Saturday, March 10, 2012


Saturday March 10, 10:10 a.m.

A lot of these videos have popped up on YouTube over the year since the March 11 earthquake. For anyone who has never experienced a tremor, yup, it was THAT bad. Nothing compared to what the Tohoku went through but it far....the worst shaking that Tokyo had ever been through in many, many years. The following photos were posted a year ago on my previous blog, but I've decided to re-hash some of them here.

Massive bus lines at Shinjuku Station 
My messed-up apartment after midnight 
Commuters pondering options at Iidabashi Station

Outside of the Maynds Bldg, minutes after the quake
 Getting home that night was an odyssey. Subways and trains being shut down was a foregone conclusion. Lines for taxis and buses snaked on for dozens of metres. But the "sho ga nai"(can't be helped) attitude that the Japanese have...which can be darned annoying at times....actually helped preserve the peace. No massive lootings or riots.
Lineups for the public phones

A broken pane was the only damage seen

The lobby of the Southern Tower in Shinjuku

Shinjuku Starbucks shortly after the quake

Trudging home at 11:30 p.m.

Scoured out shelves at the convenience store

A line forms at the neighbourhood supermarket

Early morning subway on Mar 14

My clock stopped right at that time
I got home after midnight Saturday morning after a 7-hour trek from Tokyo back to Ichikawa, Chiba come home to a mess of an apartment. Several of my electronics were on the floor or tatami, including my computer monitor. Strangely enough, all of them still worked like magic! All hail Japanese manufacturing. Took me an hour to get things sorted out. Plus the water came out the color of tea for about 48 hours.

The trek home was a combination of walking and hitching a ride on any subways that were back online. The Oedo Line from Shinjuku Station was probably the earliest to come back at around 8:30 that night. I made it to Iidabashi Station where unfortunately the Tozai Line (my line to get home) would be one of the last lines to recover since it's one of the longest lines in the Tokyo Metro system. Waited there for close to 2 hours before giving up and heading back to the Oedo to at least get a bit closer to home. By that time, the Oedo was packed to the gills with desperate commuters.

I was about to teach at the Maynds Building in southern Shinjuku when the quake struck at 2:46 p.m. My camera clock was running several minutes late, so this is actually very soon after the fact. Ran out, along with many others, and waited with them outside to see the towering skyscrapers of Shinjuku waving like palm trees.

A sight I'd thought I would never see in the age of cellphones. But on March 11, transportation lines and lines of communication would come crashing down. There were people actually forced to use the old green public phones at subway stations once again....something that I hadn't seen the mid-90s. I also several people wearing plastic helmets walking through the station.

In the video I uploaded from YouTube, the Japanese woman reassured her foreign friends that the building they were in was perfectly safe. The Maynds Building is a tall structure going up at least 20 stories. From what I could see on the first floor this broken pane of glass was the only sign of damage. But I'm sure that this building was also doing its fair share of swaying. However, that meant that the anti-quake measures were working....otherwise they would've cracked and crashed. There was that unmanned crane next door, though, that was swinging rather wildly.

Just across the street from the Maynds Building was the Southern Tower which holds Microsoft Japan and a hotel popular with foreign tourists. Again like outside, there were many people in the lobby just pondering their options about getting home. As it turned out, as the hours passed, commuters just took on the grim task of walking it outside of the city. There were literal walls of people heading home that night while the automobile traffic was stuck.

This was the Starbucks in the Maynds Building where I was supposed to teach my student in a private lesson. Around the mid-afternoon, there is often a lull in traffic which makes it easier for me to get a table. But there were certainly more customers before the quake than after as you can see here. The scene at 2:46 wasn't quite as dramatic here as shown in the video but as the quake got stronger and stronger, there was a growing realization amongst the latte-drinking customers that this was no ordinary tremor. Eventually they stopped drinking and chatting and they started looking at the swinging lamps and hearing the vibrating glasses before we all decided to evacuate en masse.

I took the packed Oedo Line as far as Monzen-Nakacho Station, the other link between that line and my Tozai Line. It was much further east and therefore closer to Ichikawa but if the subways hadn't started working, it would've still meant probably a 4 or 5-hour walk home. The main street was still packed to the gills with unmoving traffic while pedestrians streamed home on the sidewalks. I walked past two more stations until a cop at Minami-Sunamachi Station announced that the Tozai was back in operation....some eight hours after going down.

The next morning was a discovery that things were no longer normal. No water, no least, not easily available. I went to the nearest convenience store....which was usually VERY convenient....only to find as of a little after 10 a.m. on March 12, that the shelves were almost virtually cleaned out. It looked like the GUM store in Soviet-era Moscow. There were some samples of bento left, but all of the bottled water was cleaned out early.

This was one of the four supermarkets in my old neighbourhood. Nakamura-ya is located right under my station of Minami-Gyotoku. It opened much later than around 11. But a sizable line had already formed at about 10 a.m. Again, just something that I would never have imagined happening. The other supermarket across the street didn't open, period, for a couple of more days.

On Monday March 14, I went to teach my first student. Usually I left my apartment at 6:30 a.m., but I left that day at around 5:45, thinking that commuters would probably be hitting the subways earlier than usual. My instincts were correct. The Tozai was already at rush hour peak at 6 a.m. I had to get off at Minami-Sunamachi Station and just walked the extra kilometre to reach my student's office.

This was the time when my clock stopped on Friday March 11. For several days, time just seemed to stop for everyone as people tried to cope with the quake, tsunami and then the looming Fukushima disaster.