recognize it at the time, but it was a pretty strong earthquake that would leave me stranded in Kudanshita for three hours as the metro was checked for quake-related problems. Up until March 11, 2011, that was the worst quake I'd experienced in Japan and, being underground and therefore less shaken up, I didn't even immediately recognize what it was.
Everyone knows by now that the quake didn't do excessive damage to Tokyo. In the face of the horrendous tsunami damage in northeastern Japan, even talking about how it was in the big city seems disrespectful as it would feel as if one is elevating trivial suffering by the act of bothering to mention it. That being said, the experience is no less terrifying as you live it for not having suffered horrific consequences. As it is happening, you do not know when or how it will end. You only know fear.
I've talked to a lot of Japanese folks who are Tokyo bred and born, and all of them have said that they've lived through a lot of quakes, but this was the first time they were actually afraid. Many of them felt that this was "the big one" that everyone loves to say has been "overdue" for quite some time. All of them were worried that the buildings they were in would come down around them. Most of them dived under their desks or got out of their office buildings and into the clear. The fact that the buildings didn't fall down is a testimonial to how prepared Tokyo was for a strong quake, not an indication that this wasn't a serious amount of shaking with the potential for great damage.
When the quake hit, I was at home on a day in which I had no scheduled freelance work. I was doing what I often do with long stretches of free time; I was getting in some serious cooking for the next several days when I'd be greatly more active. I'd made 8 chocolate muffins and put them aside for cooling before removing them from their tins and was waiting for a loaf of whole wheat bread to finish in the bread machine. I was also thinking about getting down to business on my blogs and replenishing my post buffers.
The quake is talked about as if it were just one big shake that scared the bejeezus out of us and then pieces were picked up and those in Tokyo wiped their brows and felt relieved, but it wasn't quite like that. It started as a pretty low level quake, the sort which doesn't tend to alarm those who are old hands at living in Tokyo. It continued on and built up more and more over what felt like as long as a minute. That is an incredibly long time when the room is shaking hard. When the intensity started to ramp up, I did what I always do when a quake starts to feel strong, I walked to the front door, opened it, and stood in the doorway. Door frames are strong architecturally, and mine is not near any potential falling glass. Being there half in and half out of the apartment also provides me with two options to quickly act upon. I can either duck in or run out into the street.
The neighbor/landlord's house had a huge and heavy Japanese lawn ornament out front which toppled and shattered during the quake.
Since I grew up in Pennsylvania, where there are no earthquakes, I tend to react a little faster than most of the Tokyo natives. I stood there in the doorway watching my neighbor and landlady fussing with her laundry on the second floor balcony of their house. As the quake continued to grow in intensity, she scurried back into the house. Unlike most people who experienced this quake, I wasn't attending as much to what was happening inside my home because I was looking outside for indications that it was growing more serious. There's a metal roof which is part of a walkway above us for the second floor of our two-story building and I listened to it rattle. I watched the tree in front of the neighbors house start to whip and sway along with the power cables strung near it. I wondered if the cables might snap from the force.
When you watch a quake on T.V., you don't realize that it's an all-encompassing sensory experience, not merely objects moving about. It's palpable as well as visual and auditory. I felt the force of it move through my body. In fact, I put my hand against the opposite side of the door frame as I leaned against one side so that I could feel the movement more than see it. The extent to which the shock waves caused by the energy being expended in a quake can be felt is a much better indication of how powerful it is than watching objects, which have varying centers of gravity and mass, move. Feeling the movement of the framework of my apartment made it crystal clear how powerful the quake was. I could also feel it through the solid cement floor of the genkan (sunken entryway for shoes in Japanese homes).
After the quake, I walked into my apartment and typed a message on FaceBook about there just having been a huge quake in Tokyo. My hands were shaking so much that I had problems typing the words. In retrospect, after sending the message, I typed something about how it was "huge" by my standards, but others may feel it wasn't such a big deal. I wondered if I was being a big baby and overreacting.
