Earthquake – A Tokyo Perspective.

A very big thank you to everyone who sent me messages and expressions of concern via Facebook and e-mail. I am fine and at home in Shinagawa a full day after experiencing quite a large earthquake in my studio in downtown Harajuku, Tokyo.

I am writing this post for people not familiar with Japan to give some perspective of what is happening in Tokyo in relation to the earthquake and tsunami.

The area directly affected is North East of Tokyo in Miyagi Prefecture and the large city there is called Sendai with a population of one million. It is roughly a six hour drive by car and the flight distance is three hundred kilometres. Fukushima prefecture, where the nuclear reactors are, is two hundred and thirty kilometres from Tokyo and has also been heavily affected. The magnitude of the earthquake at the epicenter has been stated to be between 8.8 and 9.0 and is the largest to ever hit Japan and the fifth largest in recorded history worldwide. Most of the horrific damage you might be seeing on TV or the Web was done by the massive tsunami that ensued. At its peak it is estimated to have reached 10 meters in height and it traveled tens of kilometers inland over farms and roads engulfing Sendai port, Sendai airport and parts of the city itself. Many other areas and cities all up and down the Pacific coast of Japan were also hit.

Japan as a whole is well prepared for this practically and psychologically. As one of the most seismically active areas in the world the building codes here are very, very stringent and people are well drilled in safety measures so Sendai is still standing and they are broadcasting from their studio up there. I can see cars driving on the streets in footage they are taking. World class engineering has saved millions of lives here. The areas hit are mostly rural coastal towns, a few of which have almost been wiped off the map and even the best engineering will find a ten meter wave of water a formidable opponent.

As for Tokyo we experienced the earthquake at an estimated magnitude of 6.3 to 6.8 – definitely the largest and scariest earthquake many of us have ever experienced. Buildings shook and swayed – as they are designed to do – some windows broke and a few fires broke out but nothing near the scale of damage in the North. I have read reports of collapsed buildings in Tokyo but I certainly didn’t see anything like that with my own eyes. In my studio a few things fell out of the cupboard and a glass broke in my sink but other than that no major damage. I took my speakers off their stands during the first minute of shaking and lay my second monitor flat before ducking under a table and riding out the rest of the shaking after it got really intense. I decided to evacuate the building shortly after the main event and headed over to my friend’s offices a few blocks over to see what their plan of action was and to see if they were okay.

Thankfully no one there was hurt but we were all clearly shocked and the mood was tense and uneasy. There were numerous aftershocks as we stood outside contemplating what had just happened and what to do next.

Tokyo is shaken up but not all that damaged at least cosmetically. The biggest, immediate repercussion was that shortly after the quake the cancellation of all train services and flights left thousands of commuters stranded in airports and train stations. Buses were running filled to capacity and there were long lines of people waiting to use pay phones because the cellular network was sporadic and practically useless and it was the only way they could reach family and friends. (If ever there was a case for free public WI-FI this is it, come on guys wake up.)

Thousands of people were left with nothing to do but walk home in the late winter cold or find shelter and food in the city, many simply stayed over in their offices.

I commute by bicycle so I was able to move around the city freely although traffic rapidly worsened as it grew darker. I stopped off to have dinner at a local restaurant on my way home and was surprised to find the place open, packed with people and humming with activity and I returned home after that without incident.

As for media I am getting my news from NHK terrestrial analog broadcasting in Japanese (TV), Aljazeera live stream and blog and NHK World in English (Internet) and community blogs like Reddit and Metafilter and of course Twitter. (See links below for access.)

Central Tokyo has, so far, maintained its electric, water and gas infrastructure but many are taking power saving measures and turning off their gas. Surrounding areas closer to Tokyo like Ibaraki are now having trouble delivering clean water in some places and people are being urged to stay alert and tuned in to current news. The Internet is working and has been critical in getting information out to loved ones abroad and for contacting friends within the city but, as with the any tragedy these days, scammers and con artists are already flocking to capitalize on the situation so be wary of where you donate and who you donate to.

Apparently there is a lot of disinformation, rumor and speculation in the Japanese blogosphere and now that the Fukushima Nuclear Plant has exploded many people are getting nervous about the radiation and some are even heading out of Tokyo.

Please get your info from as credible a source as possible and don’t believe everything you read or hear about what is happening here.

Regarding friends and family almost everyone I know is safe and accounted for except for an old friend who lives in Miyagi, Sendai and as of this writing there is no news of him.


Map of Japan Showing Epicenter.

Aljazeera Live Watch Now

NHK World English