Monthly Archives: April 2011

4 Weeks After the Big One: Tohoku Earthquake March 11, 2011 (Part Two: The Long Walk Home and Morning After)

(note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and does not represent the rest of the foreigners he was with or met after the tragedy.)

We decided to leave the office and the only option we had was to walk home. After a light meal of crackers and a large cup of ramen, I looked for the fastest route from the office to my apartment with the use of GPS on my phone. Some of my Japanese officemates were a bit surprised that we decided to walk since it was already dark and that the situation was not normal. I had to explain to my boss that we were getting anxious with the frequent aftershocks and we would rather stay in the comfort of our home. After finalizing the route and making sure I had enough battery for the trip, I explained to my fellow Filipino workers that 17kms was no joke. As a runner and have trained for 2 half marathons in my 1.5years of joining running events, 15-17km of train runs was nothing. I can easily cover that distance in less than 2hrs. But after being here in Japan for almost 5 months now, and has been out of shape, I have doubt whether my legs will be fine the next day after this long walk.

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(sample map I had that night)

We left the office together with two other Japanese co-workers and went on our separate routes after 3 intersections. One of them will be walking about 30km plus going to Chiba and the other for about 25km to Saitama. We took the shortest route, passing by famous landmarks around Tokyo. There were a lot of people in the streets walking since the subways and other railways have stopped. Traffic was evident everywhere because major elevated hi-ways were closed for security reasons. There were policemen deployed everywhere showing directions to people who’re lost. Coffee shops and hotel lobbies became places of rest for most people who would rather stay put where they can watch the news. I even heard that Apple stores in Tokyo accepted people to use their wifi for free since the cellular networks were not working well. Apple has a partnership with Softbank telecoms because of their iphone, but even rival network users like NTT Docomo and Au were allowed to use their free wifi. A few kilometers from the office, we passed by Tokyo Tower. The proud and former tallest man-made structure that can be seen at the Tokyo skyline had no indications that it was damaged. The lights were still on as if like a beacon of hope for some of us that night.

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(Tokyo Tower March 11, 2011)

Almost all pay phones had long lines since calls from mobile phones would not connect. I was lucky that the 3G network for data was still working for my GPS. We passed by the Imperial Palace which was dark and the scene outside the walls is still the same. Traffic jam, people walking(happily
chatting with each other but with the sense of urgency), and the occasional sound of the siren of police cars, ambulances or fire trucks. After almost 2 hours of walking and covered about 7-8kms, we reached a very familiar street, Akihabara!!! We saw a kebab shop and took a quick bite for the road. I don’t know if I am just hungry but that was one of the best tasting kebab I had in years.

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When we had our fill, we continued our journey. By that time we were about midway to our apartment. I sensed my companions getting tired so I decided to check if the subways were working. We reached Ueno station hoping to get the Hibiya line subway. There were alot of stranded people in the subway. People were sitting on the floor waiting patiently for the trains to go running again. We had no choice but to continue walking. My GPS was starting to give false data because of the buildings around us but we were pretty sure we were still on-track. We reached Uguisudani and said goodbye to the main roads and went through the small alleys.

The next hour was halfway making guesses of where to go because of the interference on my phone. There were only 6 of us along the dark street. The houses around us were quiet. It was either the people who live there had not yet come home or they were sleeping soundly intently watching the news. A few more minutes we reached a main road and were glad to see cars and lots of pedestrians. I was running out of battery then so we stopped at a 7-11 store to buy water and use their comfort room. I talked to the cashier if it is possible to charge my phone for a few minutes. Sadly they can’t do that and I was offered to buy some external battery. I didn’t buy them cause it was too expensive. We walked on and asked my other companion to set up his GPS and I turned off my phone as soon as I saw a sign saying Arakawa.

We reached Arakawa river in a few minutes and I was quite sure we are almost home. My estimate was about 2-2 and a half kilometers to go. The street was beginning to look familiar because this has been one of my routes during my runs. I happily informed them that we were near and that only a bit more we would be home. And true enough, in less than an hour, we reached our street. The local bars were still open and there were still plenty of customers.

