Life Goes On

I have a friend who works at an office that’s built on reclaimed land out towards Tokyo Bay.  On the day of the Tohoku Earthquake the ground around his office cracked and shifted.

Crack in Car Park

Crack in Car Park

One week later and you can see that nature is filling in the crack.

Filling in the Cracks

Filling in the Cracks


One Response to “Life Goes On”

  1. Norwin Says:

    Wow. That’s kind of cool to see. I guess nature is much better at recovering from this stuff than we are.

In Australia

It’s going to take me a while to adjust.  I no longer feel as if I am constantly swaying but I did have a lot of difficulty getting to sleep on the plane on the way here.  I kept waking up thinking that the turbulence was an earthquake.

I’ve read many criticisms about foreigners leaving Japan.  Odd that I hear almost nothing about the Japanese that have also left.   I was the only non-Japanese person in my cabin on the way to Australia.  The queues in the airport were also mainly made up of Japanese.

Australia is noisier than I remember.  Japan also has insects that scream at night but I wasn’t expecting the birds.  They start to make an almighty racket when the sun comes up and also when it starts to go down.  It can be hard to hear another person speak in the apartment.  Mind you, I’m on my own for a few days so for now it’s just me and the birds.

Leaving Japan

I’m currently at Narita airport.  I’ve said goodbye to my house guest and now I’m spending the rest of the day here as I’m leaving for Sydney this evening.

We left quite early this morning as we hadn’t been able to book train tickets to the airport in advance.  We didn’t have any problems getting a train but given the restricted schedule of the past week we thought it was prudent to give ourselves plenty of time.  Terminal 1 wasn’t overly full.  It had long queues but that’s mainly because everyone turned up before check-in opened.  We arrived 45 minutes before Virgin opened theirs.  I was speaking to one man who seemed to think that the queues weren’t normal and more people than usual had turned up.  But then I fly all the time and I have seen much longer queues than those, and the queues disappeared quite quickly once check-in actually opened.  I also noticed that the queues for security were the normal length.

I was surprised that the man I was talking to was so concerned.  He looked at the queue at said that he couldn’t imagine Virgin being able to handle it in the time-frame.  But there is only one Virgin flight a day and of course they can handle checking in the passengers for one flight in an hour and a half.  We are still in Japan.  It’s not as if they had one member of staff on or anything.  It was actually looking as if they would have everyone checked-in within 30 minutes.  I have waited nearly 90 minutes to be checked-in for a flight in America on a day when there weren’t considered to be any problems at all.  In that case it was caused by a shortage of staff.  It was almost as if they hadn’t realised that the people with tickets would be turning up for the flights.

I’m in Terminal 2 now and it is busier.  There are a couple of very long queues.  But I was still able to find a seat in Starbucks, so it’s not overly alarming out there.  Nothing like it would be during Golden Week, the big holiday during the year.

I have been asked if I’m fleeing the country but that’s not quite what I’m doing.  I have a Japanese friend who left for Perth on Thursday night and she would like me to join her.  She would also like to have someone to fly back to Japan with.  There is no doubt that if it wasn’t for the recent disaster that I would not be leaving.  There are issues with being in Tokyo at the minute, and I don’t mean fear of radiation, but rather the disruption of services and the possibility of another quake.  I also know that my family and friends are going to be happier if I am somewhere else.  Marty has no plans to leave at the minute, but I know that he will leave if he believes that Tokyo is unsafe.

Social Networks

There have been times when I haven’t been sure what the point of Twitter is, or if connecting to lots of people on Facebook was really worthwhile, but in the past week I have been incredibly grateful to have use of these free services.  It was Twitter that allowed me to get the message out that I was O.K. after the quake, and Facebook has allowed me to update my friends and family throughout the past week without having to contact everyone individually.

Thank you.

Buying Beans: Part 2

Once we were finally back on the ground we needed to decide what to do next.  I still had no phone signal and no idea how serious the earthquake had been.  The streets were full of people who had been evacuated from buildings or train stations.  We decided that it had to be a good idea to move to higher ground. We had come from Roppongi Hills earlier in the day and we walked back via the same route.  This was a good plan as I didn’t want to take an unfamiliar route.  I have absolutely no sense of direction and really didn’t want to get lost.

This did mean walking back by the supermarket that sold the beans.  At this stage grocery shopping was the last thing on my mind.  And even if I had wanted to the store, like many others on the street, had been closed.  Apart from some of the shops closing we didn’t see a lot of problems.  There was some broken glass and indications that people were worried but nothing overly alarming.

