What Has Happened

Let me start by saying that I’m writing this not to add noise to all the useful info getting out there, but because I’ve been contacted by countless concerned people about what happened with me, and what is going on. Here’s my story.

As I had mentioned in a recent post, we were heading for a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, and ended up being on the Narita Express train — a train that goes directly from Ikebukuro, where I live, to the airport — when the first big quake hit. because we were still within Tokyo, the train wasn’t going too fast, and so was able to stop very quickly, and we were left rocking from side-to-side. They then started making announcements about the earthquake. Looking outside, we could see that people had come out of nearby buildings. With aftershocks coming regularly, they continued to announce that we were stopped because of the earthquake with no idea on when we could resume, and then shut down the electricity. About an hour later, they finally did an emergency evacuation of the train, having us climb out on ladders, and proceeded to walk us to the nearest station, which was Gotanda. If anything, I’m thankful that this happened before we’d left Tokyo or had arrived at the airport, as being stuck out there would have been much worse.

The train was filled with travelers from China and Hong Kong, who couldn’t understand any of the Japanese-only announcements, and so my wife acted as translator on the train, and continued to do so with the staff as we all headed to the station. 

When we got to the station, the Japan Railways staff were as confused as everyone. But it was clear that no one was going to get to the airport, nevermind to catch any flight. My wife started helping people to find nearby hotels. Not knowing what to do, and with phones already down, we decided to go to a nearby family restaurant (Jonathan’s) and have something to eat — we hadn’t had a proper meal yet all day, and it was getting close to 17:00 — and to try and get our bearings. 

As I’ve tweeted, my lifeline really was Twitter. Although voice functionality was down, my phone still had data access, and though I was having trouble loading up websites, the relatively low amount of bandwidth used by Twitter was fine. Most of my info came through all of the retweets coming from Sandra Barron (@sandrajapandra) — funny enough, I’d only started following her a few days previous, after having met her at last Monday’s PauseTalk.

I was tweeting my situation, and also made sure to email my parents (back in Canada) so that they wouldn’t be worried after seeing the news. For some reason, my tweets were not coming out on Facebook as they usually do, and a friend from back home let me know that other friends were worried about my situation. The Facebook app was not letting me post a status update, but I was able to post a note instead — I’m told that the message was published in my hometown’s newspaper, as part of their cover story on the quake.

It got to a point where we were worrying how we’d get back home — which is obviously how everyone in the city was feeling. Encumbering us were our suitcases, and also the fact that we were dressed lightly, since we were heading to warmer weather. Through @replies and direct messages, I was first invited to go and hang out at the AQ office in Aoyama, and then later received offers to stay the night from my friends Oliver, Andrew, and Paul — we took up Paul on his offer, since his place in Shirokanedai was the closest walk.

It was only once we got to Paul’s place and started watching TV that we were able to take in the extent of the destruction in the north. And we were all still worried because aftershocks continued to be regular (and they continue as I write this), but it was good to be with friends — Chris, Eiko, and Tomomi later joined us, walking over from the AQ office.

Sleeping in a room on the 3rd floor, we continued to sway throughout the evening. Even though calls had been impossible throughout the night, at around midnight my wife reached our travel agency, and there was still staff there taking calls — that’s Japan for ya. We were able to cancel our trip, and will receive a full refund (although we’re going to try and reschedule for later this month). Funny enough, they told us that we could either cancel, or try to go to the airport the following day and negotiate with ANA — the airline we were using — to see if they could get us on a plane. Yeah, right.

We were also worried about our dog, who was staying with our local vet (they offer “hotel” services). Although we couldn’t call, we managed to get in touch by email, and learned that everyone there was fine, including all the animals.

On Saturday, after we found out that most of the trains were running again (at least within Tokyo), we headed back home around lunch time. Once we got back to Ikebukuro, everything seemed relatively normal. We couldn’t pick up our dog until 17:00 — the vet closes during the afternoon — and so we headed back home to take in the damage. I was worried about what we’d see when getting there, after having seen photos from friends’ homes and offices through Twitter. Also, our house being over 50-year-old, it’s not exactly earthquake-proof. Luckily, there wasn’t much more than what our dog has done in the past. We later went to the grocery store to stock up on food — since we were heading for a trip, our house was pretty much empty — and despite the photos and reports of empty shelves I’d been seeing, it was pretty much business as usual at our local Seiyu, if only for a lack of fresh produce.

After stocking up, we were later reunited with our dog, and we’ve been staying at home since. We’re pretty much all holed up in one room, in part to conserve energy — they are reporting that this will be a problem, and that they will probably start rolling blackouts tomorrow. We’re all good, and there’s no need to worry about us — it’s really just the north that was devastated, and the way Tokyo was affected is mostly in terms of stoppage of public transportation, and issues with supplies being delivered (which explains the empty shelves in convenience store and supermarkets). We’re of course all nervous because aftershocks continue, and there’s the situation with the nuclear plants. 

For now, we wait at home, follow the news — Japanese TV, Twitter, and the NHK World live streaming app on iPad — and wait for things to stabilize. Thank you everyone who has been in touch with concern — through email, Twitter, and Facebook.