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Something in My Mind, 2005

March 11, 2011 Tokyo Earthquakes

My experiences in Ebisu, Tokyo during the biggest earthquake event in Japanese history!

March 11, 2011 The First Big Quakes

As you may or may not know, my mom and I are in Tokyo house-hunting. We were in Shirokane, checking out a couple units in a 27-story high-rise, with wall-to-wall wood flooring, floor-to-ceiling skyline-view windows, and a rare island-design stainless steel kitchen, in our price range and nice walking distance to public transportation. I digress...

The first one happened when we JUST stepped INTO an elevator to go from floor 19 to floor 21. We were 20 floors off the ground, in a moving elevator, when the ground began to quake!

The elevator started clumsily banging against the sides of the elevator shaft, and everyone in there (6 of us total) panicked for the moments before the doors opened onto the 21st floor. When we stepped out, the floor was rocking so much we couldn't stay on our feet, so we all fell to our knees or all fours and crawled away from the windows, which were creaking loudly.

I was so off-balance I didn't actually find my camera until after the worst of the shaking. Wish I could have caught the beginning, but I was so focused on how surreal everything was, it also took me some time to think of even taking it out.

The rocking went for probably 4-5 minutes, but the building continued to sway until the next quake, which was 30 minutes later. As time passed, the swaying died down quite a bit. By the end of the 30 minute-non-quaking-but-still-swaying period, it was only noticeable by the queasy feeling in your stomach and the undulating curtains.

Since the elevators were no longer working, we started the 21-floor descent. At floor 17, we ran into a sweaty guy carrying groceries. As he was explaining that he was on his way to floor 22, the building began to rock again and the stairway creaked scary metal squeals. Grocery man and the rest of us scrambled out of the stairway and onto floor 17, where we were uneasy on our feet again like the first time. I turned on my camera this time and recorded most of the rocking and conversation. I've got the last minute of the first quake also on camera; youtube link with translation to come!

The second quake calmed, and when we got to the bottom of the building, we had no idea how bad things were elsewhere, or even how big the magnitude of the quake actually was. (It felt terrible, but we realized that we were also getting somewhat whiplashed by the tallness of the building.) What we could see was that there were people everywhere because the underground transportation was stopped and the commuters were walking home. Taxis were full, and the bus stops had lines to get on-board.

We were lucky because we arrived in Shirokane by car, so we drove back to the Westin in Ebisu through moderate (not terrible) traffic in 20-30 mins.

At the hotel, the lot was full of taxis. Inside, chairs were set up along every wall and column and people were wrapped in white blankets with cups of hot espresso and tea. They were refused rooms at the hotel because the demand was too high, so people just camped out for the time being. Most of them were from the Tokyo outskirts and depended on the metro to take them home.

The rest of the night has been otherwise non-traumatic. The hotel gave the guests a beautiful buffet dinner for free, and had really nice refreshments for the non-guests camping out in the lobby. We're still feeling little wobbly aftershocks every 20 minutes or so, but nothing too exciting. We're watching the news in horror of how much damage and how many lives the quake and resulting tsunami have cost.

So in semi-conclusion, we're safe and sound for now. If I have anything else to add, I'll continue updating.

From floor 13 in Ebisu, Tokyo, and with lots of love,



Children in the schoolyard huddled together after the first quake. View from 21st floor.

Beginnings of a fire near TV station. View from 21st floor.

People exiting the metro. View from 21st floor.

Students have evacuated by the second quake. View from 19th floor.

The same fire near TV station. View from 19th floor.

More people have exited the metro. View from 19th floor.

Commuters walking home.

There are so many people in the street!

Hotel lobby

Blankets and hot refreshments for everyone.

This is the first earthquake, after the rocking stopped. We're still swaying.

This will get translated and captioned as soon as I have some time. It's during a calmer moment, but you can see what our environment looked like.

March 12, 2011 Morning Update 1

Our room has been rocking every 10-30 minutes ever since we got back from Shirokane. All night, and now in the morning. We've got the TV on, and the carnage is still mind-blowing.

Since Tokyo feels the earthquakes on a much smaller scale and minutes later than those in the North, the TV gives us a heads up for more rocking with a friendly, yet urgent-sounding, sing-song-y diddly. I think if it weren't slightly pleasant to listen to, the warning signal would get really irritating every 10 minutes.

Nothing is open. Nobody is in the street. To be fair, it's still only 7am, so maybe people just aren't up yet because they don't have to go to work. It seems like the hotel is accommodating any hungry guests with food, which is really nice.

