It has been nearly one year since the March 11 disaster. The earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis affected millions of people. Although the disaster had a profound effect on many people and their lives, Japan is recovering and very much “open for business.”
GaijinPot invites readers to share their memories and thoughts about the events of March 11. What were you doing when the earthquake struck? How did it affect your life?
Please share your comments with us below.
Last Updated: 11 March, 2012.
Thank you for all GaijinPot readers, we have received many memories, we will update new memories as soon as possible.
British, Saitama-ken, Male, Photographer
British, Saitama-ken, Male, Photographer
I was living in Fukushima-ken when the earthquake struck. Working in a hotel as a receptionist.
Moments like that stay with you forever. I discovered I protect people in an emergency, you never quite know how you will react until it happens. I also learnt just how powerful mother nature can be.
5 months after, I went to Sendai to see the damage for myself, it was horrific and the shear scale is difficult to even describe, it just seems to go on forever.
Luckily, my son had had influenza and wasn’t allowed to return to school until the following Monday. As he’d been at home all week, my wife and I had taken turns to be off work. Thankfully it was me that day, otherwise I’d have been stranded at my office in Setagaya.
As the shaking escalated, I decided we should evacuate our early 1980’s danchi. We got out to the street and into the park out front as the shaking hit it’s peak. It seemed all matter was in flux with everything buckling. There was a disturbing mix of fracturing noises and people’s voices, though I don’t recall any screaming. It was utterly surreal but any feeling of panic only really came afterwards. I then noticed almost no one else had evacuated. I now wonder whether I was doing the right thing in getting my son out of the building. I can remember reaching the entrance after running down from the third floor and thinking this is it – what if something falls now – glass or concrete. But I truly expected the apartment building to come down so we just flew out of there.
Once the shaking had subsided, we went to fetch my daughter from her nursery school and about an hour later we could find my wife. Fortunately, her work place is within walking distance.
Of course compared to what was happening up north, this was nothing, but I’ve had a great many ‘what if’ thoughts since 3/11.
American male in Tokyo
Friday 3/11 around noon a Japanese friend asked if I would like to go to the Hotel/Sento, Eurasia in Urayasu. So there I was boiling like a piece of meat sitting in a pot at the shabu shabu restaurant. Around 2pm we went up to the 10 floor to have lunch, soba and a few beers. The views from restaurant and deck there are great.
Overlooking the Disney Resort area, pretty much all of the Chiba Peninsula and all of Tokyo out to Yokohama, Fuji san and beyond. My buddy just returned to our table, when I asked do you feel that… earthquake? He said no I don’t think so as he looked around before sitting down. As he took his seat, he said I feel it now. (It started off with a slow rolling motion) We started talking about the earthquake just a week or so before that was centered in the Tohoku area. We were interrupted as building started to sway side to side, the lights swinging as the intensity grew stronger and stronger. I moved away from the windows, my buddy thinking it would end soon stayed seated. The shaking continued and became more intense and ominous sounds began coming from building. The disaster in Christchurch flashed through my head. The 30 or so people in the dining room were calm, but tense. I heard a few screams of, I’m scared (kowagatte!) go, get out (deteiku!)
Then it really hit us. The building began shaking violently, from the kitchen you heard things falling, the cooks came out to the dining area, cups and glasses falling to the floor. I saw one end of the portable salad bar at least a foot in the air before it came down with a crash, plates, silverware, bowls of salad fixings all bounced out, followed by the drink fountain crashing to the floor just a few feet from where I was holding on tightly to a counter. My buddy managed to get to where I was as we rode it out. The actual 3 or 4 minutes seemed to last 15 minutes. We took the stairs down to the 8th floor where the locker rooms are located so we could change from our yukata to street clothes. Once at our lockers my keital had a few messages(fb & twitter) from my brother in California…are you shaking? and let me know you are ok & stay away from the ocean, tsunami. I replied I’m good, but believe there will be 100 if not 1000’s injured or dead.
We changed and got to the 6th. floor where we had to wait because of damage in the stairway. There were about 300 people, all on edge but pretty calm considering. There were small TV’s connected to the 50 or so massage lounge chairs and a large TV on the wall behind the bar. This is where we could see what was happening. The first images I see on TV is that of the fishing boat being (forced) pushed under a bridge and the water coming over the sea wall flooding the town followed by the scenes of Sendai Airport and surrounding farm land being engulfed by the tsunami. I got a beer while standing at the bar, just what I needed . . . seconds later I got another and headed out to the deck to have a look outside. Scanning the horizon as I walked onto the deck could see Sky Tree was still standing and thought that was good, even if it’s an eyesore. I could see smoke coming from the Odaiba area. Out on the Chiba Peninsula I could see a lot of thick black smoke, I figured it must be one of the refineries.
As I got to the edge of the deck I could see hundreds of people gathering outside the Urayasu sports center, I then noticed 15 or so guys running across an empty field between my location and the sports center. I could see water gushing up from the ground. There were huge cracks in the ground as seawater was flooding the area. It was then that an aftershock hit, 7.8? (an earthquake in itself) I thought it was the end for me (thinking that the deck was separating from the building) I dropped my draft as I tried to keep my balance and get back inside, away from the windows.
Soon we were evacuated out to the parking lot and navigating our way along the flooded and buckled sidewalks/streets with several hundred other people trying to keep our feet dry. My friend offered to give me a ride home if I wanted to walk his house in Maihama, but seeing the traffic, condition of the roads and not knowing if we could get over the bridge I thought it would be best to walk home, plus my wife works at a hotel in the area and I wanted to check on her. She was fine, although very busy taking care of the 2000+ guests filling the hotels lobby with nowhere to go.
Knowing that my wife was safe and that we could keep in contact using fb & twitter, I head out for home. On my way I stopped at a conbini to pick up a few beers. A store employee said the power was out and they could not make change, I said that was not a problem. I picked up a six-pac of Sapporo tall and a pack of smokes, about 1800 yen. Gave the cashier 2000 yen and I continued on my home. I strolled along on my way home smoking, drinking and stopping to take pictures. I feared the worst and hopped for the best. I was happy to find that I could cross the local bridge and didn’t have to walk the long way around (not that I couldn’t use the exercise) After crossing the bridge I was about 15 minutes from home. Some neighbors had set up camp outside their apartment buildings with generators, tarps, tents and lights, stacks futons, blankets and pots of food cooking.
As I approached my apartment. I could see that things looked good from the outside. The longest 30 minutes of my walk home was stopping to talk with my neighbors. They wanted to make sure that I was okay and if I could contact my wife, is she okay… Entering my ground floor apt. and having a look around, you would never have thought there was an earthquake. I filled my bathtub with water and opened all windows and doors a bit as a safety precaution before going back out to join my neighbors. I kept family and friends updated through facebook until my wife came home at 1:30am.
My thoughts and how it affected my life? I think Shintaro Ishihara Tokyo Governor, Masataka Shimizu, TEPCO President, Naoto Kan PM, Yukio Edano Government spokesman and many other officials should be accused!
Western media BBC & CNN sensationalized the disaster for ratings while NHK proved itself to be nothing more that a worthless Government Puppet. I truly admire the spirit, strength and resiliency of the people in the Tohoku region and the Japanese in general. Whether you like social media or not, it’s a good idea to have it for emergencies.
German exchange student, Tsukuba
I was at a sports camp in a gym with other students in Inashiki, out in the real inaka of Ibaraki. We first joked about it, like the one on Wednesday before, but it didn’t stop and I got a bit worried. I stood in the corner and a small Panasonic telly came flying in front of my face. Scary like in a hollywood disaster movie. Later we decided to cancel the trip to a shopping center and return straight for Tsukuba. Nevertheless, traffic was horrible and I didn’t get the details from the radio.
Back home I had neither electricity nor water nor internet. No chance to get news from the main source. No chance to prepare my flight to a conference in India next morning. I spent a night at the refugee center since I was told not to stay alone. I woke up after sleep on the wooden floor, interrupted by a few dozen earthquakes, with news of no bus to Narita, Fukushima plant without cooling (which obviously meant meltdown and explosion with high probability in the immediate future) and traffic to Tokyo not restored yet.
Internet and electricity were restored at around noon. Got real information then instead of no danger of a meltdown. In the meantime, while I left for Shizuoka, via Toride with Joban sen to Tokyo, they vented. Before I reached Tokyo, block one exploded. I was extremely worried, since it wasn’t possible to get info whether the containment was breached or not. At that point, precise knowledge of what might have happened in the worst case really sucked. I reached Shizuoka at eight in the evening. First warm meal and shower in 36 hours.
I am a 27 years old Software Engineer from Pakistan
On March 11th I experienced something I doubt I will experience again. It is still fresh in my memory, it was something out of this world.
It was a normal day until after lunch when the earth shook like if it were going to come apart. I would be lying if I said the thought of death didn’t cross my mind. Yes Japan is prone to earthquakes but this one as I said was not like anything else.
Though I work in Saitama (and thank fully on the ground floor) it was easier to just run outside, where the scene was truly astonishing, when 30 to 40 story buildings shaked as if they were standing on jelly, you know you were in big trouble. I work in an area which was crowded with high risen buildings and it was just amazing how even after such a powerful shock, everything stood in it’s place, just a few broken glass windows.
The complete effect of this were felt afterwards when for the first time, I was in the middle of a blackout in Japan. Since almost everything runs on electricity here, I felt paralyzed to a certain extent.
The worst part of all this was the news of the Fukushima reactor. Me and my friend spent the entire night watching the news on NHK. The news showed the destruction around the east coast of Japan and what I felt cannot be explained.
What did I get / learn from your experience of 3-11?
The reaction of the Japanese after this disaster was just heart warming, the attitude of the Japanese people, who as a nation showed the world how to deal with huge disasters. Though Major part of Japan was still in tact, they did everything they could to help their fellow countrymen in need. This is something I will take with me and cherish this experience of helping people by something as little as saving electricity.
From here: Updated: 10 March, 2012.
American, Female, Vocalist, Tokyo
I was preparing for a gig on 3-11-2011.
I had an early rehearsal to get to, and was riding my bike to the station. As I approached the stoplight/crosswalk, I noticed people clinging onto each other in a strange way, as if drunk… I looked up, and saw and heard the power lines swaying/ clanking. I moved my bike to a less populated spot, and parked it next to me. I felt like I was on a surfboard; I could not stand up easily. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want to ruin my stage make up, so I made whimpering sounds instead…
I called my son immediately, who was at University, and he said I’m OK. I don’t want to think about how frantic I might have become, had I waited longer, and would not have been able to reach him. There was a man nearby holding onto a street sign laughing at me. I asked him What are you laughing at? He just smiled, and then I laughed too. I was so shook up, it was all so surreal it just seemed natural… We were complete strangers, but we shared the moment…
After that one phone call to my son, only text messages got through. I tried to contact my Aunt, who had arrived in Japan for her first visit here, 2 days earlier, but no dice…I stood on a long line for a pay phone, to try to contact the musicians…
After a time waiting for the trains to resume, I realized it wasn’t going to happen, and neither was my gig- I still have the unused 3-11 dated train ticket, as a souvenir…
I rode my bike home, to find my TV was intact, to my relief. I thought it might be face down on the floor. The electricity was on, so I got online and made contact with the club owner, the musicians, my friends, and relatives back home. I was so disappointed, to cancel the gig. It had been promoted for months… Then I turned on the television and saw the horrible aftermath, up north, and I felt fortunate that I, and everyone I knew, had survived…
My son arrived home the next day, after camping at his school overnight, as the trains were stopped and then, congested…It was peculiar. Before I left my house that day, bound for my rehearsal, I got down on my knees and prayed for our safety; that we all get where we were going and back safely. I don’t know why, I just felt it…
British English Teacher, Female, Sapporo
I was teaching a student when the coffee cups shook like Jurassic Park and the plants swayed. She went home. I stayed at work while there were two more quakes – my boyfriend at home watching TV said.
It’s a big one in Miyagi….but…oh..wait, wait …there are cars in the sea, right now on Tv, cars in the sea…
My student comes from Sendai and I called her, she was trying to call her mother and sister (all ok later). I went home. It was my 50th birthday weekend: boyfriend had secretly booked a white limo with champagne and roses etc – it was the strangest birthday weekend. On the Saturday night I stood up thru the sunroof of a limo driving thru Sapporo, drunkenly singing Happy Birthday to me while people in Tohoku hunted wrecked communities for their loved ones. To have personal happiness and public grief/shock on the same weekend was very hard.
American, female, Kita-ku Tokyo, preschool teacher
My boss, coworker and I were hanging out in the office during break while Japanese boss was out and Japanese teacher was doing a 1 hour play-time with about 10 kids. My coworker felt the shake before I did, and my boss immediately stood up and all three of us dashed into the room with the kids and got them under the table just as the real shakes came.
We heard things falling down, later we would find the heavy file cabinet toppled over and cups of tea broken on the floor….As soon as the shaking stopped we each grabbed a smaller kid, and led all of the kids down the stairs in their socks to the first floor, and formed a circle in the parking lot, adults on the outside (we had a few parents that came right away) and kids on the inside, each adult with 1-2 kids protecting them with our bodies every time there was an aftershock. We closed the school and went home after all the kids were safely with their mothers, at around 5:00. I was mainly focused on protecting those little ones, that I didn’t really think of contacting my husband or anyone until other people mentioned it, and I mainly used mixi, twitter, and facebook to get in touch with everyone.
When I got home (to Nerima-ku, I took a bus and walked about 20 minutes in all, very lucky) nothing was broken, hardly anything had toppled…the plusses of living in a 40 year old concrete and steel building! My SIL just down the street in a cheap wood apaato had a bad cleanup to do! The next day, the TV only showed such depressing images…plus the place was shaking hourly….I had to get out and walk around….went karaoke…then went to the supermarket and got another dose of reality when all the shelves were empty from panic-buying.
From here: Updated: 9 March, 2012.
I am a 27 years old Software Engineer from Pakistan
On March 11th I experienced something I doubt I will experience again. It is still fresh in my memory, it was something out of this world.
It was a normal day until after lunch when the earth shook like if it were going to come apart. I would be lying if I said the thought of death didn’t cross my mind. Yes Japan is prone to earthquakes but this one as I said was not like anything else.
Though I work in Saitama (and thank fully on the ground floor) it was easier to just run outside, where the scene was truly astonishing, when 30 to 40 story buildings shaked as if they were standing on jelly, you know you were in big trouble. I work in an area which was crowded with high risen buildings and it was just amazing how even after such a powerful shock, everything stood in it’s place, just a few broken glass windows.
The complete effect of this were felt afterwards when for the first time, I was in the middle of a blackout in Japan. Since almost everything runs on electricity here, I felt paralyzed to a certain extent.
The worst part of all this was the news of the Fukushima reactor. Me and my friend spent the entire night watching the news on NHK. The news showed the destruction around the east coast of Japan and what I felt cannot be explained.
What did I get / learn from your experience of 3-11?
The reaction of the Japanese after this disaster was just heart warming, the attitude of the Japanese people, who as a nation showed the world how to deal with huge disasters. Though Major part of Japan was still in tact, they did everything they could to help their fellow countrymen in need. This is something I will take with me and cherish this experience of helping people by something as little as saving electricity.
I’m a stay-at home mom of two, Osaka resident.
I don’t remember what I did exactly in the moment of the earthquake, but I remember that my husband was at home. I suffer from pretty bad anemia so I tought I’m being dizzy again, when my husband came and said Did you feel the earthquake?
Then it started shaking again, and I tought thet this time it was too long. We turned on the TV and they announced that in Tokyo it was M5. At first we tought lightly Why are they so scared, as if this is the first time they experience M5 shock?
They new information came about the magnitude being 7, and I started feeling uneasy. Live broadcasts and footages from all over Tokyo and Tohoku followed, and then came the tsunami, and I, like, went blank. This is not happening, this can’t be happening I tought.
First the volcano in Southern Japan, now this! We ditched everything, my husband left his work, and we sat on the coach and kept watching all day. But you know what impressed me? The proffesionalism and the strengh of the broadcasters.
I remember Yuko Ando from Fuji TV and Nobutaka Murao from NTV stayed almost 24 hours taking on their shoulders the task to keep everyone informed as well as possible, and showed remarkable strenght and will to stay calm.
I had taken students to study at sister schools in Los Angels and San Francisco. We were in SF on March 10th, 11th in Japan, and had just returned to a friend’s home where we were staying and after cleaning up he put the TV on.
We saw in almost realtime the tsunami moving onto land. The way CNN and some others were putting things, you’d have thought that all of Japan had been submersed under water. To this day, I refuse to watch CNN due to their hysterics that day.
Anyway, I was able to contact my wife, who said our boys and the house were all fine in Tokyo, and my students got in touch with their families, who were all safe, too. I was also able to get in touch with colleagues and friends in Japan through e-mail and Facebook and was so relieved to hear that everyone I knew was safe.
It really saddened me to see the devastation and that pain was what made me realize that Japan was in fact my home. Upon our return a week later I was more than happy to what I could to help the victims. It will be a time I never forget for as long as I live.
British female, teacher in Nagoya
It was a clear, sunny afternoon, and we had just wrapped up our last lesson of the school year with a JHS 3rd year class on the 4th floor of a building which had just been built 2 years before.
Everyone was standing up anyway. As the earthquake continued, so did the swaying – quite a large swaying movement, not much vertical. The students had been told during emergency drills to find a partner to hang on to – that way they keep each other from falling down. So that’s what they did. one lad shot across the classroom yelling, I’ll save you, sensei! and grabbed onto me. The earthquake lasted ages, it seemed like, but there were no announcements over the loudspeakers, no follow-up afterwards.
I went back to my desk and checked the news. When news of the tsunami started to come through, NHK World Live online really came to the fore, and I spent the next few hours in disbelief, watching scenes of the tsunami. All the other people in the office were carrying on with their work, unaware, and it seemed like watching 2 different worlds. It was so unreal, what I could see happening in the north, and what I could see in that room.
The scenes I saw on NHK World online that day and the following days have really stuck with me, and I occasionally get distressing flashbacks. I can’t imagine how it must feel for people who actually were affected.
From here: Updated: 8 March, 2012.
British, female. Sales Manager
I was at work on the 28F of a building when the earthquake occurred.
2 days before we had a strong one too so I wasn’t paying much attention, until I heard the building’s Emergency Centre’s announcement. Me and my colleagues rushed to get the helmets and stayed put under our tables. Everyone was calm and followed instructions properly. Thanks to our regular earthquake and fire drillings.
Once safe, we came out and turned on the TV and watched the horrific scene for hours and cried and cried. For the first time, I’ve forgotten all the differences we had at work and I hugged all my colleagues. I’m so happy to be alive. Although I left the Company after the earthquake for a better prospect, it still bring tears to my eyes each time I pass through the building.
Preschool Teacher, American, Male, Chiba boarding Tokyo
Note: Life saver – always charge your phone at your job or bring your charger with you. Make sure you have GPS, Skype, Viber, or something similar. make sure that you carry 4000 – 5000 yen in your wallet. If you have friends or family working around your area buddy up! If you can walk 6 hours home do it. But if you can’t find the nearest shelter. Sleep it off!
It happened around 3pm or so. Can’t remember the exact time! I had just finished Pre-School class around 2pm. A lot of my students for friday’s class were absent. I had only 2 students for the after school class because all the other kids were busy with graduation or on vacation. Usually it’s a big class ( 8 – 12 students ) of wild girls. My class was in progress when the earthquake happened. When it did, I instructed the kids to get under the desk. Luckily we’re on the 2nd floor of a (mansion) building . Mansions in japan are highly constructed to be earthquake proof. Beneath us was a Circle K or Lawson’s can’t remember?
My main concern is preparing myself mentally to support the kids. Stay there until they families pick them up. I was going to stay there until the end. During the earthquake my building shook violently for 3-5 minutes. Things weren’t falling down but it shook really bad, than came aftershocks. My fiancee and her family was in the back of my mind. Because she is working in Roppongi. I was wondering did the buildings fall down? Is there any flooding in the subways or underground stations? Tokyo is surrounded by rivers and bridges how would she make it home? I texted her but nothing didn’t come back. I was worried about her but I had to put these kids first. First priority is the kids that are in my care. We propped the door open just incase there is a cave in. But I was thinking of other ways to get the kids out. My worries was the large windows. If the earthquakes was worse I would break the window and use bed sheets to get the kids down to the street if I had too. We had enough bed sheets we can use them as protection for their faces and body from broken glass. I was thinking of many scenarios but not panicking or going nuts.
I really didn’t like the decisions my manager, asst. manager and their leaderships skills. They would leave us and walk outside to check (what) something. They would go in and out of our building. I would have moved us outside, evacuate from the building and (mustered) stay in the parking lot.If it had gotten worse go to the nearest designated evac center. Until parents arrived, staying in the building is dangerous. I really didn’t want the kids to stay inside the building. Buildings can only take so much aftershocks and swaying.
After the first earthquake, I told the kids everything is ok. I made a stupid face so they would laugh. I was serious but at the same time trying to make them feel comfortable. Actually they were laughing a lot and thought it was a game. They are only Pre School kids, they don’t know what’s going on anyways. Plus the aftershocks was getting worse. So, I discontinued the class and started to talk them. How do you feel? Mom is picking you up soon.
In our school we did not turn the t.v. in our school because we did not want the kids to see death,destruction and craziness on the TV. So we had it off but we had the radio on. After 30 minutes, the mother’s picked up their kids and they told us JR shutdown and everything is chaotic outside. 20 minutes later, I was given the go ahead to go home. Asked if the manager needed any help? And I left. 10 minutes walk to the JR station. I saw craziness. Over 200 people waiting in line to talk on the landline (light green) phone. JR employees directing people to use the bus. Which the buses were all gone. No police! Police disappeared!
Only JR employees directing were to go and the look of bewilderment on their faces! I took my newly charged up iphone out and GPS-ed my location. Followed major routes home and rivers. It took me 4 hours to get home. Found out my fiancee was ok and here family is safe. Found out my friends made it too. Funny stories at the bar later. watched TV at night and thanked God I made it! A lot of people died last year. Very sad! I hope the people hit by the disaster receives money and donations. They need a lot of help.
At Narita with my daughter.
We were about to get to our gate when we had to dive under some benches. We were evacuated to the runway for hours, then stuck in the airport for 48 hours till we could get out. Met some good people and learned which airlines were dependable and which were not (ahem Air Canada).
Narita staff was brilliant though … well as good as they could be in that situation. Pretty freaky and couldn’t sleep with all the tremors.
My little gal was a trooper and she kept me in check. I’m staying far away from urban centres this month and will have a nice dinner with her this 11th to remember what we got through.
From here: Updated: 7 March, 2012.
I’m an Australian woman working for a small Japanese consultancy in Tokyo
As it happens, the 11 March earthquake was not my first experience of a major temblor; I (and my younger sister, who was visiting at the time) was also in Japan (Ehime), as an ALT on the JET programme, when the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck. I remember the 1995 quake as being strong, but rather short.
