Tokyo's sober calm
As we watch television coverage of the earthquake and tsunami inundating Japan's coastal towns, there is an eeriness in the air,
The aftershocks in Tokyo and eastern Japan continue into the night.
The quake struck at 2.46pm and seven hours later, there have been more than 70 aftershocks. In Tokyo it started off as barely perceptible movement, escalating to intense shaking that had me trying to push back plates that were falling out of the cupboard in the dining room. At the same time as I was grabbing plates, I watched the sugar bowl in the kitchen crash down from a shelf knocking cups on the bench to the floor. Without doubt it was the most serious shaking in the nine years I have been here.
Emergency mode. Most importantly gas off. In both the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and the 1995 Kobe earthquake, fires claimed many more lives than falling buildings. Next, turn on the television and internet to see where the earthquake's epicentre is. Japanese television begins to broadcast earthquake information within seconds. If the shaking is strong but the epicentre near, it may not be a serious earthquake.
But when the shaking is strong and the epicentre far you know the shaking is much worse in other places. This time, the epicentre was off the Sanriku coast in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, 300km from Tokyo. At Richter 8.8 it's reported to be the largest magnitude earthquake in Japan's history. The settled areas of the picturesque Sanriku coast have low-lying fishing villages with an acute awareness of tsunami. The tsunami flood gates and inundation zone warning signs along the coast are a stark reminder of the 1896 Sanriku tsunami in which more than 20,000 people died.
Television news showed the tsunami inundating the coastal towns. As the cars bobbed around like flotsam, it wasn't clear how many of them contained people or whether the high ground was high enough, or near enough.
The trains are still out of action in Tokyo, but there is a sober calm. Many Tokyoites have opted to spend the night at their workplace. Tonight my husband, along with many of his colleagues, are staying put in their central Tokyo office until tomorrow, by which stage the trains will probably be running again. Some of his co-workers chose to walk home: part of Japan's earthquake damage-minimisation strategy is ensuring people know how to walk home from work in the event of a mass transport failure. Public buildings have been opened in central Tokyo tonight to accommodate people stranded in the city.
There is an eeriness in the air, but a spirit of camaraderie as well. Three of my neighbours have dropped by to check things are OK, whether my husband was able to come home and whether I knew how to reactivate the emergency switch that cuts off the gas supply in a major earthquake. I appreciate it. In Tokyo most people are going to bed shaken and on edge but thankful. But living here there is always a lingering sense that one day, we are going to have a big one too.
|Warning signs for the inundation area|
|Fishing nets along the coastline|
|The earthquake as recorded by the Japan Meteorological Agency.|