Shake, Rattle, and Walk – Japan’s Earthquake

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or dying under one, you may have heard that an earthquake has struck Japan. I don’t intend to make light of a dark situation, but rather to tell you folks about my day. The other day was completely crazy. Here’s some more details;

As you probably know, Japan has earthquakes. I’m not kidding when I say I feel one once every 2 months. In addition, there are numerous small ones that either I don’t feel because I’m on the train or sleeping. The one that hit recently as more of an annoyance than anything. I was working on a project and just barely made the deadline, and then had started to fumble through translating some E-mails when the shaking started. So, I stood up to hold onto our tallest cabinet. My boss did the same and braced another employee’s computer with his foot.

It turned out that this was a long one. They usually last less than 10 seconds, but the 10 second mark passed and we’re standing around feeling a little dumb not knowing what to do. An enigmatic coworker then bolted out of his chair and ran to the office door. I smiled a little bit thinking that he was running out of the building, but he just opened the door and stood in the doorway. He’s a clever fellow. I later found out that he was doing this to prevent the door from being wedged closed.
I tried to tell another person to watch a different shelf but he sort of ignored me as he’s part of a different company sharing our floor. The shelf then proceeded to dump papers all over the floor. I still had a smug attitude and thought to myself “I told ya”. Then shit ramped up and all you can hear is metal blinds shaking and filing cabinets rattling. The noise of an earthquake is easily drowned out by clanking and rattling. I watched our copy machine dance across the floor like a piece of furniture from Fantasia, a few plants fall, and monitors topple over. I was still thinking “This is annoying”, “aw shit, I need to vacuum that dirt up”, and “I’m going to eat curry for dinner”. Then a crack appeared in the wall near my coworker in the doorway. At this point I froze and really didn’t feel like doing much aside from watching the situation unfold. My feet weren’t exactly glued to the floor, but my brain certainly shut down and didn’t let me do anything smart aside from hold that cabinet up.
My boss said in his half-laughing manner (translation) “okee dokee, let’s get out!” As we were snatching our cellphones, the landlord who lives on the top floor of our building was coming down screaming for us to evacuate.

We got outside after the worst of it, but there were still aftershocks hitting. It was scary, especially after 5 years of being in Japan, I’ve never experienced one that could crack walls in a building. However, the building isn’t exactly an impressive new one. Japan put earthquake requirements into building codes sometime in the 70s, and only buildings made in the 80s which had the revised codes are pretty much invulnerable. To quote someone on the internet, “Japan would look like Haiti now if Japan was a 3rd world shithole like Haiti”.
A lot of time was spent outside as people didn’t know what the hell to do. We went to parks and stood around. I dicked around on my phone, running the batteries out and contacting my family telling them I’m not hurt, but a little too sober for my current liking. There was a toppled moped that a few people would try to lift upright, the alarm on it would go off and they would set it right back down. All of the little kids were wearing silver pointy hats, which may have been inflatable hardhats, or fire hoods. They looked like Ku Klux Kindergartners sporting space racism.

All the trains had stopped due to emergency systems, which was a major inconvenience. I’m not embellishing when I say I walked 19 kilometers to get home. I checked my progress on Google maps since Tokyo streets are typically a spiderweb of nonsense. I’ve told other people about it, but I really equate the walk home as some kind of an exodus, because people were walking the routes of their train lines, flooding the already narrow sidewalks. Imagine a basketball game just let out and everyone is walking to their car, except this walk is about 5 hours long, and tragically full of slow-walking folks. Whenever some young dork was slowing down to check directions on his phone rather than step to the side, I wanted to punch him in the back of the head. Whenever a terrifically old person with a grocery trolley meandered all over the sidewalk, I wanted to lift them to eye level to console them by saying “Don’t worry. Your sweet release will be soon, then you can be at peace.” and lightly kissing them on their forehead. Slow walking people on narrow sidewalks already irritates me more than someone licking my eyeballs, but when millions of people are left without transportation and your speed is limited by the slowest common denominator, it becomes a fury.
Right around 11 pm we saw a train running on an overpass and went to the station. Trains had just started up again and people were doing that stereotypical “cram yourself in” silliness with people’s faces so close to the door windows that you could see the condensation from their breath. We rode 2 stations home after walking the distance of 14. The oddest thing happened as we got back home to survey the damage, and were surprised that our surplus of objects on surfaces had survived and surmised that in addition to prayers helping us out, the greatest credit has to go to Japanese engineering. There was literally no damage to our place. Even my empty Pepsi bottle that I had near the garbage can was still standing upright. I believe our building was constructed after the strictest codes were implemented in the mid-80s.

We took a hot bath, bitched about how our feet hurt, ate some nibbles and went to bed. Today we made some “get the fuck out” bags full of supplies in case Tokyo gets hit with anything stronger. On a positive note, this will be one of the rare opportunities I get to use the Spam I bought several years ago. On a negative note, it’s uncertain which is more dangerous; experiencing earthquakes or eating Spam.

Hello friendsSo far, it’s been a big disruption, with not only my girlfriend’s business closed on Saturday, but my English school closed, and pretty much anything aside from a supermarket or convenience store shut down. Supermarkets are out of the most silly of stuff, such as bread, but have ample bottled water which nobody seems to be buying. Most folks probably don’t anticipate any problems with the later supply, and most parks have emergency methods of getting water. However, I don’t understand the fervor surrounding the bread. “Oh lawdy, that erfquake sho’ nuff is scarah! I’mma buy me some bread!” is what most Japanese people wouldn’t say, but would be heard if everyone in Japan was replaced by Aunt Jemima. I cannot get into the Japanese mind as easily as I can into a racist stereotype, but this desire for bread may stem from all emergency kits being stocked with canned bread. Lightweight biscuits in cans that have an extreme shelf life. Like Spam without the lightweight aspect.

All of the TVs are broadcasting God’s reset of Sendai; how the tsunami reduced houses to nothing more than driftwood. Seeing people crying in those situations is tough, and I’ve seen nobody crying inside of Tokyo. Everyone here is either so jaded with human life or is amazingly adept at hiding their true emotions. The stations have been keeping us on edge about the nuclear plant situation, announcing that announcements will come, and then going back on their announcements that they would announce announcements. They say that they would tell us what the situation was at 5:30pm, then don’t say anything. Then it was 6:00pm, then “shortly” for a few hours.

As things are winding down, I’m finally sitting down and putting the day into words. I may have missed a few things such as lines for bathrooms and public phones being incredibly long, charging my cellphone from my laptop while walking, and eating gummi bears, but I feel that you can get a pretty good feel of the situation in Tokyo now. Some folks on the internet were saying that vending machines were dispensing free food, which is bullshit. To live in a city as cool as Tokyo, you have to pay for it.

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