Saturday, April 23, 2011

March 11th - all about the quake

Some of you already know the story, but for those that don't here goes....

Friday March 11th began quite typically - took  G to nursery via my bicycle, ran errands,  met a new girlfriend for lunch and a chat, picked G up from school, stopped at Baskin Robbins for an ice cream and cycled home.  After so much sugar, there was no nap to be had, so G was buzzing around our apartment on his tricycle while I unloaded the dishwasher, dryer, cleaned cat litter box - basically being my daily glamorous self until 2:46 pm.  Initially I thought the dizziness I was feeling was internal - perhaps I was ill, had an ear infection?  But no, when the kitchen blinds began banging against the window and I heard framed photos falling from shelves, I knew that it wasn't just me and a simple problem with equilibrium.

Realizing that we were in the throes of a rather large quake, I yelled for G to stop  cycling immediately fearing that one of our huge bookcases or wine cabinet would fall on him.  With all of the assistance that we had received during our move to Tokyo, nobody had thought to brief us in What To Do During the Largest Earthquake in Tokyo's Recorded History.   I knew that our building was built in the 90's and thus allegedly "quake proof".  That's all fine and good until you are sitting on the floor in your living room (away from windows) watching books fall off the shelves, motorcycles tip over outside and telephone pools swaying to and fro and your entire apartment feels like it's on "vibrate".  Pulled G onto my lap for the duration and we just waited it out..."Mommy everything is shaking!!" repeated at least 15 times doing nothing for my slightly frazzled nerves.  Sirens began going off and announcement were being made on our neighborhood public address system - all in Japanese.  I am able to order in a restaurant, give the cabbie directions, but I am not yet advanced enough with my Japanese language skills to decipher an emergency warning over a fuzzy speaker during a time of crisis.  What to do, what to do?

I tried calling the Husband in his (16th floor) office to no avail - phones were not working, cell phone lines were jammed.  I remembered something about a local disaster center at a nearby kindergarten,  so I decided to venture out of the apartment and go to the center - if only to be around people and not alone in our apartment.  Grabbed shoes, bag, jackets, G and Barney the stuffed dinosaur and walked the 2 blocks to the kindergarten - not quite knowing when we would return to the apartment.  There were at least 300 people gathered in the playing field of the school - open area, nothing to fall on us should another quake/aftershock occur - which of course it did.  Reactions were varied - an expat near me with her two children and nanny was sobbing, people were holding hands, some appeared to be in thought and/or praying and a few school children were laughing and joking.  G sat on my lap and fell asleep - so much for his stress level.  I sat on the grass in the playing field for about an hour, kicking myself that we did not yet have our "earthquake survival kit" assembled, trying in vain to use my cell phone, and then decided to head home.  Very surreal - it was a ghost town in our neighborhood, apparently most Japanese people do not in fact leave their homes, duly noted for future quakes.

Thankfully when I returned home, I was able to contact the Husband's assistant and was told that he left work immediately following the quake and was driving home.  On a sidenote, she (assistant) along with a number of his colleagues, opted to stay the night in the office rather than try to get home as there were no trains running. I then made the mistake of turning on the news and surfing the internet (still working!).  I was horrified by the devastation in the northern part of Japan - the tsunami footage seemed almost unreal.  It was at that point that I realized how large of a disaster had just occurred and quite frankly, how lucky we were in Tokyo.  The Husband returned home, avoiding road closures,  around 5:30 that evening.  We were very lucky all in all, some of G's teachers were trapped in a subway for almost 8 hours and many friends here, unable to get taxis or the subway, resorted to walking for hours to get home.

A month plus on and we're still experiencing aftershocks - sometimes quite strong, that are admittedly a bit disconcerting.  I have friends here that are experiencing difficulty sleeping, some that will not be alone in there apartment or refuse to ride the subway and there are quite a few in the expat community that returned to their home country and will not be returning to Tokyo in the future.  We have elected to remain and are doing our part to help  the country that we now call home.  There are food and clothing drives to help with, fundraisers to attend and benefits to organize.   I will say that I have been truly amazed by the resiliency of the Japanese people and the grace and dignity with which they conduct themselves during this time of tragedy.  I am confident that this country will recover and will once again prosper and flourish.  I do want to thank everyone for their kind thoughts, words and prayers - we really do appreciate it.  

Am off to hide Easter eggs....Happy Easter to all!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Kamakura Japan April 16, 2011

First - I know that it's been awhile.  With the earthquake, tsunami, and radiation fears of the past month I've been a bit lax about updating my blog, apologies.  I'll try to revisit some of the events of the past month in future blog posts (including my almost 3 week unexpected trip to the US)  but for now, I'll start with details from our day trip yesterday. 

We decided to venture out of Tokyo to the nearby city of Kamakura, Japan - a small coastal town about 1 hour south of Tokyo.  We contemplated driving, but since our satellite navigation system - that speaks in English, but must be programmed in Japanese (ha!) is virtually useless to us, we decided to take the train instead.  After a one hour train ride, we arrived in the city of Kamakura with our mission being to visit the giant Buddha Daibutsu- the 2nd largest in Japan (largest is in Nara).  

Kamakura was once the political center and capital of Japan when Minamoto Yoritomo chose the city as the seat for his new military government in 1192.  The Kamakura government continued to rule Japan for over a century, first under the Minamoto shogun and then under the Hojo regents.  After the decline of the Kamakura government in the 14th century, the capital of Japan became Kyoto but Kamakura remained vital as a political epicenter for Eastern Japan for many years thereafter.  
Today, Kamakura is a small city that has been referred to as a little Kyoto due to the large number of temples, shrines and historical monuments.  

We arrived just after noon so our first order of business was to find lunch.  We started walking down Komachi Dori - a very popular pedestrian only street lined with restaurants, souvenir shops and stands selling traditional rice cakes, dolls etc.   FYI - we were the only gaijin (foreigners) to be seen anywhere although we did see a few other (German tourists) by the Buddha later in the day.  Lunch was amazing, although we erroneously ordered the chicken skin skewers (what the heck??) instead of chicken breast skewers for G.  He shared my miso, rice and teriyaki chicken instead.  Roy's lunch is pictured below. 

After lunch we set off for The Great Buddha via bus as G was not about to make the 1/2 hour trek on foot.  In Tokyo it is not uncommon to hear English spoken in shops and restaurants, in Kamakura this was not the case at all so the Husband and I tried out our Japanese 101 (not pretty) in an effort to navigate the bus.  We arrived at The Great Buddha in one piece, so considered ourselves successful.  The seated Buddha, Amida Nyorai is known by the familiar name of the Kamakura Daibutsu and was once housed in a temple that was swept away by a tsunami and thus now stands alone.  Construction began in 1252 and took about ten years.  It's height is approximately 13.4 meters (44 feet for my american peeps) and it is awesome when you first see it.  We washed our hands (left, right, left and then cleanse mouth with water from the left), threw coins into box (see G below) and after paying 20 yen (25 cents?), we even went inside to see the construction.  Too dark for photos.  

Stopped for ice cream at a local shop where ironically they had a "hablamos espanol" sign out front and had delicious ice cream cones before our trip back to Tokyo.  G crashed out immediately upon entering the train and I spent the almost hour long trip speaking with an older Japanese woman who expressed her 1. surprise at seeing a family of foreigners on the train and 2. her gratitude and appreciation for American support and aid in this time of Japan's need.  She was lovely - so gracious, well spoken and again so appreciative of all the support from the US and she asked me repeatedly to convey this to my American friends (here you go..).   All in all, a great day trip and I'm looking forward to our next adventure.  Until next time....