11 March 2012 ~ 17 Comments

A Year Ago Today: 3/11/11- We Were All In This Together

Though I’ve written about the impact the events of a year ago today– namely the Tohoku Earthquake and the resulting Tsunami —  had on me, as it pertains to my feelings about life in Japan and Japanese people, I realize that I was so caught up in the cosmic and spiritually restorative aspects of what I experienced that I’ve never told what else happened.

An oversight I intend to rectify now.

Those of you who’ve read my book may recall that immediately following the earthquake I went  to a café across the street where I had a cup of coffee and watched the nonchalance with which the Japanese seated around me were handling the situation, subdued chit-chatter, newspaper reading, nothing out of the usual aside from the aftershocks that rocked the rickety café and chased me out of there for fear the building would collapse on top of me.

I had ended my story there, for in that moment I’d had the beginnings of the epiphany….

So, 3/11/11, 30 minutes after the most devastating earthquake in recent history, and certainly the worst since I’d been living in Japan, I walked out of that café I suspected was going to become a tomb any moment, crossed the street and went into the train station. I figured the trains would be stopped and they were. The station was crowded with people with no way to get home until service was restored.

For a while people stood and waited, watching station staff racing around doing God knows what, with the kind of urgency that left the impression that whatever checks and repairs were required were underway and that train service would soon be restored.

That optimism lasted for about an hour.

I stopped a staff person and asked when would trains be running. He said it might take an hour, or it might take several. That the entire Tokyu system needed to be checked for damage before service could be restored. I wondered what that entailed, until I saw a couple of staff people walking slowly around the station, looking almost listless. Then one touched the other and pointed to something on the floor of the station. No one else seemed to be paying them any attention, but they had my undivided. At first I thought maybe they were checking for gum (no wonder the unemployment rate in Japan is so low) but after one made a note on a handheld device they both moved away, I moved in closer to see what they had been examining.

What I saw informed me of just how long the trains might be down, and just how powerful that earthquake had been. There was a crack! A crack that raced across the floor, I saw as I followed it with my eyes, straight across the station from wall to wall. The point in the crack that they had been examining closely seemed to be thicker than the rest of the crack, but that might have been my mind playing tricks on me.

I was really on edge from this discovery, and a surge of panic shot through me, riding on the thought that not only was that aging cafe I’d deserted earlier subject to the structural damage of a 9.0 earthquake epicenter-ed 250 miles away, but so was this modern station…and if this station was, then what kind of shape was my wooden house in…what kind of shape was the whole country in?

I’d heard no news as of yet…and there were no TVs around. I’d stupidly let my battery on my cell phone dwindle down to the single digit percentile (how was I supposed to know I would need it like never before) with no outlets in the vicinity to recharge. Twitter was my only source of info…and I wasn’t using a smartphone yet, and with dumb phones Twitter wasn’t much use at all.

Then, suddenly, someone tapped me on my shoulder. I spun around like maybe an aftershock had taken human form and was walking around the station accosting people.

“I’m sorry, do you speak English?” the woman asked. She looked Polynesian, short and smiling.

“Yes?” I said, relaxing by the second, for I could see that she was not a crack in ten tons of concrete coming to get me.

“My husband and I — he’s over there — we’re here on vacation from Hawaii…” she said in native English.

I peaked in the direction she pointed and her Japanese husband was standing there looking anxious as hell.

“You guys came to Yokohama from Hawaii for a vacation??”

She laughed at the irony…an American!

“My in-laws live here,” she said and smiled.

“Well, welcome to Yokohama, pride of the Kanto!”

She laughed some more…”You guys throw a hell of a welcome party!”

“Well, we make sure our visitors feel welcome and  have a memorable time!”

We both looked down at the ominous crack in the concrete — a lightning bolt slicing the station almost in half — then again at each other.

“Does this happen often here?”

“Tremors, yeah, but nothing like this…”

We looked around at the hundreds of people standing, sitting, squatting, talking, brooding, laughing, crying, pondering…waiting.

An hour passed. Then another. No change.

This Hawaiian woman handed me a mikan. She had a whole bag of them.

We stood there, me and these perfect strangers, just watching the goings on mostly without comment. Every so often a person would walk through the gate like they had no idea that there had been an earthquake and we were mid-crisis, noting nothing unusual about the excessive crowding, and head for the escalators to the subway platform, where they’d be set upon by the station staff. Only then would they notice that something was amiss.

After a while we sat down, ate mikans, chatting and joking, trying to ward off dark thoughts.

After a third hour I started getting restless. I went over to one of the staff people and asked what the deal was. He repeated to me what he’d been saying to everyone who’d approached him since we’d been there. That the track and stations were being inspected and service would resume asap. I added a question about bus service. He told me there was none.

