Archive for the ‘2011 Japan Quake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Crisis’ Category

The Internet and the Earthquake

March 17th, 2011 2 comments

Imagine this happening in 1990. Local TV and radio would be all people in Japan would have, maybe satellite TV. Imagine phone lines being even more overloaded than they are now, and cell phones not even an option except for those most on the cutting edge, and probably those wouldn’t work, either. Probably most of Japan would be dark as far as communication is concerned. In the current crisis, the people of Japan are probably getting an appreciation for the Internet that people in African and Middle Eastern countries have recently had.

Right after the quake, when phones were not working, the Internet never missed a beat. Within minutes of the quake, I was accessing Google News via the 3G connection on my iPhone, even before the first stories hit the web. People have been able to email pretty much solidly since the quake hit. People have connected over Facebook and kept each other informed over Twitter. Blogs have chronicled life after the quake. innumerable cell phones equipped with hi-def video cameras caught hundreds if not thousands of views of the quake, with countless images taken of, well, just about everything.

In short, we have stayed connected, fully, both ways, all ways. The disaster has been documented as none other before. What a relief this is for so many who otherwise might wait days or even weeks to get news from relatives, or at least those receiving good news; and even for others, it is still better than not knowing for so long. What a resource–both good and bad–of news, allowing us to get information from all directions, for better or for worse.

In so many recent crises, this has been an invaluable resource, even to the point we may not have imagined just a few years ago. I have to wonder what more value we will find from it in the future, and how historians will look back at this time when this network became available and began to show its worth.

Roads Being Fixed

March 17th, 2011 Comments off

Well, whatever they’re doing or not doing at the nuclear plant, whoever is fixing roads is sure on top of things. In just under four days, they took the road you see at left and repaired it pretty much fully. Good work.

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March 17th, 2011 Comments off

Ouch. This guy doesn’t like how the French government so quickly gave an evacuation alert…

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British Take on the Crisis

March 17th, 2011 17 comments

On the British Tokyo Embassy’s web site, they have posted a Q&A with Chief Scientific Officer Professor John Beddington. Below is his take on a “reasonable worst case scenario.” It was one big chunk in the original article, so I have divided it into more easily readable paragraphs.

Let me now talk about what would be a reasonable worst case scenario. If the Japanese fail to keep the reactors cool and fail to keep the pressure in the containment vessels at an appropriate level, you can get this, you know, the dramatic word “meltdown”.

But what does that actually mean? What a meltdown involves is the basic reactor core melts, and as it melts, nuclear material will fall through to the floor of the container. There it will react with concrete and other materials … that is likely… remember this is the reasonable worst case, we don’t think anything worse is going to happen.

In this reasonable worst case you get an explosion. You get some radioactive material going up to about 500 metres up into the air. Now, that’s really serious, but it’s serious again for the local area. It’s not serious for elsewhere even if you get a combination of that explosion it would only have nuclear material going in to the air up to about 500 metres.

If you then couple that with the worst possible weather situation i.e. prevailing weather taking radioactive material in the direction of Greater Tokyo and you had maybe rainfall which would bring the radioactive material down do we have a problem?

The answer is unequivocally no. Absolutely no issue. The problems are within 30 km of the reactor. And to give you a flavour for that, when Chernobyl had a massive fire at the graphite core, material was going up not just 500 metres but to 30,000 feet. It was lasting not for the odd hour or so but lasted months, and that was putting nuclear radioactive material up into the upper atmosphere for a very long period of time.

But even in the case of Chernobyl, the exclusion zone that they had was about 30 kilometres. And in that exclusion zone, outside that, there is no evidence whatsoever to indicate people had problems from the radiation. The problems with Chernobyl were people were continuing to drink the water, continuing to eat vegetables and so on and that was where the problems came from. That’s not going to be the case here.

So what I would really re-emphasise is that this is very problematic for the area and the immediate vicinity and one has to have concerns for the people working there. Beyond that 20 or 30 kilometres, it’s really not an issue for health.

You’ll want to read the rest of the press conference, he says other things as well–but essentially, he sees worst-case as being not disastrous outside the local area.


