Report From Tokyo: As I Write This, the Ground Seems to be Moving Again
Tokyo is one of the world’s most dynamic cities, a place that manages to make New York look about as thrilling as Des Moines. Not to mention as filthy as Calcutta. This past Saturday morning, though, you could have heard a pin drop in the lanes of Shinjuku, a place that contains the busiest train station in the world and looks, after dark, like a set from some movie from the future.
Besides tangled heaps of bicycles and the occasional crack in a wall, you’d never know what had happened here, just hours ago. Seniors tended to their flower boxes and tiny side yards, groups of uniform-clad students headed off to their Saturday morning lessons. Delivery men serviced vending machines, sweepers cleaned the streets. It was almost like the city hadn’t witnessed one of the most terrifying earthquakes in recent memory, a major event that, though it paled in comparison to the tragedy that befell the region two hundred miles or so to the north, will not soon be forgotten.
It was a brave front, but even Tokyo – a city like New York, a city that has seen nearly everything – was having a hard time keeping up appearances. Later in the day, with darkness setting in, Shinjuku’s nightlife district, with its porn shops and pachinko parlors and Indian restaurants and whisky bars, seemed oddly quiet. Restaurants that were normally open twenty-four hours were completely shuttered. The convenience store up the block started to look picked-over. Even Starbucks was closed by six o’clock. Groups of people were standing outside the train station, nervously watching the rescue efforts up north on the big screen.
After a day of seemingly non-stop shaking — more than 100 aftershocks have been reported in the last couple of days, with more being added to the list all the time – you have to figure that the city has the right to be worried. Add to that more bad news from the north of the city, where a tsunami and its horrible aftermath had already been enough tragedy for a lifetime; now, there was the threat of nuclear meltdown at a power plant just a couple hundred miles away.
As I write this, the ground seems to be moving again, ever so slightly, as it has been for the past hour. I’m on the 47th floor of the Park Hyatt, looking down at the twinkling lights of one of the world’s most endless cities. The news says yet another considerable quake struck the already afflicted northeast region this evening. I’m beginning to wonder if a blanket, a pillow and a bench down in the 1st floor lobby might be just the thing. It would be a lot more comfortable than the chair I slept on last night.
When the earth started moving on Friday, an event that would go down as the biggest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history, an 9-on-the-Richter disaster that, in tandem with a tsunami, laid waste to swaths of the country’s northeastern region, I was in a bar. At Disneyland. Because, well, why not?
With the weather in my favor and a free afternoon to kill, I had rounded up a couple of friends and hopped the Keiyo Line for the 15 minute journey out from Tokyo Station. We’d barely been there an hour, before the earth started to shake. The bar, the Roosevelt Lounge, is located on the SS Columbia, a boat deep inside the park. As the boat started jerking back and forth, we joked. Was this the hourly show, maybe? When Pirates Attack? Then it got worse. Everyone shut up. It was a strange feeling, being on a boat during an earthquake; a combination of a rough day at sea and running aground, over and over again.
As the quake began, the staff sprang into action, ordering us under any available tables, signaling for us to hold our hands over our heads, all the while – and I swear this – bowing, smiling, giggling nervously the way younger Japanese women so often do – and apologizing for the inconvenience.
Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Over and over again. (Japan has got to be one of the few places in the world plagued by earthquakes where the locals will run around apologizing to you. While the earth is shaking.)
At expense to their own safety; they rushed around the lounge, making sure we were all properly tucked away, all assuming the position.
After way too long, we were evacuated outdoors, where tens of thousands of park-goers were already out on the pavement, visibly stunned. English speaking cast members circled back every few minutes to update us, to shoot the breeze. Where are you from? New York. I love New York! Do you need to use the toilet? Kind of!
Minutes later, we were all back on the ground, being urged away from anything that might fall on us – trees, lampposts, statues. Everyone was screaming. Again, the shaking went on for more than two minutes. Again, the park staff – clearly trained to the hilt in earthquake preparedness – circulated throughout the crowd like concerned mother hens looking after their chicks.
In the end, this had been another serious jolt, not unlike the first. This being Japan, very little happened – a few cracks in the sidewalk, the odd street lamp bent, a speaker tower knocked over. I would certainly have plenty of time to evaluate the park firsthand; the resort is located on a rather isolated patch on Tokyo Bay, and with roads and trains shut down in the aftermath, those of us here – tens of thousands of us – had little choice but to sit tight and wait for things to go back to normal.
Not that they would, anytime soon; the double quakes were just the beginning of a twelve-hour ordeal, with a considerable aftershock and numerous smaller ones hitting the park nearly nonstop. With my hotel all the way across the city in Shinjuku and no hope of even a cab, all we could do was sit there and feel the earth moving. As the hours wore on, parkgoers scavenged cardboard boxes and plastic bags from staff, creating makeshift tents in the main plaza at the center of the park, in the shadow of the luxurious Hotel MiraCosta, an exclusive address that looks like a Tuscan villa on steroids.
All night, we waited; eventually, inspectors allowed restaurants to reopen, but with safety still a concern, kitchens did not – crowds of people jammed in to the Café Portofino, an Italian restaurant overlooking a beautiful manmade lake where gondolieri normally offer rides to lovestruck young couples. Now, there wasn’t much romance in the air – just the scent of brewing coffee and the sound of hordes of thankful refugees ripping open packages of Minnie Mouse chocolates, which had been brought over from the park gift shop.
All night, we tried to make contact with the outside world – no hotels could take us, our own hotel had no way to reach us by car. We were stuck. But we were lucky. All night, I was reminded of September 11, when all those of us who lived in Brooklyn could do to help was sit there and be patient and be grateful that we were still alive. Then again, on September 11th, I distinctly remember having access to margaritas. I must have had about ten of them. Last night, I would have killed for just one.
David Landsel is the Travel Editor of the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter @davidlandsel.
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 2 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 3 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 4 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 5 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Startup
- 6 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 7 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 8 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 9 Attorney Actually Starting to Believe Own Bullshit
- 10 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook