Smart & Cheap Japan Travel

Exclusive! A Tourist’s Account from Earthquake and Tsunami Stricken Japan | March 12, 2011

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One of my readers whom I helped out planned a trip to Japan has sent me a detailed account of what went on in Tokyo as the earthquake hit. Absolutely fascinating, read below:

“On our way to the studio Ghibli museum we had just left the train and had boarded a bus. We were in the west suburbs of Tokyo. We were idling at the curb and it was shaking badly like the driver was doing something really funny with the clutch, but then it got worse and we realized there was an earthquake happening. We were really bouncing! I looked out and saw the buildings moving. Metal was rippling on the overhead walkways from the train station. People ran out to the streets. It lasted about one or two minutes. We happened to be on a tour with a guide and she said it was the strongest and longest earthquake she has ever felt in Tokyo. But, 5 minutes after the shaking stopped, everyone went on their way and we drove to the museum. We did not see any damage. We entered the museum and then another quake hit and they had us sit down on the floor at first, and. Later they had us evacuate the museum and go out to a park. In the park hundreds of people were out there, and we were given instructions in Japanese about what to do. Fortunately we had a translator who could tell us what was going on. All the cell phones were down for a few hours, but email was still working on the phones. After about 30 minutes in the park with no further quakes, they let us back in the museum. There we were stuck because all the subways and trains were shut down in Tokyo. We heard it was chaos at all the stations packed with people who couldn’t get home. Imagine NYC on 9/11 when everyone stuck in Manhattan had to walk home due to train service out, and multiply that x 2 at least for Tokyo, a city of 8 million.

The rest of the night was a challenge to get back. Initially we stayed at the museum where the Japanese were very hospitable. They served us tea and water and kept us warm. Then our guide got us a taxi. During the hour and a half ride back to our hotel due to severe traffic jams, we saw packed buses and long lines of people waiting for buses. We were heading into town and most people were trying to head out of central Tokyo. Still it was very bad traffic.

When we got to our hotel, it was packed with people stranded from the nearby train station. The taxi line was several hundred people our taxi driver probably had a very long night! The line of people waiting for a taxi to get home was 300-500 people long. Since our hotel is in a more central location, there were lots more people here who normally rely on trains to get them places. The trains move approximately 6 million people every day here. The lobby was packed with stranded people.

As far as electricity i heard reports of outages but didn’t see any outages. However, a large fire in the bay affected the gas lines and caused many cafes to close. After climbing 19 floors to our room because the elevators were closed down, we are safe and have electricity and internet access! Will have to see how this affects our travel plans if the trains stay down we cannot follow our current plans. About 10 pm last night we saw trains going again so at least some of the public transportation is back online. This morning we got rice packets on the doors with a note that the restaurant was closed. The elevators are working this morning.

During the night, we experienced many aftershocks, one of them quite intense at about 4:00 a.m. It feels like first a shaking followed by a rocking feeling since we are on the 19th floor of our hotel. Kind of like being on a boat!

I have been struck by the calmness of everyone during this crisis. The Japanese barely honk horns even in the worst traffic! Everyone was lined up for buses, no mobs of people out of control demanding things, and everyone being so hospitable at the museum and at our hotel we saw they had opened meeting and banquet rooms for the stranded people and set up areas to get tea and water. Our guide took care of us as well.

We don’t have any English language TV channels. All night and still this morning the TV coverage is constantly about the quake and the tsunamis.”


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    About the Author

    Born in Tokyo. Lived, worked, and traveled in Japan for over a decade combined. Author of the book, "All-You-Can Japan: Getting the Most Bang for Your Yen" - www.allyoucanjapan.com

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