Le quake

After the earthquake
My bedroom after the quake, with the books flung from the shelves.

So, there was that earthquake thing last night. I was watching the One Direction documentary when suddenly I felt the familiar sway of my building when an earthquake hits. But unlike the usual baby mini quakes that usually hit Wellington, this one went on for longer and got more shaky. Some books and objet d’art started falling off the top two shelves of my bookcase, which has never happened before.

My first and strongest instinct was to put on some pants. Yes. Because I figured I could deal with going barefoot in only a sportsbra and t-shirt to a refugee camp, but I couldn’t survive without pants. But instead of doing that, I found myself standing in my bedroom doorway. I’m not sure why I did this, but it seemed like I’d decided to leave the room and turned that into the classic earthquake protection spot. Standing there, I thought “I do not want to live in Wellington any more,” which is my standard reptile brain thought in such situations. The shaking stopped and the building slowly swayed its way back to stillness.

On Twitter, Wellington people were saying stuff like “Arrgh! This is the worst earthquake I’ve experience in 30 years living here!”, while Christchurch people were all “Woteva. Harden up, bitches.”

It was easily the most alarming earthquake I’ve experienced in Wellington, but it was nowhere near as shaky or long as the big on in Tokyo, or indeed the two big aftershocks I experienced there. There were no Izakaya bars or Asahi to comfort me this time, but 15 minutes later, Courtenay Place was about as normal as it ever is for a Saturday night.

And the earthquake also, uh, dumped a bunch of my clothes on the floor? My fear has always been that this bookcase would tip over, so I’m glad this is all that happened. This was less disruption than what I came back to in my Tokyo hotel room.

A day in the park

Before I went to bed last night, I prepared a quick-escape bag – a tote bag filled with clothes, shoes, water, snacks. Enough to pick up and grab if anything happened in the night.

Before the quake, the plan had been to jump on the shinkansen with my travelling buddy James and go to Osaka and Kyoto for a couple of days exploring. Osaka for the night life, Kyoto for the temples.

The shinkansen timetable had been stopped after the earthquake, but apparently the Osaka shink was back running on a limited schedule. But I didn’t really want to go anywhere that wasn’t walking distance to my hotel and risk getting stranded if the trains went down again.

So we decided to continue with our mission that had been so rudely interrupted by the Goddam quake – a visit to Harajuku.

The Yamanote line was running on a reduced schedule, but that seemed to mean trains every five minutes, rather than every two minutes. We arrived at Harajuku and started to explore.

It’s a cool area, full of crazy fashion shops, but today it felt quiet. Most of the shops that were open were smaller boutiques, with larger stores and department stores being closed, or opening later in the afternoon.

One icon of Harajuku is the Jingu Bridge, which is the hangout spot of the crazy loligoth girls and boys. They hang out, pose and generally be fabulous. Except today the bridge was empty. Only a few tourists wandered around, like it was a forgotten corner of an unremarkable neighbourhood. I guess a massive disaster takes the fun out of dress-up.

We wandered across the bridge to the Meiji Shrine. A wedding party was having photos taken. The bride was wearing a start white dress, her bridesmaids wore colourful kimono and the groom and his lads were in black suits. They stood, posed and looked happy.

At the shrine there were small wooden boards on which visitors could write a prayer. My eye drifted to the few written in English. On one a small boy’s shaky handwriting said “I want everything to be good”. Me too, son.

We then went on to Shibuya. Normally it’s buzzing with people. Today it was subdued, like a New Zealand Sunday afternoon. We wandered around, looked at some shops, including the truly mental Don Quijote store, a treasure trove of stuff no one needs and yet can’t live without.

I still don’t have any plans. I guess it all depends on how that whole nuclear power station thing pans out – which weirdly feels like a long-forgotten legacy of being a child of the ’80s.

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.

The deal

The more I think about the Napier earthquake, the more it seems like the result of a voodoo spell that someone conjured up in the 1930s. Let us examine the evidence.

There’s a relatively new town, but it’s been settled on a bit of swampy land by the sea. The town is running out of land to build on. There’s been a bit of land reclaimed from the sea, but that costs money and they can’t really afford to reclaim any more. The existing town streets were designed before the invention of the motor car, so now they’re a bit narrow and not ideal. Wouldn’t it be great if a) more land became available to be built upon, and b) if the downtown area could be rebuilt to fit the needs of a modern society?

So there’s an earthquake and the area is thrust two metres above sea level, making all the swampy, lagoony land and the entire inner harbour dryish, providing more than enough space for the town to grow into a city; and most of the downtown buildings fell down, meaning that the streets could be widened and the area rebuilt with cool, modern designs.

Surely someone’s great-grandpappy sold his soul to the Devil to arrange this.