Life in Japan

Japan Earthquake and Tsunami 2011 – How I Experienced It

On March 11th 2011 something happened in Japan that probably nobody of us will ever forget! Of course I’m talking about the Great Japan earthquake and tsunami 2011. It was so horrible, especially for the people who were in Japan at that time.
I was one of them.


The Japan earthquake and tsunami 2011

March 11th, 2011, a sunny Friday afternoon:

It was a wonderful sunny and peaceful Friday afternoon. It was my day off, so I was sitting in front of my laptop in my super tiny Japanese apartment, drinking a cup of cappuccino and munching something sweet I had bought the day before.
It was just a normal Friday afternoon …… or so I thought.

Suddenly my Twitter account and mailbox were almost exploding!
I got a lot of messages asking if I was ok. At first, I was confused and just quickly replied: “Yeah, sure!

I thought to myself that something must have happened in Japan, so I turned on the TV, but what I saw was not what I expected.
Houses, cars, ships washed away by tsunami waves as if they were toys. Fires everywhere!
I almost dropped the remote control!

I think I stared at the TV while my jaw dropped onto the floor. It took a few minutes until I realized what happened. Immediately I was back in front of my laptop and checked what others were writing.
I replied to some more mails from friends and family who seemed a bit concerned, but they knew I was far enough away.

Yes, that’s right. At that time I was actually SO far away that I didn’t notice the big Japan earthquake and tsunami 2011 AT ALL! That’s why for me – the world was still as normal as could be – until I turned on the TV.

The next few hours I spent trying to contact my friends in Tokyo, but I couldn’t get hold of most of them. The communication network was pretty much down at that time. Twitter was the only reliable source back then. Here’s a short extract of what I wrote only a few hours after the big earthquake hit:

“I’ve turned on the TV ever since then and the pictures are terrifying! The number of dead or missing people is rapidly increasing!
Luckily I was able to confirm that my friends in and around Tokyo are all safe, still waiting for the response of some, though. Most of them don’t have electricity or gas! 8 prefectures seem to be without electricity right now!”

One day after the earthquake I was able to confirm that my best friend and her little daughter had survived, but they didn’t have any electricity. People in and around Tokyo had to go through a lot of nerve-wrecking aftershocks.
One of my acquaintance’s friends died during the earthquake in Tokyo. :(

In the late evening on March 11th, I wrote the following:

It’s so horrible what has happened and I hope that everybody will be safe! My thoughts are especially with the people in Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures and all strongly affected areas as well as with all those people who are stuck in Tokyo right now and probably will have to spend the night in a train station.

Japan earthquake and tsunami 2011

Although there was a tsunami warning for almost ALL of Japan’s coasts, I didn’t have to worry about myself as I lived far, far away from the ocean. As you can see there were regions in Japan that were COMPLETELY unaffected by the earthquake and tsunami.

Slowly recovering from the shock and relieved that most people I knew were confirmed to be safe, I didn’t expect that another horrible disaster was still lurking in a dark corner, just waiting to come out.

Not much later the news were all about the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and how it was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami:

“The walls of a concrete building surrounding the reactor container at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant collapsed in an explosion, but the reactor and its containment system were not damaged, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.”

“The next step for workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant will be to flood the reactor containment structure with sea water to bring the reactor’s temperature down to safe levels, he said. The effort is expected to take two days.

Radiation levels have fallen since the explosion and there is no immediate danger, Edano said.” (source)

Finally even people who were far away from Fukushima started to worry.
What if the worst case scenario would actually occur? Being far away from Fukushima would mean NOTHING!!! I kept checking the live news.

About a day later, I started to panic!
I’ve already been through such a disaster once in my life (Chernobyl) – and I didn’t want to go through another one! However, I also didn’t want to leave Japan in panic like many others did (so-called “Flyjin” = fly + gaijin [foreigner]). The airports in and around Tokyo were so crowded. It was very difficult to get a flight ticket back home … and those were very expensive.

While panicking I wrote the following on March 12th, 2011:

There is contradictory information about a possible meltdown in at least one of the atomic power plants!
They’re already handing out iodine pills to the people in the affected area to prevent thyroid cancer, among other things. This just shows that they can’t control the situation anymore and they just try to do what they can to save as many people as possible.
Of course they won’t say on TV how severe it really is! That actually a huge amount of radiation has been leaking and depending on the wind it will spread far, far away. Nobody in Japan is safe anymore and even people in China and Russia have to be afraid of the radiation now!
I think it’s much, much worse than they admit on TV. Of course it is! They can’t afford a panic of 33-something million people in Tokyo! Tokyo is too big to be evacuated!