Still safe,


March 12, 2011 Update 2

I'm getting a lot of questions about the power, internet, and phone. We've had no problems with power or internet, but the cell phone service has been a bit hit-and-miss. I think the major cell phone provider has shut down some of their towers for repairs, so 1/3 of the cell phone users haven't been able to make calls since yesterday. Landlines, as far as I know, are fine.

We've heard from friends and family, and although there have been no injuries, there's a lot of broken windows, broken dishes, and banged up apartments in general. We must have been in a lucky spot because our the stuff in our room hasn't been disturbed at all, and not 6 blocks from here a family friend lost all his vases and dishware!

The quaking has calmed. It almost feels strange that we're not shaking every 10-20 minutes! I think the frequency and magnitudes have died down and so we're just not feeling them as much.

The footage of destruction seems to never end. My heart goes to those who have lost so much these past several hours.



A friend's house nearby looked like this when he got home.

And like this...

March 12, 2011 Update 3

First, a summary: Our morning consisted of eating breakfast foods we bought the morning before, updating friends and family, and clearing our inboxes of the countless concerned emails.

Then we dressed up for the cold spring weather, laced up our shoes, and discussed where to go.

We promptly decided to nap instead. :P We were up at 6am this morning, and since our night wasn't very restful, it felt really good to lie down and relax. The earthquakes were still coming, but less frequently and with less force than last night, so it was easy to get a full cycle of REM before heading out!

So after hanging out in the hotel room all morning, we finally ate a delicious lunch at the Thai restaurant across from the Mistukoshi department store and went for a walk.

The roads were pretty quiet for 3pm. Some stores were open, but there wasn't much activity within them. I think we saw a lot more people walking their dogs than driving places or shopping.

Major street near Shirokane

We walked back to the high-rise where the big quakes hit yesterday, and wandered around the block until sundown. More people were out now, maybe heading home after visiting their loved ones all day. (I took a couple pics for y'all. Note: I made a mistake about how many floors this building has. The real number is 22, not 27.)

The arrow is pointing right at the windows next to the elevators on the 21st floor.

I was right there.

The grocery store nearby was pretty full, but a lot of the shelves were empty. Since the transportation had been halted or limited since yesterday, new shipments and fresh food had not come in, so a lot of the goods were gone. The meat and fish shelves, for example, were completely bare. Instant ramen cups were also lacking because people were stocking up their emergency food supplies.

Meat and fish shelves

Everyone is stocking up on instant noodles.

Had a delicious shabu-shabu dinner with an old family friend and walked back to Ebisu. I also indulged in a mixed berry shyouchu sour. Mmmm...

Mixed drink, anyone?

By now the hotel had been completely cleared out, and it looks as though nothing had happened. Not even 24 hours earlier, there were dozens of stranded folks everywhere!

Hotel lobby, once public transportation is functioning again.

Now we've got the TV on again and chilling out before bed. We're still getting some of those sing-song-y earthquake warnings and wobbles a couple minutes later, but it feels like a relaxing rumble now. Funny how acclimatized we've become. I can't imagine now that I was so disturbed by the tremors last night that I couldn't sleep! I expect that this will be my last update before we learn about whether or not our flight has been delayed tomorrow. It looks on-time so far, but I guess it's still possible they're still rearranging to accomodate all those people who couldn't fly yesterday. We're leaving 6 hours early in case transportation en route to Narita Airport is delayed.

Yours truly!

Rocking to sleep,


March 13, 2011 Update 4 Home

In the morning we were up again early, and the aftershocks are still coming every 20 minutes or so. I recorded one of them to give people outside of Tokyo an idea of what it's like. Not very exciting, really. But definitely surreal because of the frequency. It feels a little bit like living in a movie where unrealistic scenarios play out in every setting. I almost expect that I can walk up to a wall, plant a foot on it, and begin a gravity-less ascent to the top where my body turns another 90 degrees to then stroll on the ceiling. It could happen.

We checked out and strolled Ebisu. We split a sakura latte from Starbuck's Coffee, and sat in the sun. Today was by far the warmest day that we've been in Tokyo, and it was almost hot once we started to bake. Sunglasses were no longer just for looks today.

It was easy to relax and chat, which is exactly what we did. The earthquake chaos wasn't felt at all for those several minutes.

We took a cab to the train station, and took the Narirta Express, with assigned-seat tickets. This was just in case crowds of outbound people would make getting to the airport impossible, but the whole way there wasn't especially crowded.

Earthquake-caused warnings, damage, cancellations, and delays flickered across the ticker on the ceiling for the whole ride. It brought back the reality of how much Japan has been affected. The United Airlines Lounge was also closed because the earthquake had caused so much damage it wasn't habitable.

