I am writing it down – to sort it out. The English is no good, but I want more people to understand.
I didn’t do this earlier, because I didn’t know what the outcome will be and I didn’t wanted to worry my family and friends and I was (and am) too exhausted from all this.
Last Friday – March the 11th 2011 – I’ve gotten up pretty early to meet a Japanese friend – we wanted to visit Hayama near Kamakura. She wanted to show me a museum, right on the Pacific coast.
We met up in Ikebukuro and took the train to Zushi, from there the bus to Hayama. It’s a beautiful place – not much space between the ocean and the hills. A small port, small houses, cafés, and finally the museum. Modern Art in modern architecture in a traditional setting – pine-trees, a bay, tiny stone islands, beach, fishermen and women collecting kelp to dry – I felt really comfortable there. No wonder the imperials household has a summer residence over here.
We went back at two – we wanted to visit Kamakura and decided to take the next bus instead of taking a stroll through the town. From Zushi the JR train brought us to Kamakura. We went out of the station, searching for a nice place to get a good coffee. We went into the main shopping street – a narrow alley with old houses and A-san showed me a café – old, a bit expensive but worth the price. I stood in the entrance to look at the menu. The stairs went down because it’s set in the basement. I suddenly felt dizzy. The light went out. A-san asked what happened, is it closed now? The menu and the stone decoration suddenly started to shake. Earthquake. We went out of the street immediately. We had a small one on Wednesday. Didn’t worried much at first. But it didn’t stop. The old houses were waving. The big plate with the streets name which was attached between the houses, spanning the street was shaking and clattering – metal, wood – I can’t get the sound right. Some people started to shriek. And hasted out onto the street. We were following them. It didn’t stop. A-san started to be really afraid. I saw the fear in the normally calm faces of the people around me. I started to feel insecure. The people around me started to talk: ながい! (long) and びっくりした！(surprised, appalled). A real earthquake. I haven’t ever experienced it before. Not the slight sitting on a boat waving – but the stronger being on a ferry in a storm shaking. After roughly 5 minutes the ground calmed down. We walked down to the train station. Worried faces everywhere. What had happened? Women in front of a barber shop, with towels around there shoulder and wet hair or treatment in it: I don’t know why, but this is the strongest detail I remember out of all of those people, trying to get a grip of the situation, looking for stuff which had fallen down– this is stuck in my mind. We slowly realized all the light went out – no electricity. The cellphones didn’t work. What had happened? We went to the station. Heading to a bakery to get something sweet to eat and a coffee – we still kind of thought it will be alright, it was just an earthquake. We sat down. It started again. Porcelain clinging, lamps waving, tables shaking. Taking our stuff, leaving behind the food and the coffee. Outside people gathered. After some minutes it stopped. We went back in. Sat down. Finally some news. 8.8 in Miyagi-prefecture. It started again. It stopped. We went to look at the JR-train announcement. Would we be able to go back to Tokyo? Maybe not now. But later. So they said so we thought. We couldn’t sit longer in this building. Daibutsu (the bid Buddha) was a bit too far away – so we went to see the Hachimangu Shrine. No electricity. Shop-staff packing goods and closing. Still no real news about what happened. Slowly the more news came in. Radios on the streets – telling us about the destruction-power of the earthquake. Cellphone e-mail-service is working – Tsunami-warning for the coast. We went up the stairs to the shrine. Donated money, prayed. I bought a small charm for a wedding. Then we sat down in the sun on top of the stairs and enjoyed the great view over the city. Right next to us a beautiful Sakura-tree in full bloom, finally the birds started to sing again – it was warm and nice. More and more people came upstairs. Then a shrine priest came to tell us to stay since there is a Tsunami-warning and this is the official place to gather. After a while we heard talks about a two to three meters high wave. (Until now I don’t know what happened in Hayama or the coast there). We waited. The sun started to set down – my first and only sunset in Japan. It was getting colder. It started to rain a bit. We finally went down again – A-san tried to call from a public phone, but she didn’t reached somebody who could have helped us. Through the cell-phone-mails we stayed up-dated. But we finally realized what had happened when we passed by a store for electricity goods – they had a generator and a TV. We saw the first pictures of the happenings in the north, of Tsunami-waves, of shaking and rumbling and destruction and we couldn’t really grasp what we saw.