The March quake last year was very different. The tremors and shaking seemed to go on and on. I was the first in my office to detect the quake, as I was using the copy machine at the time and I noticed the lid shaking. When it didn’t stop, my colleagues and I sought cover. It was an enormous comfort not to be alone at that time. I didn’t really feel scared, I just kept praying for calm and for safety.
The news obviously travelled fast: in between tremors, I took a call from the BBC which had been a contact of my predecessor. They had wanted to speak with a foreigner to get their take on what was happening, so they were quite happy to talk to me instead. It was quite surreal to hear my voice on radio in the UK while I was on the line to the reporter, even while the building continued to shake around me. I saw quotes of what I said reprinted in newspapers from around the globe in the following days although, amusingly, only one (an Irish paper, I think) managed to spell my first name correctly!
What really struck me about the whole situation was the calm orderliness of not only my Japanese colleagues but of everyone we encountered later that day and in the days and weeks to come. People didn’t scrabble or fight, they waited in line, they helped others, they made do knowing the horror that those in Tohoku had experienced was beyond any inconvenience or hardship we in the capital went through.
The images shown again and again on the TV were scarecly comprehensible; when I compare them to those of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands they somehow seem much more powerful and apocalyptic perhaps because I felt the same earth shake even if I was far from the engulfing waters. Once the nuclear crisis became evident, my family begged me to return home, but I felt strongly about staying, and even though I couldn’t really convince my mother, I myself felt an inexplicable peace about my decision.
I needed to be here, I was needed here more than I was back in Australia. And I am so glad I stayed to share the pain, the grieving, the cooperation, the camardrie, the overcoming and finding the small miracles and joy amongst the heartbreak. The Japanese people deserve every bit of the respect and admiration the global community bestowed on them for how they responded to this triple disaster of unprecedented scale and myriad difficulties. They showed themselves to be a people of great courage, selflessness and compassion.
Matthew, 26 year-old American
I’m Matthew , 26 year old American survivor of the tsunami that hit Miyako city in Iwate, where my house in the Koganji district was destroyed.
I spent the first 3 days trapped in a buddhist temple (Zenrinji – 善林寺) with my landlords, and the next 4.5 weeks living out of my friend’s house in a less damaged district working daily in the first responding local disaster recovery effort.
I was moved to Tokyo on April 16th 2011, where I soon began working with the My Japan charity photography exhibition, gathering pictures for exhibitions, prints, books, and postcards in order to raise funds for the relief effort, create art outreach programs in the more local Tokyo area, and more.
I was interviewed by RTE Ireland in the weeks following the tsunami while still in Miyako, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, had features in the Japan America Society of Pennsylvania’s newsletter and the JNTO website, and most recently have a feature in the latest issue of Eye-Ai magazine (the excerpt below is from that) concerning my experience and how I am trying to continue to contribute.
The work I’ve been doing to help/promote Japan and particularly Tohoku is both out of my own desire to continue doing what I can to help, and also due to a request from friends who still live in Miyako to continue telling the story. If at all possible, I would be honored to contribute to this project.
I was on the 36th floor of Roppongi Hills building at work.
When it first started I thought it was just another quake and then it got stronger and everyone started to get up. The boss from Hong Kong came out of his office and told us sit as their was nothing we can do, if where going to die where going to die.
It was a very strange expression at the time but we all sat and waited for the swaying to stop.
What I remember the most was not the swaying but the sound of steel and the glass of the building it was very surreal and have never heard or want to hear that again.
I was in the parking lot at work in Tochigi-ken with three Japanese co-workers. When the earth first began to shake, I knew it was a big one.We were terrified and clinging on to each other as we watched windows crack,boulders fall from the cliff into the river.
A piece of our building collapse, and cars bouncing like I’ve never seen before. I kept thinking this is Loma Prieta all over again… but it went on for so long. It calmed down and then built back up again. When the quake stopped, we ran inside to find out how big it was only to become more horrified watching live footage of the Tsunami.
I remember having to run outside two more times in only five minutes due to aftershocks. It only got worse from there watching the devestation unfold in the days to come. So many lives lost, so many suffering in the cold, I felt helpless.
I was back in my home country and I woke up at around 6am (So not long after the earthquake/tsunami), made some breakfast and switched on the news.
What greeted me on the screen though will always haunt me. The shocking and disturbing live footage of the devastation and after effects of both the earthquake and Tsunami.
I remember the footage of the water engulfing Sendai airport, the whirlpool off Ibaraki Prefecture, Fukushima powerplant in meltdown and just all the widespread destruction. For almost 4 days the BBC had a constant live feed and reports on events after the quake and just hearing about the raising death toll and more stories was just devastating. I didn’t stop watching it once, I had it on my laptop all day. I was worried because family and friends who were out there and who I couldn’t get hold off, not only them but also worried and wishing the best for people who I never met.
This day though shall always remain in my memory and just like 9/11 the images from this event will haunt me forever and I will never forget where I was when it struck.
From here: Updated: 6 March, 2012.
Canadian male, lived in Tokyo at the time, now Vancouver
It was no ordinary day to begin with. I’d never been on the theater stage before and found myself faking it as an stage extra with a professional opera group visiting from Florence, Italy.
It was casual pay for casual work, I met a lot a good people and it was a fun time away from the classroom teaching English.
All that came to a crashing end during a final dress rehearsal at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan concert hall in Ueno. Moments before our stage-left entrance is when we first felt it. As the scenery & lighting racks above threatened to fall on our heads, we raced out the building mixed with entire opera troupe, orchestra and theater staff & crew. We met a similar crowd poring out of Ueno’s JR Station Park exit, meeting bewildered somewhere between the 2 buildings. The memory of some distant buildings swaying like trees in the wind is what sticks in my mind the most. It was this and the endlessness of it that made us all aware this was no normal everyday tremor felt periodically in Japan.
After another building evacuation, following one of the stronger after-shocks, most of the next few hours was spent watching heartbreaking events unfolding along the Tohoku coastline on a small tv in the lobby, and an endless stream of people young & old pour into the theater lobby and auditorium, stranded for the night with nothing but their own bags & day-packs to rest their heads on. As I settled in my plastic dressing room chair for the night, I heard one of the subway lines had opened that would get me at least get me half the way home, and so began my lengthy trip back to my wife’s family home on the outskirts of Tokyo. The inconvenience of tiredly, arriving back home in the early hours of the morning, paled into insignificance to the suffering of thousands others at that same moment in time.
The remainder of the opera groups’ shows were cancelled following just a couple of their week-long planned performances, and the troupe were back to Italy within days. Like everyone else, I spent the next few days glued to the TV coming to terms with this major world disaster that unfolded on the same land I was sitting on. Being with my Japanese wife’s family, I had no intention of leaving throughout, despite the exodus of other foreigners from the capital – something I fully respect any others decision to do so, given the circumstances of events unfolding at the nuclear power plant up the coast.
Whilst I appreciated the seriousness of problems in Fukushima, I did feel that some of the world’s media had blown up the radiation dangers out of proportion, in light of how calmly the Japanese public went about their business either during clean-up of the aftermath further north, making efforts to cut their power usage, buying groceries in short supply or raising funds for those most in need. My memories of the usually, neon glazed areas of Shibuya, Shinjuku etc. in surreal darkness and empty of people the weeks after 3/11 are particularly vivid.
I am so very proud of the Japanese people for their patience, spirit and tenacity during the times of, and continued rebuilding following this tragic event, and to bear witness to this was an honor many people would do well experience and learn from.
Much love and thoughts to the people of Japan during the difficult times and approaching the first anniversary of this tragic day.
Natasha O., Australian
When finishing my work day and turning the TV on to Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, my heart sank and I thought that’s it I’ve lost them. Just calling this moment to mind brings tears to my eyes.
I live in Australia, born to a Japanese mother. Hence, Japan is very close to my heart. My grandparents and aunty live in Miyagi-ken and I visit once a year.
At the time of my father and I turning the television on, my mother was at the gym. Prior to her arrival, I had attempted calling my grandparents and aunty several times, redial, redial, redial to no avail. When arriving home an hour later to no idea of the calamity, as usual she walks through the door full of cheer and joy.
Breaking the news to my mother, telling her to watch the television and that I could not reach her family was difficult. It was an anxious 8 hours before I finally reached my aunty who was safe in Sendai City, she had heard from my grandfather saying they were safe in a local evacuation centre, my heart dropped again. We still had our family.
My heart goes out to all the people of Japan, it will take time to recover, however we all know their tenacity will help them through this.
Tom D.M, English Teacher on Okinawa (Retired from the U.S. military)
I was on board an airplane flying from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa to Atsugi Naval Air Facility (Kanagawa Prefecture).
I was hopping on military flights all the way from Japan to Germany but never made it past Atsugi NAF. The quake occurred about 15 minutes after take-off from Okinawa and no one knew what had happened when we arrived.
After arrival, I started to walk to Sagamino Station only to find out all the trains had stopped and would not go anywhere. I was frantically trying to take a train to Fussa Station (near Yokota Air Base) to continue my trip to Germany. I wound up taking a train one stop from Sagamino and wound up returning to Atsugi. I spent one night on the base.
The following day I decided it would be best to return to Okinawa. I was lucky and was able to catch a flight from Atsugi to Okinawa but the plane was being routed to Misawa Air Base (Aomori Prefecture) and then on to Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station (Yamaguchi Prefecture) and then finally on to Okinawa.
The flight time lasted 10 hours but was quite accommodating. It was a free ride for me. We flew in a propeller type plane so the altitude was low enough where we could see the flooded/tsunami zone of Sendai and could even see Sendai airport under water.
I also could see the oil refinery fire as well. It was so sad to see this devastation. Arrived Okinawa around 10pm and spend the rest of my Haru Yasumi watching TV as events unfolded.
From here: Updated: 5 March, 2012.
Katrina, Australian, Female, Tokyo
On that fateful day I was teaching some private students, three Japanese ladies, all in their sixties, in Tokyo. They were visibly scared, saying it was the worst earthquake they had ever felt. Thinking that they had had a lot of experience of earthquakes through their collective lives I knew this was serious.
However, it wasn’t until I reached the station, that I realised the severity of the situation. It was through a phone conversation with my sister back in Australia that I was able to start to understand. She had far more news than I had, and had seen images that I was yet to see. I remember making a comment to which she responded in a way that revealed to me that I really didn’t have any idea just how dreadful the situation was.
That night, not knowing what to do, and being too far from home to walk I headed for the office of one of the animal shelters that I support. It was fortuitous that I had done quite a bit of dog walking in the past in that area so I knew the roads. If I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have had any idea as to the location of the office.I spent an uncomfortable and cold night sleeping on the floor. Of course that was nothing in light of the bigger picture. I was simply grateful to have a place to go. For the first time, the animal shelter provided my shelter.
Naturally, being involved in animal welfare, my thoughts immediately turned to the animal victims of the disaster. They are always the forgotten ones. And this is where my story really begins.
From March 12th until the present Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support (JEARS), which I joined on that day, has continued to assist animals and their guardians impacted by the disaster. It has been, and continues to be, a hard slog with challenges thrown in constantly. At times our work is fraught with disappointment, sadness and disbelief. However, we are encouraged by the wonderful international support we have received and the happy re-unions between animals and their guardians, while the simple drive to make this a better place for animals pushes us forward everyday.
The memory of the scenes of destruction I saw up in Tohoku immediately after the earthquake will never leave me. Cars wedged in between headstones in the cemetery, cars turned over on top of three-storey buildings and personal effects strewn over muddy ground. Amongst all the destruction I wondered how all the animals who survived were faring and felt despair for those who lost their lives.
In the last year I have found strengths and abilities I never knew I had, and a tenacity that drives me to go on despite so many setbacks.
With the one-year anniversary approaching animals continue to live in the zone, in foster homes and in our shelters. I pray for each and everyone of them, and their guardians, to live the lives that are rightfully theirs’.
This has been my experience of the earthquake, a dedication to those who are so often overlooked and yet are always the most innocent – our four-legged friends…the animals.
Laymar M. from Philippines. Currently residing in Edogawa ku, Higashi Kasai.
On March 11 (Friday), 2011. We were all working so seriously that at the first stage of earthquake nobody seems to notice it….
I told Joji, Ley, Ali, and Elvira Guys, I think we’re having an earthquake? Mr. Ali answered me and says Oh, we’re dancing! and he laughed. And slowly it went strong and stronger and the frames that I was doing fell and the water dispenser fell down, the ref door opened, the glasses were noisy. I told them, guys I thought this wasn’t a joke. Joji and Elvira hugged each other. Panicking.
Then, we went under the table. Our boss came out from his office and asked us to go down (Bec, our work is in 3rd floor) and if we wanted to go home. We could go home.
At that moment, I was shock and remembered my only son and family whose in the Philippines. They still need me. We tried our cellphones but there was no connection. It was a real shocking experience.
But in the end, I realize. It still God’s ways that prevail.
And so, I kneeled and I pray to God. (on that very moment while watching on television, the tsunami in other parts of Japan.) God, You’re will be done. Please forgive us! Amen.
Life is Short, and God gave us lives, because we’re lucky we are still here!
Filipino, Philippines, Female, ESL teacher
Even though I wasn’t in Japan when the earthquake happened, I felt horrified and worried.
I started to pray that time and I glued myself to TV trying to find out what was happening. I listened to all radio news and TV reports about Japan’s earthquake and the tsunami.
But despite what happened, I saw how Japanese people remained strong and unified. It was amazing to see them, still in order and discipline to line up at the train stations, they were composed and calmed .maybe they were panicking and yet they were at their best trying to help other people . There was an intense feeling inside of me that someday. I would live in Japan. I felt secured, and I would be fine amidst any tragic moment.
After the tragedy, Japan recovered fast and that is really amazing and wonderful. I really love Japan and the Japanese people. Someday I will visit this country again.
I felt so sad and in tears when i saw that catastrophic havoc that hit Japan. I’ve had the chance to work in Japan for 3 years and i considered it as my second home.
But I do believe that the Japanese people can recover it easily because they are very resilient and can adopt easily. I hope and pray they will recover the soonest.
Adam, American, Shibuya, 30, Business Developer
I was jogging through Yoyogi Park, just minutes after leaving Gold’s Gym in Harajuku.
I’d lived in Japan for over four years, so earthquakes were nothing new. But what was about to elapse over the next thirty days was something few are prepared for.
It felt like I was lightheaded, my knees weak from an exhausting workout. I stopped to catch my breath and saw the taxis on the street rocking back and forth. I looked ahead at the tiled sidewalk to see an almost rolling motion, rolling like the scales of some reptile, something out of a movie. A young woman spoke English to me That was a really big one. Maybe a six. I knew from experience that it was something far greater than a six. I sprinted to my Tomigaya apartment and heard a continued rattle of the old neighboring homes, visibly watching the rocking of my new building. I used the external stairwell to descend and met a congregation of neighbors on the street. We all watched in horror as we saw clips of the oncoming tsunami on a stranger’s mobile phone. A while later, I propped my front door open and turned on the TV. I began tweeting my experiences, several of them appearing on BBC and CNN.
The struggle that continued over the next month was one of the mind. Being woken by jolts in the night, receiving calls from friends and family in the US, asking I come home, being misled by the government’s unwillingness to explain what was happening, they all took quite the toll. But living safely in Tokyo was nothing compared to what my friends in the tsunami zone went through. I put forth many efforts to tell their stories, to ensure my family that I was okay, and that any relief should be sent to the North. I was impressed by Tokyoites and our ability to keep energy usage down. I slept in socks and a knit cap, so as to keep the heat off. Both of my room mates left the country for some time, but I held strong, growing evermore a part of Japan.
I learned that people really do care. When I returned to the US for vacation, I was surprised at how many people knew my name, from stories being told about my experiences. At church, members I’d never met said they had been praying for me and the others in Japan. One hadn’t been physically able to attend church for years, but made it the Sunday following the quake because she felt her prayers would mean more there. It was comforting to know that the world was supporting Japan all along, that it wasn’t just for the news, that it was real.
From here: Updated: 2 March, 2012.
Lyle Saxon – Resident of Tokyo
I was working from home at the time. I had a cup of coffee that I’d just topped up when the building started shaking, so I took a quick sip to lower the level to stop it from spilling, and put it on the corner of my desk. The shaking intensified and a little spilled onto my scanner – I grabbed the cup, drank a little more quickly, and moved the cup to the floor.
Then it shook harder still and I stood up, as I do when I’m worried an earthquake will knock over bookcases in the room, so I can hold them up. For a few microseconds I thought it was going to pass by, as they typically do (we get a lot of earthquakes here, after all), but then it got really serious, and boxes started crashing down around me from the bookshelves and I could hear things smashing in the kitchen. I held up things near me; stopped a stack of heavy audio equipment from crashing down onto my head; and cursed as the rest of the room’s contents crashed down around me (along with a symphony of noise from things smashing in the kitchen). Somewhere in the middle of this I glanced down and noticed that most of the remaining coffee had sloshed out onto the floor and my foot.
And then the shaking stopped. I cursed some more and climbed over the mountain of stuff and went through the door into the rest of the apartment to assess the damage. Messy. Very messy. Some things appeared to be completely untouched while other things were halfway across the room. Lots of broken dishes and bottles, etc.
Those what? 60 seconds? Two or three minutes? So much stuff happening so quickly. The audio part of it was definitely the most impressive aspect of the experience. I don’t think I’ve heard a more impressive soundtrack in a movie. The real-life version has a whole symphony of disaster going full-out at the same time, and in the heightened state of danger, disaster, what-should-I-do, etc., you actually sense the different components to a remarkable degree. Very intense. I’m sort of in a mild state of shock thinking back on it.
Why didn’t I leave the building? I trusted the building to not fall down and I wanted to save my computer from getting smashed by falling things from bookcases – but after seeing how violently my apartment was shaken, I’m much less confident that the building will withstand a still stronger quake, which could very well happen in Tokyo.
And just when I was beginning to comprehend the tsunami – the news of Fukushima began to come in.
The above is a rewritten and abbreviated version of what I wrote in a March 16th, 2011 blog post, which is here if you’re interested:
It has taken me a few days to muster the strength to type this short memoir.
The horrible experiences I faced during 3-11 still stir up much emotion in me. Last night I had terrors and some up weeping but I feel this opportunity to share my story will act as a catharsis. Some emotions should not be bottled up. I won’t be a victim anymore!
I was working very, very close to Fukushima when the events occurred. So close, in fact, that the apartment building I was living in was completely quarantined. I will never recover my things. Pictures, collectible figures, clothes, laptop. All gone for good.
When the quake happened I was working at the junior high. Students screamed, teaches ducked under desks and I stood there like a scared stiff. I was in shock. The world around me was now my enemy. After the initial quake subsided, the school evacuated to a nearby field. We waited for nothing at all. No rescue would come.
Layer, when the tsunamis came, I could hear them tearing the town apart. I was still with my school coworkers and students in that miserable field. We all held one another and wept. I tries to save face for the children as best I could but it was impossible. American males are meant to be strong but we are all just human. I was alone in a terror event.
I have no recollection of how I ended up a few towns over in a school gymnasium. That is where I spent 5 nights before I was able to leave. In that gymnasium we had limited food and water rations, soap and running water and even available bathroom facilities. We were waiting to be deemed healthy and uncontaminated by radiation. Most of us refused to eat the first few days. We thought the food would contaminate us! Once we realized we were prisoners, we knew out release was not imminent so we had to eat.
We were given sleeping bags or blankets. Some had pillows. A few had futon mattresses and even fewer had cots. The elderly were given the best facilities. Since I was alone in this strange land, a family of one of my students, we’ll call her Chikka, took me under their wing. We spent most the day together, compiled out rations in small family meals and slept in the section of the gym. Obviously my fear had become physically evident. We often slept holding each other in order to gain a sense of safety. It seemed even a second apart could result in one of us becoming taken by fear. To this day I now sleep with a body pillow. I cannot feel comfortable without one. I still feel like Chikka is there between my knees and in my arms. Huddled together in the darkness of the gymnasium, lights being shut off to preserve electricity.
After the US government came for me I felt stripped of my family. Once I completed a battery of tests by medical doctors, I was allowed to return to America. My biological family now seems useless to me. They were not around when Chikka and her family became one with me. They have no I idea what has shaped me. The fear and love I felt is specific to Chikka, me and even our family. When everything around you melts away, only humanity remains. My bio-family will never understand that.
As of today I have purchased a plane ticket for Chikka to visit me in March. When I see her I am unsure just what emotions will override me. Love. Fear. I am a prisoner in my own mind.
Margarita, Swedish, Female, Fukushima
Ok, so finally I’ll take the time to sit down and write down what happened on March 11th, the day that Japan was struck by the biggest earthquake that they’ve had in a very long time. A big 9.0 earthquake (according to the news), followed by a big tsunami, which took thousands of lives, only to be followed by nuclear plants going crazy. And I was there, only an hour away from the tsunami and the nuclear plants…
My Colombian cousin, Maria Clara, asked me to write down a testimony of my adventure, so they could put it in thee-magazine of her university, EAFIT. Here’s a translation (with modifica- tions, of course), of the Spanish email I sent her. (You can read her modified report here!)
Asubi Gakuen – my second host-family’s home/farm and where I was during the earthquake.
Well, I’ll tell you what happened to me, about my “adventure”. Obviously it wasn’t at all as hor- rible as what happened to the poor people in Sendai and by the northern coast but it was still very scary.
I work as a English-teacher here, but as my previous job ended in February and my new job doesn’t start until April, I decided to go to visit some friends in Samegawamura, Fukushima prefecture. These friends are like my second host-family here in Japan, since I’ve lived with them for several months during my winter vacation in 2010, and during the summer while I was looking for work. It’s very much out in the countryside, not close anything! The little farm is not even in the village, but closer to this place, about a 10 minutes drive to the village.
The little farm is called Asubi Gakuen, and is a place for children who for some reason have problems at home, social problems etc., and that do not want to or can’t study in their own town. So they live in the little farm and help out with the 2 cows (and now also a calf that was born a few days before the quake), the pony, the 2 dogs, 400 chickens and about 4-5 cats. They get up at 6, help out, and then go to school. It is a quiet place where everyone seems to be very happy, everyone are very nice, good people, always laughing, joking and talking. Yuzupon, the little calf that got a rough start in life.
On March 8, after an about 2.5 hours bus-ride from Tokyo, I arrived in the city of Iwaki, which lies along the coast. Host-dad picked us up there (I was travelling together with Kazu, who used to work there before, and Kohei, who was a student there until last year), and drove about an hour home. That same afternoon, the calf was born, and we all helped out. That was Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday were normal, nothing unusual happened, except two small earthquakes on both days.