Soon after sending that message, a strong aftershock hit and I stood in the doorway again. It didn't feel much smaller than the first prolonged tremor, and it also lasted a very long time, at least when you measure time by how terrified you are as it passes. By now, I was more attentive to what was happening all around me. I watched my refrigerator shake hard in its place, and was glad that the heaviest object in my home was wedged in so tight that it wouldn't probably fall even if the force was strong enough to take down the whole building. I wondered if my tray of chocolate muffins was going to fall from where it was sitting. I watched the neighbors laundry and house, and the tree and cables again. I looked up at the sky, which was beautiful, clear and blue, and thought about how this gorgeous day was carrying on in such opposition to what I was experiencing.
After the first aftershock, I worried about my husband's disposition. He works in a medium-sized (6 story) building in the business district of Shinjuku. He is on the 4th floor. I didn't think anything would have happened during the first quake because I think most buildings can take quake abuse in Tokyo, but I wondered if the extended nature of the tremors might not be something all buildings could withstand. I did feel that he was probably safer than me since taller buildings are built to deal with quakes better than shorter ones, but he is the most valuable person in the world to me and I couldn't help but worry.
After the second round of shaking, I went outside to see what my neighbors were doing. In part, I wondered if this was as scary and atypical to those well-experienced in quakes as it was to me. If odd things were going on with them, then it was as "bad" as I felt it was. The old couple next to our apartment building had moved a stool out in front of their home and were sitting in the alley. Down the street, I could see other people standing in the road. I heard sirens going off. At that point, it was hard to know how others had weathered the storm from looking around the immediate area. It turned out that most, but not all people in Tokyo were okay, though an old meeting hall collapsed on the heads of school kids and their families in Kudanshita (killing 5 people) and fires were starting and soon to rage in Adachi-ku because of ruptured gas lines.
Not too long after the second aftershock, another strong and prolonged one came and I was back in the doorway again. This time when I looked up at the sky, I saw a huge dark cloud rolling in. With this repeated strong shaking, and that change in the sky, I had a thought which I discovered was shared with one of my students. As we both saw that change in the sky and endured repeated hard shakes, we both wondered if this was the apocalypse. The sense of foreboding at this point was hard to ignore. After the third round, I wondered when and if it was ever going to stop, and I was worried that if Japan was shaking to pieces that my husband and I would each die alone and how the thought was unbearable. I became genuinely afraid that he may be harmed, or that I might be and he would be left alone and devastated.
Around this time, I turned on the television and this was when I started to see real time coverage of the post-quake effects. A live video feed showed the tidal wave wash over parts of Iwate and carry away cars, sweep boats inland, and flood houses. Seeing this happen, all I could think was that I hoped that those people had time to get out, but I was pretty sure that there was no way that everyone would have managed. Watching footage of horrors as they have occurred in the past is different than watching it happen live. The sense of powerlessness in the face of nature doing what it does is very profound, and the intensity with which you empathize with the people is greatly ramped up. Those people aren't dead. Their fate is not a matter of history. They are about to die or dying and you're incapable of doing anything but watch it happen. Honestly, it felt almost like the most obscene form of rubber-necking. I don't think humans with their consciousness, intellect and particular nervous systems were meant to watch such things from a distance so great that they cannot do a single thing to help.
Long lines formed in front of pay phones just after the quake since cell service was unreliable.
From this point on, my main thoughts were with my husband, and I was sincerely concerned that the shaking was going to just keep happening. Fortunately, he was able to leave his office and connect with his iPad to the internet at the McDonald's next to his office and e-mailed me that he was okay, and thanks to my posts on FaceBook, he knew I was okay as well. Soon after that, he managed to call me from a pay phone. One of the things that I hope is taken away from this experience is that NTT (Nippon Telephone and Telegraph) should stop taking down all of the land line and pay phones. After the quake, the cell phones were all jammed up, but the land lines worked. Long lines formed in front of the scant number of remaining phones as people tried to reach loved ones to see if they had come through unscathed. It is somewhat ironic to me that my husband and I, who have been repeatedly warned that we "need" a cell phone in case of an emergency, were able to communicate because we kept our land line rather than switched to a cell phone.
