Personal Memories of March 11th 2011

Now for something completely different.  This narrative is a very long post (6,000 words) so you will have click through to read it.


The day started with a leisurely ride on the shinkansen to Morioka station, having been invited to attend an afternoon seminar at the city university where the guest speaker was a professor from the school I graduated from.  I have made the trip to Morioka perhaps half a dozen times when fishing the north, but this was the first time I was on business.  Arriving at Morioka on schedule to the minute, 2:22pm, I sought out my colleagues on the station platform as our seats were in different carriages, and the three of us were met at the ticket barrier by the seminar organiser, a professor from the local university.  Being important chaps the guest speaker and my Japanese colleague were staying in a nice hotel nearby and we walked there together, agreeing to meet up in the lobby at 3:30pm after we had all had a chance to freshen up, and then go on together to the university.  The somewhat cheaper place I had booked did not allow check-in till 3pm, so I headed back to the station to look at the gift shops till then.  In Japan, there is a pleasant custom of buying local presents, omiyage – usually food or snacks – for one’s family and colleagues when making trips afar, and like most big provincial train stations there are many stores hawking all manner of omiyage in Morioka station.  I took advantage of the free samples of biscuits and food and wandered about, thinking about what I should buy the next day on my way home.  The entrance to one of these shops was hung with decorative little bronze wind-bells – suzu in Japanese – and as I was browsing they all began tinkling gently in unison.  Earthquakes are common in Japan and indeed, the Tohoku area had experienced a few in the previous week or so.  It seemed no big deal and indeed I smirked in a most complacent manner when some girl starting crying out, until the little bells gradually got louder and louder and then were accompanied by a groaning sound as the doorways, ceiling and supports of the building warped about and then a great tumult of things suddenly falling off shelves; that was the time I decided it was a good idea to leave.  Among other things, Morioka station is one of those great built-up monstrosities with the train tracks on the top floor, with us below; the bottom floor is probably not the most favourable place to be in such a situation.  Among a throng of other shoppers I walked out the main entrance; I made a point of not running despite my senses trying to command me, and aside from some women wailing the evacuation of the station was very orderly.  No shoving, no mad scramble; how glad I was this was not Shinjuku or Ikebukuro station, with so many hundreds more people.  The heaving of the earth continued for what seemed like a very long time (in reality, I think it was about a minute or so) and the first thing that struck me as I left the station was the buses in line at their various stops outside: they were swinging about on their suspension in a most deranged fashion.  Similarly street lamps, power lines and signposts were jerking and whipping about fitfully, making an odd squeaking sound.

After the quake subsided and the most acute variety of fear with it, it seemed there was no serious damage or casualties out on the street: a neon sign fallen or a window broken here and there but otherwise the buildings seemed okay, and no sign of fires starting.  Being still day-time it was not immediately obvious that there was no longer electrical power.  It was very interesting to see the reactions of the crowd milling about once they had realised the initial danger was over: some stifled tears, some thoughtful looks, the faux bravado of some young students and everyone clutching their mobile phones.

Anyway, among other things, my partner was off work at home sick and my parents were flying in to Tokyo that very day so the first thing I did was try to get in touch with them.  Of course several millions of other people in Japan had precisely the same notions of checking in with family and it took about twenty-odd attempts to get through on the phone, but I did in the end.  It seemed my loved ones in Tokyo were okay, aside from being tossed about a bit.  I also tried to contact my workplace as officially this was a work day and I was on a business trip, but I could not get through to them no matter how many times I tried.  My next move was to see how my fellow travellers were doing.  For one, the guest speaker was from England, could not speak Japanese and probably had never experienced an earthquake before in his life.  I walked toward his hotel and then it became clear that the city, or at least the area around the station, had lost all electrical power.  No traffic lights were working, and to reach the hotel I needed to take a number of underground pedestrian tunnels, all of which were pitch-black inside.  The more intelligent variety of walkers used their mobile phones to light the floor slightly in front of them, and I made it through several without mishap, although many were complex radial affairs with multiple turns and exits.  There were also many aftershocks, seemingly every 10 or 15 minutes or so, and when walking the street I could hear them.  It is a growling sound, just like the make-believe earthquakes in Hollywood films which I always thought ridiculous, and quite unpleasant.  First it is felt in the feet then heard as a distinct rumbling.  Despite having experienced many earthquakes in Japan both as a child and in recent years, this was the first time I could actually hear them.  Anyway, I found my English colleague in a state of moderate anxiety in the central reservation of the main road in front of his hotel; I tried making a comment in the rallying-facetious line and we returned to the pavement.  There were still no traffic lights operational, but slowly police and fire brigade personnel began appearing to take charge of the roads.  I must say even before the emergency services arrived both drivers and pedestrians seemed to go out of their way to accommodate one another, even at the very busy crossroads and station area; many pedestrians did not fancy taking the unlit underground tunnels, pitch dark and with the prospect of an aftershock at any time, and so they walked in or crossed the road hap-hazard, but I did not see or hear one instance of anyone gesticulating, raising their voices or beeping their horns at one another.  By now it was past 3pm.