And so concludes our trip to Tokyo. We boarded the plane, fastened our seatbelts low and tight across our laps, yadda yadda yadda. The rest of the way back felt like a pretty routine return, except now that I'm sitting in my room all cozy, the room feels stiff and solid. The creaking that I hear in the ceiling isn't the jiggling earth anymore, but my upstairs neighbors wearing body suits filled with something heavy. At least that's what I imagine is going on up there.

I wish all the best to everyone around the world who have been affected by the quakes, both a lot or a little. This experience will leave a historic footprint in my memory that I know I'll never forget. It helps that I've written these updates for you lovely friends, family, and strangers. Thanks for giving me a reason to send mass messages about my experiences.



Los Angeles

March 14, 2011 Update 5 (Pi Day!)

I thought it would interest you all to tell you that with every odd thing that happens, my mind jumps to conclude that there must be an earthquake happening. When my exhaustion made me lose my balance for a moment, it must be an earthquake. When a door slams shut across the house, it must be an earthquake. When my roommates are stepping around upstairs making noise, it must be an earthquake.

The most amusing "must be an earthquake" moments I've had so far is crashing around 8pm due to jet-lag, and then abruptly getting startled awake by UCLA's midnight yell.

For those of you who do not know this tradition, every night of final's week, at midnight, students open up their windows/doors and yell/scream at the top of their lungs to release the pent-up energy from studying all day. Here is an example:

I want to postface this by saying I do not believe that I have been traumatize in any way, especially when there are hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their entire communities and numbers of friends, family, and neighbors. This is by no means a complaint, but an account of an amusing effect of this experience I had in Tokyo.

In other news, according to, the 8.9 magnitude has been adjusted to 9.0M, making this earthquake the joint 5th biggest since the history of seismic recording. Wow. For the first several hours on Japanese television, they were calling it 8.8M. But its seriousness seems to be underestimated again and again.

According to the BBC, "The quake probably shifted Earth on its axis by about 6.5 inches (16.5cm) and caused the planet to rotate somewhat faster, shortening the length of the day by about 1.8 millionths of a second."

That is epic.

The coastline has also shifted nearly 4 meters (13ft), and GPS calculations will have to be adjusted accordingly.

Just a couple thoughts I wanted to share.

Best wishes, as always,


Aug 2, 2011 Update 6 (In Japan again)

Exploring Post-Tohoku Japan is an interesting experience. When I arrived in Tokyo, the lights were dimmer and the air conditioning was weak. In an effort to save energy, Tokyo has sacrificed a lot of their normal vibrant summer usage. Even though it would get really hot and humid, the cooling systems were set at minimum levels. The towels around commuter's necks were more moist than I had ever seen them before, and the body odor coming from some of the more unfortunate individuals was stronger than I'd ever experienced in Japan.

The tap water in Tokyo may be unpotable because of the radiation. I don't know for certain because it's hard to find where this information is, but everyone buys bottled water for drinking and cooking. We still wash our hands and bathe in the tap water every day. Could be a concern, but I don't know!

Everyone watches for where their meat and vegetables come from. The Tohoku region of Japan suffers a lot now from the loss of economy, since nobody wants to risk eating radiation-infested produce. The best deals in the grocery stores are eyed carefully and almost always left alone because the cheapest food usually originates from areas that people don't want to eat from.

Sept 3, 2011 Update 7

In September, the energy use regulations were relaxed, and the train stations, department stores, and hallways of our apartment building felt much cooler. The weather also cooled down, so there wasn't as much of a need to begin with, but the humidity was still high outside and remaining indoors was a much more comfortable option now.

Other parts of Japan now are suffering from typhoons bringing rain and unprecedented flooding and landslides. Homes have been destroyed and people have died from these new natural disasters. Ni-sen jyu-ichi-nen (2011) hasn't been a great year for this country.

To end on a more positive note, the foreigners who remained in Japan are the most devoted and caring individuals I've met in a long time. Most of the civilians here live with a "business as usual" routine, but there are still many people who bus to the affected parts of Japan to aid in the clean-up.

For a business meeting one day, my mother took me to Baycourt Club Tokyo, and after a lovely lunch and tour, we found ourselves stranded in a huge summer storm. I was in a sleeveless top, short skirt and little heels, and even with the wind and rain I wasn't cold at all. My mother and I stood on a covered street corner to wait for the worst of it to pass, and I have to say it was the most beautiful, relaxing, and wonderful 40 minutes I spent with my best friend (my mom) in a while. Japan is still an exquisite place to be.