From this point on, things started to grow increasingly confused. My husband contacted me via Skype (again, on his iPad) to say he was leaving work and walking home from Shinjuku. As we were ironing out the details, I was shocked by the fact that the doorbell rang. I expected no one and couldn't imagine an errant newspaper salesman or Jehovah's Witness would show up at such a time. It turned out that it was my brother-in-law, who also lives and works in Tokyo. He just happened to ride his scooter to work that day and stopped by on the way home to check and see if his brother and I were okay. He also had left work because of the quake and said he felt bad abandoning his coworkers who had no way home, but he couldn't contact his wife and needed to get home to let her know he was okay. He showed me pictures of the chaos at his college which made it clear that I was luckier than most. In our apartment, only three vases fell down and a few boxes of crackers and other food fell from a kitchen shelf. Books and DVDs were dislodged and moved around, but didn't fall out. Being on the first floor has some benefits, and not being shaken so hard in a quake is one of them.
The foot traffic crowding the streets and headed in the opposite direction that I was going in made me feel like there was a mass exodus and I was going the wrong way.
I walked halfway to Shinjuku to meet up with my husband and did so against a tide of going from the business and shopping districts toward the residential areas. Everyone was stranded and had to choose between staying in their offices until transportation resumed or finding an alternate way home. The buses were mobbed as the subways and trains were shut down. Lines for cabs were ridiculously long, but even if you could cram onto a bus or get a cab, the streets were blocked such that it'd take hours to get home. Most people could walk home in the time it would take a vehicle to reach.
A bus that was so crowded that only one more man could be crammed in at this particular stop.
The transportation issues have lasted for over a week, but were acute on the day of the quake. The subway didn't run at all until around 1:00 am, and the trains much later than that. It was very clear that, though relying on public transportation is great for the environment, there are serious issues when there is a natural disaster. Several of my acquaintances slept in their offices, a few had companies that got them a hotel room, and several walked home despite requiring 4 or 5 hours to do so. My husband and I have not moved from our aging apartment in part because it is only a 90-minute walk from his office. We had even talked before about what we would do if the day of "the big one" came. If we were out of communication, he would walk to me and I was to stay put knowing he was on his way. Since we could talk, I met him around halfway between our home and his work with great relief. The 40 or so minutes that I walked to meet him were the most oblivious time of my life. I just wanted to see him and the time flew as I walked down the street. Before I knew it, I'd walked by two subway stations and was nearing the third when we finally saw each other. It does pay to be relatively fit in Tokyo at times like this.
Since then, nothing has been "normal". No, we are not buried under tons of tsunami-induced rubble or digging our loved ones out of debris. For that, I am eternally grateful. I can't tell you how many times I've looked at pictures of quake devastation and thought of how lucky I am not to be in the shoes of one of those poor people. They are cold, hungry, and, in many cases, have lost everything. Some of them find loved ones and hold the hands of their still buried bodies as cameras coldly record what should be their private despair and grief and hold it out for the world to witness. In the face of their misery and devastation, I feel lucky that my worries are confined to having our income slashed by 30% this month because of canceled appointments and wondering if we're going to be able to locate toilet paper or milk when these things run out. It could have been so much worse.
Since this happened, I've grown much more panicky with any small quake. I wasn't sanguine before, but it's much scarier now. Because the big one started small and grew progressively larger, my heart starts racing with every aftershock. I wonder where it's going to go. I also have made bread and muffins twice since the quake (I bake a lot) and each time I've felt like this activity is related to quakes. Placing the trays of muffins aside to cool or seeing them sitting there makes me think of that quake and how I felt for the duration. I'm sure that eventually these associations will weaken and I'll stop thinking every little tremor is going to become a really big one, but for now, that fear is still with me as I'm sure it remains with many others.
An amazing blog post from an online 'colleague' about his experience during the recent earthquake t hat struck Japan's north.
Posted here as its an amazing read……Im so glad you are OK Syd and that your family has pulled through this.
My prayers and thoughts go out to those who were affected by this major disaster as the death toll is being estimated to number 10,000
via gaijin gunpla/Syd Sked's website
“Where were you when the earthquake struck on 2:47 PM, March 11th, 2011?”
This is the kind of question I expect I will be asked, quite often, for the remainder of my life. To be honest, I haven’t fully come to grips with everything that has happened but I know a lot of people are concerned about Japan and myself and I want to get this into writing while it’s still fresh in my memory, although I don’t think this experience will ever be forgotten.
Where was I? I was in the washroom at work.
I’ve lived in Japan for six years and experienced many quakes. So many that they don’t frighten me. If I’m in bed when one occurs I just stay there. If I’m at my desk I don’t bother to get up. This one was different.
