My 1 week since the biggest earthquake in Japan’s history

The largest earthquake ever in Japan’s recorded history hit 373 km NE of Tokyo on Friday, March 11, 2011 at 2:46pm. I was in a meeting with two Japanese colleagues at our French partner’s office in Higashi-Nihonbashi. Most of the guys there are Europeans, so they had never been through a severe earthquake before. We decided to flee when the earthquake didn’t subside but actually began to strengthen! As we were running downstairs, the shaking really got violent and we began to hear the building walls breaking and tiles falling! We’ve never run down staircases so fast in our lives!

The ground continued to shake pretty violently for minutes(!!), including some up & down ones that I had never felt before! People from other buildings joined us standing on the street, we stood for what seemed at least 5~10 minutes, couldn’t really tell if the world is still shaking or if it was just our feet. Some of us went back upstairs to grab our wallets & jackets when another aftershock hit, which probably wasn’t strong but was amplified by the fact that we were 6 floors above ground. We grabbed what we could and ran back downstairs, then we all walked toward an open flat area further away from the office building. Lots of people in black business attires stood with us in the middle of the street.

By this time, the aftershocks had mostly stopped but people were too afraid to go back inside buildings. Our team actually went and got beers at 7-eleven and started drinking and causing a ruckus. We were visibly the only group that was having “a good time” out there. In true “when things go wrong” fashion, all my mobile devices’ batteries were out! I had to borrow a colleague’s iPhone to post on Facebook to let my family know that I’m ok! Mobile voice networks were completely down, but data was still up and Twitter became everyone’s main tool for communications!

 We stayed out for more than 30 minutes until the sky began to drizzle, some of us then headed back to the office, while some went to a cafe to hang out instead. I took the chance to recharge my batteries, everyone went on Facebook and ustream to watch the news on the destructions and tsunami. Aftershocks kept hitting us and it was quite scary on the 6th floor, so we didn’t stay long. We closed the office and catch up with the other guys at the cafe. This was around 6 pm already.

Fire raging at oil refinery in Chiba.

A few people decided to walk home, the rest of us went to grab dinner at Jonathan’s. Walking together in relatively good spirits, it felt like the ending of a (disaster) movie! At dinner, one of the French guys read about the earthquake being the 8th largest in recorded history in the world and yelled “And we survived it!” He turned around to call the waitress “Sumimasen! Corn soup kudasai!!” … I totally thought he was gonna order champagne! LOL!

Later that night, people argued about where to stay the night, since all train services were suspended, those of us who lived far away couldn’t go home. Some were worried about sleeping at home, some were worried about staying at the public safe houses, one went as far as suggesting spending the night in a park! (It was like 2 degrees Celsius that night!) I chose the safe house along with 3 others, so we walked to Meiji University in Ochanomizu. We spent the night in a lecture hall along with hundreds of others.

Although we had just been through the earthquake of the century and tsunami up North, the weekend actually felt rather uneventful. When I return home on Saturday morning, my old next door neighbor didn’t even asked me about the earthquake, but instead lectured me about putting out the garbages on time! (Next time is Tuesday, u better put it out before 8:10 am!) So yeah, life had pretty much returned to normal the next day! Sure, we were aware of the situation with the nuclear power plant up North in Fukushima, the hoarding at local supermarkets, the upcoming blackouts… etc, thanks in no small part to Twitter for immediate, open, free flowing information, but people in Tokyo are generally well informed and confident about the safety in Tokyo!

Meanwhile, a picture of the complete opposite were being painted by the mass media abroad!!!! With headlines like “Radiation fear prompts Tokyo exodus”, our friends and family back home went into a state of hysteria! People emailing and calling me constantly, “updating” me with the latest news of apocalypse in Japan as we know it, and urging us to fly away ASAP! No matter what!! One P2PU classmate whom I barely knew wrote me from the UK, telling me to leave even though I had written the following email to the whole class:

Well… I had evacuated to Kyoto, ~300km West of Tokyo since Monday. I did this not because the situation in Tokyo was bad, but because all my family & friends are worried sick and keep calling me and writing me, telling me to get the fuck out! The 2nd reason why I left was logistics.. with ~35 million ppl in Tokyo, if shit happens and people starts to panic, it will become real dangerous! 

Honestly, the situation with the nuclear power plant isn’t so bad, sure the first few days we were treated to spectacular videos of explosions (of the outer walls) and there have been some leakage of radiation, but it’s far from a real disaster like Chernobyl, this tweet sums it up pretty well: 

 – You know, 41 year old reactor gets hit by 8.9 earthquake, then 20ft. waves, then an explosion, but core intact… That’s awesome. -slashdot

The Japanese engineers are amazing! I mean, I’m sure you’ve all seen the tsunami videos <

>, the kinds of elements that had been thrown at the nuclear plant is unimaginable!! I had complained a lot of the Japanese’s “foolishness” of doing things by the book, but this time, it’s definitely thanks to their diligence, following the rules to keep the nuclear plant well-maintained that saved us from a real nuclear disaster! 

The real tragedy are the tens of thousands of people who lost everything to the tsunami… they’re living in school stadiums now, it’s super cold and I heard some of them have to share 1 blanket among 3 people!! 😦 

Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Architecture for Humanity said it pretty well – “Every time I’ve been to a disaster, a Japanese national has been there. Japanese architects are the most trusted people on the ground” If you can spare some change, please donate to their efforts to rebuild some homes – http://architectureforhumanity.org/programs/2011-sendai-earthquake-and-tsunami

Like I said in the email… I complain a lot about how the Japanese does things a lot of times… but I had also complained a lot of Hong Kong, Seattle, New York… basically every place I’ve ever been to! I also know that with time, I’ll learn to appreciate and love a place and its people. For Japan, this incident had become one of those turning points for me. I’m really impressed with the people of Japan! They’ve made me love this country a little bit more! …

With that said, there are still a lot of “stupid” things I want to complain about! I’m writing one up for my next post – “Will your company survive another crisis?” Stay tuned.

 

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