Today marks 10 years since 3/11, the great earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku that resulted in tens of thousands dead or missing and even more displaced from the nuclear accident in Fukushima. 3/11 was one of those days that I’ll never forget and I still vividly remember.
A few months prior to 3/11 I had gotten married my wife in Japan and my parents were coming to meet her family for the first time. They had a direct flight from Houston, Texas, which is about 13 hours and were scheduled to land around 4pm on March 11th, 2011. I was riding the Narita Express to meet them at the airport and chatting with my old Japanese teacher in US on Messenger about horrible the earthquake was in New Zealand a couple weeks prior.
Initially when the train started shaking I had thought it was the usual movement of the train, people move around to get disembark quicker or driver’s coming in a bit hot and has to brake a harder than usual. When it felt like the train had a very real possibility of tipping (it wasn’t close, in retrospect) is when I realized this was something different.
The trains immediately shutdown and Shinagawa station was a madhouse. The engineers (I’m guessing) on a business trip on the train had the right idea, they immediately went to the nearest hotel and booked room. I wish I had done that.
My parents were still in the air, so I had no way to contact them. Apparently they circled Tokyo for a few, before re-fueling at Yokota airbase, before continuing on to Osaka – landing in the wrong part of the country.
After the earthquake you couldn’t make a telephone call in Japan. All the circuits were busy all the time. But the internet and Twitter worked great. I had my laptop and a 3G modem with me. Using my US number on Skype, I could use US telephone circuits, which weren’t overloaded, and contact other family in the US to let them know what was happening and that I was fine.
We found a hotel that’d let us stay in their lobby. We eventually left to go find food, but everything was sold out everywhere. The only place we found with food was a Yoshinoya with a long and slow moving line. After waiting for what felt like 30 minutes and making little progress we noticed that, despite this line not moving, people seemed to be coming and going. We were in the line for take-out. Eating in we could get service almost immediately. Due to the high volume of customers they were rationing beef – which they made sure we’d be ok with before we ordered.
After eating we returned to the hotel to stay the night on hard marble floors with a bunch of other stranded people. The morning it felt almost oddly normal. A couple of backpackers asked if we knew where the nearest hostel was, but we were of no use. We found a different hotel that was serving nice warm breakfast with the type of service that makes you feel like everything’s gonna be all right.
My parents managed to find their way to the Shinkansen and made it to Shinyokohama. We attempted to ride the Tokaido-line to Yokohama but it was after seeing 3 trains come bursting at the seams packed with people, we looked for alternative routes to meet my parents. Funny enough, we also rode the Shinkansen to Shinyokohama. It was still standing room only, but at least you could breath. And the journey was only 7 or 8 minutes.
What I experienced on 3/11 pales in comparison to those that lost their lives and saw their homes and loved ones vanish before their eyes. 10 years later and while things look like they’ve rebuilt, they’ll never be the same.