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the Japan earthquake, as I experienced it

I was in the most basement floor of La Foret when it happened.

At first I thought I’d somehow knocked one of the displays – things were swinging back and forth.

Then, as I looked around it became clear that everything was swaying, including us.

The shop girls gathered everyone together, and held hands. Then told us to get down. Then it was clear this was more than just a brief shake, and ushered us up out onto the street.

Even after it stopped, they were refusing entry to the lower levels of the building. Eventually they let people back in, and after that I walked down back towards Takeshita Doori. There were a couple aftershocks, you could see the traffic lights swaying, and the tops of some buildings, slightly.

People were standing around staring at their phones – at this time, I couldn’t get twitter or gmail to connect at all – and kept looking up, as if the sky might come crashing down somehow.

Stores along the street had kicked people out and continued to refuse access. I imagine they closed not long after this.

Wandering down Takeshita Doori things didn’t seem terribly abnormal, but I took my time, assuming the trains would be stopped for a bit.

By the time I reached the end of the street, the trains were still stopped, and an attendant kept repeating the message that, due to the earthquake, all train service had been suspended for the time being.

I waited across from the station because it seemed pointless to cross.

The trains still didn’t resume.

It started to rain very slightly, so I crossed over to stand under the overhang by the station. I alternated standing, crouching and sitting on the ground as I continued to poke at twitter and gmail to load. Eventually they did, and I was able to post a message.

As it neared 5pm, I figured there was no point waiting outside, so I crossed back over to Takeshita in hopes of either grabbing some wifi from McDonald’s or finding an internet cafe.

Coincidentally, there was one right next to the McD’s, on the second floor. After filling out an application for a membership card, I settled down in my room and checked in with other people. I planned to only be there for an hour – I figured I’d grab some dinner afterwards and then maybe the trains would begin running again. It wasn’t until this point that I understood where the center of the earthquake had been, and what had happened as a result of it.

Just as I was getting ready to leave, the attendant came to the room and informed me that they were closing, and that I wouldn’t be charged for my time.

Walking back to the station, the shutters had been drawn closed – the trains were not going to run again that day.

I thought about trying to hail a taxi, but the line for getting one was ridiculously long. It almost didn’t make sense anyway, I mean, Ikebukuro is only six or so stops from Harajuku. Might as well leave the taxis for people who need them.

But how was I going to walk home, having no idea what route to take?

I had my atlas with me, but that only covers portions of Tokyo, primarily the most popular areas, not the spaces between them.

I decided to just go for it, and that I would just stick to the JR line like glue.

As I passed maps and signs, I checked in to make sure I was still heading in the correct direction, not too far east or west. I was accompanied at any time by at least a couple dozen people – everyone was walking, using their cell phones to navigate. The crowds were helpful for figuring out which roads to take – whether they would connect through, and the general safety of the area.

It was a long walk. From the time I left Harajuku station, it took in total approximately three hours to reach my hotel in Higashi Ikebukuro. I only stopped twice – once to get some more cash in the event I had to take a taxi from somewhere, or if I couldn’t get access later, and the second time very close to my hotel, to grab food. There wasn’t much, though – the entire pre-made food section had been emptied – I’ve never seen a 7-11 so devoid of bento, sandwiches or salads. I settled for some nuts, a yogurt drink, juice, and some snacks. I would have greatly preferred hot food, but I wanted to get back to the room and lie down as soon as possible.

Although JMA recorded seismic activity during that time, I didn’t feel any – I suppose this is because I attributed any “swaying” feeling to me being lightheaded due to hunger and exhaustion. That, and I was moving most of the time. I thought about stopping to rest, but decided that if I did, I’d have a harder time walking later.

Since returning to my room on the 6th floor, I’ve felt a number of tremors, each fairly weak and short, but enough to keep me from fully relaxing. Overall I think this building is safe – I saw no signs of any disruption in the room when I returned, save my electric toothbrush falling from its standing position in the bathroom.

I have doubts the trains will run again this morning, since the tremors are still continuing.

If you need to get in touch with me, sending me a message through my ask box on tumblr, or DMing me on twitter is the best way – if you just say something on twitter, for example, I won’t see it immediately because my phone only loads so many tweets at a time and if I can only load one page….
Things that go to my e-mail are best.

I’ll continue to update you all on my situation.

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