As soon as it started, I knew. This one was big and I needed to be somewhere other than the place I was. I walked out of the washroom and out the side exit of the building and stood right in the middle of the parking lot. I was the first person out of the building and watched the power lines swing back and forth. It didn’t stop. The quake got bigger and I could see the cars in the parking lot rocking back and forth on their suspensions. At that time everyone else was exiting the building at a sprint and the noise coming from inside was tremendous. Metal doors bending and slamming against their runners, things toppling from shelves. I could hear it all from the parking lot as the earth moved up and down. We could see the foundation of the building moving against the asphalt of the parking lot breaking chunks off.
It lasted forever.
In reality it was something like 5 minutes, but you lose all sense of time when something of this magnitude is occurring. Once I was sure the shaking was done I pulled out my cellphone and tried to contact my wife but could not get through. I tried again. Nope. I tried to send a mail but it failed. Not too surprising considering what had just happened. After it remained calm for a minute or so we ventured back into the building and I headed for my desk, but as I rounded the corner and looked in that direction I could not recognize it. The shelves that I have on my desk were completely empty and my monitor had toppled over and the keyboard and mouse were dangling in the air. It was then that the enormity of what had transpired hit me. This was big.
I thought about my house a prefecture away and how it wasn’t the newest building I’ve ever lived in and wondered if it was even still standing. I thought about Gai-Gun Jr. and the daycare she attends which is located on the 5th floor of a recently renovated building. I tried calling again and could not get through.
Once everyone had a chance to take in what had become of the workplace each of us set about picking up the things that had once been part of his/her desk, tried to determine if the computers worked, etc. Then an aftershock hit. Once again we left the building. Coming in that second time the entire staff assembled downstairs for a meeting. We were in the middle of determining a plan of action when the building started shaking again. We left again and again watched the asphalt on the corner of the building turning into a black dust and blowing away.
Everyone had his or her cellphone out and was trying to connect to loved ones but failing each time. Permission was given for everyone to return home to check on their houses and families but, checking the status of things online I read that highways were effectively shut down immediately. Going home was possible, but stop-lights were out along the local roads and reports of traffic accidents were rising.
I should say here that I had no idea the scope of this thing, where it was located, or what damage it had caused. Only that I had experienced something I had thought about several times in the past and now was living through. More failed attempts at calling home. While waiting for something to work or for someone to contact me I set about putting things somewhat back in order on my desk. Every gundam were on the desk or floor and most were in pieces. The ones that hadn’t had something glued on them were easy enough to put back together but parts had snapped off some of those which had been glued. I wasn’t saddened. I was only putting them back in place because it gave me something to physically do while I waited. Amazingly the internet still worked and a mail came up on my PC from the wife saying everyone was fine. I breathed a sigh of relief. It was at this time that a co-worker mentioned the tsunami. Each time there is an earthquake in Japan there is a warning on the TV followed by the tsunami danger assessment and it is usually ‘none’.
Not this time. There was a tsunami on the way and it was big. But I couldn’t give it my full attention because I was needed in the warehouse to pick up the hundreds of fallen items. I spent about 2 hours putting boxes of gunpla back on the shelves and then returned to my desk to hear my co-workers talking about the tsunami. One of them mentioned that a village in Miyagi prefecture was considered not to exist any more. Completely wiped out.
I tried contacting my wife again, out of concern for her parents who live on one of Japan’s many islands. I still couldn’t get through to my wife by phone or text message. So I checked facebook. I left a simple message on her wall.
“I can’t contact you by phone, the highways are closed so I can’t come home. I am needed at work tomorrow.”
A friend from work offered to let me crash at his place and I gladly took him up on the offer. We got back to his place after 6pm and turned on the TV. It didn’t work. An antenna somewhere was knocked out and no signal was getting through. I was still in the dark about what was happening a few hundred kilometers north of where I was. Using my iphone to check out CNN I watched the tsunami that everyone talked about wipe out a town. That’s when the enormity of what Japan had experienced hit me. Whole cities washed away.
The image of a wave of water sweeping buildings away, many of which are on fire, is one that will be with me forever. But I should tell everyone, that ‘live’ video of the tsunami striking is nothing compared to the videos that are appearing on television here, most of them taken from people who only minutes before fled from one of those buildings.