Quake–Under Tokyo? Updated: In Ibaraki

March 16th, 2011 14 comments

A quake just hit. It felt more like an up-down quake, meaning it was probably local…

Update: I was wrong, it wasn’t under us. It was a 5.3, centered in Ibaraki, just north of Chiba. And I had just said to Sachi a few minutes earlier, “Hey, there hasn’t been a big quake tonight.” That’ll teach me.

This Is Japan

March 16th, 2011 3 comments


One thing to remember is that when you read the stories about “panic” and how it is “sweeping over” Tokyo and Japan, these reports are by western media outlets, and is usually speaking about foreign visitors they find leaving from the airports. That’s not the Japanese you will find on the streets of Tokyo, or any city in Japan. And it is not the Japanese you will meet in Tohoku. Yes, there is sadness and misery; this is natural. But not panic.

You want to see how real Japanese people are reacting? Here’s one fantastic example–a 72-year-old man who had been stranded with family on the 3rd floor of his house, in one of the towns devastated by the tsunami in Tohoku. As he is rescued by self-defense force personnel, he steps out onto the street, his whole town washed away before him. But he’s got a big smile on his face. “I’m all right!” (大丈夫です!) he announces to a reporter gaily. “I experienced the Chilean tsunami (a similar wave that hit Japan in 1960), so I’m OK!” (チレ津波も体験しているから、大丈夫です!)

As he steps out onto the street with his family and dog, he says with great vigor and spirit, and in a wonderful Tohoku accent, “Let’s rebuild again!” (また再建しましょう!)

Here’s the video:

Indeed, this is not the first time for this in Japan. A giant earthquake hit the Kanto region in 1923. Japan was flattened in the wake of WWII, and spent more than a decade recovering, but that they did. In 1960, the Chilean quake sent a similar tsunami to the east coast of Japan–the one the old man is referring to. Japan has been hit, again and again in the past. And recovered every time. The rest of us overlook this.

Japan will rebuild. It will recover.

The city of Onagawa, 1960, being hit by the Chilean tsunami.
Onagawa was the closest city to last Friday’s quake.

This article from The Globe and Mail, forwarded by Steve, details the people’s state of mind fairly well:

In another country, there would be panic, rage and shouts aimed at the government and the sky. But not Japan. Despite the multiple catastrophes that have simultaneously hit this archipelago, a very Japanese calm and politesse has held back the chaos.

As one catastrophe piled on top of another, a very Japanese deference to authority emerged, as well as a national desire to see civility prevail, no matter the circumstances.

Along the crowded highway that connects Tokyo with the tsunami-battered north, people waited in orderly fuel lines hundreds of cars long without any shouting, honking or cutting in line. In the worst-hit city of Sendai, streets were shattered and cars were flung on top of homes by the force of the tsunami, but in three days there was not a single report of looting.

And here in Koriyama, the city closest to the escalating crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant, residents queued around the block for drinking water being distributed from trucks parked outside a local gymnasium. When an official announced over a loudspeaker that supplies were running low and dozens of families would have to go home without, the line quickly and quietly dispersed.

Most notably, no one panicked and fled south even as the three reactors of the Fukushima plant continued their weekend-long flirtation with disaster. The French and U.S. governments advised their citizens to leave not just the region around the reactor, but also Tokyo 260 kilometres to the south, but most Japanese who live close Fukushima seemed in no hurry to flee.

There is a Japanese word for it: gaman. To persevere.

This quote from Tennyson’s Ulysses comes to mind:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are—
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


Trying Twitter Again

March 16th, 2011 Comments off

Our power is due to go out in 15 min. or so. I am getting on Twitter, to see if I can get back in that swing again and to post while the area is dark… if 3G remains up, that is.

Count on Fox to Lighten the Mood

March 16th, 2011 6 comments

A little comic relief from Fox. At least, I am assuming this really happened–hard to believe, but then again, this is Fox we’re talking about, and the site reporting on it is usually pretty dependable about getting the facts straight. On Your World With Neil Cavuto, Fox reportedly showed a graphic depicting the location of nuclear plants in Japan:


First, that list seems a bit sparse; there are dozens of reactors in Japan. A quick check on Wikipedia (the IEAE site isn’t responding now) shows some of them clustered, but the Fox graphic is incomplete anyway. No big surprise there.

