Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Blogging from Japan – updated 3/13/11

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Friday, March 11, 2011

As many are now discovering, Japan has been rocked with an 8.9 magnitude earthquake – the largest the nation has ever experienced – and subsequent tsunami. Underwater shock waves reportedly traveled at 500mph – the speed of a jet airliner – and have reached Hawaii, and will have reached the Pacific West Coast by press time. The initial waves are always the smallest, so mandatory evacuations in Hawaii have occurred already, and evacuation warnings along Oregon and Washington have been issued, and may authorities may extend warnings into the California coastline.

A high school friend of mine is an airline pilot, and is now in Tokyo, Japan as I write. He had earlier written on Mon 12:30 PM on his FaceBook page that “I’ll be spending the next 14 hours in the air, beginning my 7-day Asia adventure. Beijing, Tokyo, Beijing,  home

Things seemed quite normal otherwise, as he shared cultural differences, some of which were humorous – such as the Ding Ling brand shaver. “Bet you wish you had a Ding Ling Shaver, too!” Thu 1:33 AM

In a lot of little ways, China is still a mysterious place.” Thu 1:35 AM

A toilet should not have, or need, this many instructions. Welcome to Tokyo!” 18 hours ago

For those who think everything in Japan is sleek & modern, I present the ubiqiotous Toyota Crown. Japan’s answer to the Ford Crown Victoria – a favorite of cabbies & cops alike.” 12 hours ago

had an interesting lunch today. Not the food: a fried cutlet of indeterminate origin, a plate of rice, and some sort of brown gravy. Japanese poutine, if you like. What was strange was the restaurant; a tiny place crammed with businessmen. You order and pay at a vending machine, then sit at a crowded table. By the time you sit down, the waitress has brought your plate from the kitchen, steaming hot. It’s like magic!” 12 hours ago

And then, this… “always wondered what it would be like to be in an earthquake. No more, after experiencing one in a 36 floor hotel in Tokyo! HOLY CRAP! The building rocked, rolled, and creaked like it was going to fall. Still creaking, but they announced that “The building is constructed for maximum safety in an earthquake.” Not sure if it’s any safer outside between these towers…” 11 hours ago

And this…

A Longer Version of the Earthquake Saga

It’s 12:30 in the morning, and I’ve given up trying to get to sleep for a while. The earthquake, now known to be the strongest in Japan’s history, was at 2:46 PM, but we’ve had intermittent shaking ever since. Another significant aftershock at 12:15 set the floor to swaying and the building to creaking – again. I’ll bet we’ve had 40 aftershocks, with at least 10 of them being stronger than most earthquakes. I’m not really worried that the building is going to fall anymore; the designers & builders have earned my respect and admiration. I’m worried I’m going to be stuck in the scene of a natural disaster, unable to get home. I’m tired and ready for a good night’s sleep, but that’s just not looking too promising.

As far as the tsunamis go they’re not my problem, as awful as they are. Tokyo is pretty far inland, and well above sea level, so we’re safe from that.

More on what the quake was like. I’d just laid down for a quick nap before the evening flight to Beijing. I felt the bed kind of wiggling, and thought “Oh cool; a little earthquake! I’ve never felt one before.” I got up and opened the curtains to see what was going on outside. People were still going about their business – Japan has little quakes all the time. But this time it kept getting stronger, and as I saw the people on the street stop and take notice, I decided I’d better get dressed just in case. By the time I was trying to put my pants on, I couldn’t stay standing, so I flopped on the bed, popped on pants and shoes, then looked for somewhere “safe.” The quake kept intensifying, and by now the building was swaying and creaking pretty loudly. I didn’t think I could make it down the stairs, but wanted to keep my options open, so I opened my room door and sat down under the doorframe. Looking up, I noticed stuff falling from the ceiling – bits of drywall getting ground off around the edges perhaps. I wondered how long these things last, hoping that we had to be done soon. The shaking only got worse, and I swore I could feel (and hear) the building twisting around me. By now the creaking was awful and I was really wondering if the building would hold. Also thinking that it might not be any safer outside, in between all these big buildings. All it takes is one pane of glass to pop out and you’re done for. Of course in here I had 27 floors above me that I’d suddenly become very aware of.

About a minute or so into this, an automated announcement came on the PA – in Japanese, of course. I really, really, really wanted to know what they were telling us to do, and really hoped it would be followed up with a translation. It took about 30 seconds, but they came back in English and helpfully reminded us to “Remain calm. This hotel is built for maximum safety in an earthquake.” Thank you.

The shaking eventually subsided after about three minutes, but the building had some momentum going and didn’t stop swaying and creaking for at least five more minutes. Then the aftershocks began – at least two of them were stronger than last month’s New Zealand earthquake, if that gives you a reference. Just as I was calming down about the little ones we’d have another that started the hotel swaying & creaking again. Most recently the 12:15 one; 8-1/2 hours after this all began.