Anyway, we stood outside the hotel to see out a succession of aftershocks.  We were told to stand away from the hotel entrance as the windows aloft might break and shower us with glass.  March in Iwate is pretty cold and since most of the guests left their rooms without ceremony when the earthquake struck, they were without their coats or warm clothing and hotel staff kindly brought out blankets for those who wanted them.  At this point I thought I had better pay a visit to the hotel I was booked in to, if anything to let them know where I was in case someone was looking for me, and on a more practical note, to see what was going on and if they were still letting guests check in.  It was dawning on me that I was a long way from home in a city with no electricity or running water or public transport and soon it would be dark, with the prospect of a bitterly cold night; I would be glad even of a chair in the lobby.  The hotel receptionist said that their computer system was down so they had no idea of bookings, all their rooms were without electricity or water and with the constant aftershocks they did not know when it would be safe to let guests in.  A sod-it-all shambles of course, but the staff were hardly to blame.  It was then I got my first inkling about the scale of the destruction taking place on the coast.  One of the many other punters milling about in the darkness of the lobby had his mobile phone rigged to watch television, and although I could not see the tiny screen I could hear the mutterings of the people crowded around it: something about a “10 metre-high tsunami” which at the time sounded utterly absurd to me, and thought I had misheard.  Anyway, at the reception I left my number with them in case anyone wanted to get in touch with me (such as my workplace) and headed back to the hotel where my colleagues were staying.  The same aftershocks, the same song’n’dance inside the dark underground pedestrian tunnels and when I reached my destination it appeared the hotel staff had let people into the ground floor lobby, out of the cold and by now, the falling snow.  We found ourselves some seats and again, the hotel staff were very nice and brought out hotel blankets for anyone who wanted one.  The aftershocks continued every 30 minutes to an hour or so.  Then the hotel manager walked into the middle of the lobby and addressed everyone there.  The hotel had emergency battery power that should last until about 2am; anyone who wished to stay the night here could; and those who did would be fed dinner and given duvets from the hotel laundry.  We were asked to economise on water use in the toilets and the lighting was emergency-level only: very dim and orange, giving everything an odd candlelit feel.

Anyway, we were led up two flights of idle escalators to a large conference room.  There it became clear where the food was from: there was a big banner on the wall announcing the graduation ceremony of the local technical college, and we would be devouring their banquet in their stead.  It was both sad and ironic as we tucked into special-occasion food – sashimi, richly dressed salads, Parma ham, crab claws, wagyu steak, chocolate cakes and the like – helping ourselves from polished chafing-pans and eaten off fine crockery with fine knives and forks, but all at room temperature in the half-dark and wrapped in our blankets like frontiersmen. 