There at Asubi it’s really strange to have earthquakes occur, because it’s on a small mountain about 700 meters up. The quake was only a Shindo-3 (the Richter magnitude scale and the Japanese Shindo 震度 scale are a bit different. Yesterday I heard that 4 on the Japanese Shindo scale is like a 5.4 on the Richter scale. I don’t understand the Richter scale, since I’m used to the Japanese so have a look on the links), so we didn’t think more about it really.
A 1-2 on the Shindo scale, you hardly feel. Shindo 3 or 4 feels like you’re riding on a shaky bus. From Shindo 5 and up if you feel more … a lot more… So, one of Shindo 3 came to the farm, and we were all surprised. Earthquake? Here? Wow, that’s unusual! Hahaha! Oh well, only a 3 … Back to work! and no more than that.
On Friday we had a farewell party for two of the students who finished 9th grade, I guess. They’ll be starting High School anyway, and returned to live with their parents. We were 18 people in the room, it was about 15h in the afternoon, and we had finished eating, when the earthquake hit. First everyone was surprised. Earthquake? Again? But right after we realized that it didn’t shake from from side to side, but up and down … and that if dangerous. That’s a sign that the earthquake is big!
Things all over the house started falling down, dishes, pots, books, the TV, everything. And we panicked out of the house, without shoes (because here in Japan you take off your shoes when you enter the house.) Luckily I had slippers on, because outside it was cold and it had been raining lightly, so the ground was a little wet.
Outside the cars and the bus (since the kids go to school down in the village, the my friends in Asubi drive the school-bus in the morning and afternoon, and pick up more kids on the way) were jumping, actually jumping up and down! And the house, this huge thing made out of massive wood, was shaking as if it was made out of paper. I was sure that everything was going to fall to pieces. The tremor was like a 6 (on the Shindo-scale a 7 is the highest.) Everyone stood around the cars, with their hands on the cars, like pushing them hard, in order to keep their balance. The tremor was so strong that it was difficult to stand. I immediately sent a mes- sage to my mom and Masaki to tell them that there was a huge earthquake, but that I was fine.
The shaking stopped, only to be followed by another one of the same magnitude. And another. And another. And another … The following tremors were gradually smaller, but the rest of the day and night, they weren’t softer than say a 4.
The 2 students, for whom we had the party, went home as soon as the tremors were softer, to- gether with their families, so then we were 12. Six of us entered the bus to warm up, because it had started to snow and was very, very cold! The other 5 and I cleaned the house. But it was still shaking strongly every 5 minutes, so we had to run in and out of the house between the tremors, and go on cleaning that way.
That night we put mattresses in the room next to the entrance, for all of us to sleep together there, ready to run. Fortunately we only had to run out once, at about 4.30 am. The rest of the night it shook about every 5-10 minutes, but only about 3-4. But of course now we were all afraid that they would grow bigger, so we couldn’t get much sleep. Where we slept the first night – ready to run.
As the TV broke in the quake, we couldn’t see pictures of the catastrophe in Sendai and the oth- er cities along the coast, only hear about it (the sound still worked), and we could also listen to the radio. On Friday and Saturday night we had internet too, so I could see pictures on my iPod. It was terrible! We sure had good luck. The house didn’t fall, we had beds to sleep in, food to eat and hot water to bathe in. The following day the internet didn’t want to work, so I had to eat and hot water to bathe in. The following day the internet didn’t work, so I had to read the news on my cell phone, which also can access internet. I could communicate with the world, and so the Swedish press began to email me like crazy, and I started to tell them about how we had it. There were articles about me in lots of newspapers, radio and TV, crazy ( posted most of the articles that I found in my previous blog-post.
When we heard about the accident in the nuclear power plants, we began to worry. I most of all. My host-dad tried to reassure me, saying that we were 70 km from the plants and didn’t have to worry, that everything was fine. But I was worried anyway, I wanted out of there at once.
The next day, Saturday, I and another girl got a ride to the station where I had gotten off the bus (Iwaki City). First we went to see if the train worked, but there they looked at us as if we were idiots – obviously the train wasn’t working. So we went to the entrance of the highway, to see if the bus was running, but it turned out that the highway was closed for the emergency transports going to the nuclear plants and to rescue people in the north, so they wouldn’t get stopped by all the cars trying to escape. So we had to go home. That was horrible. I got so sad that I couldn’t even speak.
We stayed there in the house, like trapped, unable to escape. There were no buses or trains, and the town had run out of gasoline. No gasoline would come to town in another two weeks. Two weeks. I almost panicked, I wanted to get out, now, now, now! The cell-phones almost didn’t work, we had no network, or if we had almost no one could communicate, because everyone was calling at the same time. It was horrible. All I wanted was to return to Masaki, my boyfriend, who had stayed at home, since he had work. I wanted to return to our apartment, where we had just moved a few weeks ago… And he was there in Kashiwa, not being able to help me or to leave work, since he works in the Japanese Self Defense Force. Fortunately as he works in the Marine force in JSDF airport here in the city, he wasn’t sent to the north to rescue people. Of course he wanted (and still wants) to go help people, but since the JSDF only sends the army and air force, not the marine, and since their base needs to stay in town in case some- thing happens here, he can’t go. Better that way, I’d worry too much if he was sent up north.
Masaki and I were sending messages through our phones several times a day, and when I could, I’d call him. And he was at home, trying so hard to find ways to get me out of there, buses, trains, car, anything! But impossible. We both despaired! Our apartment was ok, he said, it was just the TV and a kettle that had fallen. The TV still worked, but the kettle was damaged. Thank god that only that happened and that nothing happened to my Masaki, who had been at work when the earthquake came. In our city it had been a 5.
On March 14th, my host-dad told us that food and water would only last a few days more… We had to fill a small tank with water for the animals and all the buckets we could find. And water for us in all plastic bottles, that for some reason they hadn’t thrown away yet (lucky!). Since they have a cow that gives milk and 400 chickens, at least we had milk and eggs. But then what else? That night a friend of the family came over with her two babies to stay with us, since the water in her home had stopped working. Fixing the roof – lots of tiles broke during the quake.
Finally, on Tuesday March 15th, I got out. That morning, they announced in the village’s speak- er-system that things were even worse in Fukushima 1. People 30 km of the plant were warned not to leave their houses, and if they had to go out, to wear a mask to cover their nose and mouth. Also to close windows and doors, not to hang clothes outside and be careful with the rain. We were 70 km from the plant, but we also followed the advice, to be safer. Host-dad soon left to go find gasoline. We were 6 people who had to leave. He came back an hour later with gasoline, and he contacted the husband of the woman who had arrived the day before, since he had a mini-bus. He would take us to the Shinkansen-station in Nasushiobara – the Japanese bul- let-train.
He got there around 16h, and the 6 of us squeezed in together with the parents of our driver. 9 people in a minibus made for 6 … And finally we left! The trip, which normally only takes 2 hours, took about 3 hours, since the highways were closed and everyone wanted to escape. It got dark, started to rain, and it went slow. We lost the train at 18.30, then the 19h one, and the 19.30 one… But then we finally arrived! We had no problems getting tickets, and then we ran the train so we would get seats and not have to stand up the one hour it took us return to Tokyo. We arrived at the Ueno station at 21.30, where Kohei and I got off, since we were go- ing to the same direction, and the others continued to the next station. Finally at the Nasushiobara-station!
Finally at the Nasushiobara-station!
At Ueno, the station seemed very empty … Well, it was already 21.30, but usually at that time it would be more crowded. But when we got in to the train, we saw that it was as crowded as usu- al. We got on 2 different trains, first from Ueno to Nishi-Nippori on the Yamanote line, then from there to Shin-Matsudo on the Joban line, where Kohei got off, and I continued two more stations to Kashiwa. I was worried that the last line I had to take was not going to work, since Masaki had told me so (he has to ride that line to get to work, but now he had been biking 30 minutes instead). But I was lucky, the line was working! Another 5 minutes and finally I got to my station! It was 22.30, and Masaki was at work, (since they have days when they’re not al- lowed to leave the base), so I was alone. But finally at home! Tired, dirty and wanting to see my Masaki. And then my phone began to ring. And ring. And ring. The Swedish press was chasing me, not letting me rest or even call my parents or take a shower! Finally, at 1 am, after talking with my dad and escaping to the shower, I turned off the phone, so I’d be able to sleep.
The next day my phone would not stop ringing. The Swedish press, my embassies (Swedish and Colombian), my parents. But most of all the press. All of Sweden worried about me it seemed. Did you manage to escape from Fukushima? How was the situation there and where you are now? What does the Japanese news say? What do people around you say? Are you ok? Are you afraid? Will you go back to Sweden? Are you afraid of the radiation? And a million more ques- tions that I didn’t know how to answer. Please, I just arrived at home, I’m tired, I’m afraid, I’m alone, I want to see my boyfriend, I have no friends here in town, I haven’t spoken to anyone yet, how will I be able to answer all these questions for god’s sake???
Before getting home, I had heard that people were buying food and gasoline like crazy (that’s why there was no gasoline left in the town where I had been). I worried about how it would be at home. Kashiwa is only 25 km from Tokyo, and Tokyo stores were empty, or at least according to the images I had seen. Was it the same here? I was ready to fight my way through the super- market!
I left the house, and saw that there were still cars around, of course not as many as before, but still. There were also many people outside, as usual, but no one wearing masks, so it seemed that they weren’t so worried about the radioactivity. I arrived at the supermarket, and the first thing I saw was the fruits and vegetables section. All normal, lots of fruits and vegetables, as al- ways. Well, maybe it’s not so bad here I thought, and continued to find my stuff. Only to see that all canned food, bread, water, rice, flour etc., everything that lasts a long time, had sold out! Fortunately we still had a lot of food in the house, and I didn’t need a lot of things. But thank god that I bought milk 2 packages instead of one, because the next day there was no milk! But there was bread instead. The day after, I went back to the supermarket again, and it was more or less the same. There was no toilet paper, but there was bread. They kept filling up the shelves with whatever they had, but it was hard to find certain things. But for now we were ok. That Friday we bought a lot of food so we wouldn’t have to leave the house over the weekend, as we were concerned about the radioactivity. If we’re not able to get what we need from the stores, my friends in Osaka and Masaki’s parents, who live in the south on the island Kyushu, the Fukuoka department, will send us what thing we need. That Friday when we went to the super- market, we saw a kilometer-long line of cars more waiting to buy gasoline…
So what about the nuclear plants and the radioactivity? Of course we’re concerned, obviously. But according to the news and to the embassies (Swedish and Colombian), we who live down here, so far away, don’t need not worry. We’re told that it’s only about 20-30 kilometers from the plants that you should evacuate. So all is well here, and my friends in Fukushima, who are at about 70 km from the plants, are too, it seems. But it is hard to know what to believe. The Japanese government is not telling the whole truth, so we hardly believe half of what they say. But it seems safe for now. If things get worse, we’ll go to Masaki’s parents’ house, and if it gets really bad, maybe we’ll go to Sweden or Colombia.
My uncle Arturo in Colombia was asked by the Colombian embassy if we wanted to evacuate to Colombia, so maybe we could take up that offer. But for now we’ll stay here and see what happens. Masaki can’t leave his job just like that, he’s got to leave a month’s notice if he wants to quit. So we would still have to stay until the end of April in any case. But we don’t want to leave, we have our lives here, our home, works etc. My new job starts in April, a good job that will pay me very well. If we leave, the two of us will be without a job and money. So we have no other option but to wait and see what happens. But I promise you we’ll leave if things get worse. For now, our only problem is getting water and milk. If anyone can send us water and milk, I’d gladly appreciate that. (Written Mar 2011)
Research Scientist, Mexican, Male, Kochi
It was about 15:30 when the sirens start ringing and suddenly came out from the emergency speakers the annoying news that a 2 meters tsunami may hit the coast in the area.
We knew about the move because we had just felt it, but, acquired to them after 10 years in Japan, I thought it was just one more of a kind. After the advice, while preparing our emergency backpack to immediately leave the house we start realizing the magnitude of the disaster. Panic came over and the evacuation became a matter of anxiety.
We all started to follow the event through the news, internet and mostly the meteorological agency due we were expecting to be hit by the waves. My house in Kochi is just 200 meters far from the sea and the worst notice was that estimated maximum flooding level supported in the area would be only 1 meter. Thus, if predictions would be true our house and the whole town in just 30 more minutes would be swiped off. Of course, it was time to think in the big disaster just happened in the North but also about our only property that will be destroyed soon. Me as Mexican and my wife from Osaka we both had experienced natural disasters which finished in big tragedies, so we could not believed that again we both would pass through a new history as protagonists of the event. It was crazy.
Fortunately, we managed to leave the house to a safe area and were hit just by a very shallow 28 cm tsunami and some smaller ones after it. We could not fly out from Japan in the next two weeks. It was enough time to learn about the high density of missing people, the reactors, and the tragedy as a whole. By the very end we flew out and leave a country with a broken heart.
Our house is still on foot and we are glad that the Japanese people are too. We are flying back Japan this next summer but really wish not to have a similar experience never more in our life.
From here: Updated: 1 March, 2012.
Preschool/Kindergarten Teacher, Filipino, Female, Ashikaga
It was a day that taught me to be ready each waking day. It was a day of confirmation that indeed, the Japanese were a people worth of admiration – able to keep their cool, stay disciplined despite what was happening to their lives. It was a day that I hoped has taught all of us to be thankful for what we have and to at least try to get rid of the little conveniences that we can actually live without.
My Friday schedule is far off from where I live, about an hour and a half by bus and train. March 11th was a Friday.
My class that day was held in the morning instead of the usual afternoon schedule. Before coming to school, I dropped by a nearby department store. Surprisingly, a candy shop was having a closing sale at 50% off on everything. I had only a few minutes to spare and the line was unbelievably long that I had to give up, promised myself to be back after my class and hoped that there were a few more things to grab. So I went back after my class and luckily got a few bags of chocolate.
My Japanese assistant and I rushed to the station after that. It was a three-second run up the escalator. I would’ve been stuck and had my family worried was I not able to catch the train plus the fact that my mobile phone battery was drained.
I got home a few minutes before the earthquake struck. I was in a hurry eating a piece of bread and in a hurried conversation with two of my younger sisters because I had to cover for one of the teachers when it started shaking. Having been here for four years has made me get used to the shaking and rattling so I didn’t mind what was happening. When one of my sisters expressed how scared she was, I shrugged her off and told her that it was nothing. But it struck again and my sisters ran down the second floor garage exit, leaving me.
Honestly, I wasn’t that scared that I even took my time pulling the plugs, turning off the gas and locking our main door. I only realized that it was out of the ordinary when I saw the customers rushing out from the restaurant next door and the people from our building as well. It has never happened before – I mean, people coming out of their hives because of an earthquake.
When the shaking stopped, I rushed to our main office, a three-minute walk from where we live but of course the class was cancelled. I joined my sisters who were too scared to go back up. I grabbed their coats, phones, bags and all the provisions I could get and we went to the nearby park. Fortunately, our area’s electric power was still on and I could recharge my phone at an outlet in the park’s restroom. I couldn’t call my husband who’s an ALT in Tochigi City. We could exchange messages though and I could also update my family, friends, and our daughter who’s in the Philippines via a socia network. Then I fetched my son from his elementary school. We tried to go to a supermarket that’s usually open until 12 midnight but at that time, it was closed so we went back to the park.
It was a very tiring and stressful night as we had to go back down, go back and forth to the park and stayed until we could no longer take the cold. We went back to the apartment, didn’t take off our coats, shoes and bags and left our emergency luggage by the door. It was a relief that my husband finally got back when one of the his Japanese co-teachers drove him back. We would be rattled whenever the television and our cellphones would beep to signal an aftershock.
We were able to watch the news and our hearts sank to find out about the tsunami tragedy. What we had gone through that day was nothing compared to what the real victims, the people they left behind had to endure and continue to endure.
French, Tokyo, Female, waitress
I was with a friend in a Starbucks cofee in Nagoya when the earthquake happened. First, I dindn’t really understand that something terrible just happened. We were talking then everything started move, a little beat then a lot.
When you’re in Japan, you know that earthquake can happen but it was the first time that I felt a stronger shock. I was afraid but when it stopped I calm down. I was impressed by Japanese. They didn’t panic, no one yell or cry. Just waited the end. When we get out we felt other moves weaker than the previous one.
Then we had a newspaper with explications, we saw news with the tsunami and the disaster. It was really. . .it’s strange because, for me, it’s a feeling very complicated to explain with words. But I was suffering for Japan.
We were travelling by bus to Tokyo and we had a 24 hours travel instead of 8 around. When we arrived in our guest house, everybody was in the lounge room watching news. They were talking about the nuclear problem now.
My family called me to be sure I was safe. They were affraid because of French news. Those news were very alarmist like Japan is over. In my guest house, people started to pack to come back in their countries. After a couple of days, we were 20 in the house instead of 40 (around).
I started to pack too because I was supposed to go home 2 weeks later. But I couldn’t endure the pression of people in France so I came home.
I was very very sad, because after a year I felt that I deserted my country.
The week before I leave we were almost always together with my roommates. After a year in Tokyo, in this house, they were like my Japanese family and didn’t want to leave them. Because I didn’t know if eveything will be safe for them.
When I was at the airport I had time to think. I was sad but I knew, I know now too that I’ll come back in Japan. I didn’t and I still don’t know when but I know that I have something to do in Japan.
Mexican, Abiko city, Female, Teacher and translator
14 years ago I arrived in Tokyo, then moved to Tsukuba, recently in Abiko, Chiba. I’ve been living as student, later as teacher, but life changes and my husband decided to run business.One day before, I got a license for it, by the way, I thought about NZ earthquake, and how safe could be the big salon where the meeting was held,looking all the evacuation signs.
Friday 11th, strange morning warmer than others, I went to my baito in Sendagaya without a warm coat. I almost finish the session when started shaking there, the students do not speak Japanese and first experience for them. I tried to put them in safe place, since I remembered my experience in 1985 when in Mexico we had strong earthquakes too. So we were the first 5 minutes seeing how all the skyscrapers in Shinjuku and Ropongi flexing and no damages! just after we turned on TV to watch news, and unbelievable how I could keep calm translating for them the news and giving advices to be safe in surrounded areas, but my real feeling was anxious, since my babies were in the hoikuen, and my husband in his way to Tokyo.
I went out to Sendagaya station, No trains! How to contact them? phones lines were crowded, so sms were the solution, I got one, He was in the Joban line, in the train amost Kita-senju, and safe, JR employees were incredible! later at 5pm I contacted the nursery, the principal explain about the procedures, and I felt better. My babies spent one day with day,safe in cozy place. I left the baito place around 6 pm walking along the Chuo line, then close to Korakuen turning to Todai campus Hongo, in that moment I received in my keitai some mails from worried relatives and friends in Mexico, they encouraged me to keep waking, I did shopping some warm clothes, since were not puchi kairo I warm myself with ocha cans in my pockets.
No bikes or skates available, all streets crowded, finally Ueno, then sky-tree, and 6 road to Matsudo was in my eyes, walking straight with all the pilgrims all together, stopping from time to time, I arrived at 1 pm in Mabashi, freezing and standing on the line to take a taxi,we asked each other our destinations, arranging 3 o 4 people in each car, finally at 3:30 am I got it! arriving in home one hour later, I was amazed when I found many cracks outside home also in the garage, so sad 🙁 What to do? Saturday and Sunday the melting down news and radiation closer to our city…
A week later we received a phone call from the Embassy and one day after we took a charter to Mexico, me and my family were in the cover of the several newspapers in Mexico. After two weeks I came back alone to Japan, the house was katamuki, I got advices for leave the house, many friends helped me during two months to clean, pack and give away my stuff, fortunately many stuff I left on my desk in the university and also my car is waiting for me. I came back to Mexico, we are here waiting for the first opportunity to go back Japan, and rebuilt our dreams.
I thank God that all my friends in Sendai are ok, the material things can get again, but no the lives. I also hope that all my kinder students in Oarai, Hitachinaka, Kitaibaraki, Kasama and so many towns are fine, doing gambatte as usual.
We also keep in touch with others in Abiko and Kashiwa worried and concerned about radiation, the invisible pain.
I live in Osaka, Japan
I had just come home from work when the first of the two big quakes reached us. I was literally on the toilet at the moment, and called to my wife to make sure I wasn’t imagining the feeling of slowly rocking back and forth.
We turned on the television and watched as the news team in Tokyo went into emergency mode. When the second major quake hit we watched it over the television about a minute before it hit us.
The rest of the day (and the week, really) was spent watching as footage came in from the disaster areas, not to mention replying to the dozens of friends and relatives around the world who were worried about us.
Engineer, Filipino, Male, Tokyo
I was on the 8th floor of our office building. I was very busy at that time because the deadline of my task is very near.
Suddenly at around 2:46 PM the building began to shake. It was slow at first but then the shaking suddenly turns violent. For about a minute I was holding on to my table saying to myself stop please stop. Then I look around and almost everybody on our floor is under their tables. I quickly ducked under my table and wait until the shaking stopped.
When the earthquake stopped, I sit back on my chair but my hands are still shaking from fear. I tried calling people I know to see if they are alright but phone networks were down. Good thing there was still an internet connection and facebook was the only way I was able to communicate with my friends and love ones.
I wasn’t able to go home that night. I stayed in the office until early morning when trains resumed.
What did I get / learn from your experience of 3-11?
I learned that even though we face tragedies in life, the only thing that we have to do is to move on and move forward.
American, male. Fukushima city (Fukushima-shi), Security Expert
I was working in the Fukushima educational center for trouble shooting some network security filtration scheme when earthquake started on March 11th last year. When it was started 6(six) of us was inside of the secure data center. Actually it happened so fast yet as slow motion recorded in my brain so well so I can tell you the exact detail of it.
When it was started, it was just like the previous smaller quakes, the horizontal movement began slowly followed by the strange voice of Boom, boom, boom..! which went faster, the the vertical rocks starting to merge with it. We were stunned for at least at the first 10secs, afterward one of us said This one is getting harder isn’t it?, and that was the work that triggering our first action. About 20Us size server’s rack (around 2meter height) was rocked so hard, and every block of rack bumped to the space limit bare-bone (actually it was made with slack of 1 meter size), the balls inside of the rack’s conjunctions was popped out like a bullet, and some server’s, routers, switch’s part was starting to fall (or FLY will be more like it..). At that time we aimed to save the service first, four of the engineers run and hold the rack by their both hands. the rest of us starting the shutdown procedure.
At that time the quake started to rock us with a hoopla-like movement, I made decision, yell to leave & forget the rack, just went out of the data center room and out of the building a.s.a.p, saying those with grabbing 2 engineers and pull them all to the exit door….
