Magnitude 9.0 – A Student’s Experience

Found this on my laptop, I wrote this a few days after the earthquake. Thought I would share it, the last paragraph really resonates with me. I wish I could’ve stayed and done more.



Magnitude 9.0 – A Student’s Experience


Mickey Mello – Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It has been about six months since I started living in Japan. I have a great host family I live with in Takadanobaba, which is near the university, I’ve made lots of friends, both Japanese and from elsewhere in the world, I’ve finished the first semester here at Waseda University, and have experienced and learned many great and fun things. I was one month into the two month spring break between semesters here, enjoying the sights and sounds of Tokyo. March 11th rolled around, which seemed like it would be another easy going day.

I slept a bit later than I wanted to, got up around 11:30am, got showered, and ate breakfast. Told my host family I was going to go walking around and go shopping, with plans to go to Shinjuku followed by Harajuku. I told them I’d be having dinner at around 6:00pm instead of the usual time of 5:00pm. Then I headed out the door, was about 1:30pm at the time.

I made my way towards Shinjuku, took the Todai train line to Seibu Shinjuku Station, which was closest to my first destination for the day, Don Quijote, one of my favorite stores in Japan. Don Quijote is the type of store that has merchandise stacked all the way up to the ceiling, and has a huge variety of goods. After looking around for an hour or hour and a half, I was currently in the party goods section; this was when the earthquake started.

At first it was just shaking a little bit, I could feel it beneath my feet and could see some of the merchandise swinging back and forth. The first thought that came to my mind was “Oh, an earthquake, how novel, I’ll just wait here for it to stop and then go back to shopping.” The problem was that it didn’t stop shaking; it started to get more intense. Stuff started falling everywhere, I could hear bottles breaking, and I could see people making a mad dash towards the exit. I looked around where I was at and decided it was best to stay put where I was at, as the items in the party goods section looked like they wouldn’t hurt me if any where to fall on me. Worse case, I thought, a maid costume could fall on me.

The shaking seemed to have lasted around a couple of minutes or so before the big quake finally subsided. Stuff was everywhere on the floor as I made my way out of the store stepping over everything. I thought to myself that this had to be around a 7.0 earthquake. I made my way out towards the street, found people crowded into the streets after making their ways out of the buildings. They were messaging people, trying to call people, and taking pictures. It still felt like it was shaking after the initial quake, sort of like the feeling you have when you’ve been on a boat, and after you get off it still feels like you’re on a boat. I decided at this time it would be good to message a few essential people to let them know I was ok. After a time, the crowd dispersed from the middle of the street and traffic started moving again. I decided to head towards the Shinjuku Rotary. On the way over some businesses were temporarily closed, others still open for business with people advertising out front.

The Tsunami happening live on TV in Shinjuku.

I made it to the Shinjuku Rotary. It was there I started watching the news on the big TV on the side of the building, much like many other people who were there. It was on the TV that I was seeing images of the tsunami being broadcast live, cars being swept away, waves knocking down buildings and whatever else in its path, boats being pushed dangerously inland. I was seeing what the numbers were, 10 meter high waves in some areas, I couldn’t read the kanji to know what areas the broadcast was referring to, but from the picture of Japan they had displayed, it looked as if the northeastern part was the hardest hit. Finally after some delay, I saw a number, 8.4, followed by katakana spelling out the word magnitude. It was much bigger than what I thought it was going to be, even though I thought it would be around a 7.0. It wasn’t until later that it was upgraded to an 8.9 and 9.0.

As I continued to watch the broadcast, I was approached by several people who were visiting Japan and couldn’t understand Japanese and seeking someone out who could provide information. Although I couldn’t translate, I have a pretty good idea of what seemed to be happening. It was a large quake, which in its aftermath caused a large tsunami. I encountered a couple from France, who were supposed to return home that day, they were asking how they should get back to their hotel in Shinagawa, At this time all the trains were down in Tokyo as a precaution to check for any damage. The only thing I could suggest was that they walk back. I later learned all the airports were down as well, so I now know that could not make it back home that day. I met a couple of girls who were also looking for information; I shared what I knew with them. A bit later they saw their friend across the street, I went with them. The friend was Japanese, and could speak English, thus he helped provide information as to more specifics to what was going on.

Everyone watching the news on the big TV at Shinjuku Rotary.

I spent a couple hours watching the news before I decided I should get home. It was about 5:00pm at that time. The trains were down of course, so my only option was to walk home. Luckily it wasn’t too far from where I was. I started to make my way back, as I walked by the station, I could see people outside waiting, wanting to get home, waiting for the trains to come back home. I followed the train tracks on a street that ran parallel to the tracks. Many others had made the same choice as me and were making their way back by foot. After walking for about an hour I made it to the Takadanobaba area. As I walked by a station again, I could see all the people huddled outside waiting for train service to get back home.

People waiting by the train station, stranded after the trains were shut down.

A few minutes after that I made it home, it was about 6:00pm. I greeted my Obaachan (Host Grandmother), let her know I was ok before I made my way back up to my room. I got to my room and breathed a sigh of relief, everything was intact and fine, only a few minor things tipped over, nothing broken. The power was still on where I was at, so I got onto my computer and started sending out messages letting people know I was alright and checking to see if that was the same for other people I knew, which it was. My Okaasan (Host Mother) came home soon after I got back and came up to see how I was. I told her what had happened, she was relieved to know I was ok. Dinner was ready shortly after, I ate and talked with my host family. They told me this was the first quake they’ve been in where they’ve felt compelled to want to duck and cover.

After dinner I went back up to my room and continued to inform people as to what was going on, to let people know I was alright, and to see that others were ok. I was keeping track of the situation as it developed on the internet with news there. Saw the developments happen with some of the nuclear facilities, though it didn’t worry me personally. I could feel aftershocks here and there; some are a pretty good size. You can hear the house shift, feel the sofa you’re sitting on vibrate slightly, and see the TV wobble a bit. Later that night I chatted with my mother and father over Skype, let them know I was ok and that I wasn’t worried about my current situation, as at home with my host family things were basically business as usual. I contacted some more people, and then went to sleep.

That covers everything that happened to me the day the 9.0 earthquake happened. I’ve lived through the quake, and now I am living the aftermath. In a way, you could say this has been a deep cultural experience. As experiencing the culture means to see both the good and the bad, to see what issues the country has to deal with, and others they don’t. I have seen how Japan and its people have reacted, and I am deeply impressed and moved at what I have seen, the inner strength and character of the Japanese people as they confront this disaster as it unfolds. As someone who is currently here and been through this event, I would like to see this to its resolution, to experience things with everyone here, to see how events unfold, and the recovery begin.

Mickey Mello is a Business Major from California State University Bakersfield who was studying at Waseda University for a year in Tokyo, Japan.

Posted in Japan Odyssey, Post Archive.

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