To be honest the food didn’t taste that good, with the digestion so affected by the cold and the seemingly unending aftershocks, often accompanied by the wailing of women, but it went down gratefully enough.  The gravity of the situation was struck home somewhat when hotel staff asked us all to fill in little ID forms complete with next-of-kin information, one half of which was kept by the hotel and the other we were asked to keep on our persons at all time.  Afterwards we moved back downstairs to the lobby – it seemed easier to flee from, in the event of a greater emergency – and the hotel staff brought down duvets and pillows for everyone.  They also hooked up a small radio in the middle of the lobby and a few plug sockets on an extension cord to let people charge their mobile phone batteries.  With the radio on and very little else to do otherwise, we could listen to the news proper for the first time: 10 metre+ tsunamis reported in various places, of Sendai being swamped, and certain towns and ports all along the Sanriku coast known to me as I have travelled through them when going fishing, being inundated: Rikuzen-Takata, Ohfunato, Kesennuma.  Reports of heavy damage further north, such as in Kamaishi and ports in Aomori, too.  I tried to listen for news of Sakihama, the port on Okirai Bay I have sailed from so many times, but could not pick any up.  The night was spent in a state of moderate nervous tension, exacerbated in part by the aftershocks rocking the place every hour or so, but mostly by the incredibly loud snoring of my Japanese colleague who seemed to have a sailor’s gift of falling asleep almost instantly whilst completely ignoring his surroundings.  I was lucky in that the invited speaker from England was also a great ichthyologist and angler, and we spoke at length about certain agnathans, about fishing and other things, which helped to pass the time in an otherwise disagreeable situation.  The hotel’s emergency battery power seemed to fade a little after about midnight and it grew fairly dark inside; dark enough for me to mistake a tube of Vaseline for one of toothpaste in my toilet bag, one of the more unpleasant experiences of mine during that evening when I tried to brush my teeth.  I must have nodded off eventually – with my colleague’s snoring invading my dreams several times – seeing as I rose with a start and it was morning.  I must say throughout the day and night, the hotel staff were amazing: whilst they no doubt had their own families and homes to worry about they went to great lengths to attend our needs in very difficult conditions; the hotel never charged us for anything, and always made sure of our safety.  Anyway, the professor from the local university very kindly came to meet us in his car and we left the hotel at about 9am and set off to see to a number of things.  The first was to find some food and drink; the second to try to get an international phone line to get word back to the UK; and the third was to work out a way to get back to Tokyo as two of our group had flights to catch from Narita on the Monday.  As for victuals, after a bit of a search we found a convenience store that still had some stock: along with bottled cold tea, I bought some sakiika (dried shredded squid), my work colleague some senbei and our English visitor, a large box of chocolate biscuits; the great majority of foods like sandwiches, rice, dairy products and bread had long gone, leaving the shelves oddly bare.  People were without exception very good and queued patiently without fighting over items or queue-barging. 

The store, just as everywhere else, was without electricity and the staff scanned our purchases with a battery-powered barcode reader and told the sum using a solar-powered calculator.  We then headed to the city university to see if we could get a telephone connection to the UK to get word back that our distinguished visitor was safe and well.  This proved fruitless as there was no power anywhere on campus.  Calling the consulate of Great Britain on our mobile phones to try to pass on a message, did not work out.  It was a Saturday, and so after hours; perhaps the next natural disaster will have the courtesy to take place earlier in the week, between 9:30am and 4:30pm, for the convenience of consulate staff.  Anyway, there was no point harping over things out of our control, so we then tried to organise a way to get back to Tokyo in time for the flights on Monday.  Since both travellers had business class tickets, cancelling or rescheduling would cost them a great deal of money; and anyway we could not get a phone connection with the travel agents.  With zero public transport available we decided the only way to get back would be to take a metered taxi!  There were no trains running anywhere in the north-east, the motorways were closed to all traffic except the emergency services and military, Sendai was apparently impassable, an exclusion zone was being set up on the Fukushima coast and we were in the mountains 550km from Tokyo.  The journey would probably take ten hours or more and split between three of us, might cost upwards of 20,000 yen or more per person.  Our local professor is a good customer of the main taxi company in town and so in his influence and person we placed our hopes, but these were dashed.  He had found a cabbie that was willing to take us, but the company manager forbade him on the grounds that he could not guarantee getting his tank refilled on the way back: large-scale fuel hoarding was already widespread, especially in the countryside where a running car is essential. 

