On an ordinary day almost a year ago, an event changed my perspective about a lot of things in life.
Took a morning flight to Tokyo on the 10th Mar 2011, to attend the Japan Annual Beauty exhibition to be held in Makhuhari (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makuhari_Messe) ( a Japanese convention center area outside Tokyo, located in the Mihama-ku ward of Chiba City, in the northwest corner of Chiba prefecture, about 45mins by bus from Narita Airport).
On the morning of 11th mar 2011, many visitors from all over the world had turned up at the 3-day Beauty Fare.
The surprise came after we broke for lunch. I felt the first tremor at 2.45pm in the afternoon. I thought I was having giddy spells as I experienced the first quake. Everything came as a shock as ceiling lights started swaying vigorously. It was so violent that all the customers in the Japanese Restaurant ran out of the of the shop. I thought the shaking was caused by some piling construction work nearby. The subsequent shock came within 5-10 mins. Out on the corridor of the restaurant, I saw many people squatting down. A father with his family told me that I could be experiencing an earthquake.
The next moment, I was hit by another wave of shaking. The quake was so strong that I could hear gas cyclinders from the restaurant’s kitchen dropping and rolling on the floor. I was all too stunned to react. I could only wait and see, hoping that this was just a temporary quake that was often felt.
Fortunately for me, I attended the exhibition with some friends from Singapore. I was less frightened because of their presence. One of my friend (Takashi) suggested that we should get out of the building, just in case the building collapsed due to the severe shake. The group of us got to the ground floor, away from glass windows (in case they shatter). I stood at the roadside, waiting to see what to do next. An old Japanese man told our group that certain parts of Japan had experienced quite severe quakes the day before. He told our group that more serious ones would be expected to hit in certain parts of Japan. We watched in fear as we saw the tall building (about 20 storeys) opposite us swaying left and right. And the next moment, we were being hit by yet another violent shake.
Rows of bicycles were found laying on the floor as there were shock after shock of that earthquake. Our group stayed at the same location for a good 30mins or so. Making sure we were out of any possible danger. I received a text message from my nephew in London that Fukushima had been hit by a serious earthquake. The telco service in Japan seemed to have come to a stand still. All the people around us, including strangers were all taking out their mobiles to call their family and loves ones. But the line no longer worked. My nephew texted me to tell me to be safe.
It then dawn on me that things had turned out to be more serious than anyone had expected. The group decided to return to our hotel (New Otani), which was walking distance from the exhibition hall, in the hope to find out what had happened.
The Hotel lobby was crowded when we got back. Filled with foreigners and Japanese, all waiting for news and instructions on what to do next. A germany guy (Cabin crew from a German airline), dressed in his bathrobe was standing in the lobby. Quite an unusual sight. He related to us that he got injured as his room was on the 22nd floor. The quake was so severe that he was being thrown around in his room. Even the TV had fallen off the TV rack. We watched in fear as the TV showed areas affected by the earthquake that had happened in Fukushima. Hotel Staff all seemed pretty cool and composed but hardly any instruction was given as to what we could do, other than telling all hotel guests ”there was an emergency, pls remain calm”.
Takashi suggested that the group of us, leave the Hotel and move to an empty big football field about 5-10mins away. As we walked to the entrance of the hotel, there was an announcement that Tsumani will be expected in about 20mins. The initial information was that a 2m high tsunami will be hitting the coast. We were all told to get to higher floors. Little did we expect that the next piece of news was more frightening. The coming Tsunami was going to be 10m high instead. No one will be able to understand our fears as we waited : as Hotel New Otani was only about 1-2 football field away from the sea. The fear of waiting for things to happen, the fear of not being able to see you family and loves ones again suddenly hit you. I had butterfly in my stomach then but had to remain calm so as not to frighten the rest in the group. Many of the hotel guests, together with the group of us headed to the 4th floor of the Hotel, thinking that we will be on dry grounds from the 10m tsunami.
