Tag Archives: Shibuya

Pimeä tie, mukavaa matkaa

When I went to sleep last night everything seemed to be increasingly under control. I called my boss around 8 and confirmed that I should go to the office tomorrow, provided it’s physically possible. Well I have an awesome bike so not even canceled trains are able to thwart that. In addition, the rolling blackouts were supposed to occur in Nerima at 6:20-10:00 and 16:50 to 20:30 which basically meant that going to work would allow me to follow the news and keep in touch with people instead of lying in bed reading manga. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter, I’m just quite interested in knowing when some inconceivably destructive incident occurs again. There’s a history of those during the past couple of days. The office is situated in downtown Tokyo, in an area exempt of blackouts due to a large concentration of political institutions, including most of the embassies.

Of course, the rolling blackouts did not actually begin today either because TEPCO cannot get their shit together. In unrelated news, going to the office had also been canceled but I had been out of reach so I ended up cycling there anyway before learning of the change of plans. After hearing some other negative news about the Fukushima plant, I went to Shibuya to have a Japanese pizza buffet for lunch and witness the relatively quiet streets again. I guess I’ll ramble about the unique attributes of Japanese pizza some other time.

What do you mean Jim rubs birds

I recently stated that life in Tokyo is proceeding as normal. This is only partially true, although far closer to the truth than the widespread panic in western media. A couple of peculiarities can be observed. People are still emptying stores of all fresh food. Not food that actually doesn’t spoil and could save you if you were isolated from all services for months though, only the good stuff. I don’t know if the locals will combat the growing fear by stuffing themselves full of sushi and steaks but it sure appears like that. Another specific phenomenon is the rush to gas stations. Throughout Monday there were lines of dozens of cars attempting furiously to secure something they widely believe to be the last tankful of gas in the city.

Because I’m personally affected by the situation in Japan as well as have the unpleasant task of calming people back in Finland and elsewhere who believe I will be dead within a week, I tend to place emphasis on conveying news reports that do not concentrate on scaring people with vague comparisons to historical events and repeating the term “radiation” like a fucking buzzword. Some misinformation can be attributed to the intermedia degrading grapevine effect. I totally made that term up.

According to the information collected, Tokyo should be fine. I have yet to hear about a nuclear plant accident that would have been inherently lethal 240kms away from the main location. Even if and when the current hazard escalates further, the damage will most likely only concern Fukushima and it’s surroundings, i.e. the danger will remain relatively local. I am currently scouting the possibility to go to west Japan for some contemplating but just to be clear: leaving Japan is my last goddamn resort. If I leave, I can’t come back. Therefore, I’m very reluctant to fly back home due to rumors and misinformed opinions. I hope that those who care about me understand this and can trust me in making the right choice while taking all variables into consideration. In all honesty, I have enough to cope with here as is.


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.


It’s difficult to stand on both feet, isn’t it

The second week here didn’t go quite as smoothly as the first. In retrospect, going to the gym and to the sauna at Spa World while still kind of recovering from the flu might have been a bad idea. Eventually I spent the beginning of the week sneezing. Constantly. And it was particularly frowned upon on the train, but しょうがない。 That was a mandatory Gaijin smash. On a more positive note, Friday was an unexpected public holiday which not only allowed me to recuperate but also to go have a few (8) beers in Shibuya with a German friend of mine. The evening was both depressing and encouraging, considering Basti, whom I referred to in the previous sentence, speaks perfect Japanese and makes me look like a tool. But after hearing about his job opportunities and other perks that speaking Japanese brings, it made me even more fired up to learn the language correctly this time around. My only connection in Tokyo now being a trilingual kaisha-in and avid drinker is indeed a good towards that goal. Naturally, after the first couple of beers my Japanese picked up as well and I was able to enjoy the evening to its fullest.

For Saturday, there had been talks of going to a Valentine’s Day party full of, and I quote, “desperate chicks who want a boyfriend before Valentine’s Day”. Disregard that, a full-fledged nomihoodai would probably have been too much just after I had began to recover for the second time, so I decided that one evening of drinking during this particular week was enough and opted out. I’ll have enough time to party later if I can manage to stay alive. The weather was horrendously bad on Saturday anyway so I mostly stayed home honing my Japanese in the laziest possible way, multitasking Japanese tv-shows, anime and manga while vigorously flipping through dictionary pages. Seeing as my dictionary is, in reality, just a computer application, the previous sentence was added mostly for verbal flavor and to remind readers that I tend to lie about everything that happens here. All references to real people are purely coincidental. I’m running an infinite improbability drive in my kitchen. I don’t have a kitchen. Moving on.

My earlier decision strengthened during the weekend, and thus learning Japanese has now been set as the number one goal during my stay here, using the 決めた-rule. The only hurdle that still prevents me from committing all my spare time to said activity is my thesis who, despite all my begging, has not began writing itself yet.


Sunday was the first day in a while with sunny weather, which prompted me to attempt to finish my last important business as a settler, namely finding a bike. Once again, the mission proved to be incredibly dull and difficult to accomplish. While I had previously googled every bicycle shop in my general living area and near the office, second hand shops had been impossible to find. This was because they are part of the Japanese obsolete domestic market and are usually decrepit shacks run by old men at the end of narrow passageways. Businesses of such an anachronistic nature tend not to be on the web. Walking around didn’t help much either so it could well be that such shops are on the verge of extinction by now anyway.

My own 三日月 (obscure anime reference, don't bother)

In the bicycle shops I eventually visited, the cheapest mamachari were quoted at over 10000 yen, with the bulk of them being so far from my size requirements that no amount of tinkering from the part of the ten-in was of any real use. I was happy they tried, though. I came to notice during my previous stay that Japanese shop assistants are notorious for an action pattern dubbed: controversial attempt at understanding the gaijin followed by vague mumbling and quick evacuation of the premises. This didn’t happen in these well-equipped bike shops, possibly because I either somehow managed to tell them what I needed in Japanese or just because I won in the shop clerk lottery. Once the morning had been spent walking and talking with no results, I took a small break and decided to walk to, all puns aside, Hard-Off. Hard-Off is like Book-Off for hardware. The store sells all kinds of second hand electronics at incredibly low prices. There was supposed to be one within a walking distance (1 hour walk) of my apartment so I decided to bite the bullet and try to find it.

I didn’t. What I did find, however, was Treasure Factory, a recycling shop that sold a large variety of random previously owned items, including a couple of second hand mountain bikes. As I was getting desperate, I quickly asked the salesperson if I could try them for size and ended up buying one just so I could get the whole ordeal over with. The bike is in no way a perfect fit, but at least I can manage. It will take me 32 trips to the office and back to justify the total cost north of 20000 yen, but considering it should improve my quality of life in other ways, it was good to get that transaction out of the way. In the best-case scenario I can also sell it when I leave. Or I can just never leave. DUN DUN DUNNN!