This may be the most serious blog post I ever write.
I’m sure you have all heard about the terrible tragedy that is happening in Japan right now.
The largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history and the 5th largest since 1900, happened early yesterday. The earthquake hit at a 8.9 on the Richter scale and caused a deadly chain of tsunami’s hitting Japan’s coast. 1,300 are feared to be dead, tens of thousands are missing and over 51,000 moved from their homes after a nuclear power plant erupted earlier today.
In the time it took for me to write this, I felt at least 3 after-shocks. That is just a tiny fraction of the hundreds of noticeable tremors that have happened along Japan in the past 24 hours.
Here is my story for those who are interested. If you want to skip this, I understand, but please go to the end where you can learn how to help the victims.
Yesterday started out as a beautiful spring day. I had been called into work to do a 7am inventory check and found myself marveling at how warm it was for six in the morning as I waited for the train. After work I met up with Tania, my friend who is visiting from Seattle, and we headed to Akihabara to do some sightseeing.
We hadn’t been in the city for more than 30 minutes before the first tremor hit. We had been wandering around and decided to duck down an alley built between two rickety looking buildings. The alley it’s self was kind of dank, and there was construction going on next to the shop we went into. We noticed some of the lighting fixtures starting to move and I commented “I’d expect Japan to build their buildings better. This one is being shook by the construction outside.” However, in a few seconds it was quite obvious that it was something much larger than construction. We saw several people running down the alley in terror and decided it was probably a good time to leave as well.
When we exited the alley, traffic had stopped and people were being ushered across the road. One sight I remember vividly was a man falling out of his car door and half crawling, half running across the street. The buildings shook violently and windows had been smashed out by falling office supplies. Everyone looked on in terror as police directed everyone away from the danger.
After the tremors stopped, we all stood still for a few seconds until most people wrote it off as nothing, started joking around and going about their business. Most shops were evacuated as staff made sure the rooms were safe, which left the sidewalks crowded with people. Tania and I walked around for awhile still in a bit of shock until we noticed stores starting to open up again. Soon we found ourselves in the same shady alley again - the store had some ‘interesting’ figurines that we wanted to go poke fun at and hopefully snap some I-can’t-believe-they-make-these-eww photos.
It wasn’t but seconds after we went into the store when the second wave of tremors started. This time we didn’t second guess them and ran out to the same ‘safe’ spot as before. The buildings shook for longer, and everyone watched as even more windows broke and fabric signs came falling down. The danger that these tremors posed became painfully clear to everyone. The phone lines were too crowded which rendered them unusable. Thousands wandered the street in shock, wondering if and when the next wave of tremors would happen. Helicopters began to circle the city, and men in hard hats were running around yelling things to each other.
After waiting for awhile, we decided to head towards the train station and see what the status for the trains was like. Hundreds were crowded around the station listening to the announcements that proclaimed that all trains had stopped for an undetermined amount of time. A television in the station began broadcasting the live footage of the Tsunami’s hitting Sendai, and the fires across the country.
At that time, I experienced the most awful feeling I had ever had. It was a mixture being completely helpless, not being able to understand what was going, and having no idea if Marco was safe. It left me scared and feeling utterly insignificant. The crowd huddled together and watched on as hundreds fell victim to the violent waves of the tsunami. Many held back tears until their faces were bloated and red. Others couldn’t grasp the severity of the situation and joked about what tomorrow would hold.
As time went on the temperature began to steadily drop and it became very clear that the trains were not going to be running anytime soon. We decided to do what many others were doing - buy some bread at the convenience store and camp out in the train station. After moving around to a few buildings (about four hours after the second tremor) Marco was finally able to get a hold of me and we decided to try and meet in Shibuya. However my phone died before I was able to contact him again and tell him there were no buses running from Akihabara to Shibuya.
Tania and I decided to find our own way to Shibuya by walking along the JR tracks. Thousands of others took to walking the street in search of somewhere safe and warm, or to find their loved ones. After a few mix-ups, we ended up at Tokyo station- which for everyone’s information is the exact opposite direction of Shibuya; we had walked the wrong way down the track. Tokyo station, however, is very large and warm so we decided that was the best place to camp out.
After several hours one of the subway lines started running again and we decided to risk it and try to get home. Everyone was over joyed and despite the looming danger we all knew would come, there were plenty of smiles and light hearts to go around. Just knowing that we were on the way home gave everyone some relief. It’s moment’s like these when the idea of “foreigner” or “gaijin” melt away, and everyone just becomes the same. In the face of tragedy there is no room for the petty things in life.
Today was filled with buying provisions and other things just in case another earthquake hits. Hours ago a radiation leak was confirmed, so tomorrow will tell another story of new tragedy. All we can do is live and prepare in the moment, hoping that whatever we do helps. More importantly, we can only hope that the Japanese government stops trying to make light of the current nuclear crisis in order to save face and boast it’s infallible technology. Now is not the time for pride, it’s the time for action.
I was lucky enough to get home safe and to be in somewhere like Tokyo that is pretty isolated from the disaster zones. However, please remember that there are so many who have died and have been affected by this quake. Please keep everyone less fortunate than I in your thoughts, and remember there is so much you can do to help - such as donating to the Red Cross.