I was at Shinjuku Station when it started swaying. Shinjuku Station is said to be the busiest train station in the world – two million people pass through it every day.
I was with my friend James, and we were planning on catching the Yamanote train to Harajuku to check out all the crazy pop culture. But then the swaying happened.
It felt like the earthquake simulator at Te Papa. It wasn’t the sort of gentle Wellington quake that I’m used to. It was this weird swaying, like standing on a platform on top of a giant spring.
It actually took a little while to figure out that it was an earthquake and not a random Japanese public transport bump. When I realised, I headed for a wall, fearful of debris, though the building seemed to be intact. My mental what-if earthquake plan, formulated post-Christchurch, was put into full effect.
After the swaying stopped – except it didn’t so much stop as just slow down -I noticed that everyone around was not paniced or freaking out. There was a general sense of calmness.
We headed up to the platform for the Yamanote train. The train was there at the station, but just sitting there, doors open, people inside. A station guard made regular announcements over the PA, but they were all in Japanese. A woman on the platform asked if we spoke English, and explained that all services had been cancelled. Hey, thanks!
Another announcement was made and suddenly everyone on the platform left. We followed, not really sure where to go.
Leaving the station, a large group of people were stood staring up at a public TV playing the news channel, watching the almost unbelievable scenes unfolding.
The streets outside the station were full of people. They were calmly walking along, in two neat lanes. I’d guess they were in normal rush hour pedestrian protocol, only it wasn’t normal rush hour.
I wanted to sit down and just have a steady floor. We decided to look for a Starbucks and – as if by magic – we turned a corner and there was one.
In New Zealand, I don’t normally go to Starbucks but this time it was absolutely where I needed to go. I ordered a big ol’ grande latte, took a seat and just took a little comfort in that warm, milky beverage.
We ended up walking to the hotel of my friend and Tokyo resident Matt’s parents (Air New Zealand’s cheap flights had lured four of us over here). The lift is out of order, but the hotel has power, water and – importantly – heating.
Getting only snippets of news from my iPhone, I wasn’t really sure of what was going on in the rest of the country. TV news revealed a fuller, awful picture.
At the moment we’re sitting around eating snacks from the local konbini (convenience store), and having beers. And man, a beer is welcome.
Having internet has been great – being able to quickly send messages to many on Twitter and Facebook is a valuable service. But I am aware that this is a luxury of such a modern, wired country as Japan.
Yesterday I was planning to take the shinkansen (bullet train) to Osaka, but now those plans don’t seem so possible. Now I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow.