I don't know if I should call this a message, or just a post.
I've often spoken about my experience in Japan on 3.11 in Japanese. This time I think I would like to speak to the rest of the world in English about that day.
I was at Disneyland Tokyo that day. It was a friend's birthday and it was a fine day up until the earthquake. There was the shaking, which I, as a California native, was already used to. However it was stronger than usual and it reminded me of the 1989 San Francisco Earthquake. We were in line waiting for a ride when the shaking started. You could hear the wood in the building cracking from the extreme force. When it ended everyone in the park was evacuated from the buildings and were instructed to wait outside until the buildings could be properly inspected for safety.
Phones did not work well as the lines were essentially jammed from the panic. Transportation stopped and there was no reason to leave the park because even if you wanted to go home there was no way to get there. We waited hours trying to find a warm place in the sun. It suddenly got colder over time and rained a bit. The park staff tried their best to keep order in the park and eventually handed out coffee, popcorn and whatever else they could muster up for the people in the park. Eventually nighttime came and people who had only come prepared for a mid-day gathering were now stuck outside in the freezing cold in short sleeve shorts and shorts. People huddled together to keep warm. At times people made their way to the park's First Aid Center to try and warm up for just a few minutes.
I think for most of us our phones died in the early afternoon without much luck contacting friends and family. I personally had no access to news and the most I got was one break in the black-out where an e-mail from my sister came asking if i was OK. I thought she meant the earthquake so I felt no real urgency to respond and even if I wanted to, the lines still would not let much of a phone signal or data signal through.
Sometime late in the evening the buildings were cleared and people were allowed to come inside. The basic plan seemed to be that since no one could get home, people would be moved inside the buildings and could sleep there. My friends and I were around the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, so thats where we found shelter. Some light plastic covers, some rice and a few chocolates were handed out to everyone. We all tried to find a decent place, and on the floor of the ride building we slept. It was cold, a bit noisy, and the room was full of confused and scared people. It was hard to sleep in those conditions but what other choice did we have? I am grateful to the staff of the Disneyland Tokyo for working so hard to make sure everyone was taken care of.
The next day the staff notified everyone that charter busses had been arranged to take everyone to the nearest operating train station. We exited the park and went to line up. That was the first time I saw the damage from the earthquake. The road was twisted up, and giant cracks had formed in the concrete roads. After getting on the bus and heading to the station my friends and I found the train station was packed with hundreds of people waiting for the first train. We decided it would be better to catch a cab back to Tokyo. That was when I first found out what happened in Tohoku. We heard it over the radio. So many were lost and missing. The devastation was put into words but there was no visual so we had no real sense of reality about the matter. Hearing so many people were lost brought my friend to tears. I had friends in the area and I worried for their safety. I wouldn't hear from many of them for months.
It was only after finally getting home that I realized how bad it had become. The news was non-stop. From all sides domestic and foreign news outlets flooded the TV and internet with images and videos of what had happened. Tokyo was suddenly empty and I recall that seeing another gaikokujin (foreigner) anywhere in Tokyo became rare for a few months as many people had returned to their home countries. I remember those moments, but I remember a reality that foreign (non-Japanese) media could not, or did not, adequately show.
My family urged me to come back to the states. In the midst of that I was busy with work. I worked for a vending machine company and the earthquake had a major impact on our machines. Suddenly there was a rush to fix machines from all over Kanto and Tohoku. It wasn't just the one quake on 3.11. There were aftershocks for weeks, maybe months. Initially there were sizable aftershocks almost every 15 minutes for weeks on end. There was a shortage on gas, and there were rolling blackouts to conserve energy. Essentials like bottles of water, rice, bread and most items from convenience stores and markets were gone for months. I remember when I went to work in Kyoto for a day, I bought rice and bread there and brought it back with me to Tokyo because we had none at most of the markets.
I can say that it was difficult but nothing was harder than that first night for me sleeping on the cold floor of a repurposed building in Disneyland. That experience gave me perspective. I went through one night, but the people in Tohoku had to live through those types of conditions for so many months after the earthquake before temporary alternatives could be put in place. It made me realize I wanted to help, and I wanted to stay in Japan no matter what.
We're not done here. There is so much that must be done in order for Tohoku to even partially recover. This is why we cannot forget 3.11. It's why we must not forget and continue to help where we can.
I've met and known so many people impacted by the earthquake and their strength and resilience is incredible. So much was lost, but still there is so much we must save and preserve. To the people who are reading this blog, and to the people who have a love and admiration for Japan, please continue to support the efforts for recovery. Keep Japan in your thoughts and prayers.
Thank you for reading.
With love and gratitude,