However, one of those names Fox does include seems a little funny: Shibuyaeggman, and it appears situated right here in Tokyo. We have a nuclear plant? And is that supposed to be in Shibuya? And “Eggman”? What the–oh, yeah, this is Fox I’m looking at. Neil Cavuto, even more to the point.

If this report is accurate, and I am betting it is, Fox identified a nuclear reactor existing in a Shibuya nightclub.

I would love to hear how Fox managed this one. I have to say, it makes me feel a bit better about having been taken in by Oehmen & Co. But then, I do expect more from myself, a random guy sitting in his apartment in Tokyo, than I do from the Fox News organization.

Power Outage… Maybe

March 16th, 2011 3 comments

Looks like we might actually have a power outage today. The time is unclear, though–the local loudspeakers said 10:20, the TV seems to be saying after noon. We’ll see when it happens.

This Helps

March 16th, 2011 7 comments

Like many others in Japan, I am on the mailing list of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, and get their warnings, advisories, alerts, and updates. This just came in, from the ambassador:

Since the first reports of trouble with the reactors, American nuclear experts have worked around the clock to analyze data, monitor developments, and provide clear assessments on the potential dangers. While at times we have had only limited access to information, I am personally committed to assuring that our experts have as much access and information as possible, and the necessary resources to understand the situation. I have personally been deeply engaged in these efforts.

After a careful analysis of data, radiation levels, and damage assessments of all units at Fukushima, our experts are in agreement with the response and measures taken by Japanese technicians, including their recommended 20kms radius for evacuation and additional shelter-in-place recommendations out to 30kms.

Let me also address reports of very low levels of radiation outside the evacuation area detected by U.S. and Japanese sensitive instrumentation. This bears very careful monitoring, which we are doing. If we assess that the radiation poses a threat to public health, we will share that information and provide relevant guidance immediately.

That message is also available online here, on the page where all such messages are made public.

I have heard some people worry that the government will hide information to keep the public from mass panic or whatever, but I don’t really accept that. Yes, they’ll try to cover up blunders or foolishness, and they may suggest lame “duck and cover” style solutions–but if a cloud of radioactive vapor is headed our way, I don’t think they’re gonna try to hide it from us.

What may be harder to debate is whether they will let on exactly how potentially bad things can get. I tend to think that the Japanese government may try to hide things that could go badly wrong and would not really help the Japanese people if they knew–but I don’t really see the American government doing that in Japan. I could be wrong. Maybe I am. But I don’t think so.

And so far, I think the U.S. government’s advice to its citizens has been far more helpful and sound than that given by the French and Chinese governments, who seem to be more comfortable with playing it safe and not caring if it gives people the wrong idea.

Quake Under Fuji

March 15th, 2011 4 comments

We just felt a sizable quake–and it wasn’t on the original fault line. This one was right under Mt. Fuji. It came just a few minutes after a different tremor.

Not very comforting…

Update: It was a 6.0 quake, but a “strong 6” on the Japanese effect-based scale. Looks like the quake that preceded it was a 3.0 in the same area. Strictly rumor only, not news-related or from any expert: it’s possibly volcano-related (update–nothing on the news about that, it’s probably nothing volcanic).

10:40 pm: we’re feeling another aftershock.

10:44 pm: another aftershock just a minute ago.

10:50 pm: it looks like the quake just before the big one was actually a 6.2 in Fukushima, at 10:28 pm. After the 6.0 in Shizuoka a few minutes later (10:31 pm), we got aftershocks: a 5.6 in Fukushima at 10:38, a 4.0 in Yamanashi at 10:40, then a 3.6 in Shizuoka at 10:43, followed by a 3.2 in Shizuoka at 10:46, and a 2.9 in Yamanashi at 10:49.

So, effectively, we’re being shaken from both sides here.

11:04: reports on the news coming in from Shizuoka tells of stuff falling off of shelves, some damage near the epicenter.

Under the Japanese Seismic Intensity Scale, in a “strong 6” (which this one was), it is “impossible to keep standing and to move without crawling,” and “Most heavy and unfixed furniture moves and falls.” In this kind of quake, “less earthquake-resistant” houses can collapse and more resistant houses can sustain serious damage.

