Many in the vlogging and blogging community have been very active within Japan the last few days following the recent earthquake and tsunami events. I’ve been posting updates via twitter and facebook, but also wanted to add something on the blog. I doubt I will do a video recap of my thoughts.
In a nutshell, Tokyo is fine. We felt the earthquake, yes, but we were safe from the tsunami, and are also currently safe from any radiation that escaped from the nuclear explosion of the power plant in Fukushima. Life here feels somewhat normal, though the vibe in the air is one of tension.
I was at home when the quake hit. My new apartment (more on this another time) is on the second floor of a concrete, three floor building. I was getting ready for work when I saw the items in front of my mirror start to shake. I didn’t think anything of it for a moment because Japan experiences minor earthquakes every so often. However, when the shaking only increased in intensity I paused what I was doing. The shaking grew stronger and I saw the objects on my vanity start bouncing around. The ground beneath my feet was no longer stable. I stood in the doorway of my bathroom and hung on to the walls. Objects were falling off the shelves in my kitchen, and I watched the mirror in my bedroom crash to the floor. This continued for what felt like ages, but I think the peak of the quake must have been only 10 or 20 seconds. Once the earth quit moving, my body was still shaking. We had very strong aftershocks immediately following the big quake, some of which were strong enough to have me holding on to my house again.
I emailed my parents immediately to tell them what had happened, and quickly finished getting ready for work. Cell phone service was intermittent. I walked out on the streets of Shinjuku where everyone was standing outside of their office buildings. Small children and some adults were wearing helmets – many people had blankets and bags. It was clear that many families had earthquake evacuation plans they had just put into place. Traffic was slow, and buses were crammed with people. Everyone was standing and waiting for something to happen. All the trains stopped. I was finally able to receive a message on my phone from my manager telling me to go home – that all my classes were canceled for the day. So, go home I did.
I spent the next several hours glued to my computer, watching the news, updating twitter, and learning more about the situation. The tsunami footage was absolutely heartbreaking. There were regular aftershocks all through the day on Friday, and they’re still coming on Sunday morning as I write this post. Friday night I found someone via twitter who needed a place to stay as all the hotels in the area had been booked up. I picked up my “refugee” and gave him a place to rest for a few hours until he was able to get in touch with his friends and catch a train somewhere at around 5:45 Saturday morning. Amazingly, this guy told a friend of his in another part of Japan that he was stuck. This friend put a message out on twitter which was retweeted by a woman I don’t know. This message was then retweeted again by a person I follow on twitter. My refugee said the amount of time between him expressing his need for help and me contacting him was about 15 minutes. Amazing!
For the time being, everything is safe here in Tokyo. Some companies are resuming work tomorrow, others are holding off. There are still some concerns regarding the radiation from the explosion of a nuclear power reactor in Fukushima, but the damage seems to be contained to an area very far north of Tokyo, and reports suggest that the harmful substances are being blown to sea by the current direction of the wind.
The magnitude of the quake seems to be continuing to jump up every day, which astounds me. I hope the people in North Eastern Japan are able to get help and recover quickly. The death toll is rising, as is the count of missing people.
All things considered, though, if there was one place I had to be when an earthquake of this size and destruction hit, it would be Japan. Japan has worked for decades to engineer buildings made specifically for earthquakes. Buildings are designed to sway with the movement of the earth, rather than crack and crumble. There are sea walls in place to help protect against tsunamis. There are automatic shut-off systems for gas, electricity, and power plants that are triggered by earthquakes to prevent any explosions or damage from happening. It’s amazing to think of all the lives that were saved as a result of good engineering and preparedness.
Even the aftermath has been quiet and peaceful. A lot of questions coming from other parts of the world worry about looting, even assaults and rapes. It’s almost absurd to think about those kinds of things happening here. People have quietly gone to the supermarket and made purchases. Some things are in greater supply than others right now because there’s a limit on traffic and what trucks can make it into the city to provide items like baked goods and fresh meats. But there’s still plenty of food available here. There are no riots, there is no looting. When I walked into Shinjuku just after the earthquake, I saw huge lines of people patiently waiting their turn to the use the pay phone to contact their families. I was overwhelmed to tears more than once by how astounding that is. There was fear, absolutely. But the vigilant manner in which everyone conducted themselves really contributed to the success of the reparations that are under way.
Life here now feels normal, but in an eerie way. There are masses of people crowding around TVs in train stations, watching the news. Trains are running, but without any kind of set schedule in some cases. We’re all waiting to see what happens next, and what we can do to help.
North Eastern Japan is the region of the country that still needs help. Tokyo is picking up quickly, and people are already returning to their jobs. If you’re interested in helping, the red cross is accepting donations for earthquake/tsunami relief. You can donate via their website, or also text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 which is automatically deducted from your bill.
I hope everyone reading stays safe. Let’s hope the situation in North Eastern Japan improves quickly. Thank you for your concern. Take care of yourself and your loved ones.
UPDATE FOR THOSE WITH TRAVEL PLANS TO JAPAN: Myself and other residents of Japan have been receiving questions from individuals who had travel plans involving Tokyo and other areas. These questions have been regarding how safe it is to travel to the region at this time – if they should postpone or rearrange their trip, etc. The US Embassy released a statement advising US citizens not to travel to Japan until April 1st, 2011. I am not in a position to recommend or advise against travel in Japan. While I am safe, I cannot be responsible for the safety of others choosing to travel to Japan at this time. I would recommend reading advisories your country has released regarding travel to Japan. Use your own judgment. If you do choose to visit, please be safe and take necessary precautions.