Going back to the station – still hoping the trains would start running again. It was getting colder and really dark – no street lights. A small shop gave out a soup kind of thing – hot sake with rice – it tasted awful in my opinion – but it was warm alcohol…
At the station it became clear pretty soon there won’t be any trains – until when nobody could tell us. We sat down in the station. It was filled with tourist and students on daytrips and workers on their way home. A-san went to the conbini to get some food. An older Caucasian woman was asking me if I knew something about trains or what will happen next. Since the announcements were solely made in Japanese, she and her husband were a bit lost. She had a German accent; I asked her where she is from – Germany. I could help her at least a bit. I told her about the trains and the cell-phones not working (she was wondering about that) but also that there are public phones which are still working. So she tried to phone her son who was living in Yokohama. She could reach him – but it would at least take until 10 before he could start his car (it was 8 pm at this moment) and that the streets are packed and the big bridge in Yokohama is closed. I don’t know what happened to those two – but I hope and am sure they hold out that night and arrived safe back in Germany (their flight was scheduled for Sunday). Another two young women (and a third one a bit later) came to me after the older one went out to phone. They were from Sweden and also couldn’t understand the announcements. They were freezing (it was a warm day – but the night was clear and cold) and didn’t know what to do. They only heard all hotels were occupied and they didn’t wanted to stay there. The father of one of them went to the north this day – but she didn’t knew where to and was really worried. When A-san came back she told us about a school nearby where we could spend the night. But she wasn’t sure about where and if there was still room. We (now five) went to the Koban (little police-houses – to be found at almost every second corner and every square) to ask. The lines for a taxi (unbelievable expensive) or a bus (not really our direction) were so long – a woman standing there already waited for almost two hours and didn’t even reached half of it. The police explained the way to us – but we had to be really careful – it was pitch-black. I think I never experienced such darkness in a town. A beautiful starry sky, I remember seeing Orion. I don’t know about those weird details popping up in my mind: The long line of cars waiting to get some gasoline, the blinking on the policemen vest, Orion.
Finally a big black shadow showed up to our right. I asked an old couple if this is the school. They said yes and we helped them getting there safe – because the street was decorated with stones and trees and the old man almost fell over one of them. (I saw this clearer the next morning – it’s lovely during the day). We could only find the entrance because of the candles on the floor. We got in, changed into some school-slippers and were guided to a room upstairs. Only with candles we tried set up a place for the night with mattresses. Suddenly the lights came back. It must be around 9. We could prepare the room now. One of the first things I saw after sitting down, leaning onto a wall, was a clock right next to the board – 2:53 pm. That must have been the time it started in Kamakura: Later than I Tokyo, later than in Chiba, later than in Sendai. We wondered about the small amount of people – but only an hour later the whole school was filled. Almost only women with children, elderly couples, young couples on a daytrip, a few Caucasian other tourist, almost no men – I guess most of them got stuck in Tokyo or Yokohama or somewhere else at work. The boys started playing PSP, the mothers were looking anxious until messages from their husbands arrived about being safe. With the electricity the warmth came back. After a while blankets arrived – we helped bringing the card-boxes from the entrance up-stairs where they were handed out. Two had to share one blanket – but it was enough. Later we also had crackers – emergency food, three for everyone. There were vending machines and a drinking fountain. In spite of so many people the toilets were still almost clean – Japanese toilets, the old one, where you have to squat down. People tried to be silent and not to disturb anybody. We weren’t sleeping much. Around 5:30 in the morning we got a message trains will start running at 7. We went to the station at half past 6. Only to get informed about the fact, that it’s not sure if trains will really run soon and where to. So we decided to take a bus to Ofuna and a train from over there to Shinjuku. The trains were more than packed. We had to change two times. I had a dog in a bag on my laps for half an hour because I couldn’t stand up to give the old woman my seat – no room for that, but I could take her stuff so she hadn’t had to carry it. When I looked outside everything seemed normal – I couldn’t see anything destructed. The people were friendly and polite. During those all days I only experienced one scene with a Japanese man being rude to another. I felt secure. It was awful packed but I still felt safe – there won’t be a panic. The weather was perfect: warm and sunny – almost like all of this never happened. I saw Fuji-san. So clear, he seemed so near, so beautiful.
We had to change two times and arrived around 11 am in Shinjuku. It took us 57 min to go from Tokyo to Zushi and 4:30 hours from Kamakura to Tokyo. We searched for a place to get a coffee and something to eat. Many cafés were closed, we finally found something, but the oven didn’t work: But good coffee and something sweet. I headed back to my hostel – everybody was safe – the hostel was intact. I opened my computer to inform my bf and my family. I had almost 40 messages on FB, LJ, e-mails. I almost cried. Thank you. Really I don’t know what to say – just thank you.
