March 11th, 2011 Japan Earthquake - One Firsthand Account

This is my personal account of the 9.0 earthquake that occurred in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Sendai, Japan as I experienced it and the resulting events. If you or someone you know is in Japan as this is happening please share your story in the Comments section.

On my way to pay an overdue bill by bank transfer I was bopping down the street with the iPod in my ears. It was a crisp, sunny day so rather than take a 10 minute bus ride, or walk 10 minutes to the train station to go one stop, I opted for a nice 30 minute walk over to the bank. Some exercise and fresh air would do me good. As I was rounding the last corner before arriving at the bank I suddenly felt dizzy. What was I drinking last night? Was it kicking back in? I should be so lucky! No, seems more like having the iPod in my ear was throwing off my balance, exacerbated by this odd strut of mine that goes into overdrive when I'm listening to something really rockin'. Nope, not that either! People around me were slowing down and stopping, then starting to look up. I looked up to see what they were looking at. Power lines swaying hard. Buildings swaying. Another earthquake. Oh well, bank closes in 10 minutes and this bill is already overdue. If I don't pay it now I have to wait 'til after the weekend and that might be after the grace period.

As I cover the last little stretch people are pouring out of buildings and standing in the middle of the street. An overdone sense of panic. Inside the bank the manager is telling people to remain calm and leave slowly, all that. The machine I need is separate from the regular ATMs. Luckily there's no line and I do my bank transfer while the bank is swaying. I don't read Katakana so well so I grab a guy in hard hat standing nearby, he looks like he works there, and have him read one of the menu buttons to make sure I'm depositing it to the right account. Mission accomplished I set out for my 'office', the Doutor coffee shop on the north side of Chofu station, with my book and some bidis, chuckling at the mild panic, where I'll hang out until it's time for my 5:00 appointment at Chofu station.

Readers who haven't spent any quality time in Japan won't understand my nonchalance about the whole thing so a little background is in order. Most of the people doing the overreacting are either old people or young girls. Old people in Japan are not like old people in the States. Having lived through WWII they're oblivious to anything outside their own little universe. They learned to carry on despite the world a long time ago. Old ladies are notorious for gasping at every little thing and young chicks ain't much different. You learn to not take it too seriously. More importantly, Japan is constantly experiencing earthquakes. Often there's small ones you don't even notice. It's an everyday part of life living here and if you're going to freak out about it you're setting yourself up for some serious misery. On top of that, the high frequency of earthquakes has amped up Japanese architecture to be the most resilient in the world to them. This one as I experienced it in my neighborhood was actually pretty mild compared to others I've been in. The ones that go straight up and down really hard are the scary ones.

A couple aftershocks hit while I'm drinking/smoking/reading and it's getting really annoying having to read the same paragraph 4 or 5 times. The two old bats sitting across from me at the half-circle table suddenly start talking to me, "Wow! That's scary!" Don't think they had even noticed me a minute before. Ten to 5:00 and I'm at the station where the trains have been stopped since the quake. Can't raise anybody on my cell phone, probably the airwaves are jammed since everyone else is on there's either talking or texting. Obviously my appointment is off so I head home where I have a landline and my laptop and can communicate with people. And that's when it gets interesting.

Trains are stopped but buses are running and I'm home in 15 minutes. Landline isn't working though. I get on the computer and that's when I find out what really happened. An 8.8 earthquake off the coast of Sendai in northeastern Japan. Later that number would be revised to 8.9 and eventually 9.0 as of this writing on Sunday. Tsunami on the way and people are in a panic. This is serious.

Before I have all the information Jeremy Gloff and J.J. Barrera have already written to see if I'm OK. More messages trickle in throughout the evening but one in particular stands out, and it was one of the early ones. Kenny Palyola, my antagonist from the infamously cancelled 2010 Southwest Tour, has left a comment on my Blog looking to see if my family and I are OK. Despite having not communicated with him directly since then, or approving pervious comments on my Blogs, I approved this one. Some may raise their eyebrows but I give him the benefit of the doubt. I believe he's sincere. It wouldn't be the first time people have set aside their differences in the face of monumental disaster and tragedy. http://ats.jjvicars.com/blog.html/twentyten_in_review/