The rest of the afternoon passed by slowly, with my heart skipping a beat every time the aftershock hit us. The Hotel staff were all too busy with their own activities. There was no water, no food provided. We were all told that the lift has been stopped and we were not allowed to return to our rooms for fear of accidents in the lift if another severe earthquake was to hit.
I made 50 calls home. After trying for 3 hrs, i finally managed to reach my family to tell them I was safe. Most of us felt cold (temperature was about 10 degree celsius) and hungry. I was lucky to have my friends around when the disaster happened as I was originally alone, to checked-in at the hotel opposite.
The group of us decided to head out to buy food and drinks, for fear that we would be hungry later in the night in the cold weather. It was almost 7pm and the hotel had not given any water.
All the food and drinks had been snapped up. We only managed to buy a box of ice-cream to fill our tummies. It was really pathetic. Temperature had dropped to 7-8 degree celsius that night. The group of us walked for an hour only to find a small sushi restaurant, that was opened for business. We stood for another half an hour in the cold before we were given seats in the heated restaurant.
All the hotels were all the same. All the guests were only allowed to stay in the lobby. Food and water was only given out by the hotel at 11.30pm. The group of us couldnt make our way out of Makuhari cos all modes of transport had been stopped.
It took the group of us quite a while to get to tokyo as the train service had stopped. Thankfully things were alot more ‘normal’ in Tokyo. Other than power supply cut off (at certain hours), Tokyolites continued their daily routines.
I managed to get my flight out for Tokyo on the 14th of mar (4 days after disaster hit), it was also the morning when the Japanese Prime Minister made an official announcement on the severity of the disaster. We were told that radiation may reach Tokyo in the next 4-5hours. My flight was at 7pm but we left for Narita Airport at 12 noon after Takashi made special arrangement for a taxi to send us to the airport (cab fare was almost S$360). Waiting for the flight time was nerve racking as well. The whole Narita airport were filled with travellers getting out of Japan. It was a shocking sight. The additional commotion of a bomb scare at the Narita Airport was my last straw. I was almost on of the verge of tears when my flight took off on schedule. All the tension that was being built up in the last few days was suddenly released. Felt so good to be headed back home.
My views after the disaster: My heart felt very heavy after my return. The trauma from the disaster left me many sleepless nights. I had many nightmares weeks after. I respect the Japanese to see how they reacted during the disaster. Everybody behaved in a calm and orderly manner, whether to queue to make paid calls, waiting for transport, queueing for food…. there were no chaos. Only considerate people trying their best to make sure there were enough for everybody, maybe it be petrol, food or drinks.
A few month later (in Oct 2011), I made a trip back to Tokyo again. Felt good to be able to make my trip to my favourite destination. Life seemed quite the same… just that tourism took a severe beating (eg hotel rates and airfares were much cheaper).
My views a year later: Since 1st mar 2012, there were many programmes on TV featuring 0311, a year after the Japan Triple disaster. I decided that I should pen down my own experience. This is my longest article I have ever written for my blog. I have always thought that I have gotten over this experience since it happened quite a while back…. Frankly, it still took me a few days to draft this. The memories of everything that happened during those few days haunted me. I “relived” the moment once again. After many sleepless nights, i finally finish this article.
Watching the programmes , i can vividly remember how i felt. It still took me some courage to face the fear i experienced then. I will forever respect the Fukushima 50 (who selflessly sacrificed themselves for the rest). My heart feels very heavy whenever i read articles about the disaster. I will never be able to imagine what will happen if the Prime Minister had not stopped the 30million Tokyo evacuation. The chaos and fear would have been unimaginable.
My heart goes to those who didnt make it thru the triple disaster and also those who survived the ordeal. I sincerely hope that Japan will recover soon. Ganbatte ne , Japan! I will sure visit again 🙂
You can read more about my recent trips with the following links: