Tag Archives: destruction

Imaginations From the Other Side

I left the office at 6:30 in the morning to catch a train home, as supposedly trains were beginning to run around 7. This was partly untrue. Although impatient commuters rushed into Ebisu station the moment it opened, public announcements made it very clear that no means of rail transportation were moving. That did undoubtedly concern the JR Yamanote Line as well, one of the two lines vital for me to get home. After a relatively shocking day and night that comprised no actual sleep, I didn’t quite enjoy the situation, but considering I wasn’t exactly one of the worst off, I looked at the options presented to me: figure out a workaround, or wait until 8, hoping that the trains would start running then, something the station staff hinted towards but did not explicitly promise.

Swarming Ebisu station

I chose to walk to Shibuya once again and hoped the Fukutoshin metro line would be working so that I could finally get somewhere. The streets of Shibuya were eerily empty, and no shops were open besides the standard 24/7 convenience stores, most of which were already getting replenished. The few people available for direct observation showed no signs that only 17 hours earlier the strongest earthquake ever registered in Japanese history had occurred.

By chance, the Fukutoshin line was in operation, as was the Seibu-Ikebukuro line. Thus, 18 hours after the first shocks began I was finally able to get home for some damage evaluation. As I had expected, the television was on the floor, but besides that, the few pieces of furniture I possess were only slightly misplaced. After turning on the TV to watch the incessant rolling news and damage reports I was once again reminded how absurd it sounds to talk about a catastrophe in Tokyo. Granted, Tokyo did get hit and suffered some damage coupled with a few unlucky deaths. It is the national capital and a huge megalopolis. Yet, most of the peculiarities in Tokyo yesterday were due to confusion and fear, not large-scale destruction.

Damage to my humble dwelling was all but cosmetic

Only a few hundred kilometers to the North, cities were swallowed by tidal waves, houses were razed and industrial plants burst into flames. Hundreds of people are still missing. Nuclear plants may or may not be failing. These are things people ought to be more concerned about. The international mass media seem to be concentrating slightly too much on the plight of Tokyoites, which is a very secondary problem when compared to the actual disaster areas. Can something be very secondary? It can now.

I can personally attest to the fact that Tokyo is already rapidly recovering from these recent events. Sendai, however, is a very different story.



Yesterday evening I was at home watching Tokyo University entrance results on television and immensely enjoying the fact that the general reactions of students seemed to coincide with what I had read in several shounen manga stories. Today, I was supposed to spend a generic day at work and go to the local Hiroo 7/11 afterwards to inquire as to why there had been a goddamn toenail in my bento box on Tuesday.

As all of those who have followed the news lately can probably foresee, that was not going to happen. When I say foresee I mean blogifically, not historically.


I had felt an insignificant tremor on Tuesday, something that I had at first believed to be a co-worker rubbing a pencil eraser vigorously on the table at the other side of the cubicle wall. While I did eventually correctly identify the phenomenon as a slight earthquake, it had not prepared me in the least for what was to occur on Friday.

It is very difficult to me to accurately depict the chain of events that happened closer to the epicenter, so I will content myself with reporting what I experienced at our office in Hiroo, Tokyo. I began writing a quick update to this blog at 14:48 local time during my late lunch break in order to notify people that I had finally managed to get the old Kansai material back online. Simultaneously, a shaking very similar to the one I had gone through a couple of days prior, began. It rapidly escalated into a more serious type of trembling that prompted me to stop my current activities and seek some instructions from the few co-workers present in the building at that specific moment. I also realized by that point that I had gone through no procedures concerning potential earthquakes, and while I did know where the escape route was, I had not properly grasped the magnitude that a quake needed to attain before the secret passage could be used.

Luckily, soon after I had finished putting my shoes on as a preparative measure, we were all given the suggestion to evacuate to the ground level from our 6th floor office. The interpretation was different depending on the party involved, however. A couple of co-workers rushed down, while another colleague suggested that I could go down as well. Or not. Apparently it was up to personal preference. For some reason, one of our employees stayed at his desk and continued working, content and uninterrupted. After a couple of minutes spent outside to (incorrectly) assess that the worst had passed, the rest of us also returned to the office and resumed whatever we had been doing.

It did not take long for the earthquake to counterattack, however, and in less that half an hour we found ourselves on the streets again, this time also accompanied by the heroic colleague who had silently refused to descend the first time, all trembling due to adrenaline reserves having quickly become depleted. I say all not to sound like a pansy but it could just as well only have been me. I actually needed a soda from a nearby vending machine to muster enough energy for the tedious climb back up. It is inferred in the previous sentence that we did climb back up again. Here, I just spelled it out for you.

Once again, we were at the office and all four of us returned to our daily chores, not bothered about what had just happened. Twice. Eventually, though, as an increasing number of public announcement cars were driving around the ward warning inhabitants about tsunamis and ambulance sirens were getting ever louder, someone introduced us to the idea of everybody returning home.

The Aftermath

I was originally supposed to meet Basti at 6:30 at the Hachiko exit in Shibuya for a couple of standard Friday beers but he had been unreachable since the beginning of the earthquake and supposedly working on the 27th floor in an unknown building somewhere in southern Tokyo. In retrospect, I should never had assumed that the original  plan was still in motion, but at that time I failed to realize how a seemingly minor earthquake like that could prevent us from enjoying a few beers. How wrong i was.

According to anyone I asked, nobody had ever experienced an earthquake like this. Neither in magnitude nor length. And to put things in perspective, the Japanese earthquake scale goes up to 7, and while it was 7 in the regions which were close to the epicenter, it only reached a 5 within the Tokyo metropolis. To put it bluntly, we had been lucky.

Realizing that by that point all trains had been canceled and the streets were jammed with panicky citizens trying to drive or take cabs home, I really had no other alternative left than to go to Shibuya anyway and try to pass the time until trains would begin running again.Walking towards Shibuya station in this ethereal atmosphere was indeed a novel experience. Japanese people were incredibly calm, and the only reason to suspect this was a day different from any other was that there were many times more people on the streets than usually, and an incredible amount of people, even by Japanese standards, were texting while walking. One technology zealot went as far as attempting to text with two phones at once.

I arrived at Shibuya station about an hour and a half before I was originally supposed to, so I decided to have a snack and savour the general atmosphere for a while. In order to avoid sounding like an insensitive prick at this point, although it might already be too late, I have to emphasize that I had no idea of the gravity of the situation; I had been cut from all international media outlets since leaving the office and Japanese TV broadcasts did not really get through my thick skull.

Shortly after hearing an announcement that nothing train or metro related would improve for at least a “couple of hours”, I bumped into a random Canadian guy who I ended up befriending while waiting for Basti to potentially show up at the rendez-vous point. After watching the disaster news at a nearby bar for close to an hour, we decided to go for dinner. It only took us a couple of minutes outside before we ran into Basti and a friend of his by sheer coincidence. He had assumed the plan had automatically been called off when the biggest earthquake in Japanese history hit, but I was not so lenient. Appointments need to be kept no matter the circumstances.


The rest of the night was interesting but deviates too much from the main story to be told in detail. We enjoyed a couple of beers, met up with a pathological liar who was “an architect” and “worked over there”, notions he repeated at least half a dozen times during the evening for a purpose that remained unclear to me, and eventually split up to head home.

The problem about heading home was that trains weren’t running and I didn’t really feel like walking 16 kilometers back to Nerima. Instead, I opted to walk back to the office and hope for either the emergency exit still to be open or the elevator to be reinstated. I stopped at several 24/7 combinis on the way only to realize that shelves had been emptied of all lunchboxes and other instant foods by foraging citizens who had slowly spiraled into panic and gone properly mad with overestimating their nourishment needs. For undisclosed reasons, nobody had bothered buying some of the most nutritious products available such as almonds and nuts, which were left for me to scavenge.

Around midnight I finally reached the office, which was still open thanks to a colleague who had stayed behind. We enjoyed some instant noodles before I decided to spend the rest of the night writing about the events of an exceptionally unique day while they were still fresh in my mind. There are still constant aftershocks as well.


P.S. I was also interviewed for Le Temps in French but I have no idea if they will ever use any of that material.