A Geek in Japan | 2011 March
Adventures of a geek living in Japan
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How I lived the greatest earthquake in the history of Japan – Part 5

On Sunday I go out to the street to walk around the city. 80% of subway lines in Tokyo are already running and we can move with certain liberty. I can see how the Shinkansen service to the south-west of Japan is running smoothly:

Shinkansen train after the earthquake
Bullet train coming out of Tokyo Station on Sunday morning.

There are very few people on the streets compared to a normal Sunday in Tokyo. I walk around the surroundings of the Emperor Palace; the security area around the palace has been increased, most likely as an extra security measure because of the earthquake on Friday.

Japanese Emperor Palace

皇居なう、Japanese Emperor Palace two days after the earthquake
The Japanese Emperor Palace two days after the earthquake.

While I’m walking, I feel how the ground is vibrating once again, the trees are shaking a little bit, I stop to see if it’s going to get stronger or not. Luckily, after twenty seconds, it stops and everything is back to normal again. I see on Twitter that it was a small earthquake of 5.8 with epicenter in one of the prefectures to the north of Tokyo.

Park without tourists in Tokyo
At the parks around the palace there’s barely any people, normally they are full of tourists.

Empty streets near Tokyo Station
Downtown streets near Tokyo Station are empty.

I go back home soon to get the latest news about the tragedy. When I sit in front of my computer I feel how another earthquake is coming. To confirm that it is in fact an earthquake, what everybody does is to check the curtains or a lamp to see if they are really moving or not. When you have lived through several days of continuous seismic movements every two or three hours, you end up having “earthquake hallucinations”. You think that everything is moving, but it turns out to be a product of the imagination of your brain. It is something similar to when you go on a boat and you are not used to it, when you step on solid ground again you still feel some kind of dizziness. I look at the curtains carefully and it seems like they are not moving at all; luckily it’s me the one that is making up the earthquake in his brain.

To clear up my mind I take a shower, but this time I’m not lucky enough and an earthquake catches me while I’m showering. It’s not very cool that all the house moves while you are showering, but I take it easy and stupidly laugh at myself.

More posts about the March 2011 Earthquake:

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How I lived the greatest earthquake in the history of Japan – Part 4

I receive e-mails from colleagues and friends that can’t go home, others say that they have been walking for seven hours, almost 30km. Hotels in downtown Tokyo are full. News from the situation in the north continue to arrive and the number of victims starts to grow.

I have to sleep next to a backpack with food, water and a flashlight. But sleeping is not easy, most of us can’t sleep because of the multiple aftershocks that happen throughout the night. Unable to sleep well, on Saturday at 5:00am I am already getting the latest news: thousands of refugees and problems with the nuclear power plant at Fukushima.

Around 9:00am I go out to the streets to see how the atmosphere is. There are much less people than usual in the streets and the shelves in the supermarkets are empty. Everything else seems normal and quiet in Tokyo, however we still feel some aftershocks every two or three hours.

Empty supermarket shelves

Empty supermarket shelves

Empty supermarket shelves after the earthquake in Tokyo

Empty supermarket shelves in Tokyo

We are all sad and worried about the situation, but we need to disconnect, at mid afternoon we manage to gather a group of some friends (the ones that can move by bicycle or scooter) to celebrate the birthdays of Carlos and I. We don’t have anything to celebrate, but we need to get together and calm down; we have a lot to talk about, we all share our feelings and comment how we are living the situation.

Nothing better than to be with friends in a situation like this. Thanks, you are the best! We will all celebrate in some weeks as it should have been.

Our cakes, 24 hours after the earthquake; also they were affected by the shaking of the earthquake:

Birthday cakes after the earthquake

Very tired because of the lack of sleep and worried about the news that are arriving from the north, we all go back home soon to try to get some rest.

More posts about the March 2011 Earthquake:

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How I lived the greatest earthquake in the history of Japan – Part 3

More and more people come to the park. I sit down in a rock next to some bushes with flowers, but just after sitting down I feel how the rock starts to vibrate. Trees and lamp posts around the park shake following the aftershocks that arrive every 10-20 minutes. We are still trying to use our cell phones or send e-mails, but we can’t. Somebody is able to get signal for a while and we get news that the tsunami has already arrived to the coast in the north, sweeping towns and cities. At the park we feel more secure that inside the building, but everybody looks more and more worried.

Around 5:30pm some of us decide to head back home. Trains are not running, they are all stopped, the rail companies employees are checking the railways to see if they are safe or need reparations. Many of my colleagues start to walk to head back home, but distances in Tokyo are huge, to some of them many hours of walk await. I head back home by bicycle but I soon have to stop and continue by foot; the streets are clogged with cars and sidewalks are flooded with pedestrians. Crowds slowly advance walking, calmly but with heads down, many are checking their cell phones trying to get signal. People are lining up to buy stuff in 24 hour shops and supermarkets.

Line of people waiting to use a public telephone in Tokyo
Line of people waiting to use a public telephone, cell phones are not working.