We’ll have to see how this one turns out.

Give Me a Break

March 15th, 2011 9 comments

This headline on MSNBC’s web site:

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Really. “Panic grips Tokyo”? Where, exactly, did they get this? Their person on the ground in Tokyo? This is the first graf:

Panic swept Tokyo on Tuesday after a rise in radioactive levels around an earthquake-hit nuclear power plant north of the city, causing some to leave the capital and others to stock up on food and supplies.

Okay. I don’t know how many are “leaving the capital,” but I haven’t noticed any abnormal traffic. Most people probably wouldn’t have enough gas for the trip, and most trains out of town aren’t running. But if people are leaving Tokyo, it’s probably as much for the aftershocks and the supply problems as it is from the radioactivity.

Second, people have been stocking up on food and supplies since Friday, something which did not change today. The lines I showed in my last blog post were simply a morning thing to keep the store from getting too crowded at once, and was the only store in the neighborhood doing it. Things are about the same today as they were two days ago, just a little farther progressed. People are buying because supplies look to be short, not because of radiation levels.There has been no sudden jump in buying or traffic.

People around here, as well as people I know around town, are all calm and coping. Television broadcasts show none of the panic reported above. Yes, some foreign residents are freaked out, but probably that’s because they depend on sites like the one I cite above, read headlines like this, and then react like the article shows.

Panic, my ass. Concern, yes. A few people freak out, yes. But on the whole, “Tokyo” is doing just fine.

Supply Lines

March 15th, 2011 4 comments

Well, distribution problems continue. Yesterday, gas stations were either closed or had very long lines. Supermarkets have been out of bread products for a few days now, and what comes in quickly goes out. I thought I’d check out the supply in the morning, and found this at about 10:30am:


I could not see inside enough to figure if they had fully restocked or not, but they won’t be for long, I am guessing. Maybe tomorrow I’ll try getting up a bit earlier and get in the (probably much longer) lines to get something. It is currently kind of hard to tell whether this is purely because of supply problems, or if panic buying and hoarding is playing a role. Since I did not get in, I could not see if prices had been jacked up, but they had not been yesterday when the place was nearly sold out.

I wrote the above this morning, and Sachi and I just got back from opening a bank account at the bank we’re getting a loan from. After going to the bank, we figured we’d check out the food store below Seiyu (owned by Walmart, incidentally). Their fruits & vegetables remained fairly stocked (seems that there are a lot of farms in the area, so no problems there), but milk, eggs, and bread and other bakery goods were cleaned out–along with meat and other items. In short, meat, bread, & dairy–which often come from up north–are predictably in short supply.



In surprisingly good supply: fish. I am guessing that most of the fleet was safely out to sea, and therefore unaffected by the tsunami, so there was lots of tuna and other seafood available. We got to the store at a good time for the bakery–the shop in Seiyu’s basement was baking stuff and putting it out on the fly (ringing a bell each time new stuff came out), so we could get some muffins, a few pastries, and a “milk bread” confection, all fresh out of the over. People were snapping them up as soon as they came out, but when I got there, they had just put out a lot of stuff and almost no one was there.

Prices remain stable, nothing has gone up noticeably.

In the meantime, fast food and other restaurants are still open, for the most part.

We have not had a blackout in our area yet, despite having been told twice that the power would be cut at such-and-such a time. I can only assume that they are planning for the worst and then doing what is necessary. One is due in about half an hour or so. Internet continues to stay on as it has since the quake started.

* [Probably Misleading] Article to Calm People Down about the Nuclear Thing

March 14th, 2011 22 comments

*I have been reminded that the writer of the below material posts links to strongly pro-nuclear organizations, and may be biased himself. I maintain that the writing is, at the very least, far more factual and probably much closer to the truth than a lot of the stuff we see in the media nowadays. Judge for yourself.

Update: More is coming out suggesting that Josef Oehmen and the people who put up the site are far less than unbiased or expert in the proclamations. It would appear that I got fooled. My apologies. If it’s any consolation to me, a lot of other people were taken in as well. Thanks to Troy and others for staying on top of this.

