Aftershock: A New Yorker on the dark side of Japan (eyewitness account of quake, from Tokyo)


37 Responses to “Aftershock: A New Yorker on the dark side of Japan (eyewitness account of quake, from Tokyo)”

  1. MocoRay says:

    Thoroughly appreciated the insight; especially as I am also a native NYer. Profound. Humorous, at times. Award winning. Great article.

  2. Roy Trumbull says:

    In San Francisco a shake or a shudder is as described. Duration is everything because then really heavy objects start to dance about and fall over. When it goes on for much over 30 or 40 seconds with no sign of a letup I defy anyone to remain cool.

  3. jtegnell says:

    In Tokyo, to be honest, the earthquake was nothing at all like it is in TV images of Miyagi prefecture.

    It did go on for a very long time — and there continue to be aftershocks even now, almost a whole day later — but in my apartment nothing at all broke. A couple of picture frames fell over, but that’s it.

    I suspect, had the writer been in Sendai, he’d have seen more flipping out. I’d have flipped out, that’s for sure. Instead, I just ran out of the subway station and held on to something for the duration of the gentle swaying. And then I went home and watched TV, where there were really really bad things happening in other parts of Japan.

  4. Zig says:

    Great writing! Thankful to have been able to read it.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The thing that struck me during a visit to Tokyo, while recalling for a moment that I was in an area prone to quakes, is the number of large construction cranes perched atop very narrow, very tall buildings sometimes 2 cranes on one rooftop. These very narrow, very tall buildings often cap labyrinthine subway lines and train station attached to underground shopping malls. There’s a lot of stuff to fall on your head.

  6. Anonymous says:

    We were also in Tokyo during the quake and incredibly impressed by the professionalism and brave behavior of the Japanese, even as they were very scared.

    The most amazing thing about this was how the buildings in Tokyo remained upright through massive shaking. Under normal business codes we could imagine hundreds of thousands dead. So the Japanese engineers are great heroes because they way they built their buildings WORKED.

    My wife had a nightmare about earthquakes earlier in the week about 2am a few hours before the two 6.3+ earthquakes hit. No one in Japan seemed affected at all. We started asking people in Japan how they adapt to cope with earthquakes. Our tour guide said the hardest part for her was that she worried about her kids being away at school when a quake hit. She said what Japanese mothers do to cope with that is to knit a special cloth cap for each of their children, who carry it in their backpacks until the age of 15 or so. During every earthquake drill, the children put on their caps and go under their desks. She said that even though the cap is cloth, the mothers say a special prayer with each stitch and it takes a very long time to sew. While not physical protection, the caps are a shelter of love for each child. We heard this story and felt that in some sense, they are magic hats. Little did we realize that a major quake would strike just 48 hours after this conversation. Thankfully our guide and her family were all OK.

  7. YourMessageHere says:

    “What surprised me today is that within a culture I’ve spent so much time studying, and highlighting the differences of, I now understand–no, intuit that these people born on the opposite side of the planet are nothing less than exactly as courageous, terrified, and optimistically unsure as everyone I grew up with in the U.S.”

    I’m not the first person to take issue at this, but I suppose the whole tone of the article, not to mention the misleading headline, does sort of smell of confirmation bias and quasi-Orientalist attitudes. It’s well written in some ways, but what gets me here is that the author has handily, but apparently unwittingly, encapsulated the cause of his prolonged misunderstanding of the Japanese in the same sentence as he proclaims his belated understanding. If you spend your whole time in a foreign country going “wow, this is different! And that’s different!”, you are not being clever, insightful or productive; different country is different, this is known. Look for how weird and crazy the Japanese are, and you will of course find what you seek. If you spend your time trying to find similarities, instead of stumbling across them accidentally, you might find that more rewarding.

    Anon #34, that’s a wonderful story. I bet the hats have a practical benefit too – when mum turns up at school, it makes it easier to pick her kids out of a sea of children.

  8. a_user says:

    Already posted my impressions here

    Sounds like our man spends too much time with moneyed Japanese and doesn’t like what he sees, not earning enough maybe?

  9. usagizero says:

    “What I find odd is that I’m not hearing the major cable news channels mention the fact that we experienced a similar (albeit far weaker), very long precursor earthquake earlier in the week.”

    Not sure what channel you’ve been watching, but since the quake, CNN has mentioned the pre-quakes. I was up late and caught the early broadcasts, and they mentioned it, pretty often.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m guessing he was talking about Japanese cable.

      • kjulig says:

        That’s what I was thinking. I’m watching a Japanese news station right now and they are busy showing the damage and reporting aftershocks every couple of minutes. Not much else right now.