It was now obvious we were going to spend another night in Iwate.  The local professor very graciously offered to put all three of us up for the night in his place and we took him up on it: without we would be sleeping in an evacuation centre.  We then stopped by the local NTT-Docomo store near the university.  They have their own emergency power generators to keep their phone lines and signal masts going, and they had opened up their store showroom to the public where you could charge your mobile phone – in a long queue – for free and they had a big-screen television up with the news on.  I waited my turn and sat in front of the telly: this was the first time I saw actual footage of the tsunami, the same horrific stuff that people back in Europe and North America had probably seen long before me, despite being less than fifty miles from the Sanriku coast.  Also by now the news, the very heavily edited news, of the Fukushima nuclear plants was starting to come through – the first several explosions were on the 12th and despite TEPCO’s efforts at keeping mum the seriousness of the situation was becoming rapidly clear.  There was a grim kind of fellowship as we sat in the NTT office despite the waiting, the cold, the hideousness of the news and of course the continuing aftershocks; everyone wore the same expression and the overwhelming sense was one of resigned exhaustion. 

Newspapers were passed around with a certain regard and younger people gave their seats to the older folk who came in.  I saw not one instance of queue-barging, or selfishness, or raised voices.  After about an hour or so, my phone was fully charged so I set off back to the university, feeling slightly shell-shocked after watching the television.  The main reason my battery went dead was the great number of worried and well-meaning yet misguided telephone callers, who, unable to get through, had left voicemail messages, none of which were particularly necessary nor conveyed any meaningful message but each used precious battery power to retrieve.  Anyway, it turned out by nightfall power had returned to some parts of Morioka, including a local restaurant the professor knew and had stayed open (with a slightly limited menu) despite everything, so we could eat supper there.  Piping-hot egg-and-chicken donburi and miso soup, sent down with hot tea, was very welcome.  From the restaurant I managed to get through to the mobile phone of a friend at work, so given the uselessness of the British consulate we arranged for him to send an e-mail to our English visitor’s wife, no doubt anxiously waiting for news back home.

After eating we headed off toward a local supermarket; the massive queue outside had gone and electricity had been restored.  Most of the fresh produce and all the bakery goods had gone but we were able to buy some fruit, sweets, crisps and other snacks.  When we left the supermarket we were treated to a very unusual sight: a massive lamentation of swans in flight – a true wedge, of more than two dozen animals – right over our heads and away, I have never seen the like.  After watching them depart we headed off to the professor’s house with our shopping. 

On the way, the beauty of the night sky really struck me: with so little light pollution due to the power outages and a remarkably clear winter-sky, the heavens were a striking salt-and-pepper, nothing like straining your eyes to just make out Orion’s belt like you have to do in Tokyo.  Rejoicing at spotting certain constellations had a certain false ring to it, and it was a very odd emotion. 

 The night of the 12th was long, lit by a couple of candles sat floating in a bowl of water and we drank a couple of cans of beer, talked, ate snacks and listened to the radio.  The last was simply heartbreaking, as it was a local Iwate station and most broadcasts were comprised of requests for information or knowledge of the whereabouts of missing people, and a town by town recital of the numbers of people missing.  Also I vividly remember the radio announcer reading a text message sent in by pensioners stranded in an old people’s home pleading for assistance.  Both the professor and his wife were local Iwate people and despite keeping a stiff upper lip, their distress was plain.  We also had some maps out and after some discussion and the news we picked up on the radio, we settled on a plan to get back to Tokyo: we would head by car to Akita (the neighbouring prefecture, to the east) and go on from there.  We were interrupted many times by aftershocks, some of them strong enough to be announced on the earthquake warning system.  Indeed with one warning very particular to our area, we got out of bed and waited at the doorway in case we needed to flee.  Matters were not aided by the professor’s cat, who for her own safety was shut in a cage since the previous day and deeply resented not only the incarceration but appeared to suspect us of planning to leave her and so made as much noise as possible, most of the time.  Eventually I turned in, to a basso continuo of my colleague’s snoring next to me and the cat crying out somewhere on the floor below; a quite unholy melody. 

