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:

21 replies on “How I lived the greatest earthquake in the history of Japan – Part 1”

God, the almighty. Everything is Yours. Be tough my brothers. We pray for you to be tough, healthy and recovered soon from this dissasster. From Young_kong, Solo Indonesia.

Kind of funny that Americans and foreigners were the most scared by the earthquake. You were crying and had to be calmed down by a Japanese girl? C’mon Hector πŸ™‚

My goodness that’s intense; very well written.

I’ve been following your blog for about a year now and glad to see you updated. I checked the day after I heard about the quakes and tsunami. I would hate to think something really bad had happened. Glad to see your ok. ^_^

What your co-worker said was very sweet. πŸ™‚ I’m not sure why but her comment made me smile.

Incidentally that Vice President has some MAJOR backbone! Good for him! He must have looked incredibly tough. πŸ˜€

Wow! I had no idea it had been so strong here in Tokyo. I was in Yokohama at the time also on the 11th floor of 12. But for us it was much much less. We only see a couple of things moving and could calmly walk down the stairs while the earthquake was happening.

It is really humbling to see the power of earth.

Thank you for this heartfelt, honest, and very thoughtful documentation on your experience.

I have enjoyed your blog over several weeks now, and am glad you are OK, but I can only imagine the ongoing trauma and difficulty you and the people around you now face.

Take good care of yourself in the days to come.

Ouch Hector… glad to hear everything is ok on your side, but I can only imagine the desperation I’d feel in such a situation. I’ve been hearing all sorts of things about the japanese resilience while dealing with the whole ordeal… all this while reading this book:
Gives a very interesting perspective and understanding of the japanese culture on dealing with disasters.
Hope everything is ok with family and friends, and also hoping things don’t get worse than already is… with the nuclear plants and the volcano further south.
Who could’ve imagine such a huge quake would hit like that?
Needing any help, or knowing what can be done to help please share… I have some relatives there in Tokyo and Kyoto who are ok, so just send an e-mail!

I follow your blog for quite some time and enjoy it very much. I’m glad too see you are OK!! =)

Prays for japan!

A well-written article. I understand how you felt. I too am attracted to the legs of the female office workers, and sometimes they make me cry too.

Thank you so much for taking the time to blog and bring the experience to so many who are praying for everyone over in Japan! Glad to hear you are okay, shaken, but okay!

I’ve been following your blog for a year. Last year i visited Tokyo. I checked your blog the day after I heard about the quakes and tsunami. Glad to know you are ok.

Pray for Japan such a beautiful country

Have followed your blog for maybe 2.5 years. It was one of the reasons i decided to visit Japan in April 2009.

Glad to hear you are fine, it sounded horrific and terrifying.

Stay safe, the whole world is thinking of you all in Japan and we will do all we can to help.

I’m very sorry for you. I was very worried about a friend of mine in Yokohama. Thanks to people like you I’ve read life is normal in Tokyo and nearbies and people is fine. Spanish TV and newspapers were saying it was a catastrophe and I imagined she was in big troubles and had my heart broken. I can’t understand how they can make money that way. Horror sells? Thanks to people like you we can’t be a less worried. Thank you

After I heard the news, I checked your blog everyday to see any update but I found none. And I started to worry if something happened to you.

But today, I’m happy to read this article πŸ™‚

that’s something no one can endure nor expect in his/her lifetime, the good thing is that you and your coworkers are fine. My prayers goes to you and to the people of Japan.

Your long time reader from Kuwait,

God Bless!

I was unable to get to your web page for the last week. I am relieved to read your blog again and that you are OK. Our prayers are with the people of Japan during this terrible time.

Thanks everybody for your support. The blog was down during most of last week due to heavy traffic.
I’m ok, I was down in Fukuoka for some days, but I am back again in Tokyo.

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