Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More First-hand Japan

My friend NVJ (cf. infra) favors us with the email he sent home to the family from Tokyo just after it all started last Friday:
Ok, so you know I'm in Tokyo, and Tokyo got hit by a massive earthquake. It happened at 2:46 here on Friday. How do I know the exact time? I had just ended my lecture at the University of Tokyo when the building started to shake. I joked to the audience that it was God telling me to stop talking, but then shakes got stronger. After cracks began to appear in walls, and panels began falling out of the walls, we all filed out the building in a fairly orderly fashion.

Out in the common area, we could see trees shaking when there was no wind, felt the ground moving as if we were standing on thin mud over marble, and saw antennae on buildings swaying. After the first quake, we decided to go back in (about 60 people attended the lecture), and got about 15 minutes into the next lecture when the first aftershock hit (the first quake was 8.9; the aftershock was 7.1 -- all of my Japanese hosts, who are more or less used to earthquakes, said it was the worst series of quakes they had ever felt). We then left the law building for good and went to the reception in a modern hotel (where, in typical Japanese fashion, we continued the seminar over drinks and food!)

We then learned that all trains and subways were shut down. Imagine a city of 15 million (in a metropolitan area of 35 million) in which most of the workers take public transportation, and they cannot get home. (Many slept in their offices overnight). So after the reception, we decided to walk back to the hotel in darkness and temperatures of about 45 degrees. We joined a stream of people, six across, drudging our way back. All over the city it was as if snakes made of people were slithering down every street and alley in every direction at a dead crawl. All the cabs had gone home. Only buses seemed to be working. (yet all electricity and, to a certain extent, the Internet and mobile phones, were working, although phones usually brought forth a busy signal)

We then thought we were lucky and were able to catch a bus, crammed in like sardines (actually worse), which went about 1 mile in an hour and a half. Traffic was from hell. We then got off and resumed walking to the hotel. Another 45 minutes.

I then found that all the hotel elevators had been shut down, and we were told that it would be 2-3 hours before we could get to our rooms. (the hotel is is the 7th through the 19th floors of a skyscraper) They were undertaking a safety check of each room. Well, it was only 90 minutes later, but I had to stand the whole

My room is fine, but the pictures were askew, and I can tell from the wrinkled paint in the corners of the room that some shaking went on here. The restaurant in the hotel is serving only cold food as they are not allowed to use gas (but they did manage a warm soup in an electric cooker).

So for now I'm safe, all electricity works most of the time (as does the Internet), and all my stuff is intact. Aftershocks which rock the room and sway the drapes happen every few hours. Looking forward to leaving on Monday, but fine for now.
NVJ sneers at my cracks about Tokyo food prices. He says it's cheaper than Von's. Ah, but there was a time when the dollar got you 300 yen. 

1 comment:

Ken Houghton said...

"Ah, but there was a time when the dollar got you 300 yen."

There was also a time--before you were born, true, but still--when the JPY/USD exchange rate was 2.00.

So there is still a ways to go before an investor in the early 20th century reaches par again.