        I guess most people in Japan are aware of what happened earlier in the week. On the other hand, there are rather strong earthquakes (magnitude 5 or 6) every couple of days and up to 4 almost every day somewhere in Japan. Usually not newsworthy, just scrolls across TV screens and that’s it.

    • Anonymous says:

      Be safe and i wish more people though like you do about people on the other side of the world. I think people should have a open mind and not judge. I was just surfing the tweets to see how it is going over there. My consern is the nuc plant seem that it could be a problem for the ones that live close by there.

  10. benher says:

    No reaction would be surprising from any group of people given a 8.9 magnitude quake.

    I enjoyed the piece as well – just not the title.
    The ‘light’ side of Japan is what is showing through here – people are surprisingly collected and cooperative given the turn of events here. (Though we are not out of the woods yet)

  11. Anonymous says:

    I would just like to say that I read DVICE regularly, and am thankful you posted this. I cannot fathom all that has happened in Japan, and especially in Sendai. Thank you for writing your blog here, and your article on DVICE.

    I appreciated your tempered humor, and eyewitness account. Both helped the geek in me consider what might be helpful here in Colorado if something like this happened (the magnitude, not necessarily the same thing), and the person that watched the news and pictures thinking/feeling so much there were not enough words to capture everything.

    I hope you and those significant to you, remain safe, and that the reactors and emergencies associated with them are resolved quickly. I am very much a lover of superheroes and comic books… however, I can think of no better superheroes than those risking life and livelihoods to help others in the aftermath, and to work towards preventing nuclear meltdown.

    Thank you again for all that you shared.

    p.s. i definitely made a mental note about batteries… i had never considered that.

  12. marco antonio says:

    “Japan is not Mars. It’s more like a space station in which our distant cousins simply have different ways.”

    That’s poetry, philosophy and a way we should look at the world at large more often.

  13. Anonymous says:

    this was well written

  14. Richard Metzger says:

    “I explored the underground train stations and queried the obaasans (grandmothers) who seemed determined to wait for a train that had no promise of arriving any time soon…”

    Pure poetry.

    Great essay, thank you!

  15. nogbad says:

    Just wanted to comment on the photo accompanying the article, which I have seen in other places, with a similarly misleading tagline. Those people are not “evacuating the city”: they are passengers who have been on a train which stopped and they are walking to the nearest station, where they would get out onto the streets. There was no need to walk along train tracks otherwise, as the streets were easily walkable, though very crowded with people, including myself, walking home.

  16. pffft says:

    Nicely done.

  17. Anonymous says:

    If you can write this well after going through the biggest earthquake in a thousand years, how do you write on a normal day? Great job, Adario, and thank you.

  18. TerrinTokyo says:

    good essay, Adario.

    wish these darn aftershocks would stop.

    but more than anything, my heart goes out to all who lost loved ones and I hope the rescue efforts are more successful than anyone can imagine.

    and that the damn nuke plants don’t blow.

    from a native new yorker, expat in tokyo for 14 years.

  19. podopolog says:

    A bit to worn out 2day from the heavy online vortex and processing, but i’ll thro this out without much of a preface… since there’s a bit of a discussion here on other quakes, this should probably be looked at :

  20. damageman says:

    Everyone in my office was cool and calm. The president of my company asked everyone to stay in the office as we all knew the roads and trains would be packed.

    About 6pm or so me and my coworkers went to a neighborhood Italian place(always fully booked but somehow we could get a seat lol) and had a nice dinner before heading back to the office to have a few more drinks and catch a little sleep. I slept on a card board box and found my way home in the morning. Everyone knows the big quake was coming and most people were rather well prepared and took it very well.

    The first quake was very scary to be sure but people have faith in the buildings here so actually I was the only person in my company (as the only American) to run out of the building. I knew logically that the inside of the building is safer than outside but I just felt so scared and claustrophobic I had to get out. Actually many of the other offices in my building evacuated as well.

    Overall not that bad in Tokyo, now Sendai and the coast is just to heart wrenching to watch. I am just counting my blessings today.

  21. Anonymous says:

    nuclear reactors built in known high siesmic activity zones is at best madness, this will be a testament to the use of radioactive materials for decades to come, as it was since 1945

  22. Anonymous says:

    You’ve painted a superb picture of an evolved city and culture coping with crisis.

    Well-written but far too complimentary of North Americans who by monitor of social media are prone to panicked hysteria and turning natural disasters elsewhere into an overdrawn concern for themselves.

    PS The second word ‘I’ in the 4th last paragraph needs to be omitted.