I thought about my mom. Being a mother, of course she is a bit of a worrier for her children. She has a son who lives in Japan but she doesn’t know exactly where he’s located or what he is close to. I looked at that video again and thought about how my mom must be feeling watching it and, I admit, I choked up. Still unable to call anyone I used the Iphone to get onto facebook and then noticed the string of messages sent to me and a bunch of posts from friends around Japan. ASM felt it in Osaka. A friend who lived in Tokyo had to walk 30 km home when the train stopped. Everyone has a story and we’re lucky ours are boring compared to those who lived in a house in Miyagi who have to relate what happened to their life’s work.
Exhausted, I went to sleep. I was awakened twice in the night by massive aftershocks, but was just too exhausted to bother getting up. They were small compared to the 9.0 I had felt only hours before.
The next day my coworker and I headed to work but stopped somewhere to pick up something to eat first. Well, tried to pick up something. Convenience store shelves were bare as people were stocking up just in case, and even restaurants like McDonald’s were closed. Lines of cars waiting to get gas stopped traffic. Why is everyone needing gas?, I thought.
We spent the day picking up items, checking for damage, and then returning them to the shelves or putting them in a designated pile if they were broken in some way. Aftershocks continued but most people just took them in stride. We have experienced them almost non-stop since 3pm, Friday, March 11th. Work finished for the day but we still weren’t done. We would need to work Sunday to get everything up and ready for monday. The highways were still closed so I tried calling home again but could not get through. I left a message on my wife’s facebook, “The highways are still closed, I still cannot get through to you on the cell network and I have to work again tomorrow. I miss you guys.”
Back to my friend’s place where the television was now working. The images on the television are amazing and horrifying and I am not a good enough writer to convey the emotions these images conjure up. People standing on the top of a mall film the entire parking lot get washed away, cars tumbling over each other and bobbing up and down like toys in the bath. Boats being stranded several kilometers inland from the harbor they were just in. An entire area of rubble surrounds the lone building that survived, a hospital. People on the roof of the hospital are waving makeshift flags to get the attention of the planes and helicopters. People are writing SOS on tops of buildings followed by a number, indicating how many people are trapped in the building. A bus rests on top of a three story building. Another bus is trying to flee the wave. It drives up the hill as as the water comes around the corner and actually pushes the rear of the bus sideways but the bus manages to get away. The death toll the news casts give is relatively low, but then you realize that is because no one has been able to contact most of the people who were in the path of that wall of water. Half the population of an entire village is unaccounted for. 10,000 people and no one knows where they are. On top of all that, there is an explosion at a Nuclear Power Plant a couple of hundred kilometers away and a possible meltdown is occurring. My wife gets through to me her cellphone and I am able to speak with her and my daughter. My daughter is 3 1/2 and can talk your ear off but she only says two short things.
“There was an earthquake. It was scary.”
I stay up until about 1 AM, lying on the floor of my friend’s house, watching the same images over and over again but I can’t turn them off. Mails from my mom start popping up on my iphone. At least that one gets through, most of the time anyways. More aftershocks/quakes during the night but I fall right back asleep.
I was determined to get home today. With the highway still closed it meant I had to take the back roads. The life in this area has returned to normal somewhat, except for gas. There is no gas. I was driving home and each gas station I passed was roped off or had cars in place to block people coming in. Why is there no gas? Upon returning home I sit down next to my daughter who is eating a snack. She seems in good spirits, however, when I turn on the TV and the news comes up again, her eyes become moist as she looks at the TV. She says two things. “There was an earthquake. It was scary.” I turn off the television and we went for a walk. I wanted to buy some water to take to work but there is no water in the stores near my house. Things are starting to get a little too crazy.
With no gas anywhere I will be taking the train to work in the morning making my commute an extra hour each way. But I guess I am lucky. I will be going back to my normal routine while others not so far from here will be picking through rubble looking for anything of theirs that might have survived.
I want to say thanks to everyone who contacted me through facebook or this site and offered words of encouragement. It’s nice to know people are thinking about you. I will be thinking a lot about thousands of people who aren’t as lucky as I am.
There was an earthquake. It was scary.
Amazing video of the 1/1 Gundam in Shizuoka
Look what my little man has started to do over the last two days……..soon!!!