Cover photo

On Higher Ground

Japan 3/11 Quake / Tsunami: 2011-03-11

"The Great East Japan Earthquake ( 東日本大震災 )" happened thirteen years ago today.

Below are two posts from my web2 writer's blog ( related to the events of that terrible day. I first published post 1 on 21-March-2011 and post 2 on 11-March-2013.

Post 1: Japan. Down But Not Out

The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.
- The Go-Between, by L.P. Hartley

That opening line's puzzled me since reading his novel over twenty years ago. What did the author really mean?

About 2:45pm on Friday 11 March, 2011, I was climbing the sixth of nine flights of stairs, when a slight wobble had me pause mid-step.

(The picture shows a view from the top taking in Tokyo Tower and a group of super heroes)

Tokyo Super Heroes

Thinking it was just another of the many tests carried out by construction engineers on the adjoining new extension over the last few months, I attempted to resume my ascent. At that point primal fear and survival impulses kicked in as I felt the building lurch in multiple directions, rather like a helter-skelter fairground ride.

I can remember debating with myself if I should run back down the stairs but instinct propelled me up to the 7th floor and under the relative safety of a sturdy desk.

Memory blurs over what happened during the next ninety seconds but terror and shock were definitely uninvited companions as the floor swayed and accelerated to what I sensed were alarming angles. I clung tightly to the desk and, for a brief moment, wondered what might happen if the floor or the ceiling were to give way.

(Later on, there was time to reflect on how well the architects and engineers had designed this building to dampen energies that could have easily cracked walls and supports.)

Throughout this phase of the ride I could hear an enormous cacophony of sounds, none of which I'd noticed in previous smaller quakes.

There were thumping, high pitched whines, groans and creaks, as if the building was lamenting an agonized and inevitable death.

And then, without any warning, the vibration and noise simply faded away. The building came to a gradual stop and, much to my amazement and relief, appeared to be completely unharmed.

Looking back on that fateful Friday, a mere nine days later, I find myself mourning the loss of an old, dependable friend. A Tokyo I could set my watch by these past seventeen years is struggling to get back on her feet again.

Battered by aftershocks and witness to the misery and suffering throughout much of North-Eastern Japan, threatened by power shortages and invisible enemies, she will need much care and attention to make it through the coming months.

In LP Hartley's novel, future happiness shattered into a thousand pieces because the pain of heartbreak and betrayal remained with one of the key characters to the bitter end.

What gives me strength, and why I choose to remain here, is that Tokyo and Japan have gone through calamities across the centuries and survived. So, while there are risks and uncertainties ahead, experience suggests this country has a collective future worth living and working for.

To my Japanese relatives, friends and colleagues, and to everyone rooting for Japan to pull through this disaster, I would simply say:

The future's unexplored territory. You can do things differently there.

PS I changed the ending quote from, The future's an unexplored country. They do things differently there, to what you see now. I think it expresses a warmer, more welcoming place; not without risks, of course, as one probable future path among many.

Source post: Japan. Down But Not Out.

Post 2: On Higher Ground

3/11 2:46 PM


Two years ago today these stairs began to sway, and stopped my climb to higher ground.

Soon, groaning girders shocked me senseless, and I was no longer sure of where I stood.

Instinct kicked in, and up I bounded two more floors, and underneath a builder’s table hung on tight to sturdy legs. While helter-skelter went the floor from side to side and front to rear.

A white-knuckle ride no one would scream for.

On and on the tremors flowed, in shuddering waves that left me queasy and worried sick the floor would give, or walls might lean, in ways no architect had schemed or dreamed.

But stand it did, and when the noise and shaking stopped, I crept upstairs to find my friends with fallen books and anxious looks.

How strange to pick up broken glass and sweep the room of doom and gloom, as aftershocks came thick and fast.

The fallen clock a silent sentry to 2:46 on 3/11.

If only superman could turn back time or lend a hand to children waiting, cold and tearful, small and fearful, north-east of here, so close to safety.

Alas, a black wave found and took them.

It breaks my heart to think what stopped their climb to higher ground.

Source post: On Higher Ground

(2024 postscript: I wrote post 2 in 2013 because of the deaths of seventy-four students and ten teachers at Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, on 11 March, 2011.
NHK. This 2022 NHK World article explains what happened and the aftermath. I feel their sadness as if it is my own.

The magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami devastated mostly NE Japan's Tohoku area.Tokyo escaped with minor damage, a few casualties, but a lot of violent shaking. )

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