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.
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.