Japan earthquake and tsunami 2011

The week after the big Japan earthquake and tsunami 2011

My family and friends freaked out and told me to get back home RIGHT NOW!!!
In order to calm them down … and I guess myself as well, I packed an emergency bag and got a re-entry stamp for my visa, so that I could leave the country at any time without losing my work visa.

The international airport that was closest to where I lived wasn’t crowded at all. I checked for tickets and there were still enough available. I guess the panic had not swapped over to all of Japan yet. A lot of people had already left the Tokyo area. Either they moved farther west to Osaka/Kyoto or they left Japan completely. Some embassies called their people back home, most international companies sent their staff out of Japan.

However, I decided to wait and see.
I didn’t want to leave Japan unless ABSOLUTELY necessary.
I guess we all spent a lot of sleepless nights for at least about a week.
I had to call my grandmother every single day, because she was so worried!

In the meantime the foreign media made the disaster look even worse than it actually was!
This exaggeration led to a lot of donations, which was pretty much the only good thing about it. However, it also caused many families to freak out asking their loved ones in Japan to get their ass out of there ASAP!

Although I lived in a region that was not affected at all, water was sold out in most supermarkets.
It wasn’t as bad as in other cities where almost everything was sold out completely within a few hours!

I spent many hours in front of the TV, just crying. At that time nobody could believe that this actually really happened. And to make things worse, the number of people who were confirmed dead just kept rising. On top of it all there was the threatening situation with the nuclear power plant in Fukushima!

In the end I stayed in Japan. None of my friends or acquaintances was hurt or died. I tried to help where I could.
In May 2012 I visited Miyagi Prefecture just to see that some cities such as Ishinomaki still had not recovered from all the damage that was caused.
It was a horrible disaster and its traces (especially the radiation) will never fully disappear. Even now people are still worried about how safe it is in Japan.


Some great videos and links about the Japan earthquake and tsunami 2011

  • Nuclear Nation – The Fukushima Refugees Story (a film by Atsushi Funahashi)
  • 3.11: Surviving Japan: “After the Japanese 3/11 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima disaster, an American named Chris Noland volunteered in the massive cleanup effort. What he found led him on a path to answers across North East Japan – to the government, to the power company, and to discover the shocking truth.”
  • Remembering the March 11, 2011 disaster – a great documentary, great blog!


How about you?

How did you experience the big Japan earthquake and tsunami 2011?
Where were you on March 11th 2011, what did you do?
How did you feel when you saw the horrible pictures?


  • I can’t even imagine what it was like for japanese residents. However I was asleep that day. Woke up to my boyfriend freaking out asking “did you hear about japan??”. Immediately I was up and googling any article I could find. Everyday for weeks I was looking for any update about the lost people and fukushima. Every now and then I check up through you, and others the recovery efforts. I hope one day things will be as close to normal as they can be. R.I.p. to the victims.

    • Sometimes I wonder how I would have felt or reacted, had I not been in Japan at that time.
      I’m just glad and feel very lucky that I was far enough away at that time and that all the people I know were safe.
      I feel so sorry for all those people who have lost everything! ;__;

  • We were supposed to have visitors from Ritsumeikan Keisho around that time and we were really worried about them. Luckily they’re from Sapporo so they didn’t feel much from the earthquake. I remember being on my way to school when I read the news. I immediately texted my friend Makoto and asked him about it. He said that I shouldn’t worry, that Japan is used to earthquakes. But when we met in school, I saw that he was starting to get really worried. I didn’t sleep for three days after the accident, and I constantly updated the news. It was horrible and I wish it will never happen again. I always get tears in my eyes when I look at pictures from the accident. Japan has been so strong and handled everything in the best way anyone could.

    • I wouldn’t say that “Japan” has handled everything in the best way. I think the people who were affected certainly did, but definitely NOT TEPCO or the government! :(
      I understand how difficult the situation is / was, though. I wouldn’t want to trade with TEPCO!

      I’m glad to hear that your guests were safe! I hope you or your friend Makoto didn’t lose anybody in the earthquake / tsunami! :/

  • I was back home in Australia that terrible day watching everything unfold live on TV. I remember desperately trying to get in touch with family and friends in Japan to see if they were all OK and safe. Not a nice experience and prays and wishes to the victims of the disaster.