Here’s a great blog post by Dr. Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT, in Boston, basically telling people that the nuclear situation in Japan is not even close to being as bad as it’s being made out to be by activists and a media looking for the sensational angle.

He explains in layman’s terms how the nuclear plants in question work, and why there’s not going to be a huge radioactive release.

A few excerpts:

I am writing this text (Mar 12) to give you some peace of mind regarding some of the troubles in Japan, that is the safety of Japan’s nuclear reactors. Up front, the situation is serious, but under control. And this text is long! But you will know more about nuclear power plants after reading it than all journalists on this planet put together.

There was and will *not* be any significant release of radioactivity.

By “significant” I mean a level of radiation of more than what you would receive on – say – a long distance flight, or drinking a glass of beer that comes from certain areas with high levels of natural background radiation.

I have been reading every news release on the incident since the earthquake. There has not been one single (!) report that was accurate and free of errors (and part of that problem is also a weakness in the Japanese crisis communication). By “not free of errors” I do not refer to tendentious anti-nuclear journalism – that is quite normal these days. By “not free of errors” I mean blatant errors regarding physics and natural law, as well as gross misinterpretation of facts, due to an obvious lack of fundamental and basic understanding of the way nuclear reactors are build and operated. I have read a 3 page report on CNN where every single paragraph contained an error.

He ends with this:

My assessment:

  • The plant is safe now and will stay safe.
  • Japan is looking at an INES Level 4 Accident: Nuclear accident with local consequences. That is bad for the company that owns the plant, but not for anyone else.
  • Some radiation was released when the pressure vessel was vented. All radioactive isotopes from the activated steam have gone (decayed). A very small amount of Cesium was released, as well as Iodine. If you were sitting on top of the plants’ chimney when they were venting, you should probably give up smoking to return to your former life expectancy. The Cesium and Iodine isotopes were carried out to the sea and will never be seen again.
  • There was some limited damage to the first containment. That means that some amounts of radioactive Cesium and Iodine will also be released into the cooling water, but no Uranium or other nasty stuff (the Uranium oxide does not “dissolve” in the water). There are facilities for treating the cooling water inside the third containment. The radioactive Cesium and Iodine will be removed there and eventually stored as radioactive waste in terminal storage.
  • The seawater used as cooling water will be activated to some degree. Because the control rods are fully inserted, the Uranium chain reaction is not happening. That means the “main” nuclear reaction is not happening, thus not contributing to the activation. The intermediate radioactive materials (Cesium and Iodine) are also almost gone at this stage, because the Uranium decay was stopped a long time ago. This further reduces the activation. The bottom line is that there will be some low level of activation of the seawater, which will also be removed by the treatment facilities.
  • The seawater will then be replaced over time with the “normal” cooling water
  • The reactor core will then be dismantled and transported to a processing facility, just like during a regular fuel change.
  • Fuel rods and the entire plant will be checked for potential damage. This will take about 4-5 years.
  • The safety systems on all Japanese plants will be upgraded to withstand a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami (or worse)
  • (Updated) I believe the most significant problem will be a prolonged power shortage. 11 of Japan’s 55 nuclear reactors in different plants were shut down and will have to be inspected, directly reducing the nation’s nuclear power generating capacity by 20%, with nuclear power accounting for about 30% of the national total power generation capacity. I have not looked into possible consequences for other nuclear plants not directly affected. This will probably be covered by running gas power plants that are usually only used for peak loads to cover some of the base load as well. I am not familiar with Japan’s energy supply chain for oil, gas and coal, and what damage the harbors, refinery, storage and transportation networks have suffered, as well as damage to the national distribution grid. All of that will increase your electricity bill, as well as lead to power shortages during peak demand and reconstruction efforts, in Japan.
  • This all is only part of a much bigger picture. Emergency response has to deal with shelter, drinking water, food and medical care, transportation and communication infrastructure, as well as electricity supply. In a world of lean supply chains, we are looking at some major challenges in all of these areas.

So, everyone stay calm!