At that time the call coming from Tokyo and was my wife informing the same condition (3seconds established call). Meanwhile inside the IDC the electricity starting to black out. This causing us cannot get out of the room for the authentication card cannot be read due to power off (surprisingly the backup generator NOT running). Jammed at the door, I took a glimpse to the servers and made sure the UPS running and holds the services for the shutdown procedure of every clustered servers. At that time the mobile service of the earthquake alert sounds started to buzzed (Those alert are too slow, nothing to us…)
Finally using the manual step the door finally opened up and we started to just run for the building door, on the way there through the exit door, at that time the building was rocked so hard so we run and managed not to fall at the same time. I saw 5of us went out to the exit door, yet one person went back to the IDC to get the battery so I chased him back there.
We managed to fly off the exit door and at the time the concrete block of the building was starting to fall to the parking lot and exit door’s nearby.. We were lucky I guess. The first sight I saw after stepping out of the building was the concrete block falls all over, some car wrecked by those in the parking area and right in front of us there was a slim 5th floor building was rocked side-to-side until 25degree each.. which throwing every antennas parts like rockets in every swing. That time I realized that I carried by bag, but I didn’t even know when was the time I grabbed it. We were gathered there until 15:40 at that time, before I decided to go to Fukushima station, to find a way home. The worst part of it is the news, the tsunami news can be viewed by the TV inside of the cars.., we were thinking of the end of the world that time.
One of the members was driving me half way to the station, which was a hard stuff since no traffic light works and many panic drivers thinking only their own priority, I continued to station by foot and reach there to find about almost 200peoples standing in the front of the station building which cannot be entered since the quakes still came like waves with the quite big scale (within 4 to 5 each).
To make our disaster perfect, the snow started to fall. I saw some office workers without the coat out there too. Can’t use any mobile devices, no phone calls. I checked every internet connection I have, after some rapid dial here and there found that eMobile antenna connection can be used, yet there was a problem in resolving DNS, hurried putting OpenDNS & Google IP in every resolve.conf of my devices, afterward I tried to check my house IP but got timed-out. So does the office network and tokyo IDC. At that time Skype call came into my mind. After the 10th effort connecting to Skype network I finally got it. I was thinking to make connection alive as long as possible. I tried to make phone call, avoiding mobile ones, and successfully made some. Every people in there seeing me amazed, so I was explaining use the Wifi and Skype and you might made a call, and they started to tried it. Meanwhile, my PC was connecting to eMobile and I can get the radio internet tune, people started to gather. At that time the first nuclear plant news came into our ears I guess. I am a kind of news center, until my PC went out of battery. Afterward, police station nearby managed to get taxi drivers pick passengers (5person in each taxi) to evacuate people from stations, while I was stayed there arranging my way home, which will be another long strory which took me 3days to get home.
The moral of this true story is; Number One, in diaster like this: human is first & machine is next! We should say over and over that saving a service is important yet is up the some certain condition of a disaster, when the condition goes near to live or death, just drop everything and run off. Damage will occur and so be it, because without your life the damage cannot be fixed. P.S.: If the service is involving lifeline level of a lot of people, maybe it will worth to die for, and that’s is a different one. This priority will be hardly remembered during the disaster, so next tip is important..
Number two is, to train yourself to handle this kind of situation! We should pay more attention to the disaster simulation handling. No person who born with the gift on handling these, to train yourself to act on these cases is a must! Which is not just a training but think as it as real as possible. I am telling you, no brain can overcame fears caused by the panic stress, and the cure of is rehearsal.
Number three, be resourceful in media connectivity as much as possible in your daily life (internet, radio, TV, anything!). As engineer you SHOULD at least know that you can be connected to network as many way as possible. If you have a hand-phone make sure it has FM/Radio on it, if you have smartphone be sure to have WiFi function on it, If you use Wifi, make sure you have some services to connect to & do not depend into one connectivity. If you have latest smartphone, make sure it can do tether on it. This diversification of connectivity know-how will be your weapon to survive in disaster.
From here: Updated: 29 February, 2012.
Currently unemployed, American, female, Missouri (USA)
I was living in Hino, Tokyo at the time of the earthquake. I was hanging up the laundry while my Japanese boyfriend was at work.
I felt the ground shaking and had asked two neighbor women 地震ですか。 They said yes so I stay outside and held onto the laundry pole, and wall of the apartment. I thought to myself this is a fun ride. and then the ground started swaying like you were on a boat. I felt sick to my stomach and couldn’t wait for it to end.
When it finally did, I put the laundry down and went and turned on the TV. I saw the tsunami live on TV come and wipe out everything. OMG! Those poor people! All the cars, and buildings being swept out to sea, and then water coming and destroying the rice fields.
My boyfriend finally called me to see if I was alright. I said yes and was watching TV at the time. Later that week was the start of not having enough toilet paper, milk, bread, etc. I was happy when I could even buy just one thing that we’d be out of. Even trying to go to interviews for my own work was difficult and had to find the best way to get around the trains being stopped because of the rolling blackouts.
A month later I had enrolled in a local Japanese class and one of the women asked me if my government had ordered me to leave Japan. I told her that ordered was the wrong verb, and I wasn’t going to leave Japan no matter what over the earthquake, tsunami or even the radiation. I said that I’m trying to make Japan my permanent home and I wasn’t going to let anything stand in my way of being a citizen.
Unfortunately, I had to move back to the USA because I couldn’t get my visa renewed and my Japanese level wasn’t up to fluency yet. 🙁
I want to say thank you in the first instance for giving me this opportunity to express how I felt during the earthquake of March 11.
It is not always a palatable experience coupled with the fact that Japanese population is mostly made up of the aged and due to this they suffer the aftermath of such calamity. This does not mean that those that are not aged do not suffer as well anyway. The experience is always traumatic. I feel so very much for the victims and do know that God alone condoles them.
Japanese are very loving people. I pray and believe God to help them as they surge ahead in the betterment of their citizenry and others.
Japanese are very loving people. I pray and believe God to help them as they surge ahead in the betterment of their citizenry and others.
Patricia, American, location is Ryogoku, Tokyo, Female, University English instructor and website designer
Home in the 4th floor kitchen, and recognized this one was bigger than the one in the ’80s. Recovering from a broken leg in September, I had only just stopped relying upon crutches.
As the shaking and booming and crashing continued, with every drawer opening and closing, and wheeled furniture moving drunkedly about, I decided the building may fall. After locking the apartment door for some reason, with shaking hands, lurched down the swaying hall and scrambled down the outside metal stairs and into the arms of all the neighbors in the tiny uramichi streets.
I live in a shitomachi area of Tokyo, Ryogoku. Best thing was finding many people I knew, and who knew me. Well, they’d seen me crutching around for months. Joined the knots of people showing the damage to the homes, looking at cracks and debris in the street, and the buildings swaying. Everyone with a keitai and smart phone looking at the news. A sixty foot tsunami approaching up north?
One of the local famous sumo wrestlers was out in his Tshirt and shorts, talking to the neighbors. His massive presence, upswept hair, and fragrant hair oil spread a bit of calm. Went home and sent a message to family in the USA that I was alive. Rode my bike around the neighborhood. Thousands of people around the station just realizing that the next train was not coming, perhaps forever.
Once the news about the nuclear power plant going under came out, I knew life had truly changed forever, and probably not for the good.
Still, I’ll be here, going through it all with the rest. I still have waking dreams and nightmares as I recall the booming of the continued quakes, the deep call of the Earth to the surface, and our thin, inconsequential layer of humanity.
Canadian, Chiba-ken, male, English teacher
The day of the earthquake, I was home, taking care of my Japanese wife who had the flu. Had she not been sick, I would have been in Chuo-ku at my elementary school. She had started to feel better, so we had just finished a late lunch, enjoying a cup of tea and TV when it started to shake. Both of us thought, oh, an earthquake.
I had heard that if you feel like its going side side, then its not so bad. When it goes up/down, that’s bad. But I hadn’t considered that it would feel like a washing machine. My wife jumped up and was holding our entire entertainment case up (she’s only about 60kg) I said fxxx the TV get under the table. So we did, and it was shaking, and it didn’t stop, but got stronger. I held on to her tightly as she began to scream and cry. I was suprised that I didn’t freak out but stayed calm. My thoughts then began to put a plan into action. My family has 5 children, so I then had to figure out how we’d keep them all safe. 2 were at daycare, one was at junior high, and 2 were at high school.
As soon as it stopped shaking, I grabbed my combat gear (I go camping and did some military cadet training back in Canada) and ran out of the house. I turned the radio onto the US forces network to see what they were saying. As I drove down our insanely narrow streets, I had to open my windows and honk the horn to keep the old people from stummbling into the streets. I kept yelling out that the earthquake was up north.
I got to the daycare, and what struck me was the silence. I have never been where there were many children and none of them were making a noise. They were all huddled in the centre of their classroom dressed to go outside. I ran in, called out to the teachers and my son, he jumped up and got all his gear. I then ran to my daughters class, did the same and I took both to my car. Then the aftershock began.
My little boy began to cry and scream, my little girl couldn’t stop shaking in fear then she began to cry. I held on to her and the cook held my son as I watched the mirror on the street do it’s dance. Then I looked up and saw the massive power pylon dancing! When it stopped shaking, my kids and I jumped in the car, and after getting them buckled in, we then drove home. To watch on BBC world the horror of the tsunami. We kept counting the aftershocks.
My oldest daughter came home from junior high about an hour later. My second oldest son was with his grandparents in a supermarket and had survived by getting out. Our oldest just went to work after he had walked back from his school. He hadn’t bothered to text us as he thought the phones were down.
We watched TV for about 5 hours. My little boy took his blanket and put it on the floor, he then took his lego blocks and scattered them on the blanket. Then he took his tomicars and did the same. He then put his foot under the blanket and began to move the blanket and was saying. This is the tsunami, this is all the cars and houses getting pushed by the water. Sorry everybody. That’s how a 5 year old understood the biggest earthquake in Japanese history.
For days afterwards, he then kept asking when would we be going to Canada? That’s a question I still can’t answer.
New Zelander, Iwaki-City Fukushima-Ken, English Teacher
I was just setting off for home in my car when it started shaking wildly, the buildings around me rattling and groaning. I stopped the car and got out getting ready to run away from anything that might fall on it, like a power pole or piece of building.
I had to hang onto the side mirror to stay upright. People around me were screaming and crouching on the ground. I looked up and saw the trees on a hill behind the shopping centre emitting huge amounts of pollen as they shook that turned into this weird yellow cloud. I went into panic/shock mode, but managed to drive to where I knew my husband was – what luck was it that he was not at work that day and only less than 200m away from me at the time the earthquake struck.
He had been filing our taxes and forgotten some document which I had driven into town to drop off to him. So we quickly decided to return home and see if our house was still standing. Luckily it was, but on the way home the car was rocking constantly from aftershocks.
Our dog was also ok. I was 7 months pregnant, but thankfully everything was ok with our baby. Our house is on a big hill away from the ocean so when we turned on the TV and saw the tsunami we were shocked, to say the least.
That night as we slept in our own beds in our warm house (that rocked constantly) we felt terrible for all the poor people in Tokyo who couldn’t get home…at that point we still had no idea that the power station was in serious trouble. 2 days later we left Iwaki for Western Japan.
We were certainly the only people fleeing, all around us everyone was still going about their business. Luckily for us we had a full tank of gas in our car and were able to drive to Niigata and then Kyoto and my husbands home town in Tottori without incident, amazing considering what had happened. Almost one year on, there are days when I feel overwhelmed by what happened and we were so lucky.
From here: Updated: 28 February, 2012.
I was a long way from the epicentre, in Nagoya, but of course we still felt it.
The strange thing about it for me is that about five minutes before it hit, I was printing some documents from my laptop, and – this is the only time I have done this in my 3 years living in Japan – for some reason I forgot to select the page range and the printer started spitting out the whole 200 pages.
My wife and I panicked (we run a small business and overheads are crucial) and cancelled the print job but in the process, the printer jammed. So while we were taking it apart and shaking it around trying to find the location of the jam, the floor started moving.
At first we thought we were getting a bit too carried away with the printer, but it soon became patently obvious that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t until we got home that evening and turned on the TV that we (slowly) began to comprehend the full extent of what was happening 500 km north-east of us.
A couple of days later, I wrote this haiku:
rolling like a ship;
seasick on land
Professor M Zahidul Haque,Dean, Faculty of Agriculture,Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University,Dhaka, Bangladesh
When I saw the picture of the devastation made by the 3/11 tsunami in Japan on TV screen I was greatly shocked and deeply felt the pain and sufferings of our friendly Japanese people.
I wrote some letters to the local as well as to the Japanese Press expressing profound sympathy to the people of Japan upholding my strong conviction that the brave Japanese people would overcome their pains and sorrows and the losses they had to sustained due to the natural disasters.
Meanwhile after the devastating tsunami in Japan and the accident at the Nuclear plant reminded me one thing, should we continue power generation from nuclear reactors?
The World should take a lesson from the Japanese nuclear disaster due to natural cause. I think nuclear power generation should be discouraged. Not only the humans but the entire agriculture industry particularly the livestock sector were terribly affected by the nuclear accident during tsunami.
I take this opportunity to assure our friends in Japan to keep courage to recovering the great losses and pain. We all stand by their side with love and affection.
Teacher, French, Lyon, Female
That day, I was in Osaka.
I was already sick and I was in Namba, in the morning, but it was a cold day. I came back to my flat and decided to sleep all day long.
When I woke up, I found many messages on my e-mail box. I couldn’t realize yet what was happening until I saw the images on TV of the tsunami. For me it was unbelieveble. many of my friends were near Tokyo. I couldn’t call them so I was very scared for them.
I couldn’t believe what happened, and decided to go out to walk around. I asked myself if everything was real or no. It happened so fast. I felt very sad to hear bad news the next couples days and weeks.
I really respect Japanese people for their strengh and their courage.
What did I get / learn from your experience of 3-11?
Life is precious and short, we should love and respect each other the best we can.
English-Russian Translator/teacher, Russian Federation, Adil Y.
I wasn’t in Japan when the earthquaike struck, more than that, I have never been to Japan, my knowlege of this great nation is based on many, many things, very few of them are Harouki Murakami’s books, movies by Akiro Kurosawa, or photographs by Semey Tomatsu, a friend of mine Masayuki Tsuruga ‘Masa’, whom I met in Philadelphia, PA, it’s a long list.
During those horrible days we shared the grief and prayed. And had a feeling of great sympathy and admiration for the people of Japan, can you find any other nation under the Sun who could boast the behavior of the Japanese facing the disaster those days…
It would be an honor for me to come to Japan and and be wherever I’d be helpful to pay my humble tribute.
I left Japan when I was 7, and since that I’m visiting Japan time to time.
When the disaster happened, I saw with my eyes the only city I know in Japan destroyed, I lived between Sendai & Natori my whole life in Japan, I don’t know anything in Japan but these little cities, I saw the streets I knew washed away, I saw the places I used to hangout vanishing like if it was just a dream.
I never felt so lonely like that time, I lost all my memories about my Japan, I lost my identity, my history, but I didn’t lost my loyalty to my country so I was ready to do anything to support my country, my grandmother is living in Natori, Miyagi-Ken, I tried hundreds to times to call her, call anyone I know in Japan, I even called a fish shop near grandmother’s house, I had no much to do and to support, but I didn’t lost hope of finding my grandmother, I was watching Japanese TV channels all the time, in hope of seeing my grandmother’s face.
After electricity power restored, I finally could talk to her, trying my best to express all my feelings to her using my poor Japanese language. Then, it came the Fukushima’s disaster, and I knew that it’s very near to Natori, I did my best to go to Japan, I was ready to do anything to help those heroes at there, I don’t know anyone from those who works at the nuclear plant, but they are my ultimate heroes, I was ready to offer my life to them, to their families, to anyone who can rescue my Japan & my grandmother, I wanted so much to go to Fukushima to work at the power plant, I just wanted to do anything at there, even if I know I will die working at there.
Since 3-11 life changed, since that, I’m looking for job in Japan, I feel I can make a difference in my Japan, can support my grandmother, and rebuild my only city I know in Japan.
I’ll back to Japan on someday, I’ll support my people, I’ll help rebuilding it, and I’ll live & die for my country’s glory & superiority.
From here: Uprated: 27 February, 2012.
Libyan, Benghazi, Female, Student
I was blogging about the war in Libya, and I was so engulfed in what was happening around me.
Before the war broke out in Libya, I was planning on applying for scholarships to study in Japan, and seeing the news really hit home, even though I had my own struggles to worry about…
I felt bad for the Japan and I thought about them a lot…but I did not for one second doubt Japan’s will power; I knew that they’d never give up, and that they’d make it through…and I was right.
American, Gifu City, Male, Computer programmer
When the earthquake happened, I was at home in Gifu City working on my computer.
I felt long rolling earthquake waves and my house moved up and down. I immediately turned on the TV and started watching the news.
I knew that something unusually big must have occurred and I wanted to see how close it was to me, and what the effects might be. I was shocked when I saw the aerial footage of the refineries burning and the airport flooding.
I watched TV for the rest of the day. I had the same feelings as when I lived in the US in 2001 and watched TV all day on 9/11 and seeing the same terrible images replayed over and over.
I was working in Gifu as an ALT, with plans to travel to Tokyo to visit my best friend, who was finally visiting Japan.
He couldn’t break away from his tour group, so I was going to go up there for the weekend and see him briefly. We miss each other terribly.
My boyfriend (lives in Gifu) was also in Tokyo that weekend for his graduation exhibition.
I was in the teacher’s room of one of my junior highs when it hit, rather long but not intense for us- nothing fell off the shelves. It wasn’t until later that we found out the catastrophe that northern Japan experienced.
My thoughts went to Tokyo- where I had no idea whether my best friend OR boyfriend was OK. I couldn’t contact them, and spent a day deep in worry- wondering if I should follow through and go to them, just to be with them if anything. But trains were down…..
I finally heard from both of them later that night- my best friend had been on top of a building when it happened, having just gotten off of a ferris wheel!! (He’d arrived in Japan only the day before- SURPRISE!). My boyfriend had been in a record shop. Both had to walk for miles along the tracks when the trains stopped.
They passed a night with no sleep, kept up by the constant aftershocks…. I’m only glad they both made it home safely, though I missed my chance to see my best friend. It was such strange timing…
It was during a parent/teacher conference when the earthquake struck.
I was about to tell the father of one of my worst behaved grade 5 students about her bad attitude when it hit. I was out in Gunma, so it wasn’t as bad as other areas, but I knew it was big. When my school started shaking I ducked under the desk.
Then, we all rushed outside to witness the school shaking like a wet dog and the ground moved like I was standing on a skateboard in a hurricane. I felt for the first time how large and powerful Mother Nature was.
A few minutes later, all of us teachers, parents, and a few students were gathered infront of the school, wondering where the epicenter was and how large on the richter the quake measured.
It wasn’t long before we could see the disaster unfold infront of us on the front office TV. Tsunami waves washing boats and cars ashore like toys as we all watched helplessly in disbelief. I tried contacting my wife on my cell to make sure she and our 9 month old son were ok, but I could not get through.
An hour or so later I drove home from the school in traffic chaos. A routine 40 minute commute was a three hour nightmare. I finally returned home only to watch the destruction of my new beloved home country, Japan, in slow motion.
From here: Uprated: 24 February, 2012.
Ken Seeroi, American, Male, Tokyo, Writer
When the Tohoku earthquake happened, I was sitting at my tiny Japanese desk, in the middle of a giant Japanese office, in the middle of Tokyo, just hating life. I was working elbow to elbow with about a hundred people, facing a row of unsmiling coworkers across from me, crouched in front of my PC, without speaking from morning until night. The most exciting part of the day was lunchtime, when we’d all take out our bento boxes and eat lunch together without talking. I couldn’t imagine it could get any worse.
Funny about that. You never really think about something like the floor too much, at least until it starts jumping around, which is what suddenly began happening. In an instant, our building went from a solid structure to a loose bunch of concrete and glass rocking side to side, as a hundred people gave out a collective, cautious “Whoooa.”
Now, in preparation for just such an emergency, our company had provided every employee with a liter of water and two cans of bread. I’d long gotten used to strange food in Japan, so the idea of bread in a can didn’t seem that abnormal. What I really couldn’t figure out though is why we hadn’t also been provided with, say, a can of tuna and a jar of mayo. But in any case, I reached for those cans, since that seemed to be the only thing within my control. But bread or no bread, it soon became apparent the shaking thing had moved from the floor to the walls and ceiling. You could see the windows starting to flex. We all looked at each other for about a second as a deep rumbling came up through the building, and then, with a tremendous crash, all hell broke loose.
I learned that I don’t really fit beneath my Japanese-sized desk. It was kind of like a cat trying to crawl into a paper bag, where he gets his little head in but the rest of his big body is sticking out. The floor started going up and down and things came off the walls and people started to yell and scream. I opened my cans of bread and prayed, but it seemed like the walls wouldn’t stop shaking no matter how much bread I ate, which by the way tastes terrible. By the time it was over I’d polished off both cans and was halfway through my bottle of emergency water. There were crumbs everywhere.
It was only later that the severity of things became apparent, as news of the tsunami started coming in. I don’t think anybody realized how bad it was at first, but as we listened to the radio and watched the TV, it started to look heavy. Like really heavy. And then, because we’re in Japan and the Japanese have about one response to everything, we went quietly back to work. A huge aftershock happened a few minutes later, but since I was all out of rations, I just kept on working along with everyone else.
When evening came, it seemed there was another problem, as the trains had stopped, meaning that no one could go home. My coworkers just kept on working throughout the night, until they fell asleep at their desks. I left the office, and my first thought was, as always, to sleep in the corner of some bar. But every izakaya and noodle shop I went to was either packed or closed, so that idea was out. So I had a few convenience store cocktails to sharpen my crisis management skills, and then started walking home. The sidewalks were teeming with people in dark suits trudging forward, and the overpasses so crowded that folks waited in line just to climb the steps. Taxis, cars, nothing could move. At one point, I boarded a bus, but the traffic was so heavy that it only went forward about a yard in twenty minutes, so I got off again and kept on walking.
It got pretty cold. There were no hats or gloves left in the stores, so I bought a surgical mask, which helped keep my face warmer, and cans of hot coffee for each pocket. I walked. I looked at maps. I asked directions. And I walked some more. I hoped I would find a running shoe store or maybe steal a bike, but neither happened, so I kept going in my pointy Japanese shoes. I walked for five hours. Then I got to Ikebukuro, went straight to a bar, had some corn nuts and beer, and rested. Then I walked some more. Maybe another two hours.
When I got home, my old wooden house was still standing, although some tiles had fallen off the roof, one of the beams had split, and my room was an utter mess. Clothes and books were scattered everywhere. Then I remembered that it always looks that way, so I couldn’t really blame the earthquake.
Today (March, 2011), it’s lovely and warm, and sakura blossoms are drifting in the wind. But even now, the aftershocks continue. Maybe we’ve had a hundred or more. The reports of the death toll up north and the nuclear meltdown have become real. The stores are empty of food and tonight, again, the lights will be out all over Tokyo. Why does Japan have to be so beautiful and yet so terrifying?
