Saturday 12th March 2011, 22 hours after the mega-quake:
I finally get hold of Eiko, my wife, at 1AM. It’s taken 22 hours for the mobile network to un-jam. Up until now, we have been communicating via email. I get the good news that the building lifts are operating - with hindsight working on the 25th floor on an office block and residing on the 26th floor of an apartment was perhaps not the smartest of calls in a country that was about to be hit by 600 aftershocks and counting. I rescue the car at first light, and chance the inner Tokyo-Yokohama motorway. Much to my delight, I find it open and empty, as the outer motorway – the Wangan – is closed due to earthquake damage, and would remain so for 48hours.
It seems incredible now, but our reunion on Saturday morning was still characterised by relief at having survived ‘the big one’. Its official title is now the East Japan Mega Earthquake 2011. Like most of Japan, we spent Saturday worried about aftershocks and were gob-smacked by the amazing pictures of the tsunami that had devastated the North Eastern shores of the Island of Honshu.
We decide to go out for dinner, it being a Saturday night after all, but carry out our usual ritual of popping by the local Tesco’s, Eiko to pick up a few items, while I take the dog around the block. I find a bloody great crack in one of the canal bridges and see that sections of footpath have fallen into the water.
I then return, somewhat surprised, to find an empty-handed Eiko. The store had had the usual unlimited supply of booze, fags and meat. But it was stripped bare of fish, rice, vegetable and pot noodles. We get a text from a friend in Tokyo, saying he just tried to buy the Sunday roast at Meat Rush, and got turned away 500 yards from even getting near the store – the whole area was totally mobbed by the expat community loading up. And yet next to our Tesco’s there is a fish restaurant. It’s open. We check and, yes, it looks like fish is back on the menu, boys.
It seem our earthquake training may have lacked the in-depth attention to detail that comes from not attending earthquake drill practice. So, while I and most of the Gaijin community were partying it up on Friday night, celebrating being alive, ten million Tokyo house wives had followed instruction and stripped Tokyo of petrol, perishables and Pot Noodles.
The true irony is we continue to be blissfully ignorant of the growing crisis, still very much focused on having dodged the 'big one'.
Sunday 13th March, two days after the mega-quake:
Having got stung on Saturday, we set out early to the biggest local supermarket, I do the usual of taking the beast for a walk around the block, while Eiko goes into the store, only for me to bump into the local police setting up for their ritual Sunday revenue raising exercise. Now, I’m sorry, but your country has just been ravaged by the fourth largest earthquake of all time, with tens of thousands missing and yet you are setting up motorist speed traps. I just shake my head; the world has clearly lost the plot.
Eiko comes back out the store looking a bit miffed. Oh crap! If this place has no food we are in trouble.
E: “Still no bananas.”
M: “Er, sorry you lost me.”
E: “No bananas.”
M: Looking increasingly desperate: “Ok, what about pot noodles?”
E: Looking at me as if I am a retard: “Why would I be looking for pot noodles? I was looking for bananas.”
M: Feeling as if I am trying to communicate with a live crab in my mouth, I speak slowly: “What about fish, rice and all the other things you said were sold out yesterday?”
E: “Oh, we’ve got all those. I’m just after bananas.”
I just stare at her. I have been secretly flapping since last night when told that Tesco was bare.
E: “I did a big shop on Friday lunchtime. We’ve got enough food for a week”.
I stare some more. I look at her, then the plod giving out speeding tickets and start questioning if I have just imagined the whole Friday earthquake and Tsunami disaster. After 25 years here, the Japanese mindset can still leave me speechless.
Unfortunately the third crisis was about to hit the wires big time and finally Tokyo was going to be on the front line. The situation at the No 1 Fukushima Nuclear Power Station had been going from bad to worse on that front for days, The picture was really confusing, not least as there were SIX reactors at the power station and all were in various states of pandemonium. It was only late Sunday with the announcement of rolling power cuts, that Tokyo got its first real taste of the growing disaster. Fortunately, with my experience of boats, I know what it means to lose power. We start making ice, in case the fridge goes, fill the bath and any buckets, in case the fresh water goes. That’s for drinking and to flush the bog. I really do want to avoid doing the medieval bit with the slops going out the twenty-sixth floor window.
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