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.
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.
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!
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?