The news was saying that literally MILLIONS of commuters were stuck in the city since the trains and busses were stopped, and convenience stores are running out of snack foods. About 6 PM, just over 3 hours after the initial quake, I started wondering about food myself. So I headed down to see if the hotel restaurants were open. They were, but the lobby was a madhouse of stranded travelers. The maitre d’ said it would be at least an hour, took my room number, and advised me to go back to my room and wait for his call. An hour later I was enjoying a delicious, if expensive buffet, eating like I might not get to eat again for a while. I now have a bevvy of water bottles at the ready, a flashlight by me bed, and I’ll be sleeping (or not) fully clothed tonight.

So now it’s almost 2, and I’m going to try again to sleep. Wish me luck…

UPDATE 3/13/11

It’s been about an hour and a quarter, and we’re still getting aftershocks. The area around the hotel has little visible damage, and most of the sirens sound pretty far away. At first I thought “Cool,” but it just kept building & building, …to the point where I wasn’t sure if I could have successfully navigated the stairs. The building was twisting & creaking like Grandma’s rocker. I opened my room door and stood in the doorframe, just to have options if anything happened. Bits of plaster rained down from the ceiling. I officially have a new “Scariest Moment In My Life!”
Friday at 1:45am

About 4 hours after the initial quake, and things have stopped shaking. Tried to get some food, but with literally millions of workers stuck downtown, it’s looking unlikely. I’ve heard now that this was officially the largest quake to EVER hit Japan. Do I know how to pick ’em, or what?
Friday at 3:44am

It made my short list for “Least Favorite Moments,” for sure… The hotel staff has handled it well, and I had a delicious, if expensive dinner buffet. The flight out is canceled, of course. Can’t wait to try to sleep tonight…
Friday at 5:08am

Just to make it clear; I’m in downtown Tokyo, so tsunamis aren’t a direct threat here. Not to say they aren’t huge and awful, just that I’m safe from that particular threat. Just wish these stupid aftershocks would knock it off!
Friday at 7:05am

Thanks. I’m hopeful I’ll get out of here with nothing but stories.
Friday at 7:37am

‎12:15 AM, the floor is swaying again and the building is creaking like an old rocking chair. This is NOT going to be a restful night!
Friday at 9:21am

I am extremely thankful for Japan’s strict building codes. If this had happened anywhere but here or the US/Canadian West Coast, I suspect many of these buildings would have crumbled.
Friday at 9:25am

I wish I’d had the presence of mind to record, but honestly I was scared enough all I could think about was surviving. I heard some planes diverted to a US airbase at Yokota – it’s possible our plane is there since it was scheduled to land right at Q-Hour. I think Narita will reopen sometime tomorrow, barring any further trauma.

finally got to sleep around 4:30 AM, after four more significant aftershocks. Slept until the 10:45 shock woke me up. Things are pretty normal for a Saturday in downtown Tokyo – not a lot of visible damage. I’ll be heading out soon to look around. Rumor has it we pick up our trip tomorrow to Beijing. If so, our 7-day trip has become a …9-day. Can’t wait to get home and sleep in my own (stationary) bed.See More
Friday at 10:25pm

Looks like I’ll be leaving tomorrow. A bunch of us knuckleheads are meeting to go out for noodles & a beer tonight, then I’ll be flying back to Beijing for two days, then FINALLY home. An eventful nine days, to be sure!
Saturday, 3/12/11 at 12:18am

That was just after the big one; during the quake I was busy doing other things. I think one of the bigger aftershocks was during that conversation.
Saturday, 3/12/11 at 12:42am

Kinda strange on this end, too. We’ve had about a gazillion little aftershocks since – every few hours one is strong enough to elicit some creaking from the hotel. I’m just amazed at how little real damage there was in downtown Tokyo. I didn’t see a single broken pane of glass. These guys are GOOD!
Saturday, 3/12/11 at 12:49am

What’s amazing Melanie is how LITTLE damage there was in Tokyo, considering how hard the ground shook! Don’t know what caused that fire, but things are pretty much back to normal for a Saturday here in the financial/government district.
Saturday, 3/12/11 at 1:02am

had my first “normal” moment in a while this evening. Went with three other pilots to an Irish pub, and had a big ol’ plate of fish & chips and a beer. Maybe two… :-)
 Now hoping for a normal nights’ sleep. Good night, everyone.
Saturday, 3/12/11 at 5:24am

Got about 10 hours of much-needed Zzz time. Feeing a lot better today – ready to go! Narita Airport is open & operating. They had some minor structural damage, but didn’t have to evacuate the building. I am expecting bedlam when we get ther…e, with all the canceled flights over the last two days. Good thing: I know I have a seat!, and the plane will NOT leave without me!
23 hours ago

Fortunately (for me) all that stuff is pretty far away. From your perspective, it would be like the fires, tsunami and nuke stuff are in Montgomery. I’m supposed to leave in a few hours for Beijing.
18 hours ago

Reporting safe & sound, if a bit tired, in Beijing. No more natural disasters for a while please!
6 hours ago via

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