Once I finally had a 3G signal I managed to get to Twitter.  Then I started to see the messages from friends wanting to know where I was and asking me to get in touch with my family as soon as possible.  I have a sister-in-law in Australia who had already seen the news as I had been in the tower for quite some time.  I posted quickly stating that I had been in Tokyo Tower but that I was now on the ground.  I then went to the Japan Meteorological Agency website to get information about the quake.  I’m so glad that I wasn’t able to access that from the tower.  It told me how big the quake was and, given that I actually have read the information I’d been given about dealing with earthquakes in Japan, I knew that the quake was huge.

The site also also showed a red flashing tsunami warning.  Tsunamis are the reason I don’t live in an apartment by Tokyo bay.  There is something terrifying about huge walls of water.  Much as I love the sea I never want to see it come for me.

We kept walking and got to the Mori Tower quite quickly.  Some people have been surprised that after my experience in Tokyo Tower that I was planning to get inside another one.  But my husband works in the Mori Tower and he has assured me that it’s built to withstand earthquakes.  I also knew that his company would have food, water, and disaster kits.

I tried contacting Marty when Norwin and I arrived at the tower, but my phone still wasn’t making calls.  There were security guards standing at the doors to the lobby and I could see that it was already full of people.  At first I didn’t want to go in but since my phone wouldn’t work Norwin convinced me that the best way to get in touch with Marty was to get reception to ring him.  I went in and joined the long queue of people trying to reach other people inside the tower.  The quake meant that the elevator had been stopped and with the many aftershocks it looked like it could be hours before it started again.

We stayed in the tower for hours.  The elevators didn’t work and I didn’t think I would be in any fit state to evacuate if I walked up the 44 flights of stairs to where Marty was.  Once the elevators were working again we went up and sat in a rest area of the office.  There was a T.V. showing BBC world news and it was horrifying.  While sitting in the lobby we were aware that there had been a huge earthquake and aftershocks, but we had heard nothing about the tsunami other than the warning I had seen.  We also hadn’t been able to find out much on the internet as I was worried about my phone dying.  It was so hard to get a signal and all the searching for one was killing the battery. We used the phone only to send messages to other people to let them know that we were safe.

We considered spending the night sleeping at the office as it would have taken about 3 hours to walk home but trains did start again and at 11 o’clock we ventured outside.  If we hadn’t manage to get a train we could always have gone back to the office.  We tried the Hibiya line and they had a train going to Ueno.  This left us with a walk that we imagined would take less than an hour.

The train journey wasn’t pleasant.  The train was mostly empty but it kept stopping because of frequent aftershocks.  At one point it looked as if the walls of the train tunnel were moving but it was actually the train moving about on the tracks.

Ueno station was filled with people sitting on the ground on plastic sheets.  I imagine that many people spent the night there as it was already after midnight and most trains were not running.  I was glad that we could walk from there as the station was quite cold.  We were carrying emergency kits and they had some sort of blanket in them but the floor of the station would not have been a great place to spend the night.

The walk home wasn’t difficult.  There were still lots of people outside walking home.  I think it took us just under an hour to reach the apartment and I was delighted to get home.  The elevators in the building were working, we had electricity and water, but the gas wasn’t working.  This meant that there was no heating and explained why the lobby of the building had quite a few woman and small children on the floor as it was warm down there.

Our apartment was mostly fine.  Some things had moved, a couple of things had fallen over, but it was hard to believe that there had been such a huge quake.  I lay on the sofa and Marty true to form started to hunt through the cupboards for food.  He opened the cupboard and asked, “Do we have any beans?”

Fear, uncertainty and doubt

This morning I wasn’t woken up by an earthquake.  I was feeling fine until I started to read my email.  It’s full of messages telling me that the UK press and media are saying that we need to leave Tokyo right now.  I’ve even been told that the Foreign Office are telling people to leave Tokyo right now.

This is not what we are hearing in Tokyo and we are registered with the Foreign Office.  They are certainly saying that there should be no non-essential travel to Japan:

We advise against all non essential travel to Tokyo and north eastern Japan given the damage caused by the 11 March earthquake and resulting aftershocks and tsunami.

They are also saying the following about the health risk in Tokyo:

The most recent advice from the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser remains that for those outside the exclusion zone set up by the Japanese authorities there is no real human health issue that people should be concerned about. This advice is kept under constant review. However, due to the evolving situation at the Fukushima nuclear facility and potential disruptions to the supply of goods, transport, communications, power and other infrastructure, British nationals in Tokyo and to the north of Tokyo should consider leaving the area.

This information comes from the Foreign Office website and not from sources like The Sun newspaper, whose headlines are horrifying.

I would also say that the exclusion area is 20km and that we are more than 200km from the area.

