I’m really pleased to be back home. But there is one thing that I really didn’t miss…
… my apartment block jerking and swaying.
I’m really pleased to be back home. But there is one thing that I really didn’t miss…
… my apartment block jerking and swaying.
When I first moved to Japan earthquakes didn’t bother me much. There were many of them and they didn’t really do anything apart from make everything shake. But that all changed with the Tohoku Earthquake in 2011. Now I’m very aware of the horror a quake can cause. This morning shortly after 5am we experienced the strongest quake to shake Tokyo since 2011. And it really wasn’t pleasant. I think part of the problem is that I feel trapped when the building starts to shake. There isn’t anywhere you can go as you certainly shouldn’t try to leave. But when the building is jolted and swaying it feels unnatural to stay inside. I want out. The other issue is the uncertainty. You can’t easily tell anything much other than the fact the earthquake is big. The earthquake this morning had a magnitude of 6.2 and was felt at either a weak 5 or a 4 in this area. So, it was certainly big enough to to make me feel slightly panicked.
The earthquake got us out of bed when the emergency alarm system started. The local government disaster administration wireless broadcast is tested everyday at 5pm, but it is tested with music. This morning, when they used words, we had no idea what was being said. It echoed and distorted off the buildings. For all I know it was saying “we come in peace” but since we couldn’t understand it we turned on the T.V. and listened to the announcements. The T.V. presenter looked nervous but things quickly calmed down and thankfully there was no tsunami warning.
I mostly enjoy living in Japan but I now have nightmares about earthquakes.
I have a friend who works at an office that’s built on reclaimed land out towards Tokyo Bay. On the day of the Tohoku Earthquake the ground around his office cracked and shifted.
One week later and you can see that nature is filling in the crack.
I’m currently at Narita airport. I’ve said goodbye to my house guest and now I’m spending the rest of the day here as I’m leaving for Sydney this evening.
We left quite early this morning as we hadn’t been able to book train tickets to the airport in advance. We didn’t have any problems getting a train but given the restricted schedule of the past week we thought it was prudent to give ourselves plenty of time. Terminal 1 wasn’t overly full. It had long queues but that’s mainly because everyone turned up before check-in opened. We arrived 45 minutes before Virgin opened theirs. I was speaking to one man who seemed to think that the queues weren’t normal and more people than usual had turned up. But then I fly all the time and I have seen much longer queues than those, and the queues disappeared quite quickly once check-in actually opened. I also noticed that the queues for security were the normal length.
I was surprised that the man I was talking to was so concerned. He looked at the queue at said that he couldn’t imagine Virgin being able to handle it in the time-frame. But there is only one Virgin flight a day and of course they can handle checking in the passengers for one flight in an hour and a half. We are still in Japan. It’s not as if they had one member of staff on or anything. It was actually looking as if they would have everyone checked-in within 30 minutes. I have waited nearly 90 minutes to be checked-in for a flight in America on a day when there weren’t considered to be any problems at all. In that case it was caused by a shortage of staff. It was almost as if they hadn’t realised that the people with tickets would be turning up for the flights.
I’m in Terminal 2 now and it is busier. There are a couple of very long queues. But I was still able to find a seat in Starbucks, so it’s not overly alarming out there. Nothing like it would be during Golden Week, the big holiday during the year.
I have been asked if I’m fleeing the country but that’s not quite what I’m doing. I have a Japanese friend who left for Perth on Thursday night and she would like me to join her. She would also like to have someone to fly back to Japan with. There is no doubt that if it wasn’t for the recent disaster that I would not be leaving. There are issues with being in Tokyo at the minute, and I don’t mean fear of radiation, but rather the disruption of services and the possibility of another quake. I also know that my family and friends are going to be happier if I am somewhere else. Marty has no plans to leave at the minute, but I know that he will leave if he believes that Tokyo is unsafe.
There have been times when I haven’t been sure what the point of Twitter is, or if connecting to lots of people on Facebook was really worthwhile, but in the past week I have been incredibly grateful to have use of these free services. It was Twitter that allowed me to get the message out that I was O.K. after the quake, and Facebook has allowed me to update my friends and family throughout the past week without having to contact everyone individually.
