My Experience With The March 11th, 2011 Earthquake And Tsunami In Japan.

Any regular reader of this blog (all 6 of you) knows I live in Japan in the Tokyo/Yokohama area (about 230 mile away from the quakes epicenter) so I thought I would give my perspective on what happened yesterday.  I’m not going to get into everything you can just read in the news I’m just going to talk about my experience with the whole thing.  Earthquakes are quite common here and I rarely pay any attention to them.  If I am asleep I don’t usually wake up and if I do I go right back to sleep.  They are small or far enough away it doesn’t do much other than rattle a couple things and that is it.  This was a bit different.  I was at work at the time trying to finish up some last minute stuff so I could ditch out early.   It started off small and didn’t seem any worse than the last couple we’ve had here.  Only it kept going for longer than they usually do and kept getting worse and worse.  I work on the 3rd floor of a building (we only have 3 floors) and the building felt like it was swaying.  We have an outside staircase in the back next to my office so I walked outside on the balcony and it really felt like it swaying, almost like as if I was on a small boat out at sea.  At this point a bunch of the people who worked on the third floor started running out of the building and down the steps.  At the time I really didn’t know how bad everything really was so I was laughing at everyone but decided it best to follow along.  Running down the steps was an interesting experience considering the world was moving, I’m really not sure how no one fell over barreling down the steps but no one did.  Once outside in the parking lot I noticed all the cars were shaking and the outdoor pool across the street looked like a wave pool with the water splashing out of it a good 6 feet high.  I really don’t know how long it lasted but it felt like it was about 10 minutes from start to finish but I can’t really say.  Outside the world still felt like we were on a boat and several people spoke about how they were getting dizzy.  Most of the people were kind of laughing at each other and when it was over we all filed back into our offices to go back to work.  My work has a generator so we didn’t lose power or anything so at the time we didn’t know most of the area was blacked out (or when the blackout started).  I think it was about 20 minutes latter (I could be wrong my sense of time is terrible) we got hit with the aftershock.  Unlike the first one this was didn’t start out small but came roaring in strong (not as bad as the initial quake at its peak though).  At this point I said fuck it and shot out of the building strait off telling one of the bosses “Fuck this I’m getting a smoke”, to which he made a joke about how if I was going to die I had the right idea by picking my way out of this world.  Mind you, at this point most people we were in higher spirits than we might have otherwise been in if had we really known what was happening.  This one was kind of short though and after that we filed back into the building and the bosses told everyone to close up and go home considering it was almost the end of the day anyway and many of us had families we should be looking too and we all needed to get home to check our houses.  When I was leaving work was when I noticed the blackout since none of the traffic lights were working.  The drive home was fine other than the traffic lights being out and not enough cops for traffic control.  Surprisingly most people were driving with a lot of caution so it wasn’t that bad.   Traffic wasn’t bad going in my direction but it was miserable going in the other since the trains had all stopped running (something I didn’t know yet) and everyone was trying to pick up their families who would usually use the train to commute.

When I got home I realize that the power was out, I found a flashlight (I didn’t really need it yet but would latter) and checked my house.  I was lucky that nothing fell over other than a small stack of books that may have fallen over a month ago for all I was paying attention.  Other than the power everything was fine at my house so I ran to the small grocery store next to my house to grab some supplies like candles and maybe so food and water.  The water was sold out but the water worked at my house anyway (and I had a stockpile of beer to tide me over) so I bought some instant noodles, canned pasta sauce and some juice.  Although thinking about it now I wish I did get water because I didn’t think about the fact the water lines might be busted and the water might not be drinkable as I later found out many places in the north this had happened.  The store didn’t have candles and I had cracked open a beer during my house investigation (since I might as well drink it while it was still cold) so I could drive anywhere to get any (and the store might be closed anyway).  Just so you know the laws about driving drunk in Japan are so strict that half a beer will put you over the limit for a DUI (something I applaud).   Lucky for me I had a flashlight that I had bought on a whim a couple weeks ago when I was wandering around a hardware store looking for an AC adaptor and enough spare batteries.  Thank you Impulse Buying, I’d be screwed without you.   I tried to call people but my cell wasn’t working I didn’t manage some text messages but it was sporadic and some of them took 3 hours to get to their destination.  I don’t have a landline and I haven’t for years so I don’t know if they were cut in my area but I don’t think they were.

I still didn’t know how bad everything was so I was planning on going out for a few beers since I had nothing to really do at my house after it got dark.  So around 6:30 I walked to the train station hoping it was still running.  On my way I ended up bumping into a group of little old ladies who had ended up lost while looking for the train station.  Now my neighborhood is nothing but very small dark alleyways to begin with but with all the street lights out in was pitch black and I have no idea how many walls they walked into before I found them .  I had a flashlight so I took them to the station although it wasn’t working.  The guy working there said they might have the power on by 7 but it was iffy.  I parted ways since I was going back home and they were going to walk up this main street that we well lit only because of the traffic that was backed up for miles along it with people still trying to pick up their stranded families.  To say the least the lights did not come back on in my neighborhood at 7, although some people a little farther out from me said they got their power back on before the sun went down but most of the areas around Tokyo and Yokohama didn’t have power until much later.

