Post-Earthquake Part III

(See Part I and Part II)

So much has been happening lately. I would love to just forget chronology and tell you about Sunday at a workshop about pranks by novelist Kuroda Akira in a Shinjuku anarchist cafe, but that won’t do, because it would confuse me as much as it would confuse you. And no worries, I’m taking notes as things happen. It should all make it up here eventually.

The day after the earthquake, I stubbornly wanted to continue with my planned trip to Kyoto as I had planned it, taking the local trains on a Seishun 18 Kippu. I think I was in so much shock, I didn’t have the mental capacity to rethink my plans logically and carefully enough to work around the newly arisen obstacles. I knew that trains weren’t running as regularly as before the quake, so I headed out extra early and was expecting to be on trains until late at night.

The trip from Yokohama (Myorenji, my station) to Kyoto by shinkansen (bullet train) would have taken approximately 2 hours 16 minutes, leaving shortly after noon on March 12. Driving from here to Kyoto on the Tomei Expressway takes about 6 hours 10 minutes (according to Google, because I don’t drive). On local trains, the ride should have taken 8 hours 36 minutes and 8 transfers had they been running normally.

I hope these numbers help paint a picture of how crazy I was to think I could still make it. Before I left, I did my best to check the JR lines I would be taking were running. Of course, they were not running at full capacity. Although I set out at 7 am, I was expecting the ride to continue until late in the night.

But I headed out anyway, thinking if worst came to worst, I could turn around and come back. I made it without a hitch as far as . . . Yokohama Station. The platforms there were packed with people heading away from Tokyo. Sure it was a Saturday, but they didn’t look like they had partied through the night. They looked like they were just now finally making their way home after the earthquake. Most were in business suits and despite the circumstances, almost all were careful about their appearance, but they looked very tired.

Although usually trains come every few minutes, we waited there in well-ordered lines that stretched across the platform for well over a half hour. There were so many of us that when the train finally did come, we barely fit in. It was the classic Japanese train version of a clown car. We pushed ourselves in. I knew at that moment that I should have stayed home that morning, but in the crowd, I had no other choice but to let myself be pushed into the train.

The train moved at a snail’s pace, stopping at every level crossing, because the gates weren’t checked yet. The woman I was pushed up against (against my own will) was writing E-mails on her cell to friends. I couldn’t help but catch a glimpse of her screen. She asked them first how everyone was doing, then said she was on her way to her parents’ house.

I too had been in constant contact with my friends throughout Tokyo and Japan since the quake. By the second day, I was checking up on past dates. Thankfully, no one had been injured too badly (except for a friend of a friend breaking her leg during an aftershock), but a number had fascinating stories to tell. (Here just a couple: Prof. Angles, Pt 1 and Pt 2, and Akira, Pt 1, Pt 2Pt 3 and Pt 4, plus lots more including pictures if you visit the archives of her tumblr) One friend told me they were fearing blackouts and were cooking dinner early to avoid using the rice cooker at peak electricity use hours. I was confident since I had a loaf of bread, chocolate, and granola bars in my bag.

A few stations past Yokohama, the train speed up to normal speeds, and continued through to Hirazuka. From there, I took the Gotenba Line. This line was running perfectly normally, or at least according to the times given on the display at the station. The Gotenba line passes just south of Mt. Fuji, and the day was absolutely beautiful. I took a few pictures from the window of the scenery, which looked like it might have on any other day. The people on the trains looked like they were going about their normal life, and outside the window on a playground, kids were playing whole heartedly.  The normality was surreal.

But I didn’t make it any further than the last station on the Gotenba line, Nezu. Not a single local train had run through Shizuoka that day, the station attendant told me. It was already early afternoon, and I was exhausted, and unwilling to shell out money for a bus that might be able to take me further, so I turned around and headed back home. I arrived at my apartment again at 4:30, ate some of my bread with a piece of blue cheese and my Mama’s marionberry jam from the fridge, and sat in front of NHK as it streamed from my computer the rest of the evening.

The next day, I went to Kyoto on the shinkansen, which had been running all along, and which I should have probably taken in the first place if I had had my wits about me.

(To be continued. . .)

(Sorry no picture of Mt. Fuji, because by the time I thought of taking pictures on the way home again, clouds had come in to cover it.)

2 thoughts on “Post-Earthquake Part III

  1. Hajimemashite, Hanna-san.
    My name is Ryoko, a Japanese expat residing in Sydney, Australia.
    I have reached your blog via Ryan’s Facebook.

    Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful and honest accounts of your own experience of the recent event.
    I myself live in Sydney but my family and close friends are all in and around Tokyo.
    Luckily no one is hurt or heavily affected, and I am in touch with them regularly, but there are certain questions I dare not ask them.
    What’s in the air in Tokyo? – I am not talking about radioactive substances here though :)
    Is it fear, sorrow, anger, hope, or a bit of everything?
    Your blog entries have helped me have a good grasp of what’s going on in the shutoken area.

    I will definitely be a regular visitor of your blog, even when we can finally go to bed without worrying too much about tomorrow’s bad news!

    Thank you, once again, and please take care…


    1. Dear Ryoko,

      It’s good to hear your family and friends are safe.

      There is so much going on here now that has been taking a lot of effort to work through, but it’s amazing how much clarity I feel I have now of my own situation. Although I try to draw from the news, from my friends, and from real experiences, most of what I’m writing is no more than one take on how things stand.

      I have been planning on writing something on the atmosphere in Tokyo. Since I was in Kyoto for three weeks directly after the disaster, I only have second-hand accounts of high levels of stress when the trains were not functioning and people were going home really early. Since I’ve come back, that stress seems to have been going away. It’s hard to say what has replaced it though. For some, a return to normal, for others, a burning need to make a change. . . Again, I can only talk about myself and the people I know, but the situation is very interesting.

      I am very happy to be here now.


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