As well as the Foreign Office we are getting information everyday from Marty’s employer.  At the minute I am listening to a conference call with a nuclear expert explaining what is happening and he has a very similar opinion to the British scientists.  The Foreign Office has stated the following:

The Chief Scientific Adviser said the Japanese Government’s advice is entirely proportionate and appropriate to the risk.

Those of you who are living in Tokyo, you are a long way away from the reactor, and although there have been reports that there have been slightly increased levels of radiation, this is trivial in terms of a health effect.  So we would like to reassure people that well away from the reactor there is not an issue for people living around there.

It's life Jim, but not as we know it...

I’m getting fed up with being told that people in Tokyo should go about their daily life as normal.  I realise that this is probably being said to prevent panic but life in Tokyo at the minute just isn’t normal.  And people know that.  Why else would petrol and food be selling out? I had only started to write this rant when I received a notification about another aftershock.  Earthquakes are common in Japan but the earthquake on Friday has led to a large increase in the number of shocks.

I enjoy living in Tokyo.  It is an incredibly convenient city with a public transport system like no other I have ever experienced.  It has amazing restaurants, bars, and shops.  It’s a great place to go on holiday and I have a friend staying at the minute who arrived on holiday last week.  On a normal holiday I would take him sight-seeing, we would have hired a car and gone to see the snow monkeys, we would eat out, and we would probably have gone to karaoke.

Instead we stay within walking distance of the apartment.  We haven’t been on a train since the day of the major quake.  We aren’t going to hire a car and go sight-seeing as that would be a ridiculous thing to do.  We aren’t eating in restaurants as we haven’t seen any that are open.  We are spending hours looking at news channels.  We will consider going to the grocery store today but we are aware that we won’t be buying bread, rice, or dairy.

There are trains running but it is a limited schedule and we don’t want to go out only to get stuck miles away from the apartment.  Walking to the apartment after a major quake isn’t terrible but we’ve already done that in the last week.  We also don’t want to use the trains if we don’t actually need to as we would rather people who need to travel were able to do so.

My week also isn’t normal.  I’m still online but mainly to answer queries about how I am.  I’m not sleeping well because the aftershocks keep waking me up.  The language school has closed, my clinic has cancelled my appointment and I haven’t been able to visit my friends.  I’m not able to go to the gym.  We haven’t even washed the towels as it seems to be a waste of electricity and water.  We are expecting the power to go out on rolling basis and we are conserving electricity.

Marty has been going to work, but that’s not happening in a normal manner either.  He takes longer to get there and to get home.  (And the apartment is shaking again, this is another strong quake.  So I’m going to stop ranting for a while.)  His work is providing lunch because of the limited number of restaurants that are open.  Yesterday he attended a seminar on nuclear technology.

None of this stuff is overly important.  I am incredibly fortunate to be safe and warm.  But it just. Isn’t. Normal!

3 Responses to “It’s life Jim, but not as we know it…”

  1. Destroy All Onions! » Blog Archive » Tokyo Day 9 - Karen speaks out Says:

    […] has posted a great rant on her […]

  2. Alan in Belfast Says:

    Having Norwin to stay would never be normal, but this takes the biscuit!

    I love the fact that Marty …

    > Yesterday he attended a seminar on nuclear technology.

    The Japanese are so incredibly thorough. Waiting around to give refunds; briefing employees rather than letting them watch TV. There’s got to be a tipping point in which they lose their outer peace and resort to complete panic … but the threshold seems high.

  3. Jessica Marie Says:

    I cannot even begin to imagine what it’s like for you right now. Thank God you’re safe. And you have a guest?? Poor guy!

Another Night, Another Quake

After hundreds of aftershocks you get numb.  I still feel the building move, because I’m on the 24th floor of a high-rise apartment.  I still feel queasy, because I appear to suffer from motion sickness.  But the aftershock tonight made me jump right out of my chair.  There was loud bang which sounded as if someone had thumped the window.  The building started to move and my stomach started to flip.

We were still able to move around and we opened up the doors and I moved to the hall.  We have emergency kits and helmets there and I would like to be close to the exit.  The emergency kits contain a blanket, water, glow sticks, some odd looking food rations, a whistle, a map, and gloves.  I wondered about the gloves but I was told that they were to protect my hands from glass.

Thankfully we didn’t need to leave the apartment, but tonight I am truly fed up with the building shaking.  I am also very aware that we have been incredibly fortunate.

Waiting to Exhale

It’s hard to explain what is happening in Tokyo.  Things have not returned to normal but many normal things are happening.  I still cooked and baked yesterday afternoon.  Marty has gone to work this morning.  But my routine is not my normal one.  For the past few days I have been woken by earthquakes and not be an alarm clock.  This morning it was the 6.2 quake in Ibaraki-ken that woke me. We have emergency kits in the hall beside the door.  I’m not cleaning or doing anything non-essential that would involve using gas or electricity.  I am watching T.V. which is something I never do during the day.

