10 years ago today. 3.11
Love & light to all those that died, strength and courage to those that survived.
On this day 10 years ago, a very big (f#ckin scary) earthquake hit the east coast of Japan.
I was there on that day.
This was my 3rd major tsunami event in my life.
The first was when I was on a boat off Papua New Guinea’s coast in 1998, the 2nd in Thailand in 2004.
For the first 2 tsunami’s I didn’t feel the earthquake but lived to tell the story of the tsunami.
The 3rd, I lived to tell the story of the earthquake, but I was spared from being hit by the tsunami directly, but it would rattle and scare the sh#t out of me from a distance and a few days later rattle the whole world.
There are countless stories from that day I know from so many people, so many stories of survival.
This is my story from that day. (I will make it short, though)
I was working in the Billabong Japan marketing office that day in Shibuya, Tokyo. Right smack bang in the middle of the Tokyo metropolis.
Usually, there were 5 of us in the office; that day, there were only 2 of us. (The other 3 were on a work snowboarding trip that day – another crazy story)
Leading up to the big quake, there had been some scary tremors for days. We all felt on edge, and there was a feeling that a big one was coming.
With only 2 of us in the office, things were quiet. After lunch, a salesman came in and brought a surf shop owner with him. The surf shop owner wanted a new image for the front window of his shop.
One of my many hats was to keep and manage all of the marketing data, and I was asked to show him, ‘photos of girls in bikinis’.
We spent a good hour going through every photo I had of ‘bikini girls’ – one by one. Click, wait for a response, move on… and so forth. I think we were on the 2nd round of looking at them again when the first big tremor hit…
It was scary.
Now, the thing about this surf shop owner is that I am sure, based on my experience, that he was in or very well connected to the yakuza. He had all the mannerisms. To call him intimidating would be an understatement. He was straight out of a violent manga movie.
So when the first big bang hit, he didn’t budge.
I looked at him, and he just gestured with his face to keep going through the images of girls in bikinis.
I quickly looked around at the others in the room, and there was a real concern on their face.
The decision was the scary dude or run for your life. At this stage, I chose to obey the scary dude.
Probably about 10-15 mins later, again…
But this time was different. This time it was ‘the big one’.
We all go up and, at first, ran to the elevator. (we were on the 9th floor)
We quickly realised this was a dumb idea and ran for the stairs.
We got down 9 floors via the stairs in a sprint. I remember the stairs were like liquid or something as they moved side to side underneath us as we were between steps. It was a trippy experience, to say the least.
We managed to get to the ground floor, and when we got outside, there were thousands of people in the street – just like us all getting out of the building.
In the distance, a crane on top of a 40 storey new construction was flopping around like jelly, and I thought it would snap off at any second. Luckily it didn’t.
What felt like an eternity in a very eerie place (it was probably 10 mins?), scary dude signals with his head to go back upstairs.
I was dumbfounded (and scared), but again I went back upstairs to go through the girls in bikinis.
I had a mix of emotions going through me, but first and foremost was, is my pregnant wife okay? I did a ‘fake toilet run’ to message her – but no reply.
It would be another 20 mins later that another big bang would happen. This time we all quickly evacuated.
It would be on the return back to the office after the 2nd escape that we would see the news. When we switch it on, there was a live feed of the tsunami hitting up North.
It was at this point we knew sh#t was bad. Really bad. This was the big one.
Thankfully at this stage, the surf shop dude stopped asking about the bikini girl.
It was then we knew we had to escape / survival plan.
To this day, in all my experience with surviving, this by far was one of the best ideas ever. With the trains coming to a halt, no phones working. Emails and SMS down. We were doomed to be stuck in Tokyo when our loved ones were all back down on the Shonan coast. The salesman had the brilliant idea of hiring a car. Simple but brilliant.
In true Japanese working ethics form, the rental car shop near our office was still taking calls and hiring cars – even if the world was literally falling apart around them.
We hired a car, and around 8 pm, we finally started making our way home.
A drive that usually takes about 1.5 hours took us 5 hours. The things we saw along the way were mind-melting. Twisted bridges, thousands of people stranded. It was crazy…
At around 1 am, we all finally got home.
Thankfully my wife and our 8-month-old baby in her tummy were okay. I had no way to contact her, and I had been worried sick the whole time.
Her story is another that I would like to tell one day, just like everyone else.
My story is one of being fortunate. Many on that day were not. I think about them often, and I pray for them and their families and loved ones regularly.
I thank everyone that was there to support us all that day. Even the scary surf shop, dude.
Like the other tsunami’s, I felt a sense of numbness. When sh#t is so upside, inside out, you have no feelings. Just survive each minute, hour, day as it comes.
So it was after getting home. There were more tremors, but it felt like the worst was behind us… until.
As we all know, a few days later, the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant blew up, and yeah, that’s another story.