This morning I wasn’t woken up by an earthquake. I was feeling fine until I started to read my email. It’s full of messages telling me that the UK press and media are saying that we need to leave Tokyo right now. I’ve even been told that the Foreign Office are telling people to leave Tokyo right now.
This is not what we are hearing in Tokyo and we are registered with the Foreign Office. They are certainly saying that there should be no non-essential travel to Japan:
We advise against all non essential travel to Tokyo and north eastern Japan given the damage caused by the 11 March earthquake and resulting aftershocks and tsunami.
They are also saying the following about the health risk in Tokyo:
The most recent advice from the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser remains that for those outside the exclusion zone set up by the Japanese authorities there is no real human health issue that people should be concerned about. This advice is kept under constant review. However, due to the evolving situation at the Fukushima nuclear facility and potential disruptions to the supply of goods, transport, communications, power and other infrastructure, British nationals in Tokyo and to the north of Tokyo should consider leaving the area.
This information comes from the Foreign Office website and not from sources like The Sun newspaper, whose headlines are horrifying.
I would also say that the exclusion area is 20km and that we are more than 200km from the area.
As well as the Foreign Office we are getting information everyday from Marty’s employer. At the minute I am listening to a conference call with a nuclear expert explaining what is happening and he has a very similar opinion to the British scientists. The Foreign Office has stated the following:
The Chief Scientific Adviser said the Japanese Government’s advice is entirely proportionate and appropriate to the risk.
Those of you who are living in Tokyo, you are a long way away from the reactor, and although there have been reports that there have been slightly increased levels of radiation, this is trivial in terms of a health effect. So we would like to reassure people that well away from the reactor there is not an issue for people living around there.
I’m getting fed up with being told that people in Tokyo should go about their daily life as normal. I realise that this is probably being said to prevent panic but life in Tokyo at the minute just isn’t normal. And people know that. Why else would petrol and food be selling out? I had only started to write this rant when I received a notification about another aftershock. Earthquakes are common in Japan but the earthquake on Friday has led to a large increase in the number of shocks.
I enjoy living in Tokyo. It is an incredibly convenient city with a public transport system like no other I have ever experienced. It has amazing restaurants, bars, and shops. It’s a great place to go on holiday and I have a friend staying at the minute who arrived on holiday last week. On a normal holiday I would take him sight-seeing, we would have hired a car and gone to see the snow monkeys, we would eat out, and we would probably have gone to karaoke.
Instead we stay within walking distance of the apartment. We haven’t been on a train since the day of the major quake. We aren’t going to hire a car and go sight-seeing as that would be a ridiculous thing to do. We aren’t eating in restaurants as we haven’t seen any that are open. We are spending hours looking at news channels. We will consider going to the grocery store today but we are aware that we won’t be buying bread, rice, or dairy.
There are trains running but it is a limited schedule and we don’t want to go out only to get stuck miles away from the apartment. Walking to the apartment after a major quake isn’t terrible but we’ve already done that in the last week. We also don’t want to use the trains if we don’t actually need to as we would rather people who need to travel were able to do so.
My week also isn’t normal. I’m still online but mainly to answer queries about how I am. I’m not sleeping well because the aftershocks keep waking me up. The language school has closed, my clinic has cancelled my appointment and I haven’t been able to visit my friends. I’m not able to go to the gym. We haven’t even washed the towels as it seems to be a waste of electricity and water. We are expecting the power to go out on rolling basis and we are conserving electricity.
Marty has been going to work, but that’s not happening in a normal manner either. He takes longer to get there and to get home. (And the apartment is shaking again, this is another strong quake. So I’m going to stop ranting for a while.) His work is providing lunch because of the limited number of restaurants that are open. Yesterday he attended a seminar on nuclear technology.
None of this stuff is overly important. I am incredibly fortunate to be safe and warm. But it just. Isn’t. Normal!
