Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Friday night and Saturday morning

So at about 7pm most of the parents had collected their offspring so we had to thing about getting home. We have to take a train home, it's too far to walk or bike (especially as we're either bringing or taking Marcus with us). At this point the trains were not running but we were hopeful that they might start again that evening, but at maybe 7.30 or 8.00pm an announcement was made by JR that train services would stop for the night.

OK, what do we do? Well, we could try looking for a hotel, you never know... (at this point I should mention that the Guru had, at about 3pm, suggested that she should go and get a hotel room as things looked dicey about getting home - I naturally poo-pooed this, having far too much faith in JR getting their trains running again; silly me). So we loaded up and with the IT Manager Rey, his wife and kid (who live about 2 minutes from us in north Tokyo) set about trying to find some food and a bed for the night. We were lucky in that we knew, if we couldn't find anywhere, we could just stay in the school, many others didn't have that luxury. We wandered up to Children's castle on Aoyama-dori as we knew they had rooms, but naturally all was full when we got there. Also, judging by the number of people on the streets, we figured pretty quickly that every room in Tokyo would probably be taken by now. So, after a brief stop for contact lens solution  (which I subsequently found I had already bought and put in my office earthquake emergency pack for this very situation - I'm organised without remembering it) we headed off.

Thinking about food, we walked down towards central Shibuya but, as you can imagine, most eateries were either closed or packed, whilst all convenience stores and coffee shops were empty of easily eatable food. On the way passed we checked the Tokyu Hotel on Meiji-dori but the scrum in the foyer put us off, so then we headed to TGI Fridays - again I poo-pooed this suggestion, thinking we should stick to less crowded areas, but when we got there not only did they have space but they could do us a table for 6 in the non-smoking section! So with minimal wait we sat down to burgers and well deserved beers. It was busy there, but probably no more so than a nornmal Friday evening, and the staff were surprisingly positive, helpful and unstressed. So hats off to them, they shall now be known as TFI (Thank Fuck It's Open on) Fridays :)

After refuelling we headed back to school. The business centre/office was one option, but I realised that the teacher's staff room would be a better place as they had sofas and cushions. We thought that a few people might already be there, but all was in darkness when we arrived. The cleaning crew were still in school and a few others from the business group who couldn't get home, so some went to the library to sleep, others in the office and we in the staff room. All this time the youngster and Rey's little boy (the year above but he and Marcus are friends) were having a great time, completely hyperactive, excited and enjoying themselves thoroughly. By 11pm they should have been spark out but it was a struggle to get them to sleep.

A check of facebook, a few more emails and text messages and a phonecall with the folks later and that was it for me; off to sleep. Unfortunately the staffroom is on the 6th floor of the school so every little aftershock made the building sway, so sleep was hard to come by, for the adults at least - Marcus slept soundly all the way through but I reckon I got about 2 hours, on-and-off, through the night.

Yes, it wasn't the most comfortable place to spend the night, but we were dry, warm, together, fed, alive, relatively safe and had a roof over our heads, things that people in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima did not have. I counted my blessings several times over.

Next morning we woke early as the blinds aren't too effective in the staffroom. The tv news said trains would start running around 7 or 8am, so after a bit of breakfast (Rey had sensibly bought food before everything went from the convenience store the afternoon before) we headed to the station. As we left we walked past our next door (Japanese) high school we saw what looked like all their students leaving the building. I think that they kept all the students in over night to make sure they were safe - goodness knows what they did for food and blankets.

At Shibuya station it wasn't the chaos I had half expected. It seems the Japanese don't do chaos (or rioting, looting or any of the other things you might expect to happen - it seems more akin to British blitz-style stoicism). We got to the platform and there was a Yamanote line train waiting to approach the platform, whilst our Saikyo train was about to leave Ebisu. About an hour or so later neither train had moved.

On the way we had seen a Ginza subway line train moving so we decided on a subway strategy that would get us almost all the way home. So, hot-foot to the ginza line, check the Namboku is also working and then onto the platform. We just missed the departing train but were first in line for the next, but just then there was an announcement that due to overcroding at Ueno the ginza line was suspended... Loud groans but what can you do, JR wasn't running either. So we waited and after only about 10 minutes they decided to start running agin. From there it was plain sailing - ginza line to Tameiki-Sanno, change to the namboku and it took us all the way to Akabane, which is only 2 stops from where we live (but the last bit is JR only, hence trying to take the train before).

We decided to get a cab home for the last little bit, well, 2 cabs, one for each family. As we were walking down the road to the taxi rank Rey was lucky enough to hail one and got off straight away. We weren't so lucky and so had to join the queue at the rank for what proved to be the longest wait of the journey home. Over an hour we waited but finally we picked up a cab.

At 11am we finally got home and I'm glad to say our apartment was entirely undamaged and the tv, which I was sure would be on the floor in a million pieces was standing proud and upright.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

"Holy fuck that was a big one"

Words of wisdom, those, posted on Facebook at about 2.49pm yesterday, Friday 11th March, after the first big shake of the earthquake.

I was working in the office in Shibuya, over the road from the school (where, incidentally, the little fella attends). I was just sending a last few emails before heading over to our other campus down in Sangenjaya when the shaking started. As earthquakes go it started off fairly innocuously, a bit of shaking, yes, perhaps a bit more than 'normal', but nothing to get too excited about. Then after about 5 or 6 seconds it got a bit stronger.

"This is quite a big one..." said one of my colleagues

"Ha, this? If you think this is big then you've never been in a big earth..." started our boss but was cut short by the increase in violent shaking that then began.

Earthquakes are a fact of life here. I won't say you get used to them, they are too intense for that, but you do get, well, accustomed to the fact that there will, about once a month, be a bit of a shake. It will keep you on your toes so you don't get too complacent, but they don't tend to scare the bejayzus out of you. This one started as a regular, keep-you-on-your-toes kind of one,but this one kept going and kept getting stronger. Having read a few things about the Kobe/Hanshin quake my basic philosophy was 'if you have time to think you're in an earthquake then the chances are it's not going to kill you', as Kobe, apparently, went from nothing to unimaginable violence in a split second, meaning many people didn't have time to wake up before they died.And I suppose, on reflection, that is still true as yesterday I had the time to think, "I'm in an earthquake" and I'm still alive, but this time was more of a close run thing.

As this one got stronger reflex took over, to an extent. I had been waiting by my desk, as others were in the office. As the shaking got stronger I grabbed my hard hat from the cupboard behind me and put it on. Now it was strong but at a level i'd experienced before. Then, it got worse and for the first time in my life in Japan I got down under my desk (well, almost under my desk) as one is meant to do.

Hindsight is a weird thing. The brain, I am sure, is very good at blocking out unpleasant memories, as now, barely 24 hours later, it is hard to remember exactly what was going on. The things I can recall are:
Grabbing my mobile phones and disconnecting one of them from its cable
Thinking 'this might well be it...'
My computer monitors moving across my desk
Hoping that it would stop soon

That's about it. I'm glad I thought about the phones as if the building were to collapse around me better to have something like a phone available to contact the outside world. But I'm a bit disappointed that my life didn't flash before me or that I didn't think of the Guru or the little fella. Then again at that moment, when you can't move and the world is almost crashing around your ears, perhaps all you can do is hope you aren't about to die.

But die I did not, obviously. Then, first priority, post the above words on facebook - don't know why, but it was. Actually I tried to post 'Holly fuck...' due to shaking fingers and adrenaline OD, but managed to correct myself. The second thing I did was fire off a quick email to family to say I was alive as I knew they'd be worried. Then, hat on head, I'm glad to say I headed straight over to the school whilst most to the other staff stood around saying 'my wasn't that a strong quake!'. I quickly looked over the outside of the building and saw that no windows were broken so went inside and upstairs to the 2nd floor. Two teachers were waiting by their classroom doors, ready to evacuate, the kids were silent as church mice, waiting under their desks (good 'duck and cover' awareness). I told the teachers that I didn't think we'd need to evacuate but to be ready just in case. Then I walked towards the 'bridge' that joins our 2 buildings and, on the other side of the emergency door, met a senior staff member picking up posters that had fallen to the floor. Afterwards I remember thinking that it was perhaps not the most pressing need at that time, but at that moment I was just glad to see her as I knew she needed to make an announcement about staying or evacuating.

She also realised this so I figured it was better to check the lower parts of the building to see if there was any significant damage. I did and there was none that I saw, so I went back and told her so we stayed put, or rather, as it was that time of the day, we proceeded with the kids dismissal as normal. As She made the announcement I went back over the road to the office, part of me thinking 'well that's all right then' - I went back to my computer to see if there was any info, that's when the first reports started coming in about the size and location - off the Miyagi coast and a 7 on the Japanese scale (that goes up to 7). Whoa!

(Just thought about those last 2 paragraphs and if they make it sound like I had a plan then it shouldn't, I think i was on instinct and trying not to panic (as panicking is a very bad thing, as I always tell the youngster)).

Then it was back into the school as I realised I should probably make a more thorough check of the buildings. At this time parents were turning up to collect their kids and I'm happy to say the guru arrived to pick up the little fella. She was fine, had been in a train that had automatically stopped at Harajuku, the stop before Shibuya, and she has run from there to the school. The buildings seemed fine, a cracked pane of glass here or a crack in the plasterboard join there, but nothing looking too severe. Then it was back to the office for more info.

We were very lucky in that though the phone network went into meltdown, email and the internet were still working. This was great so we could see what was happening, the 7 in Miyagi was a 5+ in Tokyo (on the j-scale) which later transpired to be at magnitude 8.9, possibly the biggest quake to hit Japan. Facebook became the school communication saviour as it was one of the few things that was updating constantly, so our Communications Manager was able to get the message out to parents that they needed to be here, or to teachers that parents were on their way. The manager in question did an amazing job, hats very much off to her.

At this point, though the trains were stopped we were hopeful that they might start again. So we went into pretend-work but really what's-going-on mode. Then the first images of Miyagi and the tsunami started to come through. This really was a 'holy fuck...' was devastation, no other word for it, like Hiroshima after they dropped the bomb. Some of the images were unbelievable, they still are.

Anyway, enough for now, more tomorrow abut that night and how we got home