Supermarkets are running out of food very fast
Supermarkets are running out of food very fast.

After one hour and a half walking I arrive home. I live in a ground floor apartment, so the damages are not very important. Some books and plates have fallen to the floor, the tables have moved and my computer monitor has almost fallen to the ground but it is safe. I go online to check the latest news, I am terrified when I see the first images of the tsunami destruction.

Not mine, screenshots from http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/

Not mine, screenshots from http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/

Me and my group of friends were going to celebrate Carlos 32nd birthday and my 30th birthday. But Tokyo is paralyzed, there are traffic jams everywhere, trains are still not running and it’s impossible to get a taxi. Of course it is not the best moment to celebrate anything, we cancel our birthday party and postpone it for another day.

More posts about the March 2011 Earthquake:

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How I lived the greatest earthquake in the history of Japan – Part 2

We calm down as the tremors of the earthquake start to decrease. The water in the fish tank is running through the floor approaching our feet. I feel very dizzy, my hands and my jaw are shaking out of control.

My colleague Wada-san is the first one to stand up, even though we are still moving he can already keep his balance. He smiles at us, to cheer us up he says: “We need some beers!”. We laugh to keep from crying, a strange reaction after an extreme panic situation.

We all start to stand up. We go back to our desks, we look outside of the window. We see some smoke near Tokyo Tower. We can hear many sirens, the streets look frozen, the people is standing up, they don’t walk. All the cars are stopped. We are still not aware of how serious the situation is.

We check our cellphones, but we don’t have signal. We use the company wifi to check the news, we get news that the epicenter of the earthquake is located in the sea off the coast of Tohoku region and the magnitude of the earthquake is 8.9 (later it was confirmed that it had been 9.0). We are in a tsunami alert almost all over the country. Out building hasn’t stopped moving, 10 minutes have passed since it began to shake.

Cleaning up after the earthquake,地震の後のお掃除
Some coworkers cleaning up the office after the earthquake

The elevators are not working, we go down the stairs and we see several cracks on the walls.

Cracks on the walls in the building of my company, built by Shimizu Corporation

Even though the building is new and prepared to withstand big earthquakes, seeing cracks on the walls makes me worry. We go out to the street, people is walking as usual, cars are again circulating, we see a fire fighter truck pass by in front of us.

Seeing that everything is back to “normal”, we calm down a bit and we go back to our office. Big mistake! As we arrive to the 11th floor, a big aftershock starts. Again we are all on the ground under our tables, books fall down again from the shelves, again the water comes out of the fish tank, and everybody panics again, this time during two long minutes.

Lesson learned, we take what we need and we go out as soon as possible, this time using the emergency stairs, our “shelter” is this small park:

This park was our shelter after the earthquake

I calm down, I’m not shaking anymore but I feel that my body is hotter than usual. I’m thirsty but my colleague offers me a tea bottle that she has in her bag.

The funny smiles of everybody after “surviving” the earthquake start to disappear; everybody starts to look worried and sad. Everybody is trying to contact their family with their cellphones, but there’s no signal….

More posts about the March 2011 Earthquake:

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How I lived the greatest earthquake in the history of Japan – Part 1

I work in the 11th floor of a 12-floor building built by Shimizu Corporation in 2009; the building is supposed to withstand very powerful earthquakes. Shimizu Corporation is one of the world leaders in earthquake-resistant construction technologies.

Our company's new building @ Daikanyama Tokyo
I was working in the 11th floor of this building.

We were in a meeting room in the 11th floor, usually we finish our weekly meeting on Fridays at 15:00, but yesterday at 14:40 we were already done. I take my laptop and go back to my desk that is next to a window with these views:

View from my desk

I sit down and gaze at the immensity of Tokyo to relax and have a break after the meeting. Suddenly I feel like I’m dizzy, but it’s not me, we are moving, it is an earthquake. My chair starts to move little by little, smoothly. I look back and the computer monitors and the desks are moving. We are not afraid, we are supposed to be used to earthquakes, we all wait for it to stop. Usually after some moments of shaking everything goes back to normal. But this time after around 30 seconds of small shakings, things starts to get ugly.

I look outside again, the skyscrapers are vibrating. Antennas and cables are moving violently. The whole Tokyo is shaking in front of me. Not only it doesn’t stop, but the strength of the earthquake starts to increase. Curtains violently hit the windows. The books on my desk fall, my computer monitor falls as well, desk drawers open themselves. I start to get really worried. Suddenly I realized that all my colleagues are hidden under their tables except our vice president who is standing and tells us with a forced smile: “Don’t worry, this building uses the latest technology of Shimizu Corporation”. His words don’t calm me down at all and, I don’t know why, I stand up like him and hold my desk tightly.

The building has been shaking for the last 2 minutes, now the movements slow down a little bit during some instants and I take the opportunity to go out running to the lounge that is near the emergency stairs. Nobody is moving except me, everybody is under their tables except our vice president who is still standing up holding his computer monitor. On my way, I jump over two bookshelves that have fallen, leaving many books scattered around the floor.