Armenian, Female, Tokyo
I want to say thanks a lot to the kind people. I was visiting Japan on business. One of my meetings had finished, and I wanted to enter into the lift when the earthquake was.
At first I did not understand what was going on, and I stormed out of the building. I was surprised to see the high buildings moving, but not being damaged at all. In 1988 there was a 6.9 magnitude earthquake in Armenia, and thousands houses and buildings were destroyed. I was shocked, but I didn`t frighten, because no one panicked, and I understood that the people were prepared for such situation, even some people were wearing helmets.
The hardest thing for me was to get to the hotel. My hotel was 6-7 hours far from the place where I was that time. As I had scheduled fly back to Armenia the next day, I decided to walk to the hotel. I was wearing a suit and high heels. On half of the way, I felt that I could not continue my way because of the shoes, I took them off and walked barefoot. I was very cold, and tired, the people noticed it and they were very kind to me. A lady offered me a hat and scarf, I was so bad that not only couldn’t I refuse them, but also I could not thank her. I would like to find her and say “Thank you very much.
Sometimes, on my way I was so tired that I wanted to give up waking, but I found some energy to continue the way. I was walking for a while then a Japanese girl gave me slippers, but this time I remembered that I had chocolate in my bag , so I gave it to her. Another man offered the socks to me.
The earthquake was sudden, and the people were shocked, but they didn’t forget to help others. It was great. I don`t think that I can see the same another place of the world. I will never forget that day. When I arrived at the hotel I found out that my flight had been postponed March 16. I removed my friend’s house.
Next day the people were going to their work. HOW? There was no bus, no train, no taxi, but they continued their work. They were going by BICYCLE. I asked one of my Japanese friend why they went to work, if there was an emergency situation in the country. He answered : ”We are working for tomorrow’s Japan.” It says all, there is nothing to say.
One more time Japanese people have showed that they are very strong and no one & nothing can break their will. Japan will live forever. We have a lot to study from Japan.
Anti-crisis manager, Armenian, Male, Tokyo
I went to Japan on the 1st of March and my back flight was on the 12th of March.
It was awful, I could not go back because of the earthquake, but at the same time it was a good experience for me. I studied about earthquake at University, and I knew a lot of about it, but it was different what I felt that day.
I was in Ikebukuro area, when the earthquake stuck. At first I did not understand what was happening until I saw that the building were moving. I did not scare of it, because there was not any panic round me, the buildings did not collapse. It was fantastic, I had heard about it, but I could not imagine that the Japanese architecture and engineer was so excellent. The building could move, and not destroy, it was like movie or animation. I admired how strong the buildings were. I thought about my country.
Armenia likes Japan there are a lot of earthquake, but our buildings are very weak and if the same happened in my country nothing will be left. I have understood that we have to study a lot from Japan. When I returned from Japan, I told everyone about my feelings and about what I saw there.
I would like to go to Japan to help them and to study from them.
American, Kanagawa, Female, English Teacher
I can firmly say my experience of the 3/11 earthquake was the worst experience I have had in my life.
I just recently got married and moved to Japan with my husband. I was not prepared to face such a natural disaster without a support group, such as my close friends and family.
I was working as an English Teacher at an international school near my house. When the earthquake hit the kids were having their afternoon snack. Me and two of my co-workers were talking and watching over the kids. Then,the building started shaking, at first I thought it was just a regular earthquake or it was just in my head. I thought my co-workers were trying to tease me, since had I always told them I feared a big earthquake. As the earth kept on shaking, I couldn’t think of anything. My first reaction was to run. I feel guilty to say this, but I ran without the kids. My co-worker had to call me back to grab the kids. I went back got the kids out and walked outside, I can say I was in total panic for days after the earthquake.
We went outside. I felt dizzy as I was walking. One of my coworkers held my hand and walked me out to the playground. We all sat in the middle of the playground and the ground kept on shaking; It was the most frightening thing ever! the kids were on the ground and they liked the ground shaking. A few minutes went by and some parents began arriving at the gate to get their kids. The school sent the school buses out at dismissal. Some kids returned to the school, since their parents weren’t home yet.
As the aftershocks kept on occurring, minutes after the earthquake I got a phone call through my Skype messenger. It was my brother’s friend. He was warning me not to go near the water, He was watching live footage of the Tsunami. He said, I don’t know where you live, but don’t go near the water. I’m watching a huge Tsunami happening right now. At that time I had no idea there had been a Tsunami. I was paranoid, I kept on asking my coworkers if we were near the water. I was relieved to find out my Skype was working. I immediately called my brother and told him I was fine, then I called my husband through Skype since I knew we both had Skype on our iPhones. He told me his unit had to wait for countability for all of their members, then they could go home to their families. By then, I had been released from work and decided to go to my coworker’s house who lived near me.
I drove home with two of my coworkers. The traffic lights were out. It was incredible to see how the Japanese people cooperated driving without any traffic lights. There was a Gas station working directing traffic near my job and he did it without any hesitation. I got to my friends house and I kept on hearing the Japanese announcements outside going off. I was watching the Japanese news, all I saw was a map of Japan blinking with different colors. It was the same thing on every channel. My frustration grew bigger and bigger, I didn’t understand what the news or the announcements said. I felt desperate.
I came home later on the day and one of my coworkers came home to stay with me, since the trains weren’t working. When I got home I was relived to see my husband and talk to my family.
The next couple of days were living nightmare for me. I felt like the Japanese government was not giving us enough information and the international media was blowing things up. I didn’t leave my house for a few days. I slept by my door every night just in case there was an earthquake I could run out. I didn’t want to go to the second floor of my house. On 3/15 I bought tickets to go back to New York without telling my husband. That night my husband came back from work and I asked him if it was OK for me to go back home. He said, he thought it was the best idea. Though, even if he had said NO my mind was made up I was leaving that day one way or another. On the way to the airport I was so scared. I went into my local 7/11 and saw the shelves were empty, which made me feel more panic. The highway was empty and the airport was full of people waiting to leave Japan.
New Zealand, currently in Niigata, ALT
One of the clearest memories I have from that day is looking up and seeing so many birds flying in the sky. Oddly enough, it was pretty to watch even if it was prompted by something terrible.
My whole disaster experience encompasses the days before and what followed after – too much really to put into a few words. I was living in Southern Iwate at the time, in a town called Kanegasaki, so you can imagine how horrific it was.
I once said that if I had a phobia it would be earthquakes. Having lived in Japan for several years you get used to them – eventually. But after March 11th, it took me a long time before I would go somewhere on my own. It was comforting to be around people as any kind of deep noise or shaking left me feeling anxious. It still does now but to a lesser extent.
It’s something I’ll never forget but I will always be greatful to those who helped me, even in the smallest of ways.
From here: Uprated: 23 February, 2012.
Language specialist, American, Male, Tokyo
I was in the Maruzen bookstore on the fourth floor in Oazo across from Tokyo station.
I most remember, chandeliers in the restaurant there swaying violently back and forth, and big dust bunnies falling from the ceiling. Across the street, I saw a pole on the rail tracks moving like a metronome. I didn’t know what to do.
I was afraid the book shelves would topple but they turned out to be okay. I tried to hold on and squatted a bit in the middle of the floor away from any glass. Truthfully, I had no idea it was so massive of a quake. Thought it might be 6-7 on the Richter scale. Maybe it was because the building is relatively new and well made for quakes. To make a long story short I ended up walking from Mitsukoshimae, (following the first aftershock, which was much scarier to me since I was walking across a bridge at the time) to Shibuya to wait for the Inokashira line to start.
Bought some sushi and bread at Foodshow and ate a quick meal. Tried making some calls from a pay telephone but no answer. Then just after 10 pm, I started walking home west from Shibuya since it seemed hopeless to wait any longer for the trains to start .
Around 11:15, I noticed that the trains were indeed running and got on 4 stops from my home station. No charge. Got home past midnight. The only thing broken was the glass pot of my coffee maker. I figure, I walked around 15 kilometers in total.
Glad I had on good walking shoes that day and I knew the route towards home. My wife ended up sleeping in her office with a dinner of cookies and tea.
France, Male, 36 year-old, Cabinetmaker, CAD, Clément
The disaster happened the day after I just came back to France, after a two week holydays in Japan. It was my 3rd trip to that country I love so much for different reasons.
I couldn’t imagine such a thing would happen especially Fukushima problems. Everyday I was looking at the news on TV to know how the situation was getting evolving. I was sending emails to all my Japanese and French friends who were living there for years, to know how they were going, of course to spiritually support them in that nightmare and instable moment.
I felt really concerned and sad for every Japanese people since I always felt something special I really need for my life in my relationship with Japanese people who welcomed me so warmly each time I came to their country. I felt worry and frustrated to feel so helpless from France, after having spent so great moments in Japan, except writing regularly to my friends who were facing all the disaster and who must were constantly worrying for the future, or participating to fund-raising.
After the disaster I came back to Japan for 3 months again in order to find a job, from mid September to mid December 2011. I met several really good friends in Hiroshima and Osaka prefectures, for sure I am gonna see them again next time I can come to Japan.
I think Japanese people have a really strong personality (sorry it is difficult to really explain in what way, it would be so clumsy from me) but in a particular way I feel close to them, they really moved me, and I feel like I want to come again to Japan in order to work and make my life there and support that beautiful country and people in my way.
みんなさん気をつけて、ぜひまた会いましょう A très bientôt !!
I am Persian living in Misato in Saitama
I start working from evening and I was at home when earthquake happened. My son was at home too because, he caught cold and was resting.
House started moving and then shaking and some accessories felt down and then somthing as a thunder roared. My son was shaking and jumped to doorway. I have accompanied him outside of house and tried to calm him. After a while, I have decided to call my wife.
The mobile phone was working but the comunication was not possible because of crowded network but I could call the normal phone from my mobile. Our company has an emergency mail system and I got the mail which was concerned about my situation and I replied. As everyday, I attended at company but the system was not working due to after shake and some parts of building was destroied. We helped to clean a little and because of aftershakes decided to come back home early but the news made me too worry about power plants in Fukushima.
We are 200 Kilometers away but the water is not safe anymore. 2 days later was rainy and I felt irritaion when my neck got wet and I washed immidiately when got home. the earth quake is terrible but the disaster was huge wave which Japanese call it sunami the lengh was 30 metres as news said. The structure of buildings in Japan is too light because of wood and it is burnable but because of light weight is able to shake with earthquake and be safe but must be carefull about things not to fall down.
After some days the bottled water was sold out in the stores and it is good to be prepared for other catasrophy. Everybody helped as they could to the organisations which were well known and eveybody worked as always to contribute for making life as before and it is a big point. Life goes on as always and must not be paniced by natural disaster but must take lesson and concern about green enviorment.
American Citizen, White/European Decent, Male, Funabashi/Chiba, Teacher/Consultant
I remember this day very well, possibly the same way older American generations remember clearly where they were when Kennedy was assassinated, as is a common idea in the USA.
I was almost dressed to go to work when the shaking started. I lived on the fourth floor of an apartment building and could feel very small earthquakes all the time, so this was not of much initial concern and I went about my business. However at around the 20 second mark of the initial shakes, they quickly began to transform in to tremors the magnitude of which I’d never experienced and was unprepared for. With my heart suddenly beating out of my chest, I bolted out of my apartment and down the stairway until I reached the ground floor and ran out on to the street.
There were many others on the street, as small as it was, with me. Most were delivery men and kids coming home from school. We were all watching the buildings sway back and forth in incredible fashion, along with the electricity wires from which we soon moved further away from. As we all turned to our cell phones to catch the news on our television modes, one delivery man next to me asked in shock, ‘Where are your shoes? Looking down at my bare feet, I exclaimed in my shaky voice that I didn’t even notice I’d left them off until he pointed it out. We looked at each other a moment in understanding, then went back to watching the chaos around us.
After about twenty minutes of relentless shaking, things started to die down. I thought the worst was over. I was very wrong. I, shakily, went back up to my fourth floor apartment and turned on the tv. That was when I found out just what had happened. I turned ont he tv to see live images of a panoramic shot of the ocean, with 4-5 waves coming in to the beach, however the beach was a town, and the waves didn’t break or die; they just came and never stopped. I watched people and cars frantically trying to get away from the incoming water, only to be overtaken and lost from sight. I saw others in vehicles, unknowingly driving towards the tsunami. I don’t know what happened to them for sure, but one doesn’t have to ponder that thought much to know the most likely answer. I felt a sickness inside of me that I hadn’t felt since I woke up to watching the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2011, my birthday of all times. However this time, the eventual body count was much higher, and after seeing these grim images live, I knew it already all too well.
That night, my wife and I stayed at a shelter. We didn’t need to, but it made her feel more safe, and that was more than enough reason to do it. I ventured out for food but after about 15 convenience stores being out of everything except chocolates/candy, I gave up. We survived just fine. I only wish more had been as lucky as we were.
This moment will live with me forever. I’ll never forget the tragedy I watched first-hand. I’ll never stop feeling sad for the loss of life. I’ll also never forget the strength and solidarity of Japan to come back against this tragedy. I’ll never forget the fact of so many family’s home safe’s and personal belongings being turned in to police by others. I’ll never forget any of it. And I say this, lastly, with no reservation; which is to say that I feel lucky to have suffered this event in Japan, as everyone there came together and helped each other in a way that amazed me, and I felt truly lucky to be among such people at that horrible time; a time which no country or people should have to endure.
ALT, Canadian, Male, Tsuchiura City Japan
I was relaxing in the teacher’s room of my Jr. Highschool in Tsuchiura when the earthquake hit. I first thought that it was just another ‘quake until all of my 28 teacher’s cell phones started ringing simultaneously.
As we all filed out into the sports field I noticed that most of my teachers were on their phones messaging or trying to reach their family and loved ones. A few of my students had pulled out their (well hidden) cell phones and attempted to do the same. However, they were told not to do so. I thought that it was crazy for the other teachers to be on their phones but denied the students to do the same. But when they stopped listening and started passing their phones around to their friends, the teachers turned their attention to the fact that messages weren’t getting though.
Thankfully I had a pocket wi-fi that I was able to share the (still working) internet connection with those with smart phones. I also let my students use my iPhone to email their families. That really seemed to help them relax.
Beyond everything that happened, I was shocked to see everyone trying to help out. All for one and one for all. Community cooking and potlucks in the gym, extra blankets and pillows donated and countless power generators that kept lights lit and cellphones charged.
A special thanks to the old ladies down the street that brought me all those warm meals, jugs of water and elementary school kanji books. It was because of you that I never felt the need to run from Japan.
Everett Mapp, USA, Sendai, Teacher/ Coach
I was in my clubhouse waiting to start practice when the earthquake hit. I scurried with a few team members through a walkway between two buildings, windows shattering above us as we made out way out toward the soccer field. Fortunately all of the kids made it out without injury.
After a few hours in a moderate snow storm, I made my way back to my apartment, where moments later my then fiancé arrived to check in on me. We eventually walked for about an hour and a half to her fathers home , and was happy to find he was ok.
In the days that followed we took buckets of water from the river behind the house into our bathroom and tub in order to flush the toilet and wash utensils. I had never experienced anything like this and for the first time knew what it felt like to be a part of a major natural catastrophe.
Today I see a city that is back on its feet, and recovering form those terrible events. As my birthday approaches this Sunday, I believe this is my greatest gift.
French, Tokyo, Software Developer
For years, my curiosity had developed as I fantasized and dreamed about Japan, and the hidden treasure it represented to me at the time. On December 2010, I finally saw my desire concretize itself as I booked a flight from New York bound for Narita Airport on 3/11 at 5pm. As the excitation and anxiety built up alongside the countdown to my first visit to Japan, I imagined many scenarios, sights, smells and atmospheres – the feelings of joy I expected to experience upon arriving in Tokyo.
Two hours before the supposed landing time, however, the captain announced that an earthquake had struck Tokyo, and that Narita airport was temporarily closed – so we would have to divert. I remembered feeling slightly annoyed and chatting with a young Japanese man on the seat next to me. We casually talked about the frequency of earthquakes in Japan and dismissed what we thought then was a non-event. As time passed, all the other airports got full and our plane had difficulty finding somewhere to land (as we could see from the flight’s trajectory on the map, zigzagging over Japanese territory). Little by little, passengers started to realize the scale of the disaster. A little after 5 PM, we landed in Sapporo-Chitose airport – an airport not equipped to handle airplanes like ours in a time of emergency.
Once on the ground, almost everyone watched news and communicated – or at least tried to do so – with their cellphones. In the airplane, which was now stopped on the ground, people got out of their seats and gathered around cell phones to watch the news. It is only then that we – Japanese and others – realized the scale of the catastrophe. Everybody was mostly calm and quiet. For several hours the captain made regular announcements, letting us know that we might take off again, or maybe not. In the end, the plane couldn’t be re-fueled, nor unloaded for lack of appropriate airport equipment, and we had to stay 12 hours inside of it – after a 14-hours flight.
There was no food left, and little power, with as little fuel in the airplane’s tanks. But I wasn’t bothered by it. I think nobody really was. Everybody was too mesmerized by the catastrophe and worried about the near future to express concern of our not-so-bad situation. Flight attendants, economy passengers, business passengers were all the same; I vividly remember feeling that, at that time, the economical / social / national barriers no longer mattered – at that time precisely, we were all human beings, thinking, wishing for the one same thing.
We then got inside Chitose airport, where we met plenty of other stranded passengers. Everything was quite disorganized, but Japanese people retained their dignity, calm, and manners. I remembered being extremely impressed by the relatively low level of disorganization, in spite of the conditions. 16 hours later, we re-boarded the previous plane, to arrive finally in Narita on March 13, 1 AM. This first time encounter with Japan conformed to none of the scenarios I could have previously imagined, and became a life-altering event for me.
To this day, I look to the Japanese people and land as one of courage and dignity, one that I respect and must learn from.
Juliet M. , Koriyama ,Fukushima, English Teacher
It was early in the morning when I drove to Fukushima city from sukagawa. I was assigned to teach there. An hour before the earthquake happened, I was writing my lesson plan for the day. The alarm from my phone rang and I thought it was only an ordinary earthquake but it was different. I took my phone and jacket and ran outside. I stopped at the door, and thought it might have stopped. Thats when I saw the roads were cracked and people panicked. I ran to the road where I held the side mirror of an old man’s car.
I was really scared but the old man told me, it will be fine. He was so calm. It helped me a lot. After, I didn’t know there was a tsunami coming. I tried calling everyone but the line was cut off. I was crying and didn’t know what to do. Until I decided to drive back to sukagawa. When i arrived at my apartment, it was all damaged. I only took my ipad then stayed at my brother’s apartment. Everyday i couldn’t sleep in fear of aftershocks. I was so stressed.
After five days, I decided to leave Fukushima. It was time to move on for me. My company decided to relocate me to another prefecture which was only 2hours drive from Koriyama, Fukushima. I then realized, living another prefecture is so difficult. I didn’t know. It happened all so fast. After living 8 years in Fukushima, it isn’t easy to adjust and move out.
After 6 months, I wanted to go back. So I decided to move to Fukushima again. It has been my second home . I didn’t care about radiation anymore. All I really wanted was to go back and live with my family.
ALT (at the time), American, Female, Saitama
I was preparing for the last period of the day around 3PM when the quake hit. I’m quite sensitive to earthquakes and as usual, I was the first to feel the shaking.
At first it was just some slight shaking, which prompted me to ask the other teachers in the room, Jishin? They weren’t sure at first, but the shaking got stronger and then became very violent. It was all so surreal, and I just calmly stood there at my desk… Until all the dishes and cups fell out of the cupboard near me and shattered. I then thought it might be a good idea to take cover under my desk.
After a few minutes, I went out into the hall and looked after three 6th grade boys. I had my phone with me and tried to find out the magnitude of the earthquake, but of course was not able to connect. One of the boys then pointed out that he had the same phone, and we started to make some small talk to keep our minds off the shaking.
We were then given the order to evacuate into the school yard. Being at an elementary school, there were of course many kids crying. We could see the basketball hoops swaying and it would feel like there was a wave under us when the shaking was vertical. After an hour or so, parents started showing up to pick up their kids. One 5th grade boy sobbed that his mom would die, and I along with his friends had to assure him that his mom is fine.
After most of the kids had been picked up, it was safe to go back into the school. It was then in the faculty room that there was news of the tsunami. I wouldn’t know just how serious it was until the next day.
That night, there were so many aftershocks that my phone’s earthquake alarm went off at least 2-3 times an hour, and I had to turn it off in order to get any sleep. However, the city’s earthquake alarm system continued blaring outside. I was fortunate to be living and working far away from the disaster zone. A little loss of sleep is no comparison to what some others faced.
My hopes and prayers are still with those whose lives were more impacted by this quake.
American from California who teaches High School English here in Japan
I was paying my end of the year tax in Kamakura when the quake hit. The 11th was the last day for Kakutei Shinkoku and I was at the Zeimushoo. I had been in line for about an hour and was third in line to finally get the process finished when the quake struck. Power went out immediately and the ground shook for more than a minute.
I now had a dilemma. My daughter was at day care in the next town over. I knew with the power out that the trains would be down and the buses would be a nightmare. I needed to begin my walk of around eight kilometers to make sure my daughter was safe.
But I’d waited in line for all that time to do my taxes. The staff, while rattled remained at their posts and continued to process people’s tax forms. Since the notebook PCs remained operational due to their batteries, business progressed normally despite the circumstances. I decided to wait my turn and finish my taxes.
I feel like a bad person sometimes for doing that. I probably should have ran to get my daughter straight away. But I knew that if buildings were still standing where I was at then my daughter was probably fine as well. After about thirty minutes I was able to make my way to the day-care center.
The staff at the day care performed admirably, many of them remaining at their posts all night as parents were stranded in Tokyo. When I entered my daughter’s class I saw thirty little bottoms poking up from under the tables, where the staff had instructed the children to wait during all the aftershocks, which were numerous that day.
The kids all had their little fire resistant hoods on as well. It was a strange mixture of sad and cute to see all these three year old children. I doubt they had any idea of what was happening around them.
From here: Uprated: 22 February, 2012.
American, Niigata City, Male, Art Instructor
At the time that the magnitude 9 earthquake on March 11th ocurred, almost one year ago, I was teaching a class at a community center in Niigata City, Japan.
Initially, I didn’t think that it would be any different than the other earthquakes that I had become somewhat used to, living in Japan, though the Chuetsu Earthquakes of 2004 and 2007 were certainly large and indeed quickened the pulse, but I assumed from experience that the building would shake for a certain length of time and then dissapate and that perhaps there would be some damage in some part of the city as a result. But the duration of this one was exceptional, maybe as long as 5 minutes or more although it seemed like it lasted longer than that.
When it stopped, everyone was told that the building was closing and so everyone left. No one knew until after the video footage was shown in the NEWS hours later just how severe the damage was and I couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched the black tsunami rushing over the fields swallowing up houses and whole towns. It was horrifying and spell binding at the same time.