It was deep in the night in Germany – but bf was waiting for me on skype. Thank you.
The news came in – more and more. At first I thought I would stay in Japan – but the reactor and the big destruction in the north. I decided to get a ticket for an airplane. I couldn’t change the date of my original flight. I had to get a new one. I had to contact my bank to widen my credit-card-limit. I was afraid it won’t work. Three people I almost don’t know were offering me help and said they would lend me the money (1200€) – Thank you Etienne! Thank you Felix! Thank you guy who’s name I don’t even know! But I got my extension, I got my ticket. I calmed down.
What did I do during the day? I went out – walked around Asakusa – for hours. I couldn’t stay inside – with the tension still rising, the fear driving some people into panic and making me crazy. I even got angry at them and now I am ashamed – but they drove me nuts with their useless panic. I walked around, bought souvenirs, some food. With the time going by – the conbinis, the depachikas, the supermarkets were empty: no bread, no rice, no tofu, no instant soups. But I found some onigiri, gyoza and o-bento. I still had plenty of water in my room.
I went to bed around 2, woke up around 6 (?) due to s strong aftershock – I lied in my bed, watching it shaking, the curtains waving, hearing the stuff in the lockers clanging. I can’t remember what I thought or felt – just I know it wasn’t fear more like “oh, another one. Hm, ok, why not” I learned later about the magnitude being 6 – again. It was like this the whole day – aftershocks, shaking the ground slightly, the whole days – I didn’t know anymore if it was the earth or my nerves or my legs.
I walked around again – for hours, I went to a small restaurant to get something good – Nigiri Set, with sushi, sashimi, miso, salad and other stuff. I had some sweets. Talked with a really nice old man. Bought more souvenirs.
The news about the atomic reactors went worse.
Again, I can’t remember about my feelings. Kinda numb? I know I was calm the whole time. I even smiled, took photos, talked, cooked. In the evening I packed my stuff.
I went to the lounge in my hostel to spent some time with the people I met. Some were already gone, like Olly and Ahn (they arrived safe at home), Etienne was still there but would be on the next morning. Some will stay in Japan.
The hostel staff was great. They were obviously worried but calm, composed, nice – they smiled at us. I am so thankful.
The people in Tokyo, in Japan – they impressed me. No panic, no rudeness, no hectic; being friendly and organized: helping each other, helping me.
Going to the airport the following Monday. I had a big backpack – I had to enter the train even though it was full. But I already had let passed two trains and this one was a direct to Haneda airport. But nobody complained. They made room. They smiled at me. I was constantly apologizing. I felt like an intruder.
After Shimbashi I could get a seat. The train wasn’t so packed anymore. Shortly after Daimon we went from underground to the normal level. I looked out of the window. The part of the town we were going through was filled with cemeteries – so many. The houses were like thin walls between them. I just stared out of the window and couldn’t get a hold of the scenery – I only saw it.
At the airport I just walked around again. I was eating something while the next big aftershock happened – the Monday magnitude 6 aftershock. Somewhere during the last days I had started to look out for things shaking, because I never really knew if it was me or the earth. This time I didn’t have to look. After the earthquake almost every shop closed. Only some restaurants and a conbini were still opened.
I went up to the rooftop (observation deck) – saw Tokyo, the Tokyo Sky Tree – in some kind of dusk (on my flight back my seat neighbor, a young woman working for Disney in Chiba, told me the earthquake had destroyed the street in Chiba, water and mud rose, it dried in the sun and the wind blew it up to a dusky mist) – I don’t wanted to leave. I wanted to get out of here. And there I started to cry.
I am useless in Japan – I can’t do anything, but I will waste energy, food, water, their time and strength.
At a time much later I arrived in Berlin. My fly was late for London; I had to wait there for three hours to get to Berlin. Bf waited, brought me home, gave me food, was there.
I didn’t get much sleep from Friday morning (Japanese time) to Tuesday night (German time) – I am exhausted and it still doesn’t feel read.
The past days are like a very surreal dream – am I awake now?
I know I am repeating myself – but I have to: I am impressed by the Japanese people. I love this country and its people even more now and I hope they will be able to endure and to stay strong and to rise again.
I will go back there someday – definitely.
Donation is all I can do from here.
I will update the blog with more lovely impression during the next days/weeks – Tokyo was more than the worst earthquake since 150 years. I couldn’t see and experience all I wanted to, but I found out about me being really happy there; me feeling really comfortable being there, me wanting to go back.