  • I was at the other side of the world – in Germany. But still I was horrified!
    I didn’t sleep well that night and woke up early. When I turned on my netbook and looked up for the news, I got a little shock. It was right after the first news of tsunami coming Japan. I was so scared for everyone in Japan, specaly for my friends in the Tokyo area. :whyohwhy:
    The whole day, and even the days after, I continuly looked at the newsticker and watched the german tv news. It was confusing, because I looking up for the news from many different countries, the “fearmongering” was so different! I know the japanese ones were (and still are if you ask my opinion) holding up too many information and the eurpoean were too exaggerating (thanks to that my family don’t want to let me go to tokyo, even wish that I will not go to near of Japan at all for the next 20 years, minimum :notamused: )
    When I see pictures of that day and even pictures of how it looks now , I still tearing up. I don’t know any of the persons, who were killed or lost their home because of that earthquake/tsunami, but it’s just too much. :(

    • Please tell your parents to better lock you up in your room, because something could happen to you at any time and everywhere in the world, not only in Japan!
      Yes, Japan has a lot of earthquakes, but not ALL of Japan. Also, most of the earthquakes are pretty harmless.
      There’s really NO reason not to come to Japan. I know that I don’t have to tell YOU that! ;)

  • I was in Tokyo and really scared. My iPhone was the only communication to the outside world but I had to be careful in using it because it was not fully charged. I slept in a temporary emergency shelter. The next day at 4am in the morning I found out about what happened in Tohoku. I saw a photo from the airport in Miyagi and could not figure out how this could happen, what happen until I read it and got an extra explanation from someone. Tsunami!

    Back home I slept until the afternoon and switched on the TV and Fukushima was on!

    • Wow, I’m sorry to hear that you had such bad luck and had to sleep in an emergency shelter. I guess it was really bad!
      How about your family? Were they all able to get back home that day / night?

  • i was at saitama that day! i remember that i was talking to my neighbours when suddenly the street felt like a huge swingboat…
    first i thought it was nothing special… because two days before, during my japanese class there was a huge quake as well and all acted pretty normal (we were on the 10th floor though)…
    but this time everyone was scared!!!

    i was a really difficult time for me after that day. i lost my job so i moved to tokyo… but was lucky enough to find the best job ever after a month of horror^^

    so after all this struggle i went through… i still love japan and my live in japan!!!! ;P

  • Wow, it’s been 2 years since that tragedy. It’s weird how times flies, i hope there is no more tears and painfull memories there.

    “Pray for Japan” :)

  • The film shows moving moments and feelings of people. This tragedy and particularly the consequences we should bear in mind. For me personally it means among other things, to travel again to Japan and visit this wonderful country and meet the people also away from the big cities!
    We should never forget 311!
    Arrigato zoomingJapan! :thumbup:

  • Yeah, that was a historically bad day. I was in Tokyo when the earthquake hit, and I thought the building was going to explode. I spent the next six hours walking home. It got pretty cold and tiring after a while. Then watching the TV, and the replays of the tsunami devastating the coast, jeez, it was horrible.

    Hard to believe it’s been two years already.

  • I was in my office in Tokyo when the building started shaking. It was one of the scariest days of my life. Had to walk about 4 hours to get home. But I think the whole week after that was quite difficult with so much conflicting news about the nuclear power plant. I eventually went back to India that week. But I’m back in Japan now :)

  • I can still remember that day, if it was just yesterday. My biggest worry was my little son and his family. After the quake, i couldn’t reach my ex or anybody else near to her. I had no information what happened to them. No telephone line, nothing. So i left office and literally ran home. 20 kilometers by foot. No train, no taxi, no bus, no nothing. The streets were overcrowded with people. It felt like Tokyo marathon. When i finally reached my home town and saw my little boy, i broke down in tears. I’ll never forget the expression in his face………

  • Not only the Earthquake and the tsunami of which you can recover and rebuild, but also the fukushima catastrophe which started then and is still ongoing, its radiation and contamination to continue to affect the life of west Honshu for many hundreds years!

    • I agree that the radiation was the worst disaster concerning long-term issues.
      I went through a similar situation once already when Chernobyl happened in Europe. At least that disaster in the 80s didn’t come along with an earthquake and tsunami. :(

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