Our family (American husband, Japanese wife, three children ages 5, 5, and 6) are living in Tokyo this year. I was in L.A. for a short visit when the earthquake hit (and still am). It took me a while to reach my wife, but I’ve communicated with her several times since then by Skype, Google phone, and email and can share my family’s experience.
Keiko was alone in her 9th floor office at Waseda University in the center of Tokyo when the earthquake hit at 2:46 pm local time on Friday. She crouched under her desk and experienced several minutes of severe shaking. A cabinet in the room fell and she feared the worst. Fortunately, after several minutes, the shaking subsided and Keiko was able to run down 9 flights of stairs to the outside.
Keiko first ran to our apartment building 5 minutes away and ran up 6 flights of stairs to our apartment where our 6-year-old son was with a babysitter and with Keiko’s mom. Danny was quite scared and was comforted throughout the entire earthquake by the babysitter. Things had fallen in the apartment but there was no structural damage.
They all walked down the 6 flights of stairs to wait in the lobby while Keiko ran to the kindergarten/day care center where our 5-year-old twins were. When she arrived, the teachers were upstairs getting all the kids ready to be evacuated. Keiko had to ring the buzzer for a long time before they heard it and let her in, due to the commotion. Kids were in pajamas and bare feet having awoken from their naps. The teachers were getting their shoes on and getting them ready to evacuate the building and go to a nearby open space. Keiko took the twins and walked home with them. We suspect that the teachers and many of the children ended up sleeping at the school last night because, with trains shut down in Tokyo, parents may have been unable to arrive from work.
All the family–Keiko, three kids, grandma, and babysitter–walked back upstairs to the apartment. Surprisingly, power, water, and local phone service were working fine. Long-distance phone service was not available. The babysitter, who lives far away, was stranded due to the trains not running. She spent the night at our apartment in one bedroom and the other five huddled together in the other bedroom. With aftershocks occurring every few minutes–some the size of good-sized earthquakes themselves–it was pretty difficult for people to sleep.
It’s Saturday morning in Tokyo and the family is still in the apartment. The babysitter will have to stay until the trains are running, and they don’t know when that will be. They’ve been a couple of times the the local convenience store but all the food has run out. We live right next to a university campus and many students were stranded there and bought food at the store. Fortunately, we have enough food at home to last for a while. Elevators are still not working.
The kids are doing well today, though they are disappointed that their favorite Saturday morning cartoons have been usurped by 24 hours news broadcasts. The family is trying to decide whether to remain hunkered down all day in the apartment or venture out to a park and playground a few blocks away.
Compared to other people in Tokyo, we are very fortunate to live within walking distances of our offices and our kids’ school. In contrast, a large amount of people who rely on public transportation were (and many remain) stranded. One person told me that, in crowded office districts of Tokyo, there was so much pedestrian traffic right after the earthquake that it took a half hour to walk 100 meters.
We are praying for the many people in the northern coastal areas that were more badly affected by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The earthquake was so powerful — 8.9 — that it was felt very strongly in Tokyo, 231 miles from the epicenter. Very fortunately, though, only a few people died in Tokyo, a metropolitan area of 35 million people. I am extremely thankful for the excellent engineering and safety standards in Japan. Otherwise, it is virtually certain that buildings would have collapsed in Tokyo, killing large numbers of people.
Let this be a reminder to everyone to update your emergency disaster plans and stock up on recommended emergency supplies. And thank you to everybody for your thoughts for us and, especially, for the people in the more hard-hit regions of Japan.