Monday, 21 March 2011: Tokyo

Posted March 21st, 2011 by IP

Isamu, Jason and I have been in Tokyo on R&R from UB since Friday, 3 March.  What was supposed to have been a three-week break from the long Mongolian winter turned out to be a personal experience of the strongest earthquake to hit Japan since they began categorizing quakes.  The 9.0 quake was followed by a powerful tsunami which swept as far as six miles inland.  These two acts of nature lead to problems with one of the nuclear power plants, and that led to the exodus of thousands from Japan.

Anyone who knows us, knows of my deep love for Japan.  Its people and culture have always struck a cord in my heart, so after my posting to our embassy in Mongolia in 2008, we have always chosen to include Japan in the R&R travel that we receive each year.

Isamu’s family is from Nagano and until this trip, we always visited them.  Unfortunately, this trip we were not able to make that trip.  Before the quake Isamu spoke with his cousin and learned that the family there is well;  we haven’t been able to reach them since but assume all is well.

As I mentioned earlier, we arrived Friday afternoon, 3 March.  For the first time we decided to take the train from Narita rather than the limousine bus.  Doing so cost us about 1/3 the cost of the bus ride.  We took the train to Shimbashi and from there a taxi to the Oakwood Akasaka where we had reserved a two-bedroom apartment.

We could not have been happier – unless we’d had a better exchange rate!

The Oakwood Akasaka is central to every place we needed to go and having our own kitchen and washer/dryer saved us lots of money.  We spent the first week recovering from jet-lag and initial dentist appointments.  Friday, 11 March Jeffrey rented a car for 1430 to take us to Jusco.

We were sitting in the car programming the GPS when the car began shaking like a car will do when the motor is idling too fast.  Initially we thought something was wrong with the car as the shaking got stronger and stronger until we were rocking like a kid on one of those quarter rides outside a grocery store.

I glanced up and saw a large motorcycle next to us also bucking madly, then looked across the street to see one of the buildings moving back and forth on its foundation at impossible degrees of inclination.  People began leaving the surrounding buildings and we finally realized this was a very large earthquake.  After what seemed a very long time, the quaking subsided and since nothing had fallen down as far as we could see, we decided to continue to Jusco.

At every traffic light, we felt aftershocks and watched the overhead signals and signs swaying.  All the way to our destination we debated whether or not we should turn back.  Jusco has an indoor parking garage that is reached by driving up a winding ramp until one finds a level with available spaces.  The entire area gives a feeling of either fortress like strength or claustrophobic enclosure, depending on your mood.  After parking we made a beeline to the electronics floor where we joined scores of shoppers watching the unfolding drama of the tsunami as it swept through the towns.  It was impossible to turn away from those images.  We were watching live coverage of the powerful waves as they pushed boats, cars, and homes as far as six miles inland.  At the same time, the cries and exclamations of those who had made it to higher ground served as a sober background to the dramatic images.

Shopping seemed a trivial past time when so many lives were being changed forever.  Our planned pleasant outing changed to a quick trip to the grocery section and then we began the trip back to return the rental car.  The outward trip took about 20 minutes; the return trip – four hours.  At times we covered 500 metres in an hour.

During the entire long trip back we did not hear one horn honk or anyone who didn’t exhibit the customary courtesy for which the Japanese are so noted.  The lanes closest to the sidewalks on either side of the six-lane roads had been set off with traffic cones to allow the millions of pedestrians space as they began their long trek home.  It took anywhere from an hour to eight or more for people to reach their homes as all trains were shut down.

After we returned the rental car we walked back to our apartment where we watched the live coverage into the wee hours of Saturday morning.  As the scope of the triple tragedy unfolds day by day,  I cannot imagine any nation on earth that could have dealt better in the aftermath of these devastating events.

There is lots of coverage by the international media.  We stopped watching it after two or three days as it seems sensationalist at worst, condescending at best.  Isamu is a native Japanese so he is able to follow the local reporting.  Throughout all this time, coverage has been extensive and I don’t believe the Japanese are holding back.

After the problems with the nuclear power plant were announced, many people choose to leave Tokyo or Japan.  We made an informed decision to stay until our scheduled departure on Saturday 26 March.  While the US embassy did authorize departure of staff family members, none of the staff has been reduced.  It is my firm belief that if the situation in Tokyo warranted evacuation, then both the US embassy and the Japanese government would inform us.  When/if that situation occurs we will make arrangements to leave but until then, we prefer to remain here.

The week following the quake/tsunami/reactor problems was traumatic for us.  We’d wake at night in response to an aftershock or nightmare.  We spent most days glued to the TV watching continuous coverage of the many areas in which the Japanese are working in search and rescue, relief efforts for survivors and all the while dealing with the reactor crisis.

I don’t think I have ever seen better or more extensive reporting than what we have witnessed these past ten days.  I applaud the Japanese people for the manner in which they are coping with this crisis.  Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone here.

For anyone who happens to stumble across this blog, I hope you can find some comfort.  Also I hope that you can realize that if you only have access to international news you may not be getting the full story.  Please take reports by CNN and BBC with a grain of salt.  I’m sure the reporters have good intentions, but they are as far as I know not native speakers nor experts in the fields they are covering.  Since I was a teenager I have always viewed the media with a skeptical eye.  I hope you will, too.

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