Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2014

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Japanese Kanji for 2011

At the end of each year the Japanese public chooses a kanji that best sums up the year as a whole. The kanji for 2011 has been chosen as kizuna meaning bond or connection between people. The kanji is then ceremoniously calligraphed onto a large white canvas at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. I was there in December so I was aware it was going to happen but I had forgotten to post about it until now.

The reason for the choice has been put down to the strengthening of bonds between the Japanese as a nation and between Japan and the rest of the world as a result of the earthquake and tsunami and the aftermath of which dominated 2011. I’m definitely glad it was a positive one in the end. It would have been so easy to have selected something negative after what happened last year.


Japan Earthquake 2011

Japan Earthquake 2011 People gather in Shinjuku’s central park in the aftermath of Friday’s earthquake

Well it’s the end of Sunday now following the huge earthquake that rocked Tokyo and the horrific events that then unfolded north, closer to the epicenter on Friday. Throughout the weekend I’ve been watching the news reports constantly monitoring the situation in coastal areas of the country and at Japan’s stricken nuclear facilities.

Before I write on I want to offer my condolences to the families of people who lost their lives in the disaster, the number of which are forcasted to be in the 10′s of 1000′s. Friday was a dark day in Japan.

Japan Earthquake 2011 A diagram showing where the earthquake happened, it’s relationship to Tokyo

I was literally just stepping out of Tokyo train station when it started. I was just arriving at the pedestrian crossing that faces the tall buildings of the Marunouchi area. Because of the renovation work taking place at Tokyo station there are temporary floors and scaffolding everywhere – I was standing on one such piece of temporary floor that felt hollow underneath so when the ‘quake began I wasn’t sure what was going on. I thought maybe it was vibration from a passing truck but the rocking quickly became more intense and people started to scream and run into the street. All the traffic had stopped so I quickly did the same, partially because I was worried about falling debris from the station building but mainly because I wanted to be on firm ground.

I ended up in the central reservation of the wide street that passes in front of Tokyo station. Those around me were mostly office workers. It was Friday afternoon at 2:46pm so very busy in that area. As we all looked up the buildings were swaying violently and I, like everybody else, thought this was the big one – the giant earthquake that has been overdue in Tokyo for the best part of 30 years. I’m from the UK so I’ve never experienced anything like it before and didn’t know what was best to do – this was the first 30 seconds of the earthquake. After that, what seemed to be an already huge earthquake got stronger and there were gasps and shouts from the crowd as the buildings made long deep groaning noises, the traffic light post at the crossing jerked back and forth violently and on one building a hanging servicing platform slammed into the wall repeatedly. I think the event lasted about three minutes but I couldn’t have estimated the length of time because I was kind of in shock.

After that, all the transportation was down so people were just milling about trying to contact friends and relatives but with little success as the communication networks were also badly effected. I was unable to email, SMS or call at that time, so I used the Facebook app on my iPhone to contact people. Guys with hardhats came spilling out of the buildings with sophisticated-looking equipment to assess the damage. I was freezing after 2 hours of standing around in the street so I walked following the train line until I reached Yurakucho where I had some Thai food in a small restaurant beneath the train tracks. Strong aftershocks continued throughout my meal although the staff in the restaurant seemed indifferent. From there I wandered over to Ginza and then as night fell I went to a pub that I knew had a TV and that’s when I realized just how bad it was in the north of Japan. I was unable to get home that night and so I spent it on the floor of a friend’s house.

As I write this from my apartment in Tokyo, I’m still kind of on-edge as my building continues to wobble almost constantly due to aftershocks. There is a 70% chance of further huge aftershocks possibly reaching up to magnitude 7. If this does happen in the Kanto region where Tokyo is located I have no idea what will happen but I at least have some idea after what happened on Friday, so I hope to God it doesn’t.



It’s 1.59am over here by my computer’s clock in Tokyo and we just had a pretty big earthquake. Well, it was big by my standards. I’ve felt one at least once a week, but only very slight tremors. Before I noticed the earth moving you could hear rattling coming from the overhead electric cables that festoon the streets. Soon after that you could feel the slow back-and-forth movement. Pretty scary considering the big one may be on it’s way. I waited a bit to see if it was followed by another (a sign of a larger earthquake on it’s way), but it never came, so I’m going to bed.

UPDATE: Here’s the official line on the quake from CNN. Incredible, because it was 6.8 on the scale! I guess I shouldn’t have been so blazĂ© about it after all.