Shaken But Not Stirred

Last night we were rattled again quite good in Japan and let me attempt to describe how that feels like for those lucky ones of you out there who’ve never been through a major earthquake.
It was Friday… again Friday. The big one happened also on a Friday, the 11th of March 2011. The big one happened at around 14:30 in the afternoon, yesterday’s quake happened a bit later, at 17:20.
In both cases I sat in the office. A year ago I was still in the 13th floor of our 17 floor office building, in the meantime I moved to the 15th floor.

Fridays is our “no overtime day” and we are allowed to leave at 17:35 and I was already wrapping up things at 17:20 when suddenly an upward jolt that let me utter a “whoa”. Let me add that it of course largely depends what the quake feels like on where you are when it happens. Office building is not like office building. I bet it feels different in every office building in Tokyo, depending on the size, width, age etc. of the building.

So, where I sat, I felt this sudden upward jolt and knew of course immediately – earthquake, since I have been through a hundred or more by now. They’ve become so normal for us since March 2011 that usually nobody’s writing home about all the aftershocks anymore, by the way.
Upwards rings immediate alarm bells, since a “tate jishin” = standing earthquake = up and down movement is NOT good. Potential damage is much worse during a tate jishin than a “yoko jishin” = side to side earthquake. Kobe was destroyed in 1995 by a tate jishin when a minor fault decided to break.

After the first upward jolt there was an uncomfortable, lingering up and down trembling. Meanwhile the whole floor was on alert and one colleague went to our security door to open it. I am currently sitting in the HR section which has special security doors, because we have confidential documents inside our vault. There are two doors to our little prison. I followed the Japanese colleague to the door and we held it open and waited. Our security door has the annoying habit to give off a beeping alarm when it is opened for too long and the door started to beep. My colleague and I decided to close the door, thinking it was over, but opened it immediately because it was far from over yet.

Yesterday, the up and down tremor was only the starting point of the real quake. The all too familiar side to side = yoko jishin swaying started and it swayed pretty badly east to west. That east to west movement already indicated that this is similar to the March 11 big one.
While my colleague and I stood in the open door, our HR boss opened the second one down the corridor and held that one open. Quite a number of colleagues dived under their desks.

I had no desire to return into the closed off room and to my desk and next to tables the second best thing to be during a quake is under a door frame anyway. Since the March 11 quake I have lost a bit of confidence into our office building. It is rather old and if a big one were ever to hit Tokyo I have that horror feeling in my guts that our building won’t make it and break somewhere and tilt.

The swaying continued for an awfully long time, but I was beginning to relax a tiny bit, since I could judge by the amount of noise that it was not as bad as the 11th of March. We have blinds in front of our windows and during quakes they swing of course too and clash against the windows and their swaying and impact noise was considerably lower than on March 11th. Also the remaining building sounds of what reminds me of bellows or the folds of an accordion was less loud and strained than on the 11th of March.

Another colleague rushed to meet us, coming from the bathroom. She latched onto my arm and said the Japanese equivalent of “the fxxing quake caught me with my pants down!” I share the feeling. The magnitude 8 something aftershock of March 11 caught me with my pants down on the toilet as well and that’s NO fun.
Since it takes a while for the building to calm down swaying again after the actual quake is over, I think we got into the 17:30 magnitude 6 aftershock without much pause and swayed some more. It took an awfully long time for the building to calm down again. Since all in all the swaying was much more moderate than on March 11, I was not that freaked out, but admit to wobbly and shivering knees.

When it was finally over, I returned to my desk and checked the Internet for the thing, because we of course all knew that this was something major again. 7.3 in more or less exactly the same spot as the March 11 quake and thus undoubtedly an aftershock to the big one. It triggered a small tsunami which hit some thirty minutes later, but that luckily remained under one meter and caused no damage.

A major concern after a quake is of course traffic, but when I eventually left the building at 17:45, Tokyo’s trains were running as usual. We had a felt magnitude four in Tokyo, in contract to a “five strong” on March 11.
Tokyo, very much used to quakes now since March 11, shrugged the felt magnitude four off and life went on as usual.
Some more things that struck me. I totally forgot and did not bother with the helmet under my desk. That said, none of my colleagues whipped out the helmet. There are some twenty people in that HR section vault and I think all of them have smart phones, I’m also pretty sure that all of them have one or the other earthquake alert app on their phones, me too. None of the apps reacted. Proof yet again that earthquake prediction is bogus. Maybe people will be able to predict quakes in a hundred years or so but not now.

This time we got off with a little shock and some wobbly knees and half an hour later life was back to normal, as so often and as always I hope it’ll stay that way.
Here a link (in Japanese) to the quake from yesterday with a nice graphic of epicenter and a buckling Japan. On March 11 the map looked a lot pinker and redder…

2 thoughts on “Shaken But Not Stirred

  1. Glad to hear you’re ok. What strikes me as remarkable about being caught with your pants down is that the sense of shame instilled by education only seems to be much stronger than any survival instinct. (I can totally relate to that, I would never have left the stall without pulling my pants up.) Human nature – or rather education? – is a weird thing.
    Hope you won’t have another aftershock or new earthquake as strong as that anytime soon.
    Ganbatte, ne.

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