The next day we set our plans in train.  The radio has told us that extra flights were being laid on at Akita airport to cope with the number of stranded travellers.  The taxi company manager said it was okay for one of his cars to drive us to Akita airport, so the professor gave us a lift to the cab stand and we said our goodbyes and thanks.  Without his kindness we would have slept in an evacuation centre the previous night, and probably not been able to secure a taxi.  We thought we had an early start but out on the road we saw many cars with Iwate number plates, both private and taxis, heading in the same direction full of people who obviously had the same idea.  We also saw the first signs of fuel shortage, with queues of cars running hundreds of metres outside petrol stations.  As we drove west through the mountains I felt a great sense of relief that we were at least in motion.  The lack of control and sense of helplessness that comes with the constant earthquakes, and being stranded and out of touch from friends and family, can be very unmanning, and simply the idea of taking some kind of positive action was curiously reassuring.

Our drive through Akita and our arrival at the airport was unremarkable.  Somewhat predictably the departures lobby was absolutely packed with people, and it took a long time to get to speak to a member of staff but our case was strengthened by our cab driver who got out with us and walked us over to the relevant desk; it turned out he was an local and like so many here, immensely kind.  We were told that the extra flights we heard about on the radio were in fact only flying to Kansai or Hokkaido, and that demand for regular flights to Tokyo was so great that without a reserved ticket we could wait in the airport till tomorrow and still not be sure of a seat, let alone three. 

This was no time for wailing or sitting upon the floor telling sad stories, so we immediately jumped back in the car and asked the cabbie to drive us to Akita station.  Although none of the high-speed shinkansen lines were running, we might be able to get a local train to set us on our way south.  It was a short trip to the station, which was largely deserted apart from some unfortunate stranded travellers who were camped in the main hall; JR staff had given them blankets and hot soup. 

Upstairs there was a pair of JR employees who had seemingly drawn the short straw and were obliged to stand in front of the ticket barriers and turn away travellers and withstand the barrage of questions; one of them told us there were no trains at all from Akita station.  Our best chance she said, was to drive south to Sakata station from where local lines might still be still running, but she could not guarantee it.  However, our local cabbie suggested before doing that we head downstairs to the bus station and ask if there were buses to Tokyo or at least to a place from where we could get a train.  We asked; there was an overnight bus direct to Shinjuku station leaving that night!  The decision was not difficult and rather than take a gamble on Sakata we immediately bought three of the last five available tickets.  There was a great queue and we were very lucky.  The bus was scheduled to arrive at about 7:30am in Shinjuku, cutting it rather fine but hopefully in time for two of our party to head out to Narita. 

Treasuring the tickets in our hands we now had a wait of 12 hours or so till the bus would depart.  We ate a tonkatsu lunch in a restaurant in the station and then removed to an internet café next door. We wallowed in the luxury of comfy chairs, fierce heating, hot and cold drinks and internet access.  My inbox had a great number of messages from concerned friends and colleagues, and it was some time before I had replied to them all.  I was then charged by my Japanese colleague to search the internet to find us a local restaurant where we could eat a nice supper before hopefully saying goodbye to the north.  It was about this time that I first noticed I was experiencing symptoms of the curious variety of motion sickness induced by the earthquakes, no doubt exacerbated by worry and the lack of proper sleep.  In addition to the imagined earthquakes, those caused by the constant deception by the inner ear, we had a few genuine ones too: I learnt to tell the difference by the creaking of the window frames of the station building.  I tried not to think about it and instead devoted myself to the prospect and contemplation of supper. 

After making a stop in the local department store and buying some of Akita’s famous sake, we headed off to the restaurant.  It was a welcoming, warm, well-stocked place with both diners and staff sharing their own stories of the experience of the previous days.  The food was superb – we had the Akita specialty kiritanpo-nabe and sansai greens and several kinds of sashimi taken from the Sea of Japan and yakitori made from the local breed of chicken – and the staff were very friendly, despite or perhaps because we had declared to them that we would drink there till midnight.  The chef described how even Akita city experienced a blackout, and that he had done all his prep work by candlelight!  We also got talking to the customer sitting next to us and it turned out he was waiting for the same bus, a student at a Tokyo university who was home visiting family and was stranded like us.  The hours passed with many emptied cups of sake, some toasts and a remarkable number of blurred photographs of nothing in particular taken with my digital camera, as we digested our meal and forgot some of the worries of the previous couple of days.  Soon it was time to catch our bus so we settled our fare and headed back to the station. 