After hundreds of aftershocks you get numb. I still feel the building move, because I’m on the 24th floor of a high-rise apartment. I still feel queasy, because I appear to suffer from motion sickness. But the aftershock tonight made me jump right out of my chair. There was loud bang which sounded as if someone had thumped the window. The building started to move and my stomach started to flip.
We were still able to move around and we opened up the doors and I moved to the hall. We have emergency kits and helmets there and I would like to be close to the exit. The emergency kits contain a blanket, water, glow sticks, some odd looking food rations, a whistle, a map, and gloves. I wondered about the gloves but I was told that they were to protect my hands from glass.
Thankfully we didn’t need to leave the apartment, but tonight I am truly fed up with the building shaking. I am also very aware that we have been incredibly fortunate.
It’s hard to explain what is happening in Tokyo. Things have not returned to normal but many normal things are happening. I still cooked and baked yesterday afternoon. Marty has gone to work this morning. But my routine is not my normal one. For the past few days I have been woken by earthquakes and not be an alarm clock. This morning it was the 6.2 quake in Ibaraki-ken that woke me. We have emergency kits in the hall beside the door. I’m not cleaning or doing anything non-essential that would involve using gas or electricity. I am watching T.V. which is something I never do during the day.
I have decided to mostly watch Japanese news. The world news is horrifying in different ways that the Japanese news. It is true that there was an explosion at a nuclear reactor this morning but the world news has lots of speculation and uses sensational words like “Chernobyl”. Here in Japan the news includes lots of information on what is being done by the scientists. I find it comforting that the news is now making lists of services that are closed. This would make incredibly boring world news but it shows that now more things are open than closed. After the first quake it was much simpler to list, for example, which train lines were running as so few were.
We are expecting a power cut soon but I will continue to monitor the news until that happens.
Yesterday was an eventful day. I ended up on the special observation deck of Tokyo Tower during the worst Japanese earthquake in recent history. It sounds completely horrific, and in some ways it was, but it wasn’t anywhere near as frightening as it could have been.
I hadn’t planned to be there. What I did want to do was buy Heinz Baked Beans. Norwin and I met Marty for lunch in Roppongi Hills and afterwards I wanted to walk to one of the international supermarkets. I crave beans and not many places in Tokyo sell them. Taking a visitor to a supermarket, especially one selling food he can buy whenever he wants, seemed rather a dull thing to do. I remembered that the tower was only about 10 minutes or so from there and we decided to visit that first.
We bought tickets, walked around the main observation deck, and waited until our number was called. It’s Japan. We queue for everything. And this was an organised place with a numbering system to let us know when it was our turn to catch the lift to the special observation deck. I didn’t enjoy the lift. It was shaking and it made me feel uneasy. But the member of staff working in the lift wasn’t reacting so I assumed that it was normally a shaky ride.
We stepped out of the lift on to what felt like the deck of a ship. Everything was swaying and my first thought was that it was the wind. But people were lurching around and then sitting on the floor. I couldn’t walk straight, and after a bit of pretending I was fine, decided to sit on the floor. At that stage I knew it was an earthquake. At first Norwin was excited because it was a new experience for him and he assumed that it was a minor quake. But the tower kept shaking. We started to make jokes, as you do, and waited for the shaking to stop. I noticed that some people around me were crying quietly, but the shaking stopped.
We got up and walked around a bit. We couldn’t leave because the lift stopped working and the stairs were outside and unsafe. We started talking to the other foreigners, and then the shaking started again. This time I was frightened. Outside the traffic had stopped, there was a fire in Odaiba, crowds of people were being evacuated, but inside there was no panic. There was a group of nursery school children sitting quietly against the wall. The staff were apologizing but they were calm. We chatted, we joked, talked about where we came from, and waited. There was no point in doing anything else.
I think that we were there for around an hour and a half. It’s hard to be sure. I know that it was an hour before I managed to send a text message to Marty. But time moved strangely. I know that we got in the lift, had to walk down 600 steps, and that staff from the tower were waiting to give us a refund, but that whole part of the afternoon is vague in my mind. My one goal was to get out of the tower. I have never been more relieved to get out of a building.
(Norwin is ahead of me with blogging and has a written up our day complete with pictures.)
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