It’s No Chernobyl

March 14th, 2011 3 comments

Here’s what seems like a voice of reason:

I wish the anti-nuke crowd would back off the rhetoric. I know this is a golden opportunity for them to scare people off of nuclear. Frankly, the whole nuclear debate is well worth going over, and personally I wish we were going full-on towards solar, wind, and sea power. But right now, people are in a state of near-panic, and activists going around talking about disaster so they can stir up support for their positions are being stupid and irresponsible. They are scaring a lot of people unnecessarily, and making life difficult for people here.

Anyway, I am headed in for work, so I will be offline for as long as it takes. Will be checking in all day long, of course.

We Need the Hitchhiker’s Guide Right Now

March 14th, 2011 3 comments

Well, things are a bit of a mess–more in terms of organization than anything else, it seems. They announced rolling blackouts last night and my school spent most of last night coordinating messages and planning around power and train announcements… so naturally, we wake this morning to find there are no blackouts but the trains are pretty much not running. So we had to just cancel everything today. Thanks, government guys. Smoothly handled!

In the meantime, a lot of people are acting less on information they have and more on information they don’t. The French and Chinese embassies sent out advisories to leave Japan and not to travel to Japan. Well, thanks, guys–now people are seeing those and thinking these governments know something others don’t, and that gets inflated into “imminent nuclear disaster” and so forth. Seems like people are beginning to panic, but mostly because of the effect of other people panicking.

This image was posted on Facebook by a former student, Kaz:

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New House Seems OK

March 13th, 2011 4 comments

I went to check out the house, and it appears to be perfectly fine–no broken glass, no damaged concrete or plastic, not so much as a cracked tile anywhere. That’s the general result around here. The trains were running normally, with no crowding on the trains. The people who built our house say that they will not be doing more than just a basic visual check with us this Friday, so it’s pretty much up to us to spot any damage that might not be immediately apparent. I’ll probably ask them to turn the gas on in addition to the water, so we can make sure all the lines are holding up OK. Don’t know what else we can do, aside from hiring an engineer, who would be prohibitively expensive and probably not necessary.

More or Less Normal

March 12th, 2011 17 comments

As northern Japan is devastated, Tokyo is more or less normal. Train lines have come back up, and those who were trapped in the city are now largely back home. The only things that seem different are a few bare areas in markets. Although the meat and fish (much meat in Japan comes from up north; fishing, obviously, may have been affected by the tsunami) were low in supply, they were still there. What was missing: pastry and instant noodles. Instant noodles made sense at least–a quick, easy food with a long shelf life. People may have feared a quake hitting Tokyo, though frankly I don’t see that as being any more a risk than usual. But the pastry? Not sure why that should be absent…



Japan and Building Codes

March 12th, 2011 4 comments

About a week ago, Sachi and I visited the offices of the firm that built our house. We saw videos showing the engineering technologies to protect against quake damage. The two I recall specifically are wall panels that protect against structure collapse, and structural posts which keep the building from separating from its foundations.

An article from the New York Times says that Japan’s strict building codes probably saved a lot of lives:

In Japan, where earthquakes are far more common than they are in the United States, the building codes have long been much more stringent on specific matters like how much a building may sway during a quake. …

Japan has gone much further than the United States in outfitting new buildings with advanced devices called base isolation pads and energy dissipation units to dampen the ground’s shaking during an earthquake.

The isolation devices are essentially giant rubber-and-steel pads that are installed at the very bottom of the excavation for a building, which then simply sits on top of the pads. The dissipation units are built into a building’s structural skeleton. They are hydraulic cylinders that elongate and contract as the building sways, sapping the motion of energy. …

New apartment and office developments in Japan flaunt their seismic resistance as a marketing technique, a fact that has accelerated the use of the latest technologies, said Ronald O. Hamburger, a structural engineer in the civil engineering society and Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, a San Francisco engineering firm.

Later today, I’ll be driving over to the new house to check it out, but I will be very surprised if it shows any damage.

I would, however, like to make a small political point here. The building codes and other rules that saved so many lives? That’s what you call “government regulation.” The purpose of which is not to stifle or dominate, but to protect and safeguard. In this case, it kept people from dying as much. In other cases, it safeguards against damage done by people and corporations. Regulation, far more often than not, is a good thing.