I have never taken an overnight express bus from Akita before so I did not know what to expect, but it seems the company had laid on extra buses – nine in total – to meet the demand for berths to Tokyo.   The bus we were on, the ninth, seemed to be a city-route bus as it had no toilet and the seats were very cramped.  No doubt reeking of booze and yakitori smoke we piled on the bus and were under way soon after.  We could not drive very fast as the roads were largely unlit but judging by my wristwatch compass we took a very circuitous route, first heading south hugging the Sea of Japan coastline before turning east and towards Tokyo.   The bus was obliged to stop a few times for toilet breaks and I fancy there were some strong aftershocks – one was strong enough to oblige the driver to suddenly brake to a crawl.   I tried sleeping but the seats were not very comfortable and it was very hot and stuffy inside the bus.  Also, as the sake left me I began feeling decidedly unhealthy: only fitful sleep since Thursday, only one change of socks, drawers and shirt (the original plan of course was to stay just one night in Morioka), I had not washed or bathed in three days and most certainly was beginning to be able to smell myself.  However, as we approached Tokyo in the dawn twilight a new anxiety made itself known.  We were two hours behind schedule, having taken such a circuitous backwater route due to the expressways being closed, and my companions needed to get to Narita by midday.  For them it was a hell and death rush from Shinjuku station but I found out later that they had made it.  I parted company at the main ticket barrier and made my way underground towards the Metro lines.  It was about 9am then and the station was packed, with huge queues of commuters waiting at the JR ticket barriers: they weren’t letting people on the trains because of oercrowding. As I was buying some hygienic supplies at a chemist, a scuffle broke out amongst the crowd and there was a great deal of angry shouting; but I was exhausted, in no way interested and had felt, over the past few hours, an intense, a most very intense, desire to be at home, washed and in my pyjamys and my own bed.  So I headed off to the Ohedo line that was running fine and was home in about half an hour.  Later on the news I saw that it turned out over 70 policemen had to be called to Shinjuku station alone that morning to control the lycanthropic fighting among the crowds there.  It would appear Tokyo dwellers have a lot to learn from the manners of Tohoku people, who in reality were so much more worse off.

On reaching home I was greeted by an unholy mess in my room; an Upper Level-5 (on the Japanese scale) earthquake and 12th floor dwelling make an excellent combination for hurling things about.  A great deal of my crockery, including most of my bizen-yaki ceramic collection put together over many years, glassware and several bottles of sake, wine and whisky were smashed; my wall clock had unshipped and its glass face exploded on the floor; my library of books was largely spread out and some cupboards had fallen over; but amazingly my aquarium and its inmates were fine, only spilling about a third of its water onto the floor.  Considering the circumstances and possibilities, I think I got off pretty lightly and after all, broken bottles and crockery are just things.

I luxuriated in a hot bath, revelled in putting on some clean linen and roused out some supplies from my freezer: homemade salt pork, some smoked fish ditto and although panic-buying had already began to take its hold in Tokyo, I managed to buy some eggs, potatoes and bread at my local supermarket.  A great dish piled high with piping hot lobscouse, with white toast and plentiful fried eggs on the side, went a great way to restoring my humours.  In spite of the aftershocks, both real and imagined, I slept very well that night.