Later came the reports on a daily basis, for weeks and even months actually, about the nuclear reactor problems and I have to say that Mr. Edano ( I believe that’s his name), the man responsible for the televised updates, was very calm about the details and I suppose he should be commended for keeping the situation under control in as much as he was able to instil in the people of Japan a modicum of confidence that everything was under control.
What was especially amazing however, was the amount of cooperation among the Japanese in the affected areas in helping one another and staying positive under the circumstances. That was the first time I was able to truly see what the Japanese spirit is all about. To see such an outpouring of care and perseverance was an inspiration for sure.
Italian, Tokyo, male, Designer
I was in the street going back from lunch to my workplace with my japanese colleagues. Suddenly we realized the ground was shaking, and everything around us, especially the electric poles in the streets.
We were able to make it to the office, and we found everybody trying to clean up all the mess and put in order all the stuff that was fallen on the floor. Then we watched the NHK news reporting the magnitude of the disaster all over the country, and showing real-time from an helicopter the tsunami appoaching the coast from different directions. I was astonished.
A couple of colleagues started having panic, and asked the boss to let them go home to their family, because they couldn’t contact them, since all the phone lines were dead. The boss agreed it was better to go home for everybody, and went to look for information about the transport.We discussed on how everyone would have managed to reach their home, since all transport were closed. Then the boss decided to borrow a van and he personally drove all night to take each one of us to a destination closer to our own place.
The streets were filled with people trying to make it to their homes by walking. Many people walked for hours until they finally got home. It was unreal. A friend of mine walked around 8 hours to reach his home. A few days later the
Nuclear Plant exploded. People started to leave the country. In the next few months the news were kind of distorted from time to time. Many people felt like the japanese goverment was trying to hide essential information about the real situation of the nulcear plant and the risk for the health of the population of eastern Japan. I heard shocking news about all the loss and victims for whom I cried..
I respect and admire all the people struggling everyday to carry on, and I prey for them, considering the circumstances, but I also feel sorry for them because the radiations are going to last for a long time there, making it difficult to maintain a healthy life.
After a while I lost my job; I wanted to do something, volunteer, but the situation was not very promising for me then, so I decided to get back to my country, I don’t feel ashamed for this at all, and I don’t really understand who does blame foreigners that chose to leave in a dangerous situation like that. The shock of this experience will stay in my memory for the rest of my life, yet I was able to deal with a very stressful situation and danger, staying calm for all the time been.
British, Hamamatsu (Shizuoka-ken) – Now London, Female, was Eikaiwa Teacher, now working for a Japan-related charity in the UK.
I was in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka-ken, on March 11th 2011. Even though Hamamatsu is approximately 500 km away from Sendai, we still felt the earthquake.
The building wobbled and we all felt a kind of sea-sickness. Luckily there were no students around at the time. We were all glued to the TV and Internet for days, and it was all we talked about at school. It seemed somehow wrong to continue teaching as if everything was normal.
I was due to finish my contract in April and return to England. It had been planned since before Christmas, but a lot of people thought I was leaving because of the disaster. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. If I could have, I would have gone to Tohoku to volunteer.
When I arrived back in England I felt lost and so far away from Japan. Although I hadn’t been directly affected, it was such a huge thing, and I had to do something. I threw myself into Japanese culture in the UK and managed to get a job for a UK-based charity which supports connections between the UK and Japan. Although I’m still not directly helping the people of Tohoku, I am helping to raise awareness of Japanese culture in the UK, and we sometimes fund scientists and other experts to go to Japan for important research which could help in the event of future disasters.
What did I get / learn from your experience of 3-11?
I learnt that Japan is even more important to me than I realised, and that people all over the world really do care about what’s happening there. I also learnt to appreciate what I have, because you never know when its going to be gone.
Carla Valverde, Portugal, Female, teacher
I lived in Japan. Have a great connection with the country.
In that day I was at home in my home country, Portugal. I’m a teacher and had a class in that morning, so I gave the class and came back early. I didn’t immediatly understood the dimmension of it because I was only earing the TV not watching exactly, so I thought one more earthquake in Japan, nothing strange!
Then I heard it announced and announced thats when I saw it. Oh my god! I start calling my friends in Japan but telephones were blocked, started to send e-mails but there was no immediate response. I wanted to catch the first plane.
Everytime I watched the news started crying and crying, the same still happens to me when I see those images of the waves comming in. Going to Japan this year again. Hope I can volunteer somehow.
I was not in Japan on March 11th, but I live in Soma-city Fukushima now.
The earthquake may have disrupted a few weeks of many peoples lives, but on the east-coast in Northern Japan the after effects continue. Everyone I talk to has a story. Everyone lost someone or something. Since I moved to this area I have heard many amazing things. Kids don’t play with the snow it may be radioactive!
When I drive to work and look at the barren coast line, I think god this would have been an amazing place to live. We have the ocean for surfing, mountains for snow boarding, we have Sendai when we want some Urban fun, we are a two hour trip from Tokyo, we have amazing fruit, thanks to the mountains its always sunny on the east coast..
However, mid-thought reality kicks in. We have the ocean which we can’t swim in due to radiation and post-tsunami trash, we have radioactive mountains, are train line was washed away, Tokyo is either a 7 hour bus ride or a 5 hour car-to-shinkansen commute, our people are depressed, angry, and hopeless, we have nothing under the sun.
I despise the fact that people can morn this disaster as a day, March 11th…. wow that was a day, its March 11th everyday in Soma.
During the Tsunami disaster I was teaching at one of International school, at Surat, India.
At my school the next day we had a Prayer meeting at Assembly to the affected people at Japan. Even now also I am teaching at Siem Reap International School, Siem Reap City, Cambodia.
Here also the people, society and kids still remember that no country or region or a place should be affected like Japan or at India where we also faced due to the mighty Tsunami which struck at all the East coast of Indian Peninsular region and which originated some where at one of Island of Indonesia during the year 2000.
My prayers to all of them who are still struggling from the disaster that.
May God bless them with courage to once again rebuild for which Japan is well known. My prayers for one and all.
I am Tim from the planet earth.
I was in Fukuoka Japan, where we heard about the quake but didn’t feel it much.
A day after the quake, I found broken roof tiles under their former location, which the quake might have caused. I dunno. Did we get a quake in Fukuoka City at the same time? This was obviously evidence of something shifting. They broke a beautiful blue banzai pot that was on the ground. I remember being pretty self-focused at the time of the quake.
Then the videos started appearing on TV sets in shops and malls everywhere. Wow. Talk about a shift in paradigm. I had to call Canada to get news that was accurate, though. The Japanese are too smug, too hung up on the ‘correct’ way to do things, and tells far too many lies. When Japanese media was saying less than 1000 people were dead, international media were reporting 10,000. All the way through, the government seemed to be exagerating things to a power of 10. It always seems to do this. Why? I ask. The truth is the only way to go. We, the people needed to know the exact extent of the damage so we can help. As soon as more than a thousand people have died in a disaster, the government is out of control. Why did they have to paint a picture of stability that didn’t exist. It just made matters worse.
I heard later that all victims got a TV set as part of a disaster aid package. In the hierarchy of needs after a disaster, a TV set is very low on the scale. Everyone should have been given a water heater and a disaster tent and emergency food package. Japan obviously has a long way to go to stop being a third world country that confines itself to politically sick decisions in the wake of massive death and disaster.
My sickest memories of the disaster are of too little information too late, of massive amounts of money from the government and the Red Cross being tied up for far too long because of political greed and infighting, and of a feeling of helplessness in the wake of a lot of people being in a lot of grief and pain in a forgotten part of Japan.
Fukushima-ites are people, too, Japan. Give them your strength and prayers and help. What actually did happen was a sad example of people failing each other and of the international media doing a better job than the local boys did. Get your act together, Japan.
3.11. None of us will ever forget that day.
It started off like any other day; lunching outside, I remember commenting on what a beautiful day it was. At 2:46pm, I was teaching my class of 6th grade students. I remember telling them to get ready to get under their desks, just in case.
Those of us who were here, remember ‘that’ moment; the moment that it became a reality that it was no normal earthquake. Some stills are clearly framed in my mind. I remember watching the bookcase threatening to greet us. I remember the sounds of the lockers bashing against eachother. I remember my students wimpering and the horrible feeling of not being able to see them, my words of It’s ok, not knowing if they were ‘hearing’ me.
On evacuating the feeling was sombre. We didn’t yet know the extent of the day. We had been part of history. The aftershock, experienced while outside was just as scary. Hours later, a teacher asked me if I had seen any of the footage of Tohoku. I wasn’t ready for it yet. I knew where it was and that there had been a tsunami, but having not heard the exact details, I was still sheltered from it all. Looking after the kids until late, that was probably a good thing. Leaving work at 9:30pm I ventured home and called the family. Little sleep was had that week.
The next few weeks were full of uncertainty and high emotions. But we were lucky, and that feeling of gratitude still sticks. We learnt from that day to appreciate life and those who are close to us. Emotions still go up and down, but things slowly get better — it’s our new normal.
American, USA (Utah), Female, Student
My husband and I were staying at a Bed & Breakfast in England when we found out the news.
We were on spring break and considered going back to Japan (we had gone the summer previously), but this year we decided to try Europe.
I’m a bit sad we decided to go to Europe because after hearing the news (on TV), I contacted a friend in Tokyo to find out everything and ended up feeling like I wanted to help … and I might have been able to if I was there.
The Earthquake/Tsunami/Radiation did nothing to deter me from wanting to visit. In fact, I wanted to visit again even more to help with the economy. Unfortunately I didn’t have the funds to travel there, but did my best here.
Architect, American, Male, Osaka
My wife and I had just arrived at Narita Airport from Okinawa.
Against my better judgment, I had let her talk me into returning California to visit friends and to introduce them to our newborn son. She always seems to win those kind of debates with me. So there I was, trying to figure out how she was able to get her way with me again, while enjoying Thai noodle soup and waiting for the boarding call for our afternoon flight to San Francisco.
Then, the soup in my bowl began to dance around without my prompting. I felt a little bit woozy. My wife and the baby didn’t seem to notice anything and continued to enjoy their meals. None of the other patrons of the restaurant seemed to notice… except one lone woman in a booth at the other end of the restaurant. She and I wordlessly gave each other the look of “did you feel that?” I knew that this was an earthquake, but my mind didn’t want to grasp the full gravity of what was about to happen.
What followed was the most sustained interruption of everyday life that I have ever witnessed from mother nature. The entire restaurant was vibrating in such a way that I thought that every ceramic bowl would fall off the shelves and be shattered on the floor. The wait staff and the cooks all struggled to maintain some order in their small and exquisitely maintained restaurant. I felt pity for them.
Then I felt the turn-key emotion of panic followed by the fight or flight, survival instinct that kept me from despairing. As calmly as I could, I gestured to my wife and said, “let’s go outside”. The vibrations were weakening, but I only have so much trust in the architects, structural engineers and interior designers. I thought the next best place to be was on the observation deck just outside from the food court. No collapsing ceiling was going to injure my wife and 4 month old boy.
Honestly, most people around us in the airport showed no signs of panic. If they did, they were panicking on the inside, like I was. Almost everyone was like me, searching the building for a safe nook or cranny in which to seek shelter from the numerous waves of shock that coursed through the building throughout the afternoon. Eventually everyone exited the terminal, travel plans postponed indefinitely. What surprised me was how many people had the presence of mind to record the events as they happened with cell phones or mini-cams.
That night, we slept in the lobby of a hotel nearby, trying to figure out what to do. Through it all, my wife was resolute that we would continue on our journey when the next flight became available. True to her luck with providence, the airport opened the following day, and we left Tokyo behind. It wasn’t until we arrived in the US that we realized the magnitude and reach of the event that we had been fortunate enough to live through.
What did I get / learn from your experience of 3-11?
I did not want to leave. I wanted to at least stay, and possibly travel to and help the most badly affected areas. The realities of being responsible for a new family made that difficult to achieve. What I learned is how limited, indeed helpless, one person can be when faced with overwhelming disaster.
From here: Uprated: 21 February, 2012.
American, Nabari City, Mie Prefecture, Female, Assistant Language Teacher
Living in Mie Prefecture 350 miles south of the epicenter, I didn’t feel much that day, but I bit my nails until they bled worrying about my friends suffering in Tokyo and Sendai. How could I help them? With no way to travel north, I couldn’t even reach them. I cried as I watched events unfold on the news. The aftershocks continued, walls of water over thirty feet high sweeping away entire cities, fires raging, infants and elderly turning to frozen corpses without electricity, nuclear reactors overheating, and the death toll rising from 1,000 to 10,000 in days.
Being a person of faith, I asked God what I could do. The next day I got a mass email from a Filipina Christian friend in Fukushima. “We have to get out,” she wrote. “The nuclear reactor near my house is in melt down. I’m going back to the Philippines, but does anyone have a place for two Japanese sisters?”
“Yes!” I wrote back immediately. “Send them to me!”
Two days later, I met the sisters in Osaka. Their eyes told of unknown horrors, and fear and exhaustion seemed to weigh them down.
“What would you like to do?” I asked on Saturday, after they’d had a chance to rest.
“Take us somewhere beautiful,” the older sister Junko, an English teacher, replied.
I took them to a plum blossom garden in a nearby town, the pink and white blossoms draping over the trees and terraces like delicate curtains.
The sisters spent the next month in my apartment until they got government housing in Kyoto. They became my best friends in Japan. They taught me how to make giyoza (fried dumplings) and many other Japanese dishes, and I taught them American cooking. When they got their apartment in Kyoto, I went to visit them and dressed up as a maiko (apprentice geisha):
A few weeks later, I connected my band at the high school where I taught with my church and organized a charity concert. The entire community got involved from other local musicians to the newspaper, radio, and television station. We raised a lot of money for the people of Tohoku and my students and church members felt proud being able to help. During Golden Week, I led a ten-day trip up north to help out at the hanamin (refugee) centers with CRASH (Christian Relief, Assistance, Support, and Hope) in Ishinomaki.
Even though the streets were still strewn with rubble, I’ll never forget how the kids ran around us, smiles on their faces, eager to receive the food and water we brought. Several older people we talked to really opened up and started crying, saying that if we hadn’t come, they probably would have committed suicide, but now they had hope.
In conclusion, I’d just like to say that even though the March 11th earthquake and tsunami were the worst disasters in the history of Japan, it was beautiful to see how the Japanese people worked together and how the victims rose up from the ashes like the Japanese mythical phoenix. I’ll never forget all the people we met and the lives we were able to touch. Gambatte Nippon!
American, Choshi, Chiba prefecture, Male, Computer Teacher.
I was at home luckily on that day and at the time of the Earthquake.
It started to shake and I thought it would be a routine one. It got really big though, and I knew something was up. There was some construction going on next door to my apartment, with a large scafold next to the building. It started to sway dangerously and all the workers on it climbed to the top and jumped to the roof of the building, or the nearest balcony. They held onto the whole metal mess from the roof to keep it from collapsing. Luckily no one was hurt there.
With the blackouts later there were a lot of fires in town, and car accidents. I saw some people almost get hit by trying to cross the street with no crossing signal. All the vending machines were off, and it was hard to get around after sunset. Being near the ocean, there was always a threat of other tidal waves, fortunately it wasn’t too bad in Choshi.
I was impressed by the resilience of the Japanese people. Unfortunately, because of the seriousness of it all, I had to return to my home country. I hope I can return one day to Japan.
Assistant language teacher, American, Female, Saitama
I was only a few months into my first job in Saitama as an assistant language teacher at a middle school. While every other class was in the first floor gym practicing for the graduation ceremony, one first year class was on the 5th floor having an extra lesson — myself and a young, first year Japanese teacher.
A mere few minutes into the lesson did the shakes start, and all the children in the class began to panic. It was my first full-time job and a defining moment when I realized I was in a position to act like an adult and protect those children. We were forgotten about on the top floor, so I sprinted downstairs to ask for guidance amidst the shakes. I suppose I held my composure well enough until I left for home. Thankfully I rode my bike to work.
Once outside, it scared me how desolate and quiet the area was. Once home, I was scared that I couldn’t use my cell phone to call my boyfriend and find out if he was okay. Thankfully, he rode his bike home soon after, and we spent the entire weekend eyes glued to the news, sleeping on the couch when we couldn’t stay awake any longer.
I remember thinking, the death toll is only at 6 people; I hope and pray it doesn’t go up any farther. Hours later, I realized the situation was much more horrible than I could have every imagined. I was scared to be in the country, but I couldn’t bear to abandon everyone I held dear.
Everyone at work was so supportive and uplifting. Coworkers brought me bread I couldn’t find; I bought countless kilos of rice to pass around. I never imagined the amount of support I received, and this tragedy only served to reaffirm my admiration for this country and its people.
Jesse W., English Teacher in Japan
I was in school about to start a lesson, when the home room teacher said earthquake. I said NO WAY!!. He said look at the TV, and yes it was shaking a little bit. The kids got under there desks and the teacher gave me some hard hat. When It was over, we helped all the kids get out of the building.
There was a meeting among teachers as to what to do with the kids. Then they all went home and I waited till they were all gone then I went home. I just got a new phone a week before. So my phone was going crazy. My parents calling my grandmother calling. Everyone was calling and emailing. I walked to the bus station, to go to Sagamihara station. When I got there I see everyone standing around. The building shopping center had a crack going all the way around it with tiles on the floor. The trains were stopped. They did not know when it would be back up. I waited and waited.
In the mean time my phone is going crazy and the battery is dying. So I walk to a convenient store to buy a charger, and they have none. So I go to another store, they have none, and another, and another. Every convenient store around the train station was sold out of phone chargers. So I call a parents of a private student I was teaching and ask if she can pick me up. But as we are talking, my phone dies.
So I decide to walk an hour away from the train station, towards what I think is my house, to a convenient store to buy a charger and charge my phone. I then call my students parent, and she comes and picks me up and drives me home. I make it home at 2 am. For the next 2 weeks the trains were hardly running and when they did run they would not run all day. So it was hard for me to make it into work for 2 weeks.
British, Teacher, Sendai
When the earthquake struck, I was in my friends apartment on the 12th floor, I was trapped because the 400 liter water boiler collapsed, jamming the door.
I honestly thought the building would was falling apart so I leaped to the next ledge and banged on the backdoor until someone let me in. I remember feeling so grateful, but as I walked though the water logged corridor I soon realized the extent of the damage, there were cracks everywhere, I could see the 11th floor!
I eventually got a taxi to my girlfriends house, which was only a couple of miles from the Tsunami. I remember seeing the smoke from the near by gas silos and sirens howling through the night.
As the days past I saw more chinooks than cars. Every 2 minutes a couple would fly by. Supplies were low and we were only allowed 5 items per person, we queued for 5 hours just for pot noodles and bread. People in cars were queuing for petrol for the whole day.
After this experience, I realized how lucky I am and it was great to see the effort made by the amy.
Sendai is as beautiful as ever, you would never think that such a major disaster occurred here, everybody chipped in and did their part. Ganbaru Japan!
New Zealander, Tokyo, Male, Junior High School ALT
I was asleep and in bed when the earthquake struck, I’ve lived in Tokyo over 20 years and experienced many quakes so this didn’t bother me. I was touched later by how many messages I got from home; some from people I hadn’t heard from in years, asking how I was and if I needed any help.
The strangest experiences from then were the empty supermarket shelves and cycling through complete darkness in Tokyo’s Western suburbs when the electricity was cut ( that, and several candlelight dinners! )
I hope we don’t ever experience anything like that again.
Maria V. S., Filipino, English teacher
I was having classes at the university when one student asked to announce the text message she received from a local news reporter: Earthquake hit Japan, and tsunami is expected to hit the Philippines as well in the next hour.
A student called her parents who are both in Japan, couldn’t get an answer, and cried. I told the class to sit tight, have someone go to the dean’s office to relay the message, and wait for further instructions. In the meantime, I told them to keep calm and pray, because no amount of panicking can help. We are no match against nature’s wrath. I had to look calm…my mother was vacationing at a beach most likely to be hit by tsunami at that very moment. What was I to do?
We cannot deny that nature gives us back what we do to it. There’s no use pointing fingers. We just have to do our part to be earth-friendly, and when disaster strikes, keep a clear head and decide what’s best.
Panic causes more trouble than to be had. And pray.
Matt. A quarter Japanese
On March 11th, 2011 around 2:46 PM a 9.0 M earthquake struck the northern area of Japan triggering a massive Tsunami. The earthquake was felt far and wide.
The day after the earthquake I began filming what I saw around me in Tokyo. The days following seemed very surreal and out of place. Everyone looked shocked and fatigued. For me it felt like time had stopped for a few days.
I was at the Tamagawa river in Shinmaruko the morning after the earthquake staring at the river and thinking for awhile. As I looked around me I could see various people along the river playing their instruments. It was very interesting to watch. It seemed as if it was their way of coping with the disaster.
One man in particular caught my attention. He was playing his saxophone under the bridge next to the river. Whatever the song was that he played I felt it captured what everyone in Japan was feeling at that time. The man would play for a minute or two and then begin to weep and start over. He carried on like that for a litte bit before he got on his bike and rode away.I remember walking around in Shinjuku and Shibuya and it was the first time I’ve ever heard those two areas extremely quiet with empty streets.
It was one of those experiences you never forget.
Conversation class teacher, Male, Kanagawa, Australian
I was in working in Aeon in Chigasaki (what used to be Jusco) and because I’d never felt an earthquake before and I was leaning on a wall, after the first tremors I thought huh…feels kinda nice. Then they started to get bigger and It started to get scary. I saw the walls tilting about 10 degrees and everything was shaking, shelves, displays, people, everything was falling over, and my mind went completely blank, aside from who was with me, where the exit was and how to get to it. We couldn’t move very far because the girl I was with freaked out and just stopped outside our workplace and started crying, so I hugged her and told her everything was going to be ok.
After the big one stopped, we left the building and saw everyone outside. Hundreds of people gathered in the safest place around the area (a park). It wasn’t until after we were allowed to go back into the building that I realised the damage done. Wine bottles broken by the dozen, furniture fallen and broken, electronics all over the floor, books strewn all around the book store.
We gathered our things and left for the train station and I learned that the trains don’t run after an earthquake and we were stuck waiting in a massive line for the bus for hours. I spent the time trying to contact my girlfriend and almost cried from relief when the phone connected. After a brief conversation involving a lot of I’m so glad you’re ok!! and so on, she told me to contact her family in Hiratsuka (the next city, a mere 6km away) and stay at their place for the night. I am forever grateful to her family for providing me with a warm bed and atmosphere during such a traumatic time.
A problem though, is that I caught myself making some very tasteless jokes. In retrospect, it was probably due to repressed fear and emotional trauma, but uncalled for all the same. The next day, I was able to get home and as soon as I did, I turned on the TV and watched the horrible damage that Japan took. I was absolutely taken aback at the destruction and loss of life that resulted from the disaster.
