Thursday, March 10, 2011

A major earthquake in Tokyo several minutes ago

Hello from the highway just outside Tokyo, on the way to the airport. We've just had a truly major earthquake. All the cars have been stopped in the highway and nothing is being allowed to move. Mobile phones aren't working either. Thank goodness for WiFi on Tokyo's highway -- I just hope my Mac's battery holds up for a while.

The day started out pretty peacefully, with too little sleep and a flight from Hokkaido to Tokyo. In Tokyo, I had a very pleasant lunch with some old friends at the newly-refurbished Tokyo American Club, which took about three years to renovate and just opened about two months ago. I set lunch at the club as I thought it was a good opportunity to see the new club and get my new membership card, during my one lunch with friends in Tokyo. So everything went well and I was extremely tired from being awake from 4 AM, so I decided to leave my car behind and just take the bus from the nearby ANA Hotel.
The new Tokyo American Club

Again, everything went as planned and I got myself on the 230 pm bus to Narita Airport, securing an entire row for myself and getting set for a nap I really needed. Within minutes, I was fast asleep due to fatigue. About 20 minutes later, I was suddenly awakened by a sharp jolt.

"I think there's an earthquake," the driver said. I was in the front row so I heard him muttering to himself. And within a split-second, the major rumblings started in a way I have never experienced in my 20 years in Japan. This was the kind of earthquake I had only ever seen in movies.

Now I'm usually not fazed by much -- not even by earthquakes. But this put fear in my heart like never before. It was very long as well, and the screaming of everyone in the bus made everything ten times worse.


The clincher, however, was not even this truly major earthquake, but the fact that our bus had stopped exactly on top of Tokyo's famous Rainbow Bridge. Yes, we were forced to stop by the earthquake and by Tokyo bus driving regulations that require bus drivers to immediately stop if an earthquake is felt; but the problem for us was we were probably in the worst place to be for an earthquake in the entire Japan. On top of Tokyo's Rainbow Bridge, with the entire Tokyo Bay beneath us, in the dead of winter. And the earthquake was making our bus and the entire bridge shake and sway like a wind-up toy gone amuck.

This was serious business. I actually thought I was going to die.

When people in the bus recovered somewhat -- the earthquake didn't keep going, but started and stopped and then started again -- we all decided that we had to get the bus off the Rainbow Bridge. The worst thing in the world, after all, would be for the bus to fall into the freezing waters of the bay. People shouted for the driver to get going and get the bus off the bridge but he wouldn't budge, citing rules for bus driving in the event of an earthquake. Eventually, we were able to force him to start driving -- and thank goodness, because the quakes started again.


Now we've been forced to stop on the highway, but at least we're off the bridge. Since the earthquake began, everyone's been trying their phones of course. And no one's mobile has been working on this highway. We've all been in a bit of shock as well, so it's strangely quiet after the screaming. I'd given up on my mobile after numerous tries and just tried to get on the Internet with my Mac and its failing battery when -- what do you know -- my Bberry pings and it's J. No, this isn't a joke. Nothing's gotten through to anyone and everyone's phone has been silent except for this ping on my Bberry, and it's the ping for J's messages.

"Oh my god, Bberry's working," I messaged back. "I was stuck on top of Rainbow Bridge at the height of the earthquake, and I thought I was going to die." J texted back: "Don't die on me. Take care and stay away from falling debris." He'd put a smiley face at the end of the text so I thought he was taking my earthquake a little too lightly. So I texted back: "This is serious. People were screaming everywhere earlier and I thought the bus was going to fall into the bay. It's utter chaos here and everything is at a standstill. There's so little information available on exactly what's happening, and nothing's working. I've been trying to get this phone to work to no avail."

For once, he had a good line that made me smile again amidst the chaos. So, yes, he'll finally win in the blog today: "But BBM works between you and me," he messaged. "What does that tell you?"


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