The Modern Tokyo Times

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My week in Tokyo after the earthquake struck

My week in Tokyo after the earthquake struck

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Empty train at Night in Tokyo after the earthquake 

March 11th at 2.30 pm appeared to be nothing special in Tokyo because like usual the capital city was busy and the onrushing crowd could be seen and felt all over the capital. However, at 2.46 pm everything changed because a 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit Japan and the potency could be felt in Tokyo despite the epicenter being far away.

I was in the Yurakcho area when the earthquake struck and I could see the JR Yurakcho train line shaking violently and the same applied to the ground and buildings nearby.  It became apparent from the first second that this was no ordinary earthquake because the potency and strength was beyond my imagination.

Also, unlike other earthquakes that I have witnessed in Japan the longevity of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake was long and severe.  The pavement felt like it was going to burst and second after second felt like a lifetime because many things were flashing in my mind.

I witnessed people running out of the book shop and other buildings close to the train station in Yurakcho and some women were crying because they were visibly shocked.  While others were watching the train station swaying and amidst the confusion people just stood and gazed in bewilderment. 

After this, then parts of Tokyo grinded to a halt and this notably applied to the train system and companies which had a strong earthquake policy.  However, amidst the confusion many retail shops stayed open in Ginza and people were still shopping in some department stores after the first major earthquake struck because the magnitude of the earthquake was still unknown.

I entered the Tokyo International Forum for safety because I know that buildings are built to the highest standard in Tokyo and in other major cities throughout Japan.  If I had been in any other nation then I would have avoided a major building out of fear.  However, I know full well that Japan designs buildings in order to resist the destructiveness of earthquakes and the Nihonbashi, Ginza, and Yurakcho area is in a very exclusive part of Tokyo and the state of the art buildings are a class apart.

The next few hours passed and major aftershocks could be felt from time to time but most people did not panic.  I, like many others, searched for information and then it soon became apparent that the earthquake had hit Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, and outlying prefectures, very hard.

In time it became known that a devastating tsunami followed but information at first was very sketchy.  By this time the transportation system was in chaos and I was walking around various parts of Tokyo and I got lost between Akihabara, Kanda, and Otemachi.  However, by 10pm the metro system began to work and I found a Mita Line train station and entered a jam-packed train and headed home.

It was not until the following day that news began to emerge that the death total was going to be very high.  This was because of the terrible tsunami which destroyed many coastal parts of Japan.

Aftershocks were ongoing and Tokyo felt very strange one day after the earthquake had hit Japan.  Many companies were closed and the train system remained to be chaotic on some lines and the aftershocks were adding to the uneasiness.

After several days more and more news was filtering out and it was apparent that thousands of people had died in Iwate, Fukushima, Miyagi, and regional prefectures in the same part of Japan. 

Shops were running empty on food in Tokyo and many companies were closed or reduced the working day.  I myself visited Seiyu and was amazed that food hoarding was happening so quickly because Tokyo had escaped relatively unscathed compared with people along the coast of north-eastern Japan.

All my appointments were cancelled for one full week and many mobile phone companies were not operating fully.  More important, it was becoming more apparent that a split was emerging between the areas devastated by the earthquake and tsunami compared with people in Tokyo.

This applies to the nuclear plants in Fukushima because the fear of radiation was felt in Tokyo and neighboring prefectures like Chiba, Kanagawa, and Saitama.  Therefore, while local people were feeling the tragic loss of life in Iwate and Miyagi and clearly were finding life hard because of electricity failure, lack of running water, and of course many had been made homeless. 

The situation was different for Tokyoites because while sympathy and concern went out to the earthquake and tsunami hit areas; it was apparent that the radiation factor was more of a problem.

For people in Fukushima they had to face the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear factor, together because all three tragedies hit this part of Japan.  Therefore, while the nuclear issue became a concern in Iwate and Miyagi; they could not afford the luxury of Tokyoites to mainly focus on radiation because they were too busy finding dead people in the thousands and facing the brunt of power blackouts and other negative factors.

The most noticeable change in Tokyo is that people are finishing work early or companies have closed down or reduced the working day.  Therefore, by 9pm at night from March 12th to March 18th the silence of Tokyo was apparent because many trains are quiet and many shops are closed.

It is also noticeable that many foreign nationals are leaving because of the fear of radiation but I, and others, have no intention of leaving Tokyo because this is my home.

My heart goes out to the people of Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, and other badly hit areas and in truth I count myself lucky that I reside in Tokyo.  I do not worry about radiation because I believe that Tokyo is too far away and I feel a sense of guilt to worry about this.

Also, my working-class Manchester nature is strong and my northern English roots and culture is based on being tenacious and not giving up.

After all, thousands of people have been killed by the earthquake and tsunami.  Therefore, it is the people of Fukushima who are on the frontline of the nuclear crisis and I can write every day, travel by train, take a shower when I want, and use the infrastructure of Tokyo.

The silence is eerie at night and my economic situation is being hit by the earthquake.  However, thousands of families wish they had only my basic problems but sadly they have lost everything.

More than one week after the tragic earthquake and tsunami and Tokyo still feels strange.  This applies to silence at night, food hoarding, business closures or reduced working hours, and a sense of fear about radiation for some Tokyoites.

However, for some you still see people meeting friends, having a drink, shopping during the day and the usual things.  Therefore, just like when the earthquake first struck, it is apparent that people have different thinking and for some it is business like usual but in a more guarded way. 

While for others they are visibly in shock and are anxious about the ongoing nuclear crisis and are saddened by the destruction and huge loss of life in Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, and other coastal areas.

Tokyo life is currently in a flux and like Japan itself, it is clear that March 11th will be embedded into the psyche but for all the wrong reasons.   


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