Chuck's travels

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Earthquakes in Japan

As I stood in the camera shop with everything around me ratting and shaking, I told myself not to make fun of something as serious as an earthquake.

In a previous mail, I had written about earthquakes being a common thing in Japan and my intention to just turn over and go back to sleep if one occurs during night time - Well, that sounded like a good idea before I experienced the one on Saturday (July 23). I doubt if I can sleep through something like that.

The day started out on a gloomy note as there was a bit of drizzling and it didn't look like the sun would be making an appearance. We had planned to go to Disneyland on that day but seeing the weather, we decided to postpone that to another day. No point in going to a fun place on a not-so-fun day. Anyway since we had to do something, we decided to go to Shinjuku ... yep, the same place where my office is located. There r a few shops for electronics goods in Shinjuku and there is the Tokyo Metropolitan building which is a real tall building (makes my 70 storied office building look small).

So we reached Shinjuku ... I sneered at the office building and turned my back on it ... and went to the place where the electronic goods shops were located. Yodobashi, Bic, Softmap etc have electronic goods strewn around their stores like u see strew around the ground in your Saturday bazaars. Laptops, cameras, camcorders, webcams, different types of memory cards and hundreds of other items which frankly, I have no idea what they were.

Floor by floor we walked and browsed ... for the hundreds of items which were un-identifiable, pretended to know what they were. And when I was in the section displaying digital cameras, suddenly I noticed the cameras mounted on the various shelves in front of me were vibrating. Then I realized I was vibrating too. Hey, it was an earthquake.

Having been warned by SP that earthquakes were common in Japan, I wasn't too worried. In fact, I planned to put on a bored look on my face to show everyone around me how not-scared I was. And then I noticed that people around me, many of them Japanese locals who would be used to this kind of thing, were looking nervous ... the shop was pretty much rattling and shaking a lot and judging by people's expressions, it was going on for far longer than they expected. I even heard a loud exclamation of fear from a couple of people. And then everything was still again.

Well guys, as we got to know from news sources, this one was not one of the usual small ones that keep on happening in Japan. This was 5.7 on the richter scale (in Japan, in addition to the richter scale, they have their own way of measuring the intensity of earthquakes ... I don't know what it is caleld but they measure it on a scale of 7) and that doesn't sound too bad at first ... but judge it this way. It caused all trains to stop functioning for two hours as they started extensive checks on all railway lines to ensure the trains could safely run on them. It made Narita International airport to close down take offs and landings for half hour or so while they checked all runways for damage. People were stuck all over the place with no way of getting home. Taxis are the most expensive form of local travel in Japan ... and that day, u couldn't get a taxi even if u wanted ... coz with everything else at a standstill, basically everyone wanted a taxi to reach home.

Not knowing all the drama, we kept browsing the electronics shops (in the shop where I was when the earthquake occured, not one item fell off the shelves though everything rattled alarmingly) and two hours later, made for the Shinjuku subway station to make our way home. And then we realized something wasn't normal. There were about 20 times as many people going through the station as usual and officials with loudspeakers in their hands were directing people here and there ... there were plenty of people sitting around on the ground. Since we couldn't understand what they were saying, we just made our way to our usual platform and from there, called up SP to ask what the heck was going on. He was out shopping with his wife and was stuck up in some place coz the trains weren't running. He was desperately trying to get a taxi to reach home and he told us that we might not reach home for a long time coz most trains were stopped and some were being run in phases ... two stations at a time ... while a test train ran ahead to check out the track. Then we got to know that for the past two hours, the train system in Japan (near Tokyo, mainly) was at a standstill and people were sitting around in stations waiting for the services to re-start. As it happened, the time when we reached the station was about the time the services were returning to normal. We easily got a train from Shinjuku to Kudanshita, which is where we change trains. There we faced a problem since no trains were running. So we sat around on the platform with many other people for an hour or so before a train finally pulled up to the station. Eagerly we got on .... and two stations later, everyone got down. Actually they had been broadcasting a message on the trains that it would only go for two stations further down ... but since we couldn't understand, we were sitting and dreaming of dinner once we got home. It seemed a bit funny that so many people were getting down two stations later ... till we realized that not "so many" but "all" people were getting down. So we also got down ... and waited half hour more. Another train came and we hopped on ... this time we knew the routine and so along with everyone else, trooped off the train 3 stations later and waited again. The third train we caught finally took us all the way home to Gyo Toku. A one hour journey had lasted slightly more than 3 hours and we realized we had been lucky to have got home so easily. Really, I also appreciate the way the Japanese administration went about its business ... running safety trains before actually letting the passenger trains on the track etc.

All said and done, a good experience but not something that I really want to re-visit every now and then. Till the time I thought the earthquake was a usual (normal) one, it was ok. Now I know that there will be a few abnormal ones too ... like this one ... and that is not a nice feeling. Websites in Japan while reporting earthquakes etc always talk about the great Japanese earthquake of 1923 which killed more than one lakh people ... and as recent as 1995, the earthquake in Kobe claimed around 6000 lives. It sounds wierd to me but the sites also talk normally (abnormal it seems to me ... but they mention it as a matter of fact) that Japan is due for a big one ... the only question is when. Based on scientic studies on earthquakes, they judge that Japan is located such that it would get a big earthquake once in around 100 years ... and of course, many smaller ones in between. They judge the 1923 one to be the last big one ... which means that the next big one is due sometime in the next twenty years or so ... could be twenty years later, could be ten ... could be tomorrow. Hmmm, hopefully I would be oughta here when that one comes. Bhaiya ... caught two planes, flew over the Pacific and Indian oceans ... so much trouble to get stuck in an earthquake in Japan. No thanks!!!

Yesterday we shifted to new accomodation at a place called Akebonobashi, which is near to Shinjuku ... the place where our office is located. Earlier in Gyo Toku, our apartment was in a two floor building. The new one is a 12 storied building ... I am on the 6th floor, SB is on 10th floor and AB is on the 11th. In addition to the lift, there is a tiny staircase which winds itself down to the ground floor ... hugging the outside of the building. Get it? When one is on the staircase going up or down, u r basically 4 feet away from the railing of the staircase that prevents u from reaching 11th to 1st floor in three seconds. Seems wierd to me but again, this is supposed to be some good design. These Japanese r crazy. I wouldn't go near that staircase when there is no earthquake ... if things r shaking and shivering all around, forget it. Anyway, we have asked for parachutes.

Day before yesterday in the middle of the night, there was a small earthquake ... yesterday night again there was a small earthquake. U know what ... it is not funny anymore.


The Chuckster


  • A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.
    Stewart Alsop- Posters.

    By Blogger Blog World, at 4:37 PM  

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