While updating everybody back home and sharing information for people with friends and family up north it soon becomes apparent that CNN is spinning the whole thing way out of proportion. They portray it as a nationwide catastrophe when in fact the serious damage is in Sendai, Miyagi and Fukushima. Suzi is flipping through news channels as I'm updating Facebook and Twitter and the reports from Japanese news crews on the scene are vastly different from CNN. They're also devoid of the background music and other dramatic effects, though why they're wearing hardhats inside the Tokyo studio is beyond me. My first foray into self-imposed Internet coverage is to let everyone know that very little has happened in Tokyo, and about zilch in my neighborhood. Tokyo is a megatropolis of 30 million people connected by the most intricate train system in the world. When the trains shut down for the evening lots of people were stranded. Some slept at the office, some camped out in the stations. Others walked 3 hours to get home. Bicycle shops sold out in a heartbeat. But there was little to no damage in Tokyo and what damage did occur was to old rickety houses that looked like they could have fallen down without any help. One big difference between Japan and the U.S. is that they don't tear down old homes and buildings here while people are living in them. In one of the most crowded, congested cities in the world it's typical to see a rickety old shack from two or three emperors ago right next to a sleek modern building. Other Americans in Japan will know exactly what I mean. There was damage in Odaiba but I never liked those land-fill areas anyhow.

Water and power were out for a while in Machida and phones were down but all was back to normal in the morning. In my neighborhood of Chofu it's business as usual. Mail deliveries, bumbling pygmies, etc... Tattoo is trying to figure out her first cell phone and her combination of laziness and stubbornness have the old man waving his hands in the air, "Fuck it! I give up! Smash the goddam thing for all I care". The Klumps carry on. Checked in with all my Chiba people over Friday and Saturday and everybody is OK. Mike Buttrick still has his house on the cliff face, despite our jokes to the contrary. Oliver Richter, who lives in Narita and shot my promo photos and video, saw a few rice fields washed away while driving back from Iwate. Barge Inn manager Bryan Harmon was in Hawaii as that tsunami was coming and headed for high ground with a well armed friend. He said he was more worried about the 9mm and the 40 cal than anything else. Farther south in Kanagawa they got shook up real good but everybody's OK.

Suzi has some family up in Fukushima on a plot of land that goes back generations. The roof got knocked off, the walls cracked and the stone wall around the house (typical of old Japanese houses) is smashed all over the street but no one is hurt. Bitch part is they're staring at the night sky in the snow. The next day they head up to an onsen that survived the quake. Now they have a hot bath!

Throughout it all Facebook and Twitter have been lifeblood. First the downed phones domestically then the "nuclear terror" spin internationally. Eventually people in Japan started to notice that international coverage, especially in the States, is way overblown and mentioned that Americans living in Japan are using the Internet to keep it accurate. At http://www.facebook.com/jjvicars and http://www.twitter.com/jjvicars I've been posting all sorts of updates and links since 5:30 Friday. I'd like to go into more detail here but I'm starting to wear down. Please visit me on FB and Twitter and pass around the information. It's very important people know the truth of the matter and don't panic. Also, I've been saying for years that the U.S. media grossly misrepresents the situation. By comparing the firsthand information coming from Japan against the secondhand spin of CNN and other North American news outlets people can see for themselves. As of this writing on Sunday evening the latest scare is from the nuclear plant in Fukushima. Again CNN and other American media have blown it into another doomsday scenario. Yes, it's a serious situation but what they consistently fail to mention is the preparedness and efficiency of the Japanese. There was a great line in AbFab, "Japanese efficiency, sweetie. The land where they haven't got time to let the trees grow tall. Throughout it all the rescue and cleanup teams have been on top of their game. There's no crying "why did this happen to us?!?", the people right away do what's necessary to get everything running smooth again.

Whatever deity or invisible avenger you believe in save your prayers for the survivors in Sendai, Miyagi and Fukushima. They're the ones who need it. The rest of were inconvenienced and that doesn't compare.

If you or someone you know is in Japan during these events please share your stories on this Blog. I want it to be a firsthand document of what really happened.

Comments

In a swimming pool when it hit. remember when you were a kid and shoving all the water in the bath from one end to the other....bingo........love your music JJ.....the dude abides......
Hi, my name is Amanda and I work for Indian Motorcycle, in Weston, Ohio. Recently Jerry Vicars brought in his new 1999 Indian Chief. He told us that he would be traveling to Japan. Could you please let us know if he is ok? We would REALLY appreciate it.
 

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