I lived about 20 minutes away by train…I was trying to calculate how far away that was on foot when two white guys came over to us. One looked anxious as hell, the other had an iPhone and was talking a mile a minute. They both had British accents.

That’s when I learned the extent of the earthquake, that we were nowhere near the epicenter and that it was one of the biggest recorded in the area in years. That tsunamis were in bound or had already hit certain areas…all that kind of news.

“My wife is in the hospital in Ebisu. She’s having a baby. My first. We’ve walked all the way from Ofuna thus far. Now we’re about to do the rest, all the way to Tokyo.”

Ebisu was a good 40 minutes away by train…in the direction of my house. I told them that I would join them. They’d already been walking for about two hours at breakneck speed so they wanted to rest up before resuming at a nearby restaurant. I knew of one and told them I would take them there.I turned to the couple I’d spent the past three hours sitting and chatting with and invited them to join us.

“No, thank you. We’re gonna wait here for the train…”

I thanked them for the mikans and bid them farewell.

I took the two guys to an old-fashioned izakaya around the corner and we sat there eating yakitori and drinking brews. There had been no cellphone service since the first quake, but the owner had a land line and said we were welcomed to use it. We sat there chatting and fueling up on greasy chicken and Asahi Super Dry beer. The expectant father gave me his business card, saying I was a cool guy and we should keep in touch. I pocketed it.

Twenty minutes later, we were headed for Tsunashima Kaido, the main corridor that runs between Tokyo and Yokohama.

It was packed with like-minded individuals, people who’d decided to walk home, mostly coming from Tokyo. One side of the street were people Yokohama bound, the other, our side, Tokyo bound, with a little spill over from the other side, but not much.

The two of them set out at a pace that was damn near a trot. Periodically they would check bicycles we passed to see if they were locked, intending to “borrow” a couple, but kept encountering secured mamicharis. Their speed increased. I tried to keep up but, having no offspring about to come into the world, I lacked the motivation to marathon, so I began to slow. They didn’t notice. They disappeared into the masses ahead of me.

I walked alone at a pace I felt comfortable with. There was traffic on the two lane street but it might as well have been a parking lot. No car horns blared. Every time I passed a convenience store I wanted to stop but they were packed to the doors and through the windows I could see rapidly emptying shelves and refrigerators.

Then, suddenly, the street lights went out. It was dark by then so the streets became a sea of bouncing shadows and headlights. There was no panic. No screaming. The pace of the masses neither quickened nor slowed. It kept moving forward. I felt like a refugee headed for safety outside of the war zone, with a few million of my countrymen and women.

I realized then that I was still feeling that feeling of communion with my Japanese brethren that I had felt at the moment the earthquake had struck. The darkness protected me from their eyes the way my umbrella protects me on rainy days, but when passing headlights would reveal to the people walking beside me who they were walking alongside of, there was no freak-out, no jolts, no cringing, no evasive maneuvers, just acknowledgement that we were all in this together.

I arrived home about two hours later, just as the power had been restored, with a mikan and a business card in my pocket.




Related Posts with Thumbnails

17 Responses to “A Year Ago Today: 3/11/11- We Were All In This Together”

  1. ferret 11 March 2012 at 1:46 pm Permalink

    People here would not be so calm: Panic, rumours and crime would take over as many would act as if the earthquake was a personal attack on them only.
    The words “terrorist” and “bomb” would be uttered and spread.
    Panic, fear and selfishness would grow the hazard exponentially.

    • Locohama 11 March 2012 at 2:35 pm Permalink

      Where’s here, btw?
      I was in NY when the last blackout occurred. Granted it started during daylight hours, it did last into the evening. and there was very little freak out. Of course I’m comparing it to the other black out back in ’77 when the whole city went berserk lol! The words terrorists did get uttered a bit, but for the most part we rolled with it. No panic fear or selfishness.
      Moreover, there was looting and the likes here during the crisis, though I didn’t personally see it and very little of it was reported. Check out this post by Chris over at Badboy in japan http://badboyinjapan.blogspot.com/2012/03/why-do-niggaz-like-fried-chicken-31111.html. There was quite a bit of selfish hoarding though and this I did see for myself every time I went to any store for weeks after the 3/11. That’s just to say that they are just as human as the rest of us!

      • Orchid64 11 March 2012 at 4:02 pm Permalink

        I’m glad you mentioned this. One thing I get incredibly tired of is people giving Japan credit while bad-mouthing people in other countries when it comes to crises (especially America). People are people worldwide, and most do come together in a crisis and a few fall apart. No country has the patent on grace under pressure. Attempt to elevate one culture at the expense of another is like schoolyard comparison of who has a better daddy. It serves no useful purpose and reflects poorly on the person who engages in such behavior.