Despite the plague of panic-buying that was sweeping Tokyo in the aftermath of the earthquake, I have rarely eaten so well or regularly as the week after March 11th. I spent the following days making inroads into the great amount of caught fish, smoked foods and supplies that I had accumulated in my freezer: whiting, sun-dried aji, salt beef, home-smoked mackerel I had turned into a most acceptable pate; leftover maple-cure bacon that I was planning to send to an expat friend but never made it out of my kitchen (sorry) and was quite delicious.  One of the other precautions I had taken on getting back to Tokyo was to buy several kilograms of flour, so in the event of a true crisis there would always be flour to make hard-tack or even a hideous mealie-paste of flour stirred about in hot water.  Thankfully I did not have to resort to such extremities and instead enjoyed hot, fresh-baked bread every single day; there are few things as comforting as waking to the yeasty-sweet aroma of baking bread in the morning.  With the ever-present uncertainty of aftershocks the train lines could not be trusted to be running and since my workplace is a good hour and more from where I live, I did not want to be stranded partway; work for me that week was a complete write-off.  I think I went in on the Friday to check on my stuff but otherwise spent the rest of my time at home, where I doggedly ate the contents of my freezer and caught up on sleep lost during my journey in the north.  The ongoing crisis in Fukushima somewhat cast a pall over events, even though my workplace was one of the first to start taking measurements of radiation exposure on-site and publish them, and I passed these on to friends and my parents who seemed to be expecting some kind of Apocalyptic event.  I should also add here that Mizuho Bank, the largest banking group in Japan, proved to be utterly undependable in a crisis, giving wishy-washy excuses and refusing to let account holders withdraw any money during the week starting on the 14th; oh, for a modern Fugger.  When I was in Akita station I found an ATM that would accept my Mizuho card, and to cover all eventualities, not just the gross chicken and sake feast that evening, I took the precaution of withdrawing a slightly vulgar amount of cash which thankfully saw me through the crisis, but I cannot imagine what I would have done without it.

Anyway, I started blogging again soon after returning to Tokyo on the 14th and so if you are interested in the narrative that follows this, you can follow my posts from then.  If you have made it this far in this immensely long and tortuous ramble, thank you for taking the time to read it.  It is a purely egocentric account of March 11th which I have written mostly to remind myself in years to come, and so I do hope it does not come across as unnecessarily narcissistic or self-indulgent.  If you have a television set you have almost certainly seen the horrific images of the Sanriku coast and seen the genuine victims of that day, so I am sure you will know that my story here is neither a complaint nor a request for attention or sympathy. 

On a different note, I would like to recall that while the charitable response of so many people round the world has been amazing, charity itself is now big business, with its associated ills: the inefficiency, delay and wrangling accompanying the Japanese Red Cross handling of donations is well-documented.  If you do want to donate money or things, I would highly recommend looking for smaller, local charities (my own suggestion would be Tokyo-based Second Harvest).  Also, I am obliged to mention that despite the well-meaning intent of so many, Japan is a rich country with high societal cohesion and many modern resources devoted to disaster management, and far fewer of the problems that plague the humanitarian effort in ongoing crises such as Haiti, the Horn of Africa, Sindh and other places, that should not be forgotten or considered no longer newsworthy and displaced from the public conscience by the next big story in the media.

Adam Guy   Tokyo    January 22nd., 2012


5 responses to “Personal Memories of March 11th 2011

  1. adam,
    I was waiting to hear your account of the earthquake but knew you were not ready to “open up” yet since it is im sure a traumatizing experience.
    glad to see you made it thank god you didnt go fishing that day on the coast and hope japan rebuilds fast fast fast (which im sure it will knowing japanese people)

  2. and by the way, I teach survival skills and take people on survival trips to the amazon, do you think there will be a market for this in japan? would japanese people like to be more self reliant on themselves rather than “big brother” like tepko and govt caring for them?

  3. Hi SHAR,
    Thanks & don’t worry, it wasn’t that traumatising. There were a lot of people much, much worse off than I that day.
    By the way, I had contemplated a fishing trip from Sakihama; but it would have been on the Saturday. Who knows. And amazingly, on a day of immense sorrows, one piece of good news is that the boat and skipper who I always sail with, made it through the 11th okay and are out fishing to this day.
    I’d certainly go on one of your trips to the Amazon! Not sure about Japanese people in Tokyo though.

  4. I’ve put off reading this for a while, but glad I got around to it. Thank you for capturing one of the most detailed, English language accounts of the best documented epic earthquakes and tsunamis in recorded history.

  5. Hi Joel,
    Thank you for reading.

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