If asked what I took away from the experience, I think it showed me that I can handle the scary things life has, but that I need to think more about how people in disaster zones feel. I also now understand that, no matter who you are or where you’re from, everyone in a disaster is a family and they need to stick together. I’m proud to be living in Japan.
Italian, Female, Teacher
I was watching cartoons on TV beside my 4-months baby-boy, when the earthquake hit. I thought it was one of the kind often hit across the country, but it wasn’t so.In trying to escape out from the building, we have been shaked inside our room, from side to side until we could go down the street.
Sighing a couple of minutes the first shock was over. So in a short time I had to figure out what was the best to do in such events for myself,but especially for my little child. So I went back inside to take milk powder, water, baby foods, towels, diapers, mobile, torch, and car key. At worst we would have moved in a more secure area, by car. Plus quite soon I knew mobiles and phones were cut out…..
I was deeply concerned about my husband working in Tokyo. It has passed almost 5 hours before I could connect with him again. Meanwhile, the shocks still were going on, and I still was afraid. I has spent the rest of the time talking with the neighborhood, and in sending mails to my relatives in Italy, telling I was in safe, after all.
My husband could came back home only late in the night, because of all railroads closed reason.
We were tired by the whole frightened and the stressful day. We went to bed in feeling a real relief that for us, all ended well, but we couldn’t be so naive in that just the following day we knew about the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Dutch, Tokyo, Male, Former International Business Liaison
I remember being on my way home from a half day at the office in Tsukiji. I was on the train heading home when suddenly the train stopped between stations and an announcement followed warning of an earthquake. It was remarkable that no one seemed particularly bothered; earthquakes are a commonplace event in Japan after all. Still, no one on the train seemed to be quite prepared for what came next. The train started shaking on its suspension, gently at first but then more and more violently. The build up was rather gradual as I recall, but when the full intensity of the earthquake hit and the suspension creaked audibly under the strain people struggled to hold onto their hand holds and the first sounds of panic emanated from the normally quiet Japanese around me.
The train crawled to the next station after that and we were told to get off. The scale of the event quickly became apparent as worried looks greeted the stranded passengers as all train traffic had been suspended. Crowding up the stairs a completely foreign sight greeted us; office buildings had emptied out onto the streets and vehicular traffic had been brought to a stand still. Cell phones were not working, and I – along with most everyone else – was powerless to let family and friends know I was alright. Fortunately, in today’s world of social networking media, Facebook provided the solution. I updated my status within minutes of the earthquake to let everyone know I was alright. The news was relayed for me by friends to my parents in the Netherlands and my brother in China.
As I was forced to walk home I passed throngs of people crowding outside of shops with televisions broadcasting live news. I remember wondering if any buildings would have collapsed, but thankfully the worst of it seemed to be cracked façades and broken windows. When I got home my apartment was a discordant mess. Everything that could possibly have fallen down had done so, spectacularly. I set about cleaning the mess when one of the larger after shocks sent me back down to the street. The after shocks were potent earthquakes in and of themselves.
After a short while the worst news came as a live feed came in of a helicopter above Sendai. I watched in horror as the tsunami washed across the land on a scale which is utterly unimaginable and shocking in ways that even now, almost a year later, I fail to be able to describe.
A friend working at the Dutch Embassy later informed me that someone there had called her parents to make sure they had not been injured by the earth quake only to be killed 10 minutes later by the ensuing tsunami.
Personally the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent incident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant saw me lose my job as foreign governments and companies, for fear of radiation contamination, banned and cancelled import of Japanese perishable products including the sashimi/sushi grade tuna from Tsukiji. The sad truth is the fish had been utterly unaffected having been imported from all over the world from deep oceans far off the coast to be sold, as it has ever been done, at the world central market at Tsukiji.
I worked for three more days after the earthquake without a single customer coming in to the shop, sharing the silence with my Japanese coworkers. I did not intend to leave – none of them were leaving – but in the end my brother bought me a ticket home and it was decided that staying gained me nothing. I left for three weeks and came back to a different Japan; changed by this massive blow to her economy, her people, and her unshakable stoic perseverance.
I love Japan, and never want to leave, but it has been hard since. There are very few jobs for foreign, young professionals as Japan faces an uncertain financial future. I want to stay, but am not sure if I will be able to.
From here: Uprated: 17 February, 2012.
March 11th, at 3pm, I was at home, watching my much more culinarily talented boyfriend make a cake for the preschool teachers I worked with. At 3:10pm, (I even have the souvenir, broken clock), as I was finishing a cup of tea before leaving, the house trembled. We had been getting a lot of earthquakes recently, and this one started off gently enough. But it was persistent. I set down my half finished cup, and took position next to the fish tank, while my boyfriend held the TV.The shaking grew stronger. The tea was too close to my laptop. With one hand still on the tank, I quickly upended the cup into the sink.
The full, terrible quake struck. The front windows flew open, and I could see my neighbour’s trees outside flapping violently about like a typhoon was crossing over. My cupboards opened and every single object that could fall out and break did. Every cup, plate, bookcase, picture on the wall, toilet roll, toothbrush, mirror, everything fell. It didn’t stop. I was seriously reconsidering my decision to hold onto this large, water filled, glass box, but there was no help for it now, I just had to hold on and hope it didn’t exploded into fragments and shatter with me next to it.
It began to subside. My boyfriend left the TV, and rode the floor over to me, steadying the still sloshing tank. Without putting the tank on the ground, without closing a window, we rushed out and down the stairs of apartment and into the throng of neighbouring housewives and grandmothers and young children, that we only ever had said hello to before, and now attempted to console each other and the shell shocked kids wrapped in blankets. Everywhere garden walls had collapsed, but there was no house damage, bar fallen ceramic roof tiles. Along the road, the stems of massive rain water pipes had erupted out of manholes, but no electricity wires had fallen and not one window I saw had broken.
Living in Ibaraki prefecture, we knew there were many nuclear reactors nearby, some, like Tokai, where small nuclear accidents had already occurred. We knew the Japanese government all too often restricts information.
So we fled, fearing that Tokai had melted (and but for one generator that didn’t fail when the others did, it might have). The darkness was almost total but for the light of other cars, and the red light wands of brave Japanese policemen helping smooth traffic at intersections.
We were stopped by a landslide across a road, and a traffic jam kilometers long. But we were lucky, the Daihatsu had a full tank, and we could afford to keep driving past the rare sight of closed convenience stores, hungry fathers tapping on the glass, hoping for a few onigiri.
4 hours later, half way through the next prefecture, we finally arrived in the electrically lit world again. We ate numbly at a family restaurant, with normally chatting, as yet ignorant of the disaster patrons around us. I couldn’t get through to my boss, or my coworkers. Days later, I heard one of my coworkers also spent that night on the road, stranded at a distant school, with the roads cut off.
It was all fixed within a week. Highway roads that had snapped in half down the middle, one side metres higher than the other. 10 days, fixed. Japan is an incredible country. The earthquake and tsunami destroyed north Japan, but the Japanese spirit is tough, unconquerable. But radiation can’t be fixed like a smashed house can. While it poisons the milk, mushrooms, fish, air, people, we have to wonder what the long term consequences will be.
We stayed away, living in Kansai with his parents, then in Australia with mine, spending this year trying to decide what to do and where to go. I often think sadly all I left behind, doing the hokey pokey with cheeky preschool aged kids, the kind head-teachers and their plates of biscuits and rice crackers, golden and orange autumn gorges in Fukushima, a beautiful blue river in Iwate and BBQ’d sea-scallops.
I never got the chance to properly say goodbye to any of it, or anyone who I was close to there. So this is my (slightly bitter) farewell, to beautiful north Japan and my plea that the government of this country and all countries can find a solution that doesn’t mean that people ever have to flee their homes, or their adopted ones.
American male working as an English teacher in Chiba
I was at my company’s main English school in Chiba City, preparing lessons for the following week when the earthquake started. At first, my co-workers and I weren’t alarmed as it felt like all of the other earthquakes that happen frequently. But this one kept going on and on and was getting stronger and stronger. Items on the top of shelves started falling off so we decided it was time to get under the tables. Then the shaking got much worse. The terrible shaking seemed to last hours but in reality, it lasted about four minutes. We were on the second floor of an old building, and my thoughts during the entire time was that the building was going to collapse in and I was going to die.
After the shaking seemed to have stopped, we put our shoes on (we took our shoes off and leave them at the entrance to the school) and went down the stairs and outside as quickly as we could. My heart was beating rapidly and I felt a little weak, as if I had just experienced a trauma. I guess it was adrenaline for the “fight or flight” reaction to danger. As we got outside, many other people were coming out of nearby buildings. Below our school is a small bar that had many bottles of Japanese sake that fell and broke during the quake. The smell of alcohol coming out of their door was overpowering.
After waiting outside for a few minutes, we went back inside the school to start cleaning up the potted plants, books, and other things that had fallen during the quake. But then the earth started shaking again, so we quickly went back outside. I tried to call my wife on my mobile phone to make sure she and my daughter were OK, but right away I got a message that service was out of order. After the first big earthquake, I can’t be sure that the ground ever stopped shaking; it seemed that it was always slightly trembling but would occasionally have strong shaking.
The boss decided that we should go to a nearby park, so we grabbed our bags and things as soon as the shaking had lessened. I decided to leave to go to my next class at a school, which was a short bus ride away. I told one co-worker that I was going and I walked to the bus stop at the train station.
Let me just say, I knew it was a pretty big earthquake, but as it was Japan, where quakes are almost a daily occurrence (mostly small ones), I thought that business would resume as normal once the shaking stopped or at least decreased. This would have been before the tsunamis struck the northeastern parts of Japan and I heard nothing of a tsunami warning. Luckily no tsunamis came to the area where I was. So I planned to continue working as long as no large quakes occurred.
I went through the train station get to the bus stop and I found the train station was flooded with a couple of inches of water that I had to wade through. I assumed that a water pipe must have broken in the station during the violent shaking. Just as I reached the bus stop, another big tremor hit.
Besides feeling the ground moving, I could see telephone poles whipping back and forth and I could hear metal creaking and groaning from all directions. The bus I was about to board was violently rocking back and forth, so much that I had a slight worry that it would tip over. Someone was shouting in the train station’s PA for everyone to get out of the station. But after a little while it was over and nothing had come crashing down.
Luckily the buses were still running and I rode it to the train station next to the department store where my next classes’were held. All this time, I kept trying to call my wife, but would immediately get the recording that service was out. I couldn’t email from my phone as the keypad broken.
Before I left my co-workers at our head school, I heard someone say that mobile email was working, but no phone calls from mobiles were. They told me that land line phones probably would work. But the only phones my wife and I had were our mobiles; we didn’t have a land line phone at home.
When I reached my destination, I found that they had evacuated everyone from the inside of the entire department store that the school was located in. As I waited outside with other people, I found the school’s staff and they told me the building was closed for now. They soon disappeared into the crowd and I didn’t see them again that day.
Thinking that the department store and school would open after a while, I decided to wait around. While waiting, I continued to try calling my wife, but managed only to drain the battery on my phone until it was dead. However, I did find an open wireless connection and was able to connect to FaceBook on my iPod Touch and we were able to communicate that way. Both my daughter and wife were OK, so that was a big relief for me. I also emailed my family in the US to let them know that we were all right.
I’ll be posting my experiences during the following days after the earthquake on my blog, http://tenkiishi.wordpress.com/
Business owner, Swedish, Male, Tokyo (Nerima)
I was on the 16th floor sitting in a cramped up business meeting in a building in Shinyokohama, 30-40km from home when the first quake hit us. The building that we were in were swaying slowly and largely reminding me of a boat being shaken by a larger boats waves. When the earthquake had gone on for about a minute the meeting had turned into a group of people uncertain of how to behave and soon enough the 18th floor building was a raft being hit by the waves of a tanker.
I remember deciding to screw the meeting and run for the stairs when a big thud came from the floor below, worrying about the building collapsing. Once at the stairs, I was able to see the surrounding buildings thinking the other buildings are still standing, I hope this one won’t be the first one to collapse though. While trying to run down the stairs that were moving sideways very heavily by now and not being able to get ahead of a guy walking in the inner lane of the otherwise wide staircase. It felt like an eternity.
ALT, American, Yamagata City, Female
I was at my Junior High where I worked. It was cleaning time and I was in the teacher’s office.
When the earthquake started, my first thought was, Wow, 3 days in a row we’ve had earthquakes. And then it got stronger and didn’t stop. Other teachers were telling students to get under a table or sit where they were. I went and squatted next to a table my students were under. I remember thinking, This isn’t scary. My students look terrified, so I can’t look scared or worried. About halfway through, a basket of ping-pong balls fell over and there were dozens of them bouncing down the hallway. Then the lights went out. That’s when I looked outside and saw the power-line poles moving in an unnatural way and decided to not look outside again. When it was over, everyone was to gather in the school’s main gym. Another teacher and I were determined to pick up all the ping-pong balls in the hallway. The gym was freezing. There was a blizzard outside and all the doors were wide open.
Everyone was in regular clothing, no coats or anything warm. I sent a message to my boyfriend (which I learned later never got to him) that I was OK. A teacher standing nearby had the news on and said something about fires in Tokyo. So I immediately thought, If there are fires in Tokyo, my parents are going to hear about this and will worry! A about a week earlier, I had set up my Tumbler account to post anything from it on Facebook, and had saved the email address to post to Tumbler directly from my non-smartphone. A friend had my phone email and mailed me when he checked Facebook and learned I was OK. I replied asking him to contact my parents. He did. He actually woke them up, but it was the first call of many from my family. They got the news I was OK first. Eventually we sent the students home and another teacher drove me to my boyfriend’s home.
We listened to the news and heard about the Tsunami, but it wasn’t until we got power back on Saturday that we really understood how terrible the tsunami had been. On Sunday, I got to Skype with my parents. On Monday word of the Fukishima disaster was everywhere. Stores turned their power off during the day to conserve power. Groceries and convenience stores had no food left on their shelves. My parents were worried about the radiation and wanted me to skip the graduation ceremony and just come home. I had already planned a week vacation from the 17th, but the trains were all stopped and people were in mile-long lines to get gas. I went to the graduation ceremony so I could say goodbye to my students and co-workers of 2 years. A teacher who sits nearby heard of my problems getting to Narita and said she was going to drive to Shiibata where I could take the train to Nigata and then get to Tokyo from there. A teacher drove me home and helped me pack. I packed 3 blankets and my electronics. I gave her the keys to my apartment which she took to my boyfriend. I called my boyfriend and told him we were going to stop by before I left, and he said I should just go. So I did. I cried and couldn’t eat until I made the resolve to come back 2 days later at the airport.
Back in America I suffered from PTSD and ‘escapers’ guilt. I watched the news fervently for news of things getting back to normal. After 5 months, my boyfriend came to America and we returned to Japan together.
What did I get / learn from your experience of 3-11?
I’m proud of the way I reacted during and after the earthquake. I also learned just how resilient the Japanese people as a whole are.
Canadian, Tokyo, Male, Business Consultant
I remember when the earthquake struck. I was in a building in Kanagawa when I started to feel the ground shake. I wasn’t quite sure what it was at first. I thought it might be a large bus or truck driving by the building. But my co-workers knew what it was. For a moment they glanced around and then suddenly, they all crouched down. I was the only one standing still looking around taking in what exactly was going on. I distinctly remember looking out the windows and seeing the trees swaying like flowers in the wind. It was then I knew that it was an earthquake.
It seemed to go on forever. I calmed a few people around me and once it finished, I helped clean up the mess that was left behind. One moment in the clean up that sticks out in my mind the most was when I went downstairs and saw that the large aquarium with goldfish had fallen over. Pebbles, plants, water covered nearly the entire hallway with the lifeless bodies of the fish scattered about.
The real horror came, however, when we turned on the television. After our initial cleanup, myself and another co-worker walked into our central office room on the main floor and turned on the flatscreen. We didn’t have to change the channel. Right there, was a live helicopter shot of a field and something moving. A mass of water just roaring up on a farmers field. I can’t speak for my co-worker but it took me a minute or so to realize what I was watching. The tsunami had started. More and more co-workers trickled into the office and all watched in horror as the tsunami crashed and smashed its way over land.
It took my eight hours to get back home from Kanagawa to Setagaya. I walked half of it wearing out my shoes in the process. I was fortunate however. Millions of other people had it far, far worse that night.
Trevor D. H., American, Magazine Publisher
Friday, March 11th, it’s about 3 o’clock. I’m laying on my couch in my apartment thinking about the earthquake benefit/charity event my magazine, Ran Magazine in Nagoya, is later holding that night. Christchurch New zealand had experienced a pretty devastating earthquake just two weeks prior, and there are quite a few New Zealender living in Nagoya. We’d put together the benefit a few days earlier, couple two three four bands playing live music, doorcharge and any donations go towards the Japan Red Cross to help Christchurch. Fun and music for a good cause, an earthquake had just struck one of our neighbors, we wanted to help.
I’m on my couch thinking about how it’s gonna go. Traffic is flying by below my second floor balcony. Trucks and stuff. I can hear the wind blowing, can feel my apartment shake a little when big trucks cruise by. I’m half sleeping half awake. Suddenly my apartment starts shaking, moving, woozily, like a sloshing movement. I figure it’s the trucks and the wind. But it goes on, and on, and on, and on. 1 minute. 2 minutes. 3 minutes, more. I realize this is no truck, no wind, must be an earthquake somewhere-I’m thinking, I know it isn’t exactly here in Nagoya, because the movement is too subtle, but not really. It isn’t a jarring up and down movement, nor is it a ‘shaking’ left to right right to left movement. It’s a wavey up and down motion, like how it feels being on a boat out at sea. And again, it lasted a long long time, we’ve all heard/read it before countless times; the movement felt like it would never end, like it wouldn’t stop.
Strangely, I just laid there on my couch until it stopped. I was scared of what to do, what not to do. Fell asleep for about an hour, then got up and prepared for our Christchurch benefit, and headed out. But not before going online and checking to see what had happened. The full report of the tsunami and the Fukushima disaster wasn’t in yet, and neither was it all in when the Christchurch benefit went off later that night.
Needless to say, the music rocked that night, but so had my couch earlier that day, and though the folks who came out were there to pay their respect and monies to help out Christchurch, the conversations were all about the quake that day in East Japan. Never forget that entire day.
Bangladeshi, Female Doctoral Course Student Saitama, Japan
After lunch I came to my lab at 9th floor. After 5-7 minutes the first hit appeared.
I thought it will be ok soon but with time it was rising, all the chemicals on the shelf started shaking, I ran out from the room to the corridor. Only three females were with me. I was holding a pillar and after 15 minutes we all gone to the ground floor. My daughter (3 yrs old) was in her nursery school, near to our university, when I reached there students were sleeping (it was around 3 p.m.) . In Saitama all the shopping places became empty with dry foods.
Me and my daughter left Saitama to Kyushu on 16 th March and returned 2 nd April. We all wish for the best of the survivors and Japan.
Tom B., Nagoya
I live in Nagoya. I play in a local rock band on weekends.
I was actually on my way to a practice session for a charity even we were doing that night for the victims of the earthquake in Christchurch Newzealand. I was in a taxi when the earthquake hit, so when the taxi shook a little I thought the engine just needed a tune up. It wasn’t until I we were playing at the Newzealand earthquake charity concert that night that someone stepped up and told us what had happened in Japan that day. Kind of ironic.
The Japan quake was a tragedy, but it also immediately took all attention away from what had happened in Newzealand. So much tragedy in 2 such far away places.
American, currently live in Tokyo. Female, English teacher
At the time the earthquake happened, I was in between jobs. I was looking for something new, but hadn’t found a position that suited me yet. I was at home, and my fiance was at work. Since it was around that time that the big earthquake in New Zealand had happened, we had talked a bit about earthquakes. My friend who lived nearby was also looking for a job, and we’d talked often about earthquake kits, and where we would go in the event that the big one hit Tokyo. On March 2, we talked a bit, and made plans to meet up sometime. On March 3rd, however, I was at home. I’d planned to get online and talk with a friend in America, on skype. I’d felt a few tremors earlier in the day, including one that made me say: Wow, that was a bit stronger than usual!
At the time of the quake, I’d only ever heard the early earthquake warning once on tv, my first year here, 5 years ago. I’d mostly forgotten what it sounded like. As I was logging onto skype, the warning was going off, and I actually said out loud: What is that noise?! Are they using weird chimes on this tv program? I didn’t look at the TV, though if I had it would have given me an answer. At that time, though, the quake started, and my room started shaking. I grabbed my phone, and the shaking got a bit worse. It was like people standing on either edge of the bed and shaking it hard enough to bounce me around. When I looked at the tv, I froze. I wondered if it wasn’t the long overdue big Tokyo quake, then ran into the door frame, actually having trouble balancing as I went. I was living in Saitama, so the level of quake we were subjected to was actually a little stronger than in Tokyo, my fiance told me later. Standing in the doorway, I somehow didn’t feel very secure and safe. Our rice cooker crashed to the floor right behind me, and I thought the microwave and fridge might be next. In front of me, I could see our main room, and shelves were toppling over. I’d had the windows open earlier in the day, so they were unlocked, and our apartment building shook enough that I could watch them slam open and closed. My fiance’s computer and everything on his desk crashed onto the floor, and I was afraid the tv would be next. My purse was in reach, and a jacket, so I grabbed both and made my way into the entrance into our apartment. I had read a few days before to put a shoe or something in the door to help keep it cracked open, as doors and frames can warp and trap you inside. I hunched down, trying to keep my head covered as things fell all around me. Glasses toppled from the kitchen rack near me and shattered on the floor.
I emailed my fiance first, because the sounds of the building shaking around me were so loud, and I was being shaken hard enough that I did wonder if the building might fall down around me. This sounds so over-dramatic to me now, but at the time I worried that if it did fall down around me, and something happened, that he wouldn’t know that my thoughts were of how much I love him. Next, I emailed my parents, telling them I was fine and safe, and that I loved them. I knew that, if the very worst happened, that would be a lie, but I guess I wanted to believe, at the time, that it was fine and I was going to be okay.
Right after the quake, I was shaking, and amazed I was still alive. My fiance called, and right after he asked if I was okay, I started crying. I’m not even sure why. I put on my coat as he told me to get out of the building, and go toward the train station where there were no power lines, and just a bunch of open space. As I left the building, a strong aftershock hit, and I could see our glass door to go into the building–a door with a security lock, so you could only open it if you had a key–swung open and closed. A kind older man stopped to ask me if I was okay, and uninjured, and a stern, but kind, old woman told me to not cry, and pulled me to come stand as far away from power lines as I could. My fiance was stranded at work, as the trains stopped running. He told me what was happening–that a big quake had hit the Tohoku region, and a tsunami was coming–as I walked to the station.
