Letter from Tokyo

My father just sent an email yesterday to my sister and I describing the situation in Tokyo. Knowing how everything runs like clockwork in that city, it’s even more striking how the country adapts when they have to improvise.

Tokyo Tower, bent following earthquake

Four days after the quake we are still feeling aftershocks. We’ve received over sixy aftershocks so far and clearly there are more to come. We have learned another is on the way when the hanging drawer-pulls of the bureau begin to tinkle. But you know, after a while it all begins to lapse into a routine, especially as no one here ever gets excited and the Japanese instinct to rally round is inbred.

Mikie and I are a couple hundred kilometers south of the scenes of devastation you’ve seen on TV and we’re on a hill, so we’re pretty safe, I guess. We are told, though, that we should expect another follow-up quake and the ensuing tsunami.

There has been little damage in Tokyo, although the radio aerial at the tip of Tokyo Tower was bent. A number of multi-story stores in downtown Tokyo have closed to make sure their structure has not been damaged, although their (disposable?) clerks behind the information counter on the first floor remain on duty to apologize to customers for the inconvenience.

Because the nuclear power complex in the stricken area has been closed down, electricity is being rationed and this has brought home to everyone just how dependent a city like Tokyo is on electric power. No electricity means no trains, no traffic lights, no doors opening automatically on your approach, no pumping of gas, no automatic bottom-washing in toilets.

The trains, usually punctual to the minute, are no longer posting any schedule at all. To conserve electricity, lights in stations have been dimmed and escalators and elevators have been shut down. There is a palpable commeraderie among people now forced to ascend a long stairway to the street or to descend to the platform. We used to be able to go through station turnstiles by swiping our wallet across a reader, but now we have to endure the inconvenience of actually showing our pass to the station attendant, who shrugs his shoulders and rolls his eyes.

The evening the quake hit, all trains were immediately stopped because it wasn’t certain that the tracks had not been bent, so thousands of office workers couldn’t get home. A sense of commeraderie flowered then, too, as people found refuge in the back room of their favorite little drinking spot, or in one of the temples that opened for the occasion, or on a park bench, or just on the street.

With the trains running now, although to an irregular schedule, we seem to be inching back to a regular routine, but coming home on the train last night, the train stopped because Train Control had warned the driver that an aftershock was expected (better notice that the drawer-pulls of our bureau) and in fact after a minute the train rolled gently from side to side. The conductor apologized.

It may be worth noting that the Financial Times reported that when the quake struck, ten minutes before the Tokyo Stock Exchange closed, the trading floor was shaken, which brought about a feverish selling of the yen and of Japanese stock generally–a testament to the brutal efficiency of Capitalism.





4 responses to “Letter from Tokyo”

  1. Jani Hartikainen Avatar
    Jani Hartikainen

    I think he nailed the most important part in “No automatic bottom-washing in toilets” 🙂

    I’ve been following some japan-related sites myself and it generally seems like life goes on quite quickly even after something like this happens – would just have to wonder how other countries would totally stop – and it also seems that the western media is blowing this slightly out of proportions occasionally.

    1. iankennedy Avatar

      Agree. There was a great tweet by Jan Chipchase, “Journalists who are not used to being in an earthquake zone are not calibrated to slight tremors, consequently overexcite”


  2. Ellenmrgn2@yahoo.com Avatar

    Ancient but preserved former sister-in-law is in awe of the Japanese people. There were several letters in NY Post( I don’t seem to be a Democrat these days) on the fact that the Japanese(unlike the folks, f’rinstance in New Orleans,
    behaved in the midst of apocalypse, with calm,function,no looting, etc.)
    There are many things problematical in the U>S>–but what the Japanese have
    isi honour, I think. Where can we start to change? I don’t know, but my prayers are with you all.
    Ellen Morgan

  3. Update from Tokyo Avatar

    […] up on last week’s letter, here’s an update from my father who lives in […]

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