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the aftermath… (quake update)

March 13, 2011

So it’s been a few days since the quake and we’ve had a bit of time to process the shock of what happened and what’s been going on. I’m working on a post detailing my experience on Friday, but as can probably be imagined it’s difficult to write and has been taking a while. In the meantime I thought I’d give you a few brief updates what has been going on since then and what the situation is like over here post-quake.

Tokyo  escaped the quake largely unaffected by any serious damage. There are exceptions for older buildings and certain areas, but for the most part I have not encountered much visible damage in the areas I’ve been to since the quake. That is not to say that the city has not be affected, however. There is a very palpable sense that something major has happened, despite the normalcy.

Adding to this feeling, we have been experiencing near constant aftershocks, some up in the range of 5.0 or 6.0 on the Richter scale, and have been warned that there is a 70% chance of another major 7.0+ quake hitting in the next 3 or so days (after which it drops to 50%).

The continuous shaking has taken a toll on our mental wellbeing. It’s hard to return to normal when the ground has been heaving under upwards of 300 aftershocks in just the past two days. I’m fairly certain the entire Tokyo population has been on edge since the quake, and I’m not sure it would be an exaggeration to say that I have a new-found appreciation for what it might have felt like to be under threat of air-raids half a century ago.

Eric and I were exhausted from staying up most of the night and sleeping in our clothes, and stayed in bed as long as we could on Saturday morning, despite the continuous tremors. I woke up several times throughout the morning to check Twitter, and the brief updates I gleaned from that were enough to make me want to avoid the news for as long as possible.

After we finally got up, we decided to have a quick breakfast and head out for some supplies. I keep a sizable supply of dry goods on hand, but had been letting our canned goods dwindle over the past several months in a pantry purge. We debated whether to stay close to home or venture further for a bit, before settling on a quick trip to Shinjuku to see if Yamaya, a favorite discount bulk foods store of mine, was open.

The underground Shinjuku Subnade was shuttered and abnormally empty after having been used as a shelter the night before.

The atmosphere on the way there was nothing short of surreal. Everything seemed to be relatively normal from the outside, but the crowds were a whole lot thinner, there were far fewer women in heels to be seen, and there was a sense of heaviness hanging over everyone. It’s very strange being surrounded by quiet and totally unrelated people, and knowing that every single one of them had a story from the day before and was affected by the events. It was really very eerie.

Completely empty vending machine and signs of quake damage and water leakage at Shinjuku station.

We stopped at Doughnut Plant on the way out of Shinjuku Station, since it was open and we thought that a doughnut or two sounded really nice after the previous 24 hours. I’m not sure why, but it’s interesting to note that only cake doughnuts were available at the time. All raised doughnuts were conspicuously absent from the display case, and were covered over on the menus. Eric and I splurged and picked out one each of the Triple Valrhona, Triple Berry, and Cinnamon Sugar cake doughnuts before continuing on our way.

We had been unsure of whether Yamaya would be open, but thankfully it was operating normally when we arrived 10 minutes later. We went through and stocked up on several varieties of canned tomatoes and beans, plus a few other items. I was surprised to see cans of coconut water, which is pretty hard to come by in Tokyo, so I grabbed two of those as well.

Once we were home, we spent the rest of the day mostly keeping an eye on the TV, which was showing endless coverage of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant situation on all channels, with a brief break at around 7 pm to have kimuchi tsukemen, the monthly special for March at our local ramen shop. Pure comfort food.

There were a number of strong aftershocks late in the evening, notably around 10-11 pm, when the earthquake warning system flashed up on screen warning people in certain prefectures to take cover under tables and desks no fewer than three times. Kanto was only warned one of those times, and it ended up being a false alarm, but it was rather terrifying, and there were enough tremors outside of the warning to keep tensions high.

Sunday was similar to Saturday in many ways, but without the trek out towards Shinjuku. We stayed in bed as long as possible, then hit up T-mart again to get a few things we’d forgotten the day before, like toilet paper, as well as more bottled water and eggs. To my amazement I also discovered three boxes of matcha Meltykisses, which I hadn’t seen in several months. I bought them all.

This is the current state of my kitchen: water, canned foods, brown rice, toiler paper, and all heavy items moved to the floor.

It was randomly really nice and spring-like out, so I suggested that we return home for a bit, and then take a break from the bleakness with a walk or visit to the park. Eric was slightly resistant at first, but agreed to it in the end, and just after 3:30 pm we ventured outside with an impromptu picnic of sandwiches, water, Metlykisses, coconut biscuits, and our sole remaining doughnut.