I have decided to mostly watch Japanese news.  The world news is horrifying in different ways that the Japanese news.  It is true that there was an explosion at a nuclear reactor this morning but the world news has lots of speculation and uses sensational words like “Chernobyl”.  Here in Japan the news includes lots of information on what is being done by the scientists.  I find it comforting that the news is now making lists of services that are closed.  This would make incredibly boring world news but it shows that now more things are open than closed.  After the first quake it was much simpler to list, for example, which train lines were running as so few were.

We are expecting a power cut soon but I will continue to monitor the news until that happens.

3 Responses to “Waiting to Exhale”

  1. Stephen R. Scaffidi Says:

    I’ve been following the news and while it’s certainly scary I have faith that things will be under control soon. I have to say, your post about going to the tower for beans and then being on the observation deck during the main quake will make quite a story to tell people someday! Just remember, we’re all (I and many others who know you) thinking of and praying for you and Marty and your friends and colleagues.

  2. Geoff! Says:

    The press here are giving it everything they’ve got on the nuclear front. Catastrophe! Meltdown!!!!! Chernobyl!!! (not so much Windscale, though…) Not very much science though… for instance, I haven’t seen so much as a control rod in any of the graphics, just plenty of repeats of the outer shell of the building being blown off. Much better TV… and dare I say it, good campaigning material for those of a “renewable” bent, like the BBC…

  3. karen Says:

    Thank you Steve. We also have faith in what is happening, which is why we have not yet tried to leave Japan.

    Geoff, the news channels here are full of scientists with blue peter like diagrams. We have been amused by how some of the props look but appreciate that so much effort is going into calming people down. Marty’s work also sent him to a briefing today on how nuclear reactors work – so lots if being down to try to prevent panic.

Buying Beans: Part 1

Yesterday was an eventful day.  I ended up on the special observation deck of Tokyo Tower during the worst Japanese earthquake in recent history.  It sounds completely horrific, and in some ways it was, but it wasn’t anywhere near as frightening as it could have been.

I hadn’t planned to be there.  What I did want to do was buy Heinz Baked Beans.  Norwin and I met Marty for lunch in Roppongi Hills and afterwards I wanted to walk to one of the international supermarkets.  I crave beans and not many places in Tokyo sell them.  Taking a visitor to a supermarket, especially one selling food he can buy whenever he wants, seemed rather a dull thing to do.  I remembered that the tower was only about 10 minutes or so from there and we decided to visit that first.

We bought tickets, walked around the main observation deck, and waited until our number was called.  It’s Japan.  We queue for everything.  And this was an organised place with a numbering system to let us know when it was our turn to catch the lift to the special observation deck.  I didn’t enjoy the lift.  It was shaking and it made me feel uneasy.  But the member of staff working in the lift wasn’t reacting so I assumed that it was normally a shaky ride.

We stepped out of the lift on to what felt like the deck of a ship.  Everything was swaying and my first thought was that it was the wind.  But people were lurching around and then sitting on the floor.  I couldn’t walk straight, and after a bit of pretending I was fine, decided to sit on the floor.  At that stage I knew it was an earthquake.  At first Norwin was excited because it was a new experience for him and he assumed that it was a minor quake.  But the tower kept shaking.  We started to make jokes, as you do, and waited for the shaking to stop.  I noticed that some people around me were crying quietly, but the shaking stopped.

We got up and walked around a bit.  We couldn’t leave because the lift stopped working and the stairs were outside and unsafe.  We started talking to the other foreigners, and then the shaking started again.  This time I was frightened.  Outside the traffic had stopped, there was a fire in Odaiba, crowds of people were being evacuated, but inside there was no panic.  There was a group of nursery school children sitting quietly against the wall.  The staff were apologizing but they were calm.  We chatted, we joked, talked about where we came from, and waited.  There was no point in doing anything else.

I think that we were there for around an hour and a half.  It’s hard to be sure.  I know that it was an hour before I managed to send a text message to Marty.  But time moved strangely. I know that we got in the lift, had to walk down 600 steps, and that staff from the tower were waiting to give us a refund, but that whole part of the afternoon is vague in my mind.  My one goal was to get out of the tower.  I have never been more relieved to get out of a building.

(Norwin is ahead of me with blogging and has a written up our day complete with pictures.)

One Response to “Buying Beans: Part 1”

  1. Khaos » Blog Archive » Buying Beans: Part 2 Says:

    […] got to the Mori Tower quite quickly.  Some people have been surprised that after my experience in Tokyo Tower that I was planning to get inside another one.  But my husband works in the Mori Tower and he has […]