There I was at the Tokyo National Museum when the Great Tohoku Earthquake (北地方太平洋沖地震) struck. At first I thought it was a train passing by (it sounded like one), but I realized that I was in the middle of a park and there was no trains anywhere nearby. Then the paintings on the wall started to shake, and the floor started to move… Oh shit, I’m in Japan, it must be an earthquake!
And sure enough, it was. Luckily for me though Tokyo was far enough away from the epicentre that very little damage occurred. My understanding was that it was about a 5.0 on the scale in Tokyo. Check the chart:
Tokyo was only in the “strong” zone. Another Canadian guy I met in Seoul a week or so later told me that his apartment in Ibaraki (茨城県) was pretty much toast though, which really isn’t that far from Tokyo.
During the earthquake I wasn’t really sure what to do. I had completely forgotten all those drills I did in elementary school, but the Japanese people sure didn’t. Basically I hid in a corner where some lady was crouching. She said something to the effect (in broken English): “It’s OK, this happens all the time.”
After she said that I felt better.
Obviously the Subway systems were completely shut down. And in Tokyo… that’s a BIG deal. As luck would have it the Tokyo National Museum was pretty close to my hostel (in Asakusa). So, I walked. It only took about an hour or so with a stop for conveyor belt makisushi (which was awesome).
Here is a short video I took of people milling about due to the subway closure.
Notice how calm and collected everyone is:
It was a little scary actually walking around Tokyo because I’m was certainly not familiar with the city and didn’t have a proper map – but I did have a subway map. So the great plan that I came up with was to follow the Yamanote Line (above ground line) until it meets up with the Sobu Main Line (also above ground) and follow that one to about the river and Asakusabashi station. From there I was able to find my way back to the hostel.
At the hostel everybody shared their escape stories and watched the news.
The next day most train services were back up and running – but not at full capacity. The schedules were very messed up and there was general transportation chaos.
It just goes to show that in disaster-prone areas it is very important that critical infrastructure such as transit be able to withstand and survive these catastrophes. The Japanese have built their rail lines to very high standards and as a result, most rail was back in operation within 24 hours.
SIDE NOTE: The Evergreen line currently under construction as part of the SkyTrain network in Vancouver is being built to withstand a massive earthquake – which is great news! But unfortunately the rest of the system has not been built to anywhere near that standard. So, if the big one hits Vancouver SkyTrain is pretty much toast except for one 10 km long stretch.
Thanks for reading!