    • regeya says:

      “Well-written but far too complimentary of North Americans who by monitor of social media are prone to panicked hysteria and turning natural disasters elsewhere into an overdrawn concern for themselves.”

      I both resemble and resent that, since this Midwesterner sits less than 100 miles away from a fault line which, historically, has unleashed a Big One every 200 years, and the last time it did so was 200 years ago.

      I’m sure some people in Japan thought the same thing when they saw coverage of Chile a few years ago.

  23. chris23 says:

    Thank you for this. I visited Japan in 2007 and was instantly smitten. For a place so incredibly foreign, it felt safer than home and just as welcoming. I wish the best to all those caught up in this catastrophe.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Great article. But this paragraph was a bit of a surprise.

    “What I surprised me today is that within a culture I’ve spent so much time studying, and highlighting the differences of, I now understand–no, intuit that these people born on the opposite side of the planet are nothing less than exactly as courageous, terrified, and optimistically unsure as everyone I grew up with in the U.S.”

    As they say “people are people, wherever you go”. Why was the author assuming that the Japanese would be less courageous than people in the U.S.?

    • ZippySpincycle says:

      Funny how our assumptions color how we interpret things. I read that passage as the writer being (mildly) surprised that Tokyoites were just as likely to panic/worry but still go on as New Yorkers–not that he expected them to be less courageous, but that he assumed they’d be more blasé, more acclimated to earth tremors.

  25. mhr says:

    Beautifully written, wonderfully felt. Thank you!

  26. Pete Medina says:

    Great Writing, thanks so much.

  27. Noodle says:

    This is lovely. I hope I see it in more places :)

  28. davejenk1ns says:

    Funny, Japanese people think that Americans are the “martians”. We’re the ones running around with guns and eating poor diets…

  29. x-expat says:

    I lived in the Tokyo-Kamakura area in ’95, the time of the Great Hanshin quake. This essay very, very closely describes my experiences, from the long, rolling and very frightening precursor quake to the overwhelming talk of the “impending Big One that will kill us all.” It, and the fading economy, was what sent me back to the US in 1996.

    How remarkable how some things haven’t changed. In the meantime, my thoughts, prayers and donations are with the Japanese people.

  30. Gotanda says:

    A well-written view of Tokyoites.

    Walking through Tokyo today to put my niece on the train to Kyoto was a surreal experience. I knew, and everyone around me knew, and we all knew that each other knew, that something horrible had happened and that we had escaped unscathed. “The Big One” still lurks under Tokyo and we’ve just been reminded. But there was an eerie back-to-business feel around the neighborhood mixed with a little more chattiness than usual at the corner store as we all reassured each other for a moment.

    I was fortunate to have friends and family come through OK and have some of them spend the night at my more centrally-located apartment.

    Re Anon #14, just reread it. “nothing less than *exactly as* $ as everyone I grew up with in the U.S.” He is is saying not only that people were not less, but also not more (insert expected quality). People can have a good freakout just as well as the famously stereotypical stoicism.

    Saw a bit of both at work on Friday. The university cheerleading squad alternately squealed and dropped to the ground at each aftershock or got up to continue marshaling preparations like first-aid kits and stretchers to the designated gathering point (fortunately not a graveyard).

    People in my department all freaked and ran out of my building (foreigners and Japanese), but one young woman came out and calmly proclaimed “It’s only a four or a five” with her helmet tucked under her arm. None of us yet knew for sure how bad it really was, but we all dreaded finding out.

    The tough part will be university graduation on Tuesday when some of my students from Miyagi and Fukushima should be graduating. I don’t know how I will face them if they are there, and I’ll miss them if they are not. Tokyo had it very, very lucky.

  31. spincycle says:

    This is lovely, and reeks of truth beyond facts, and thanks.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Was that not the “big one”? The biggest in japan ever.
    Close enough to say almost the biggest in the world- which was 9.2
    I believe in Chile? The only thing worse could be if it was centered in tokyo-

    Which could look more like the kansai quake- which had about 5100 death toll. I believe with time comes safer and better conditions and factors like building codes and prepardness. So cinsidering the lashing mother nature has dealt the whole country- id say japan has and is handeling very well and aside from the unfortunate tragic loss of lives- most negitive impact for all the people of japan will be a further crippled economy- one hour after the quake seismoligists in menlo park ca were predicting 1000 dead and $100 billion in damage, there death toll predictions look close so far, im really hoping there are not too many injured or dead to be found in the massive clean up.

    My main point here is- I think- and am wrong often, but I think that was the big one- and now we can relax, im not in japan now but will return soon.
    And if there was another one- I think tokyo will be ready.

    Now, I need to stockpile emergency sulplies here in the sf bay area, too.

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