I went up my apartment thinking that my house was probably trashed by the quake. When I opened the door, I saw the pot that was hanging on the wall already on the floor. Tupperware of used oil for deep frying was scattered. I dressed up, charged my phone and started cleaning. When I was done, I took a quick shower and laid on my bed. I was still trembling and every aftershock would make me run for the door. A big aftershock made me dress up for going out and fixed a small luggage of clothes, travel documents and food. I stayed downstairs and watched the building and posts sway every aftershock. People in the bars would go out whenever it was a strong one. It was already around 4am when we decided to stay at one apartment only and in case of another emergency we can easily call each other. I fell asleep around 6am that morning, with my bag beside me and the rest snoring loudly in the other room. (to be continued)

4 Weeks After the Big One: Tohoku Earthquake March 11, 2011 (Part One: What the?!?)

(note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and does not represent the rest of the foreigners he was with or met after the tragedy)

March 11, 2011. Everthing was pretty much normal. I woke up late, dressed up for that day since it was a special occasion for me and Ice, ran to the train station and followed up on a delivery that I thought would be an epic fail because of the date formats in Japan and other countries. (instead of having it delivered on 11/03/11(Japan format of March 11, 2011) I thought it would be delivered on November 3, 2011. I spent the whole morning wondering if it would push through. Work was pretty much the same; support our office abroad and did my own designs. By that time, I have already forgotten about the strong quake we felt on March 9, 2011 near the 11th’s epicenter.

I was not too busy that day; chatting with Ice through skype when we felt the weak vibration. My boss and I were even smiling as if saying to just shrug it off. After 10secs or so, I began to feel nervous because the weak swaying did not stop and it seemed to be getting stronger. I informed Ice that an earthquake was happening that instant but still weak and long. The next few seconds made my knees weak. The office floor was violently shaking, CPUs toppling and the rumbling noise can be heard. By that time, I heard from the Japanese around me that something bad is happening. Japanese people are very used with the feeling of having earthquakes because of their geographic location. But remaining calm under these circumstances Is something very new to me. I was asked to hide under my table because the earthquake has not stopped. The rosary in one hand, my cellphone in the other, I was praying that everything would be ok and was already thinking that my family and friends would be really worried. It took about more than 2 minutes when it stopped. I’m not sure if that time frame includes the next 2 large aftershocks. People were calm in the office, and the earthquake drills we had proved to be effective. I wasn’t aware that I was trembling not until a Japanese friend told me on our way to the fire exit. My hands were shaking so hard that I can’t even dial on my phone. We spent a few minutes outside the building, chatting and nervously laughing when we noticed the dark smoke coming from Odaiba. There were still small aftershocks happening at that time but we are asked to return to the office since things seemed ok already. I have not sat for 10 minutes at my desk when another big aftershock happened. I was ready to duck under my table again but good thing it was a short one.

The next hours in the office were used to gather information where the epicenter hit; footages of the tsunami were already seen in tv thru the cellphones of my bosses. Tsunami warnings of about 10m height were issued at the north-eastern coast. I had no idea where Sendai or Miyagi-ken is but the thought of having a tsunami was scary.

By 7pm, we had not left the office since the railway systems stopped for safety purposes. We were given a packet of long flat brownies(about the size of a family size chocolate bar) and a 250ml bottle of water. After those were distributed, we went out to look for food. Surprisingly, there were alot of people in-queue at restaurants, 7-11 stores and groceries. People were starting to buy supplies and it was running out. But what struck me the most was that there were no signs of panic. People were polite and stayed in line. There was no rushing and no panic buying (buying more than what they cannot consume) then. It took us about 30 minutes to buy some crackers, a cup ramen and some water.
We were already geting anxious in the office because of the constant aftershocks we were feeling so we decided to go home and leave the office around 9pm. (to be continued..)

To see the number of earthquakes that happened since March 11, 2011 in Japan, please see this earthquake map.