We’re all fine.

Well, Silver feels the need to make that explicit when writing about crashing her trike, so I’d better say it when reporting on the effects of the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan.

As fate would have it, today I was teaching on the other side of Tokyo. It would have to be today, wouldn’t it… The lesson was just finishing, at about a quarter to three, when the seat in the cafe started to shake. That’s, obviously, normal in Japan, but it didn’t stop, and kept getting stronger. Fairly soon, I started looking around to see whether there was a safer looking location that I could get to quickly. There wasn’t; I was near a wall, well away from windows, with nothing hanging from the ceiling over my head. The tremors still didn’t stop, and were getting even stronger, and my next thought was “I really hope the epicentre isn’t off Tohoku again”. Then my student suggested we get our heads under the table, just as I was coming to the same conclusion. The quake didn’t quite get strong enough to make that necessary, but it was certainly strong enough to prevent you feeling at all stupid for doing it.

Oh, and there’s another aftershock. Lots and lots of those…

Bizarrely, I was not at all afraid. This may indicate a psychological problem, because being in the middle of the largest earthquake in Japanese history probably should be a bit scary, but there you have it. Of course, I wasn’t actually anywhere near the middle, fortunately, and the coffee shop was on a basement level, which minimised the shaking, so it was probably a fairly light experience, all told.

Once the shaking finished, which took a very long time, I tried to send Yuriko a text message to say that I was fine. I couldn’t connect. I wasn’t surprised. I kept trying, while I and my student waited for the situation to calm down a bit, so that we could decide what to do next, and finally one of them announced that it had been sent. There was then a disaster announcement, saying that the earthquake had been centred in the same place as the previous two, and that its peak strength had been 7 on the Japanese scale.

7 is disaster.

That was not a good moment, but there isn’t much I can do about Tohoku yet, so I started looking into whether I could get back to Kawasaki and pick Mayuki up from daycare. I went to the underground station, but, unsurprisingly, there were no trains running. As I was coming out again, there was an aftershock, strong enough to make it a bit difficult to walk, and certainly strong enough to make me find another safe place to stand and wait.

When that finished, I checked the stations again (still no trains), and then found a convenience store to get some water and something to eat. Then I asked for directions to Otemachi station, and started walking.

My plan was to walk along the Hanzomon line, so that if the trains started running again I could hop on one of them. The other side of that plan was that, if the trains didn’t get going again, I reckoned I would be home before ten pm. Having been walking the Oyama Kaido recently, I was confident that I could walk that distance, and also that it would take about that long, and that was very important; a lot of people are stuck at work, and I don’t even have an office to sleep in. It turned out to be a good plan, because the trains didn’t restart until about 11pm, and I was, in fact, home by about 9:30. It did mean that, in the end, I spent a bit over six hours walking across Tokyo, and so got a pretty good impression of the damage.

Massive crowds of people in the bus station outside Shibuya railway station
Tokyo: Not a scene of devastation
Basically, there wasn’t much. The big exception was Kudan Kaikan, which had a lot of ambulances and fire engines when I passed, and where I hear the roof collapsed, with at least one fatality. Otherwise, I saw nothing worse than some tiles fallen from a roof, and goods fallen from shelves. The streets were full of people walking home, because all the trains were out, but everyone was calm and even cheerful, even though it got very cold. The convenience stores were all busy, with long lines of people buying supplies, and by the time I got to Kawasaki they were largely sold out. The roads were full of cars. All the expressways were closed, so everyone was on the ordinary main roads, and the traffic was travelling at substantially less than walking pace for most of the time. Yuriko came to the same conclusion as me, and walked home from work to pick up Mayuki.

Of course, I didn’t actually hear from Yuriko until after 4pm, because getting any sort of communication was very difficult, and it was a relief to get confirmation that she was OK. I didn’t get confirmation that Mayuki was OK until 7pm, when another mail from Yuriko made it through to my phone. I wasn’t worried that Mayuki might be seriously injured — I’d seen a lot of not-damaged Tokyo by that point — but I was worried that she might be getting stressed at day care, if Yuriko hadn’t been able to get there. I didn’t hear anything else from her until I got home.

A couple of books lying on the floor in front of bookcases
This was the extent of the damage.
That raises something for people worried about friends and family in Japan. If they are around Tokyo, don’t worry if you’ve heard nothing. There is very little damage around here, but phones, and, in some areas, internet, are not working well at all. They might not be able to tell you that they’re fine, but they almost certainly are.

When I got home, I found that there was very little damage. The shelves in the washing area outside the bathroom had fallen over, a few books had fallen off the shelves in my office, and one part of the Hina dolls display had fallen onto one of the painted shells, shattering it. That’s a shame, but looking at Tohoku, utterly trivial. Mayuki even seemed to have been quite excited by the earthquake. Certainly, she was soon demanding that we turn off boring earthquake news, and put Thomas the Tank Engine on instead.

That was more or less as I’d expected, so on the way home I kept worrying about Tohoku. One of my students is up there at the moment, and I’ve been able to make contact with her and confirm that she’s OK, so that’s a relief. However, it’s looking really bad.






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