I think there were a couple very small shakes during the night but nothing to write about.  One of the bad things about living in a Japanese house especially an old one is they don’t have insulation and the heat is electric.  It wasn’t that cold at first so I just bundled up and was fine.  I ended up playing acoustic guitar in the dark and drinking beer feeling like a goth redneck until I got tired of that feeling and decided to go for a walk.  I ended up walking about a mile or two down the main road I spoke of earlier and one of my friends in Okinawa called me.  I still could make calls but or get any from people in the area but he was able to get through.  He lives up north near where the earthquake hit and was away on business but his wife was home.  It turned out his place got trashed but nothing of value got broken and with wife was fine and some of the people he works with went and picked her up to take her and the dog to a shelter for the night so she was alright.  However very close to where they live was flooded from the tsunami.  I don’t pay attention to tsunami warnings although sometimes I should since I live about a mile from the ocean because I live in a cove that is protected by two large peninsulas and for the most part wouldn’t have to worry about them.  They did tell us to move to higher ground on the emergency PA systems they have set up everywhere but since none of my neighbors paid any attention to it.  When talking to my friends he told me I didn’t have to worry about the tsunami since by the time he had called it would have gone past my place anyway.  Before I got off the phone I had mentioned to him I was going to end up having to cook instant noodle in the stove since I have a gas stove so I could at least cook dinner by flashlight.  He reminded me of something I didn’t think about and that before I try to cook I better check the gas lines to make sure they were fine.  I told him they should be fine I hadn’t blown up the house when I lit a smoke earlier and we both laughed out asses off.  I was still going to check when I got home though.

Thinking about what he had said while walking home it started to bother me about what really happened and how bad it might have been had it been closer and how bad it might be up north.   Before that I hadn’t really know what was going on so I was in more or less high spirits (if not a little bored) but it was starting to sink in how lucky I was.  I still didn’t really know how bad it was yet but I had a bit of an idea it wasn’t good.

When I got home I checked the stove and was about to boil water for my instant noodle feast when I made an interesting discovery.   I couldn’t fine my tea kettle, I think I might have gotten rid of it at forgot to buy a new one.   So I ended up boiling water in a saucepan by flashlight.  I really wish I had candles.  Anyway dinner cooked I tried to read my flashlight until I got annoyed and went to sleep.  At this point it was starting to get cold and it was not a pleasant night wrapped in every blanket I own.  I think the power came on by two in the morning but I am not really sure since I sort of woke up for it and went right back to sleep without even bothering to turn them off.

Since I had gone to sleep at around 9 I ended up waking up at 5 in the morning and since the power was on I decided to try to get online to see how bad it really was.  I got online and was able to reply to the emails and Facebook posts asking if I was fine and post a message on my Facebook wall I was OK so my friends and family would stop freaking out.  At some point after 5:30-5:40 we had another aftershock and since by that point I had skimmed enough news reports to know it was bad it freaked me out a little and the internets cut off, but the power stayed on and it was only a small tremor.  The internets didn’t start working again for about 3 hours.

So that is about it.   I’m not going to sit around and worry too much, although considering all the time I spend drawing up plans on what to do in the event of a zombie attack I might want to spend a minute or two thinking about natural disasters past the “get beer and wait it out” plan.   Or maybe next time there is a quake I might not roll right over and go back to sleep.  I did buy some candles at the store today though so that is a step in the right direction.  I didn’t bother to find normal candles so they are all the fancy scented kind but who says I can’t ride out a disaster with aromatherapy?

I know I’m making light of everything a bit but it’s easier to do than sit here and get more freaked out than you need to be or let it get you down, and at least I didn’t make any Johnny cash jokes (or does saying that hint at the joke enough to count as a joke?).  It’s one thing to think about these things and tell yourself to get a little bit of a survival kit just in case something were to happen, and everyone should do that.  It’s another thing to dwell on it like it’s going to happen to you tomorrow.  Don’t get me wrong it could and being a little prepared is a good thing but thinking “It could have been me” and getting depressed after every disaster isn’t going to help your mental state.  Telling yourself “these things can happen so I better live life while I have it” however and really going out and doing it is the best thing you can do.  That and when these things do happen volunteer to help out, donate money, food or clothing.  Right now blankets or sleeping bags would probably be good because the power is still out in many places up north and it is cold up there.  If you aren’t in Japan it might be easier to find a charity or relief organization and send money since much of the supplies people need can be bought locally and will get there faster.   If you are religious give a little prayer for the people out there.


UPDATE:   I have posted some links to charity and relief organizations on another post.  Please click here and scroll to the bottom of the post to check them out.



  1. Glad to hear you’re still kicking.

  2. Thanks. I put some likes on the next post to relief organizations if you know anyone that wants to help out. I also made some updates and comments about the nuclear plant situation since the media around the world is trying to see how wrong they can get it.

  3. Yeah good to hear you’re alright. Thanks for the straight forward description, it’s a breath of fresh air compared to the constant end-of-the-world we’re getting via the media.

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