I arrive to the lounge where there are also tables and colleagues hiding under them. I stop and feel how another huge shaking is coming, the building is moving like crazy. This time I can’t keep standing up, the strength of the earthquake is too much, not only everything is moving from side to side, but also up and down! my feet lose contact with the floor, I feel powerless, I feel panic, I feel the power of our planet.

I see the legs of a coworker, she is hiding under a table. My instinct or maybe my fear makes me jump to the floor next to her. She sees me coming, and with one hand strongly holds my leg, and with the other hand she grabs my left hand. I feel more secure, but not for long. In that moment we both think: “This is the end”. We hug each other strongly, I close my eyes because I’m very scared. Every second is an eternity, now the final showdown is coming. We are shaking like if we were in a roller coaster. Even while sitting on the ground, the vibration of the building moves us around the floor. The noise of things falling is intense, the water of the fish tank reaches the ceiling making it wet.

The worst is over, but the earthquake hasn’t gone, the water of the fish tank is all over the place, making the books that are on the ground wet, all the building is still shaking but the earthquake is finally coming to an end. We open our eyes, we smile. But at the same time that I smile, two tears fall from my eyes. My hands are shaking, my jaw as well, I can’t control them. My coworker is much calmer than me, she says to me that the worst is over, that we are OK. I breath deeply and calm down. I think: “We, humans, are weak and something that won’t last long in the universe”. My coworker tells me: “I thought I was going to die, I don’t know why, but I felt peace in my interior”. Another two tears escape from my eyes.

Japan Earthquake 2011
Tomorrow I will continue writing my experience, until then, you can follow me on Twitter (I tweet mostly in Spanish or Japanese)

More posts about the March 2011 Earthquake:

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Flowers as a hobby

Japanese people love flowers. Japanese language is very rich in vocabulary related to flowers and they have many hobbies like ikebana (flower arrangement) dedicated to the world of flowers. There are many parks and gardens that have sections exclusively dedicated to flower cultivation. Last week I went to one of the largest ones in Tokyo, I was expecting to find many old people but I found people of all ages.

There were species from all around the world and even some Japanese varieties that have been developed in labs. Some people were carrying huge cameras, others were just taking pictures with their cellphones, and some flower geeks were even writing down every detail observed on their notebook.

Flowers as a hobby

Flowers as a hobby

Flowers as a hobby

Flowers as a hobby

Flowers as a hobby

Flowers as a hobby

Flowers as a hobby

Flower garden in Japan

Flower garden in Japan

Flower garden in Japan

Flower garden in Japan

Flower garden in Japan

Flowers in Japan

Flowers in Japan

Flowers in Japan

Flowers in Japan

Flowers in Japan

Flowers in Japan

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Flowers in Japan

Flowers in Japan

Flowers

Flowers

Flowers

Flowers

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Costumes at Tokyo Marathon

The Tokyo Marathon, one of the most popular marathons in the world, was held some days ago in Tokyo, more than 30,000 runners participated in it. Some people was not happy enough only by running the 42 km, they wanted to do it with a costume! There is fabulous compilation of pictures in Un Gato Nipón, here you have some of them:

Costumes at Tokyo Marathon

Costumes at Tokyo Marathon

Costumes at Tokyo Marathon

Costumes at Tokyo Marathon

Costumes at Tokyo Marathon

Costumes at Tokyo Marathon

Costumes at Tokyo Marathon

Marathon

Marathon

Marathon

Marathon

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26 year old kid turns 400,000 dollars into 4 million dollars in 3 days

Some days ago a 26 year old Japanese guy bought 33 million yen (290,000 EUR/400,000 USD) of oil futures and 3 days later he had 322 million yen (4 million USD/2,85 million EUR) in his pocket thanks to the abrupt rise of oil prices caused by the Libyan crisis. A little bit of luck that will change his life forever. The news say that if he had waited more days he could have gotten 10 or 20 million USD, but he has proudly said that he preferred not to risk more and he has uploaded a photo of his bank account to the Internet showing 322 million yen in his balance.

Making millions buying oil futures

Source: 2chblog

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Supermarket cash register that meows

There is a new supermarket cash register in Japan that instead of making the usual “beep” every time you swipe a barcode product through the scanner it makes a cat meow. They say it is more fun for the kids. Another thing is that the clients are the ones that have to pass the products through the scanner and there is no need to employ somebody to operate the cash register; the meows make the tedious task more fun for the clients.

Source: Japanprobe.

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Japanese Sleeping – 10

And finally we arrive to the 10th edition of my collection of pictures of Japanese people sleeping. As always, with all my love to the Japanese people, I’ve also adapted to the Japanese environments and I am now able to sleep anywhere.

Sleeping japanese

Sleeping japanese

Sleeping japanese

Sleeping japanese

Sleeping japanese

Sleeping japanese

Sleeping japanese

Sleeping japanese
Who sent me this picture? It’s great, thanks!

Sleeping japanese

Sleeping japanese

Sleeping japanese
Thanks to Roberto Perez for this photo

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