        • Locohama 12 March 2012 at 10:34 pm Permalink

          Yeah, I often wonder what goes through the mind of someone who purposely elevates one culture at the expense of another. i think, at best, it is opening the door to racist thoughts, stereotyping and prejudices, and at worst, a clear example that that door has been ajar for far too long and the damage is done. Oh well! Thanks for the shout Orchid as always!!

      • kamo 11 March 2012 at 6:23 pm Permalink

        Nice post, and interesting comments. The scenes from Tokyo reminded me exactly of the pictures of people walking home after the London bombings. I’ve wittered on about it a bit over at my place, but it’s both a bit freaky and kind of reassuring how everyone throws out to their own past experiences to try and frame what’s really beyond anyone’s experience.

        I finished your book last week, btw. Very good indeed. More detailed thoughts to follow…

        • Locohama 12 March 2012 at 10:38 pm Permalink

          hey kamo! Yeah, like Orchid said, and i always try to embrace, people are people worldwide!
          I’m glad you enjoyed my book. I hope you’ll be so kind and drop a review on Amazon or somewhere visible! Readers like to hear from readers whether a book is worth the paper its printed on (-;

      • ferret 14 March 2012 at 2:42 am Permalink

        Koko = Australia.

  2. Chris 11 March 2012 at 3:06 pm Permalink

    Hawaii in the house! Bet they never forget THAT trip to see the in-laws!!

    Tough times don’t last but tough people do. Glad you saw how the “gotta survive” gene pwns the “Judging books by their covers” gene most every time….almost every time anyway.
    Glad to see a post of yours. I thought you retired to “Book writers island” smoking rolled up ichiman bills for kicks 🙂

    • Locohama 12 March 2012 at 10:43 pm Permalink

      Hey Chris! No doubt! Yeah, survival is a human instinct…anybody who suggests otherwise is just barking up the wrong tree.
      Yeah, i’ve kind of lost the groove for posting but I haven’t given up the ghost yet. It’s just once you’ve gone from chronic to blow it’s hard to go back to bonging lol And nah it’s not as lucrative as I’d hoped as of yet but I’m just getting started…gotta give it some tine and be patient and persistent at the same time.
      Thanks for the shout, bruh!

  3. dochimichi1 11 March 2012 at 5:57 pm Permalink

    Great story, Loco.
    DId you ever get in touch with the guy, who gave you his card?

    • Locohama 12 March 2012 at 10:44 pm Permalink

      Hey DM! nah I never did…if you reading this dude, did you have a boy or a girl? Hell of a birthday…

  4. Mandi Harris 11 March 2012 at 7:25 pm Permalink

    This is an amazing story. People should always forget differences in times of need and come together.

    • Locohama 12 March 2012 at 10:45 pm Permalink

      Hey mandi! I’d like to amend your statement to read: people should forget differences…cuz there aren’t any really (-; Thanks for the shout boo!

  5. María Salinas 11 March 2012 at 9:45 pm Permalink

    Your story is surprisingly similar to the things we lived in Chile after our 8.8 a year before Japan’s quake. (most) people waited patiently and then walked home. The difference, I think, is that Chilean authorities did not alert people about the tsunami and since the quake struck at 4:30Am, very few could escape. Thus, the authority lost its credibility and two days after the shock people emptied entire supermarkets and some cities really fell into chaos.

    But I don’t blame them. I think when you are recovering from such a shock and feel neither the government nor your neighbors are there for you, keeping calm is harder. That’s really something we could learn from the japanese… they trust each other, they support each other even if their entire world has collapsed.

    • Locohama 12 March 2012 at 10:54 pm Permalink

      Hey Maria! Maybe you haven’t been reading the Japanese press but the former Prime Minister just confessed that Japan didn’t / doesn’t really know what the hell they’re doing during the nuclear crisis (I’m paraphrasing) so don’t go tossing praise the J-way with limited intel. The trust the Japanese people have had in their government has certainly taken a hit as a result and I dread the next catastrophe where people have to turn to their government for answers. They do however have a pretty nifty tsunami warning system here and it did save thousands of lives I’m sure.
      Thanks for the shout, and cut your government some slack….they’re just people.

  6. Will 13 March 2012 at 10:25 pm Permalink

    “Just acknowledgement that we were all in this together…” Something that seems all too rare and usually way too late. Thanks for taking the time to post the second part of the post-quake story.


  7. freedomwv 24 March 2012 at 7:59 am Permalink

    That was a heavy day. So much shit happened that day to me that it would take a 30 minutes video or a two part blog post. I was working when it all went down. As usual, I was defacto the leader.

%d bloggers like this: