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One Year After the Great East Japan Earthquake

March 9, 2012 - Ray Tsuchiyama

In the late evening of the day of the Great East Japan Earthquake (March 11 2011), I sat down with shaking hands to type out my experiences walking from a Tokyo business district back to my home in central Tokyo, near Tokyo Tower:

The Japan Mega-Quake of March 11: My Surreal Walk Through Central Tokyo

Hearing the rain outside my Kihei home, reading my short blog words now, I feel as if I was a different person, in another world – just 12 months ago. Perhaps the closest analogy I can draw is the experience of war. The world (the city of Tokyo) was under attack. I wrote in the blog that I imagined I was in the Sci-Fi movie “War of the Worlds”. The world had turned upside-down and we were at the mercy of Nature.

Even the television announcers wore helmets like infantry soldiers and endured earthquakes in real-time with us at home. The TV stations did not play any commercials, except for public service announcements (we saw them over and over so often that we could recite the voice-over). DVD rentals, bottled water, flashlight purchases skyrocketed. Nobody went out to a fancy restaurant or even walked around.

Whenever an after-shock hit (there were what seemed to be endless earthquakes, some as powerful as Magnitude 6 or more), I ran to the apartment door to open it – we had read that the building would smash down, the door would not open again, and we would be trapped within our 2nd floor apartment. Then we would be stranded, like on a high concrete island, without a way to get down (a strong rope would be handy, but who has rope in the house?).

The first night of the earthquake we slept in our jeans and sweatshirts. By the door we had a backpack filled with water bottles, toilet paper, a battery-solar-hand-crank radio*, money, and our passports. We were ready to leave – but where? 16 million other Tokyo residents also were stuck with us. Imagine the highways filled with cars. We had very few good options.

Afterwards, spouse C. and I sat down and drew up a plan of action that would ultimately result in our departure from Tokyo. We had discussed our departure back to the U.S. before, and the Earthquake accelerated our plans. Of course we shall visit Japan again, many times, I hope. My spouse C. and I are linked to Japan – my grandparents are from Japan, my father, born in Kahului, grew up in Japan, and my mother is from Japan, and I was born in Japan. I spoke Japanese more than English in my house, and enjoy speaking Japanese (something that I miss on Maui).

What is the mood now back in Japan a year later? Talking to relatives and friends, Tokyo seems like before – crowded, vibrant, exciting. I miss the food, the high level of customer service, the clean, organized city. Tourists, especially from China, throng department stores and boutiques. So that’s good.

Other people have told us of fear, pessimism, much stress – people are afraid, of the next Earthquake, the unknown health consequences of radiation in food, air, water, and nursing mother’s milk. People’s hearts are heavy, tired.

Sometimes I have short intense dreams of walking in my old Tokyo neighborhood or traveling in a car pass Tokyo landmarks, and I awaken, thinking I am still in Tokyo, not Maui. Perhaps it is a PTSD-type experience, months after the Earthquake, like after a long battle. Completely unexpected in magnitude (although the Big Tokyo Earthquake was discussed frequently in the Japanese media), the Great East Japan Earthquake certainly changed my life and the lives of my family.

A more contemplative essay a year after the Earthquake:

Our Lives After The Great East Japan Earthquake

*For about two months after the EarthquakeTokyo stores were out of batteries, especially the “D” size for flashlights. When we landed in Honolulu a week after the earthquake, I was mesmerized by the racks of flashlights batteries at Wal-Mart and wanted to buy every one, a hoarding reflex.


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