Friday, March 18, 2011

Earthquake Day

One week ago I was in Tokyo to watch a University Ice Skating competition. This is Fuku-chan. He was skating to Beethoven Symphony #7 IIRC...


The second movement would have been perhaps a good soundtrack for the drama to come. After he finished, the ladies warm-up began. About five minutes into that, I noticed the bench I was sitting on, with Kiyo and Mariko, swaying side to side. Being particularly sensitive to these things, since I am mortally afraid of all earthquakes, I looked around to see the reactions of others. Everyone was watching the skating.

I stood up and said to myself, "Isn't this an earthquake?" About five seconds later, felt like a long time when panicking, others said, "earthquake! Please get off the ice! Earthquake!" And the skaters listlessly swayed off the ice.

In retrospect, it is rather strange, but everyone just stayed where they were. We didn't try to rush out, but stayed exactly where we were and waited. Every time I've been in an earthquake, from slight to fairly large, the same feeling goes through your mind - is it going to get worse or better? And you wait, and wait, for the answer to that question. It's an idiotic response, but that's what I'm thinking about.

In a stroke of minor-divine-luck, Mariko did move, from the bench to the wall a couple of meters behind us. About ten seconds later a stream of water, from some cooling system I presumed, fell from the ceiling several metres overhead right onto the bench where she had been, creating a nice puddle.

When the shaking stopped, everyone left the building.


On my phone, I quickly found out the rough location and the magnitude of the quake, but we knew nothing of the seriousness. After twenty minutes or so of checking the building, everyone re-entered the rink, and the skating resumed, only for us to evacuate again once an aftershock hit.

Our troubles were nothing compared to those directly affected, but it was trying in its own way. All trains in Tokyo stopped. We had travelled about 40 minutes out from central Tokyo to get to the skate rink, and had to get to the other side of Tokyo to our luxury hotel.

We didn't stand a chance. Waiting and taking buses took us barely five miles in one hour. At Tachikawa station we got a first glimpse of the chaos that had begun...


Outside the station a crowd of people unable to get home had built up, long, long lines for jam packed buses. On a big screen TV people looked up to scenes of burning refineries and tsunami damage. It felt like a movie scene, so surreal was the sense that something utterly terrible had occurred. Still trying to get to our luxury hotel, we boarded a bus that took about an hour to take us just one station down the train line; Kunitatchi.

Here we found out that the hotel had actually closed, and they had been trying to call Mariko on her home number. At Kunitatchi we ate at a Hokkaido food restaurant, and were then forced to try to get back to Tatchikawa since there were no hotels in Kunitatchi. Since it was relatively close, I wanted to walk, but the ladies weren't so keen and wanted to take a bus, no problem I thought. We joined a long line in the cold, and I was quite glad that in a stroke of luck I had bought my down jacket that day. Eskimo hood up, I was quite content to wait.


The line moved quickly as two buses came and went, we were sure to get on the next one. So we waited. And waited. And waited for an hour. Then people started to call the bus company, and gradually we realised that the last bus had left without telling anyone that no more were coming. Kiyo and Mami did a good job of running around, telephoning and gathering information, and got us on another bus, after another half hour, going to Tatchikawa.

My mood was, as you might expect, boarding on irritated, but we had arrived in Tatchikawa now and the girls had managed to book a hotel, the Camel Inn, which we were thankful for since most places were fully booked. I was looking forward to getting to sleep.

However, this strange day was about to get a bit stranger. Some guy we had met at the bus stop was waiting for us when we got off the bus. He wanted to take us to our hotel. The ladies were in charge, and seemed grateful for his help, so said OK.

At this point, I should explain that there is a certain type of Japanese person that go beyond friendly and congenial with foreigners, to the point of being leech like and socially awkward. Right away, I detected this kind of inappropriacy with our new guide. He started talking to me in English, saying how he used to live in the US, how he liked F1 and rock music, yada, yada.

But more than this, he didn't fucking know where he was going. He did not live in Tatchikawa, did not know the hotel, nor directions to the hotel. He had asked what "town" the hotel was in, and decided to take us based on this scrap of information. Needless to say he couldn't find it.

At this point, wandering around strange streets at midnight, in my suit, pulling a suitcase, I was seething, and when I get really pissed I don't care if people know. I asked Kiyo if she had been given directions by the hotel - she had. So I walked off and left them with this crazy guy. Kiyo followed me, then the others did, and we found the place in two minutes.

As if this wasn't bad enough, the ladies had - in a display of generosity and reciprocity not within my power to comprehend - offered this guy to share my room for the night. Frankly, the prospect of spending a night with a stranger with serious boundary respect issues was freaking me out. I wish I had a picture of my face then, because you probably couldn't have found a more murderous look on anyone in Tokyo that night.

Thankfully, he saved himself a certain night on the floor and declined the invitation with his happy-go-lucky cheerfulness that had grated me so.

Obviously a part of me is being a real bastard, he seemed to be genuinely trying to help and be friendly. But the equivalent would be me picking up a Japanese family at Victoria station and saying, "hey! The London Grand hotel? Don't know it, but follow me, guvner!" Nice guy, but clearly an idiot.

The hotel was in fact a love hotel...


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You have to read the TOWEL caption in a French accent.

Dried, stale, smokey air, karaoke machine with two mics, full length mirror in the shower, boards covering the windows. A classy and comedic end to the day. I washed and prepared for the morning, planning to get up and try to get to work from 6 am. Ended up leaving at 7 am, waiting on a stationary train for over an hour and then giving up on getting home.

We didn't get to see Mami's skating in the end, but she won!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Time well spent

And who said I play games too much? Eh?

A classic Onion episode that. Who'd have thought I get to use it as real life commentary?

If the situation deteriorates and the word "melt.." shhh! gets used then I shall probably start to write about what's actually happening, but for the meantime I am assimilating, processing, and playing as much Fallout 3 as possible to get perspective on the impending nuclear apocalypse.

A walk in the park

Was going to write about Japanese nationalism, or economics, or philosophy of technology, or some such topical and utterly serious subject, but instead went for a walk with Nami's new camera (a Nikon D3100) and paid for entry to Sumpu park's gardens and historical display in the renovated gate-house (300 yen). Was a nice antidote to the incessant and yet uninformative news barrage I've been subjecting myself to this last week.







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I frequently see cormorants in the moats of Sumpu park or nearby rivers, and they are now my favourite bird by far. They sit calm and lean on the surface of the water, then dive and swim like a mini, feathered plesiosaur, their necks protruding from their bulbous body, darting over the bottom scanning for small fish. Walking by I always watch for their return to the surface, not far from where they dove in. I don't ever recall seeing one eating, so they either swallow fish on capture or are rather beautiful yet inept huntsmen.

I missed capturing a picture of this one drying his wings, think I spooked him by stopping behind him. He then took off in what has to have been, short of Icarus himself, the most inept display of flying I've ever seen. The bird flapped its spitfire-like wings so vertically I thought it was trying for a VTOL take-off. Having pushed off from the water with his feet half a dozen times he lumbered high into the air, only to be buffeted back towards me by an oncoming wind. He circled down to the left, flew overhead, and having built up some speed tried again to head into the wind. He made it away, veering to the right and over some trees. I suspect that once out of sight he gave up his pretence of flight and went with the wind to the next pool of water.

I shall have to try to go and see cormorant fishing. Wonder if I could get a domesticated bird...