The sunshine and park full of happy, playing children was a really, really nice change from being inside. We staked out a bench in the sun, and stayed there eating, talking, eying twitter, and staring at the perfectly blue and cloudless sky for about 45 m to an hour, until the sun disappeared and the park closing music started blaring out.

The rest of the day was spent similarly to the day before, though I kept the TV off for at least an hour or two post-park to extend the peaceful squishy feeling we’d managed to cultivate from our picnic.

In regards to how we are being affected directly at the moment, the main issues here in Tokyo are a shortage of supplies at the stores, and insufficient power supply. There’s no way to tell yet exactly how much our food supply and distribution channels will be affected by the damage up north, but for the time being people are in panic/preparation mode and buying up most of what they can get their hands on. I’m not sure if this will easy over time, or get worse, but Eric and I have enough to get by on for a while if things get worse.

As far as power supply, Eastern Japan has been seriously affected by both the quake itself, and the situation at the Fukushima Plant. Western and Eastern Japan run on different power, so it is impossible for them to help us with the shortage. The government has been asking businesses and individuals to conserve power, and has begun talking about implementing rolling 3-hour blackouts across Kanto to reduce the possibility of unplanned outages.

We have been making a conscious effort to conserve power since the quake. We have been leaving most of our lights off and using only the TV on to light our apartment in the evenings, and have been bundling up with sweatshirts and blankets so we can leave the heat off. I’ve also avoided using the oven, and opening the fridge, and using my laptop on battery power more often than usual.

Dinner was chicken tacos, which we ate by candlelight and the glow from the TV.

The schedule for blackouts has been a cause of confusion, so I don’t know yet if our area will be affected, but at present the Government is warning that trains and transportation, as well as traffic signals, may lose power throughout the day. Most railways are severely reducing the number of trains they run, and/or offering only limited service, and the Government has asked anyone who can to stay home from work to ease the congestion. Personally, I am looking forward to some semblance of normalcy, again, so I will not be staying home. Instead, I am planning on going back to my old habits and doing a lot of walking in the coming weeks.

But that’s it for now. I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to all of you who tweeted, emailed, commented, messaged, and contacted my mother and Alexa to ask if I was okay. I have heard from a lot of people over the last few days that I haven’t talked to in a long time, and it has been really amazing to know that so many people were concerned for our well-being. I’ll try to keep the updates coming more frequently than they have been now, though the content will likely be different from what I would usually post about for at least a little while.

As always, I have been tweeting throughout this, and will continue to do so, so that is the best way to keep up-to-date on our situation here.

After Yamaya we headed back through the station, stopping at a few other places to grab various supplies, before hitting an import store in Kabukicho and hoping on the train towards our neighborhood. We stopped into our local market, T-Mart, for some produce and a few 2L bottles of water, and checked the nearby Sunkus before returning home to drop off the items we’d amassed. Notably, our Sunkus was entirely out of all cup noodles, bread, pre-made sandwiches, and bentos, and very, very low on bottled drinks. Much like we’d been hearing in reports from across the city.
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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2011 10:38 am

    Good to hear that you are OK and that most of Tokyo is also OK, despite disruptions — which given what has/is happening aren’t unexpected.

    My heart and prayers go out to everyone, esp. in the North where the worst of the damage happened/is still happening.

    • March 18, 2011 1:58 pm

      Thank you so much! Things are definitely disrupted and changed here.. but I am so proud of the way the Japanese have been pulling through so far. Well, other than the rush on food in Tokyo.. but even that could be worse and will hopefully clear up soon enough.

  2. Josh permalink
    March 15, 2011 11:45 am

    Hey Maya, thank you for the update, the media coverage here is very sensationalist (not to downplay what’s actually going on, of course) and it is nice to have an opinion from someone on the ground. I really wish I could be there to help with the relief effort up north, even though its been years since I lived in Japan it still holds a special place in my heart. I’m happy to hear you and Eric are doing alright, and I apologize for not keeping in touch more. Keep us updated, we’re all thinking about you guys over here in Cali.

    • March 18, 2011 2:02 pm

      Things are obviously very serious, but life here in Tokyo is not as disrupted and stressful as I think the foreign media would have you all believe. It’s actually really odd. So many things are just Tokyo as normal.. but at the same time we are dealing with other things that we never would have expected prior to this week. I’m a bit behind on updating, as it’s hard to write so much while simultaneously living through this and continuing on with general life.. but there will be more on the current situation coming up soon!

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