After the Quake

March 11th, 2011 9 comments

After the shaking stopped, I tiptoed through the stuff covering the floor, and went through the building, helping the staff tell everyone to get out and collect outside. I quickly grabbed my laptop, bag, and jacket–as well as my bike helmet–and headed downstairs. Everyone was gathered out on the street. Phones were down–and still are, 4 hours later–as was text messaging. 3G Internet was still available, but for 15-20 minutes after the quake, no news services had anything. It took a bit longer than that before I found a Google News story about a 7.9 quake, but no news site would load enough to get other information.

As we waited out on the street, we could see the 40-story high-rise being built to our north, with four giant construction cranes towering over it–and even in the aftershocks, those cranes were swinging around like tree branches in a heavy wind.

I hit an incredibly lucky break of sorts today. As we needed documents from city hall for our upcoming home purchase, I decided this morning, on the spur of the moment, to take my scooter. I hardly ever do that anymore; I drive in maybe only once every two months nowadays. But I did this morning, and it was a fairly major break for me. From what I hear, trains are still not running, and one can only imagine the crowds when they start up again. I have heard that as many as 70 students at my school are still there, and may have to sleep there until trains start up again, maybe not even tonight. (I am Skype texting with one of them as I type this, in fact.)

The first thing I did was to take my scooter to the local gas stand; I didn’t think I had enough fuel to get me all the way home. I actually figured that the gas stations, naturally, would be shut down–but surprisingly, they were not. In fact, far from the long lines I imagined, there was almost no one there. I filled up and scooted over to the school grounds where everyone had gone. People shared stories–being on the subway, having relatives near the epicenter, speculation about the effects, and so forth–and otherwise just tried to recover from the event. Several of my students and I had planned to go to Akihabara tomorrow to buy computer parts of the Computer Making Club; when I suggested we postpone the trip, at least one student–who wants to make her own computer alongside ours–was very disappointed.

After it seemed clear that I would not be of any use, I did what I had been planning to do but was torn over: go home. On the one hand, I felt like a selfish heel, scooting on home while everyone else stood around in a dirt yard in the windy cold with probably no way to get home until the next day. But I also was unable to contact Sachi, and fearing she was even more worried about me than I was about her, well, that won over. By this time, it was about 50 minutes after the quake had struck.

As I started driving home, I noted so many people outside, especially with their dogs. So many had left their buildings and gathered outside. Offices were beginning to shut down, and people in the city were beginning to go home the only way they could–by walking. People were out on the streets in numbers, with crowds at every bus stop. The buses, overcrowded of course, were the only way many people had of getting even close to home. The trains were down, of course, and I certainly would not have wanted to try to flag down a taxi just then.

Interestingly, traffic itself was rather normal. I expected a huge traffic jam, a parking lot from one end to the other–but that wasn’t how it was. Instead, the streets were no more crowded than usual. I drove down Ome Boulevard, and while there was congestion here and there, it was not something I would be surprised at on any day.

As it happened, my brother and his wife live right along the route I was taking, so I stopped by. My sister-in-law was home, but my brother was still at work, and they were communicating by Skype. Just as I left, he indicated he would walk home–a three-and-a-half mile walk, but it was the only way. I got back on my scooter and continued going.

There was really no special damage along the way. Oh, fire trucks were present here and there, and a few old buildings seemed to need some help, but mostly it looked like business as usual. Businesses, in fact, were still open, everything except the trains seemed to be operating as usual. Every red light, I would get out my phone and retry texting Sachi, though it didn’t work all the way home.

Finally, I got home, and Sachi was there, doing fine. Some furniture had moved a few inches, and there was some spilling on the floor, but nothing broke and everything seemed OK. The electricity is still on everywhere I could see, the Internet never went offline, and water is running–but the gas is off, at least in our apartment. There may be an emergency switch somewhere, I’ll have to check that out.

About an hour ago, I got through to someone on my cell phone, but that was the only call that went through–I have not been able to make calls before or since. We had nabe for dinner–a stew you boil right there at the table. We used an IH (induction heating) hotplate, while continuing to watch the nonstop news on TV.

So, we’re just fine here–Tokyo was not hardest hit by far–but we’re still getting hit by aftershocks. A rather big one just hit, the 20th or so quake that, on any other day, would rate its own little blog post. We expect these will keep happening for a while.

Quite a day.