Outside, a teacher from an eikaiwa, and his Japanese coworker were standing around. My fiance’s phone battery ran out, and I felt alone and terrified. They kindly asked me to come over, so we all stuck together. It helped me feel a bit calmer, to not be alone. Where I am from in North America, we don’t have earthquakes. I’d experienced very tiny ones here, but never, ever anything like this. The nice Japanese teacher bought us hot coffee, and some of the hokairo pocket warmers to help keep us warm. It was so cold. They eventually returned to their building to clean up, and I saw another foreign girl standing around outside, looking confused and frightened. She’d managed to get a bus to take her to my station, from the bus stop closest to the school she worked at, but she had no idea how to get home. We sat in the McDonalds near our station watching NHK international news from the application on my phone. We were horrified. There was a nuclear plant in trouble, there were fires, whole towns were washed away and gone. We shared a McDonald’s meal because we were cold, and it had been hours. We also didn’t want to be alone just then.
Eventually she left, and my fiance met me at the station. My parents were able to get a hold of me the next day, and thus began the drama of should I stay, or should I leave my fiance behind and go. In the end, I chose to stay, but I will never, ever forget the calm of the Japanese people at that time. There wasn’t any panicking. No hoards of mass-exodus from Tokyo or the area I was in. People were helpful and rallying around any who might have been injured. In the days to come there was a bit of panic buying, but nowhere near the levels I’d have expected in my country. In my country, looting is the norm after catastrophic natural disasters. In Japan? It seems to me to largely be a rallying together to help anyone you can and quiet acceptance with the resolve to fix everything you can and move on.
J.J. Vicars, Guitarist & Idler, Chofu, Tokyo
For me the biggest affect was becoming a volunteer newsreporter via Facebook.
The American media did such a botch job covering events and even worse they simply made up stuff to fill air time which incited a certain amount of hysteria.
Those scum need to be held accountable for their actions. Equally pathetic were all the Americans back home crying about Japanese radiation coming to pollute them.
Apparently these geniuses are so busy watching American Idol and Fuax News and whining about their issues they seem to have conveniently forgotten just how many nuke plants we have in the U.S., what lax safety standards we have thanks to our government being long ago bought out by big business, and how hopelessly contaminated our food supply is.
So while the disaster itself had very little direct affect on me the media hysteria was a center piece that continues to influence my view of my fellow American back home, what whiners they are and how they could learn a thing or two about integrity from the people of Tohoku. The only Americans who stepped up were the civilians here who stayed and the military who flew right in to help out, some of whom I know personally.
I hate typing the same thing twice so here’s the link to my blog from March of last year. http://www.jjvicars.com/blog.html/march_11th_2011_japan_earthquake__one_firsthand_account/
From here: Uprated: 16 February, 2012.
Australian, Osaka (previously Toyama), Female, ALT.
I was flying to Sapporo when the quake hit. Because of the snow in Toyama, my plane was delayed take-off by an hour, which meant we were flying directly over Northern Honshu when the quake struck.
The plane could not land in Sapporo for hours. We were circling aimlessly, being told that there was an earthquake but with little more information than that it was serious and we are not able to land safely. No one had any idea.
When we finally grounded, we entered the airport terminal and watched (with many others) of the horrible tsunami and realised (a little) of what was going on.
Sendai, Tokyo, Stack Jones
I lived in Sendai at the time. The town I spent most of my time, surfing and making friends, Yuriage was wiped off the maps. I was in Tokyo on that day, where I was stranded until gas was available, and the roads were back up. When I got back to Sendai the impact of the disaster was overwhelming. As I drove toward the ocean – Shinko, and Yuriage, the prominent smell was that of death. Human death. You could smell it all around you. There was no escaping it. And the visuals were overwhelming. I tried to report but I broke down weeping many times, as I walked around Yuriage and tried to locate where my friends homes had been. I have never heard from them again. I know many were surfing that day, because it was warm and the waves were great.
I spent most of my time shooting the disaster, up and down the coast. I appeared two times on MSNBC Dateline, with my photography appearing on ABC, PBS, and NBC. Although we were truly in shock, I ran a blog that got a lot of hits at http://photojournaljapan.wordpress.com. The folks at WordPress were kind enough to make it a featured site, which helped to draw attention from the west to the disaster.
All of this led me to write a book that I am finishing soon titled: An Unfortunate Event, Japan’s Triple Disaster. By taking action, and getting involved it kept me from focusing on my losses. Honestly, even though it has been nearly one year, I’m still in a bit of a shock, as many of my friends, and their communities are gone forever. It is difficult for me to look at my photos of northeastern Japan before the disaster, because the place is just absolutely beautiful.
Ironically, I just arrived home, and checked my email and got this post. I had spent the evening putting together my new, Before and After Japan photography portfolios for a gallery that will commemorate the disaster.
Great idea GaijinPot for making this tribute site. Thank you for sharing this with us and helping us purge.
If you’re interested, my photography can be viewed here : http://stackjones.com.
It’s amazing how calm children can be. I was teaching a class when the earthquake hit, and the kids immediately got under their desks. After we evacuated the building, some younger children were crying. The older kids wondered why it was raining, and why nothing happened.
I told them that it always rains after big earthquakes, and that somewhere else, many people were in trouble. I’ll always remember that they said, wow, you know a lot and you shouldn’t say things like that. I guess I was in much more of a panic than they were.
I was sitting on a Yamanote Line train parked at Sugamo when the earthquake hit. Lucky for me and everyone else in that particular train, the doors were still open. We were called out of the train and then out of the station.
After a long wait, it became clear the trains weren’t gonna be up and running any time soon, so I walked back into the station to have my Suica card logged out of the system and walked the rest of the way to where I was staying, which was near Tabata Station, just a half hour walk away. On the way, I came across some Shōnan Shinjuku Line trains parked on the tracks, their doors closed. There were still people waiting inside.
There were scares about radiation thereafter, but I wasn’t afraid, as Tōkyō didn’t get nearly as much background radiation as Denver gets on a normal day.
Tamachi, Tokyo, Anonymous
March 11, 2011 we were scheduled for a meeting somewhere in Tamachi and it was the preparation stage for a project which we wanted to materialize. The meeting started at exactly 2:30 pm and as we went along the tremor started at 2:46pm. Since we were all used with the usual earthquakes we went on with the meeting later on realizing that it was no longer the usual. We all decided to rush using the emergency stairs of the building. Good thing we were at the 3rd floor so it was bearable. While running down I remembered that debris coming from the upper floors started to fall on us. Luckily we were able to reach the road in front of the building. I ran at the middle of the road thinking I would be safe but when I saw the buildings in Tokyo for that matter that it was all swaying I swore and thought that it was already the end of mans existence.
Suddenly the earth dropped and shook and we realized that it was worse….the buildings at a distance was already warping at the end of the road and the building we were in earlier was already literally colliding with the next building. That particular day the weather check was bearable thinking that it was already the onset of spring. I personally used a Business suit for the meeting and I had only my bag and a muffler. No gloves, no Coat nothing. After the earthquake suddenly the sky turned errie…..the crows were all flying and the sun dropped fast with the temperature dripping.
The sight along Tamachi station going to Shinagawa Station in Tokyo was reminiscent of the ones written in the book of Exodus…..It was too crowded, the people were cold and some were hungry because of the panic buying that occured because all the JR trains stopped its service.
Little did we know that it was a never ending aftershocks that day. We were planning to go back to Shinjuku in our office but there was not enough transportation. We were able to find a warm place in an Izakaya near Shinagawa and we were able to eat well and make our stomach full. There was warmth but the earth was still shaking.
Later on that night we were told that the Oedo line was already working so we advanced to the station to ride the train. It went well but when we went off Daimon station I realized that it was too crowded that any single panic will cost our lives when there goes the stampede.
I was literally gasping for air because I was already claustrophobic when I saw the word EXIT I immediately opened the door and told my friends to follow me. Up we went then we took a bus off to Shibuya. The normal trip of about 30 minutes stretched to 2 hours. We were inside the bus and felt warm but dropped to sleep only to wake up later we were in Shinagawa.
One friend left us because he lived near and the 2 of us left had to wait for a cap for another hour and it was freezing. Finally we took the cab and we were able to reach Shinjuku at about 6am and the world was still trembling.
I was stranded but luckily was able to hop in the train at 1pm then off i went to Saitama where I live….The room i came back in was in total disarray. The rest of the stories followed. The anxiety over the leaking radiation, the one bottle of water policy, brown outs and more added up to the stress.
Later on life had to go on….Japan was able to contain it and the resiliency its citizenry has is nothing compared to any nation. I am not a Japanese but I now feel like I have been Japanized.
Australian, Kobe, Male, Teacher
I will never forget the time that the earthquake struck. I had recently bought myself a kayak and was out on the water around Miyajima with my girlfriend and another friend. We were fishing for octopus, but there was nothing biting. The kayak was a bit overloaded, and at what would have been the time that the earthquake struck, it tipped over and we all fell in the water.
I think this must have been a result of the massive quake. My friend lost his $200 fishing rod to the sea, but I saved the lives of most of the worms in my bait bucket. We put the kayak up the right way and headed to Miyajima where a large scale Buddhist wedding ceremony was taking place.
It wasn’t until later that we learned of the earthquake and the scale of what was unfolding. I streamed the NHK news on my computer for the rest of the night and sat in shock. My friend who owns a kayak shop had friends in the Tohoku region who were also involved in kayaking. He told me of a halt on leisure kayaking in Japan until some of the missing had been accounted for and until Japan had steadied itself. He gave everything in his shop to support the relief effort, and I was very impressed by this.
What did I learn from the experience of 3-11?
I was dealing with a few tricky situations at the time, but the 3-11 experience put things in perspective for me and gave me the strength to rebound successfully from my own problems.
Haider J, Karachi, Pakistan
A poem I wrote to express my feelings on the disaster caused by the earthquake in March 2011 in Japan.
The cruel tremor of March 11
Carrying more momentum than a missile
Triggered the north of Japan
Brought tears out of my eyes
The pretty garden caught fire
Killed the innocent butterflies
Then a Tsunami deluged the cities
That attacked humans like a hound
Levelling tall buildings to ground
Swept factories and demolished homes
Then came a spray of nuclear radiations
The three killers brought the worst massacre
Leaving weeping kids and shouting mothers
Crying widows and worried fathers
Sisters crying and searching brothers
Husbands looking for their wives
But I know the people of Nippon
They are brave and strong
The had gone through the Nuclear Bomb Disaster
They know how to do and what to do
They have the vision and carry the mission
They have the strength
They have the enthusiasm
The architects, whose efforts built Japan
A leading economy and a center of excellence
They will build new homes and schools
New offices and Railway Stations
Hospitals, Roads and Power Stations
They will build a New Japan
United States, Ibaraki, Female, Assistant Language Teacher
During my final class of the day my students were playing a game that required them to stand. When the swaying began it was very normal so I went to open the sliding classroom door just in case and it grew in intensity so the homeroom teacher did the same for the other while the children continued. Suddenly the ground lurched under us and we were suddenly instructing the children to get under their desks and to remain quiet.
The homeroom teacher also moved to get under her desk but I didn’t have one (which hardly mattered, the shaking at that point was so strong I couldn’t walk) and said (as I recall) for the sake of your lives stay under your desks. Things began to fall off the walls and our class television fell. The children were incredibly strong in this situation though a few of them were understandably upset. What seemed like forever was really six minutes but finally the shaking subsided and we were all alive and okay.
After, the teachers at the school mobilized the students and we evacuated outside (we lived in a coastal town so threat of a tsunami was very very real). While we were outside two more strong quakes struck and I remembered being surprised that the trees were shaking. Eventually we evacuated to the roof of the school and I watched the ocean for a very long time. To be honest it was quite terrifying, I don’t have the adequate words to describe.
Thankfully our area was spared the tsunami but we had substantial damage to buildings and our water supply. The most difficult part was being alone at night with the rolling blackouts because at this point we were quite afraid of the aftershocks. Some of the quakes I felt were not the same as I had recalled experiencing in the past (some like jackhammers and some like conventional swaying). I learned from this experience that the Japanese are a truly hardy people and that the kindness of my fellow teachers and students during this will leave a mark on my heart that I will never forget.
I wish I could tell them thank you but thank you will never be enough.
What I’ve learned from this experience
I’m using this experience to move on to become a doctor and hopefully be of more help in natural disaster situations and situations at home. I really had (and have) a desire to help the Japanese people and give back as they’d given me and found I was woefully inadequate.
ALT, JET, Fukushima
I asked my part-time employer, Safeway, to make a donation to the Japan Disaster Relief Fund through the Red Cross. At first they said No then I told them how nice the people of Japan were to me and to Americans when I was an ALT on the JET Programme in Fukushima-ken. They changed their mind and immediately contributed $150,000. How nice.
Kamaishi, Iwate, ALT, American
I lived in Kamaishi until August 2010, as an American ALT. I was in Milwaukee when 3.11 happened, and returned to Japan on 3.14 out of worry for my friends and fiancee. My friend and I made it to Kamaishi on 3.19 and did what we could to help the city. We volunteered almost every day: cooking for refugees, cleaning a hospital, or clearing wreckage. He had to return because of a family illness, but I was there for around 4 months.
My fiancee’s parents, who are Japanese, were hesitant about their daughter marrying a foreigner, but after my return on 3.14, they saw how much I cared. My fiancee was a dietitian for the city, and she was busy dealing with malnutrition and refugees’ existing health problems, so I volunteered during the day, and did her cooking and cleaning in the evening.
As I was there for a long time, I have too many memories, and there isn’t a certain one that pops out. But it was nice to see my friends and colleagues alive and well, and to give back to the city that had hired and supported me for almost 4 years.
From here: Uprated: 15 February, 2012.
English Teacher, Male, British, Chiba, Ichihara
I think I was one of the luckiest ones. Although the earthquake was terrifying, and the local effects somewhat inconvenient, I was not affected in any terrible way by the earthquake. At the time I had just moved to Tokyo and was commuting to Ichihara, in Chiba five days a week. Ichihara is the city where the petroleum plant exploded.
I was practicing with my student when we both paused to say, oh, earthquake. I think everyone had grown a little complacent, because most earthquakes are so small. At first the tremors were very weak, and we both assumed it would disappear. When the tremors got bigger and didn’t stop, I was suddenly really worried for my student, who was an elderly lady. I opened the windows and as I opened the door I caught my co-worker and manager’s glance in the corridor, and we headed out with everyone else in the building.
Outside, we felt the first aftershock and grabbed on to something for balance. We could see the only tall building in the area swaying and making a terrible sound. People were screaming. I tried again and again to call my parents and my girlfriend in Tokyo, but was hampered by the jammed cellphone network. My co-worker on a different provider was originally from Tohoku and couldn’t get through to her family. When she finally got through, she was relived for a minute, but it must have been horrible for her. Almost straight after that we saw the first explosion at the petroleum plant.
My girlfriend was at her college graduation when the earthquake happened, and couldn’t go home, despite being in Tokyo. The next day, I was determined to do whatever it took to get back to Tokyo, even if I had to walk all the way there. My manager was furious on hearing I was in Tokyo.
The next few days were very strained personally as the BBC and other foreign media did their best to hype up the nuclear disaster, and the Japanese government did its best to play it down. My girlfriend would not pay any attention to the foreign media and refused to acknowledge the potential danger. I was determined not to leave Japan unless absolutely necessary, I couldn’t help feel like I was irresponsible to just up and leave everyone here.
We both gave to the people in Tohoku every time we went to a convenience store, and tried not to indulge ourselves with overusing the heating, thinking how lucky we were.
Bryan B; American; Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture; ALT
I was in the teacher’s room at Aratama JHS planning some lessons for the following week. I suddenly felt off balance, like someone was moving my chair as gently as they could so I wouldn’t notice. I actually whipped in my seat, expecting to confront a giggling group of students, and said, Who’s messing with my chair? There was no one there. It was then that I noticed the rattling sounds and felt the vibrating movement of the ground.
Excited talk was breaking out all over the teacher’s room. People were asking, Is it an earthquake? It’s an earthquake isn’t it? The TVs were swinging back and forth on the ceiling and one teacher smiled and laughed at it, and turned it on while it was still swinging. No one realized the severity of what had happened until we saw the news casts. I’d seen videos of quakes before and experienced 3 since being in Japan, but none that were so violent as what I saw on TV. And then there was the tsunami warning. I’d seen pictures of tsunami damage, seen the Discovery Channel documentaries about tsunamis, seen the grainy footage from the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, but now I was actually going to see one. I’m ashamed to admit that there was a humble excitement in my anticipation. And then the footage of the tsunami coming in began to play. Not the 100 foot high wave of death that I imagined but a flash flood of epic proportions with the same effect.
Instantly my mind started looking for the slight glow that appears around computer generated special effects in film. It even tried to convince me that it had found them, but I knew, this is real. This is happening now. As I watch this there are people who are losing everything. There are people people dying now.
400 or 500 miles away from the disaster my life went on. I went out to dinner with friends, we talked about the quake and asked each other if we knew what kind of damage the tsunami had done in Hamamatsu. None. I emailed and called my family back home to assure them of my safety and then I put the matter out of my mind so that I could sleep. The real impact, the real understanding of what happened didn’t manifest until the following day and the days and weeks that followed.
Everyday the front page of the newspaper carried the number of dead, injured and missing people and everyday those numbers changed. The missing shrunk more and more quickly, and everyday the number of dead climbed by the thousands. The picture that instilled in me the closest possible understanding of what happened that one who was not there to experience it, was a picture taken from the top of a 5 story building with water all around it, and next to that picture a shot from the same building after the water had receded, showing all the debris 1, 2 and 3 story buildings that had been submerged by the water.
The minutes around the earthquake on March 11, 2011 are as clearly engraved into my memory as the events of September 11, 2001
Dutch, Work: Shibuya / home: Shonan, female, website copy editor
I was 5 months pregnant and boasted a huge belly. At work on the 17th floor, I was at the bathroom, and had no idea there had been an earthquake. Things actually regularly seem to sway when you’re pregnant. When I reached my office, some colleagues were trying to leave.
Just then the building started swaying again, and I tried to hold on to something in the little hallway outside the office. Everybody was falling down, and it was the weirdest sensation that I couldn’t keep standing. Staggering, I got to my desk and crouched under it, like some colleagues already did. I was very awkward with my big belly, holding on to it and trying to feel calm, hoping to make my baby feel secure.
When the swaying ended, we found our office hermetically sealed, the door to the emergency stairway… locked! Finally a key was located, and all of us moved downstairs from the 17th floor. I just grabbed my bag and coat, and headed down swiftly. It was strange that people were dallying on the stairs. Of course it’s good that no one was panicking, but it seemed important to me to reach level ground before more shakes. I felt responsible to do the right things to take care of my baby – as if I had hit Emergency Mommy Mode.Outside in Shibuya, we decided to go to Yoyogi Park for the time being. On the way, it was surreal… people were still shopping, as if nothing was wrong. Shopping! At Yoyogi Park, some colleagues got word about the quake being a shindo 7 at Sendai. Again surreal, because I have lived in Sendai a year, albeit a long time ago.
Later we took refuge in a coffee shop near the office, while some of us went to get some things. It turned out that no trains were running yet, and it would be hard to get home that day. Also, I heard that the news was big in Europe, so my family might be worried sick. I tried reaching my husband, who was in France for work – but mobile networks were out.Then… someone said that public phones worked, and calls could be made for free. Hoping on a small chance, I went out to find a public phone – luckily enough, there was one right there outside the cafe, and I got thru. That was so beautiful! The sense of community, and the decency of the telephone companies. And of course the calmness of everybody, the whole night – we have all seen TV footage of looting and such that occur in other places.My husband let my relatives know that I was OK (of course they continued to be worried sick, even worse after the news about Fukushima). We had a little fun about the situation: I came to live from Europe in Japan to be with him, and now I was pregnant in this big earthquake on his island, stranded far from our home in Shonan – while he was far away in Europe. The night I spent at a colleague’s place, walking there amid the throng of people who were all walking to some refuge for the night. My colleague kept saying I shouldn’t deliver the baby. I guess me having this humongous belly, she couldn’t realise that it would mean that my baby would be fatally early. Anyhow, she’s great but the comment was irritating.
Walking and sharing the same fate with the masses around, I felt a sense of community. It was the strangest thing to not be able to share the whole experience with my husband. The convenience stores were half empty. All night there were aftershakes, alerts on our cellphones, and continuing news coverage on TV. Fortunately I could get to my mother in law in the morning, so I didn’t have to be alone at home. Later, reunited and worried about the developments in Fukushima and fearing possible radiation effects on my baby, my husband and I decided that I should evacuate for a while. Together with my sister-in-law with her 3-month-old baby, and my mother-in-law. My husband wouldn’t join us, but somehow I managed to emotionally blackmail him into it. I mean, I had to – he means too much to me. We went to Naha, where we could barely get a hotel room, since everything was booked by fleeing people from the mainland. I managed to work full-time on my laptop in a small room we all shared, with a minuscule window and a very bad chair.
What did I learn?
1. I can stay calm and rational in an emergency situation. Hurray!
2. Another confirmation of my husband’s devotion and wits. The first couple of weeks I was granted to work from home, but when the black-outs were over, I was summoned to work from the office. That meant a daily 3 hour of commute in a crammed train, downright hazardous being 6 months pregnant. But the company wouldn’t budge, so I feared for my job. My husband wouldn’t have it (maybe the best thing about him: he just can’t take any…, and we stayed in a hotel in Shinjuku for about 2 months, so I could work until my maternity leave and keep my job.
I had been in Japan for five weeks traveling from the US. I left the day before the earthquake. I arrived back in Chicago only to wake up the next morning and hear the tragic news. Having just spent an amazing time in Tokyo and other cities, my connection to Japan was stronger than ever. I love the country and its people. My heart was broken for them. I still think about my friends there and the pain they have had to deal with from this horrible disaster.
I am going back to Tokyo on Sunday, and I am very excited to get back to the country that has left such a wonderful impression in my heart. I hope the rebuilding effort continues to go well and people can restore their lives as best they can under the circumstances.
T.V./Movie Extra. Aotearoa.Male.Osaka
We didn’t experience any shaking here, but the drapes did sway somewhat. At the time I was logged-into the J.M.A. website and watched the updates as they came to hand. I also watched the devastation live on television.
Two days later, while in Nagoya taking part in a movie, with 50 or so other gaijin, I was fascinated how the rumor-machine was affecting some (by this time Fukushima was a concern) and, by the end of the shoot, people were packing and heading-out of the country. Someone asked me if I was planning on fleeing the country, and I replied that I come from Christchurch, Aotearoa.
Elsa M. Ota, Gunma Teacher
We were having parent – teacher conferences. I was sitting with my colleagues, talking to our last parents of the afternoon. The building started shaking. At first, we thought it was just a small quake, but the tremors wouldn’t stop and were getting stronger. We got out of there. I ran up to the teacher’s room in the adjacent building on the second floor. The whole place was sw