Robyn Gallagher

Adventures in words and web

The earthquake

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.

16 Comments

  1. Go ride the Thunder Dolphin at Tokyo Dome, scary enough at the best of times, be even better when you don’t really know how much damage it has sustained. More seriously, Tokyo is a big place with lots to do, don’t worry about missing Osaka. (Of course I don’t know how quickly they’ll get back on track, so who knows.)

  2. Dozens of people have been killed… there are probably greater concerns than what you’re going to do to tomorrow. Stoked for you that you managed to have a coffee though.

    • I think you’ve misinterpreted the tone of my post. All I can write about is my experience. I’m in Tokyo, miles from the devastation and with limited access to news coverage.

      • BUT ROBYN DIDN’T YOU KNOW THAT PEOPLE IN ETHIOPIA ACCIDENTALLY THE WHOLE COUNTRY?!

      • Don’t sweat it, Robyn. Even a brainless gorm would understand that your post was no slight of anyone’s suffering.

        • Agree with Bob. I have many friends there after living there for almost 5 years. Thank you for building on the fabric of experiences that help others understand both proximity, and near distance, to enormous events…

  3. best part – Robyn alive!

    • Thanks, Sue. I’m sitting in a lounge at a hostel with backpackers from around the world and a few locals who can’t get home cos the trains are down. The room is full of laughter and cheer. It’s not a bad place to be.

  4. stephen walker

    March 12, 2011 at 5:09 am

    i walked 9 km from work to my friends’ house. then borrowed a bike and cycled home another 9 km. very tricky with so many people walking. the trains, apart from JR and a few other resumed at 11pm or so.

  5. Glad you are ok!

  6. My heart goes out to y’all in Japan.
    Condolences 4 the losses.

  7. Remember to check in at the embassy and let them know you’re OK :)

  8. Great post. You’re right, you can only write of your experiences and yes people are suffering immensely but your blog is about your experiences and that why people read it. Love it.

  9. I remember that station – it’s hard to imagine it *swaying.* Glad you’re OK.

  10. Glad you’re ok Robyn. Stay safe xx
    PS. lots of trackbacks :)

2 Pingbacks

  1. Japan tsunami and earthquake – Friday 11 March | HaLaPic
  2. Japan tsunami and earthquake – Friday 11 March | Rubytall News

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