Japan and The Unknown

16 Mar

So day 2 of being back home and the jet lag has caught up with me. Since I probably got a total of 20 hours of sleep over the past four days, I passed out from exhaustion last night and slept until 1 pm today. I look at the post below and it makes me very sad. As most of you know, I was in Japan on Friday during the earthquake. It was the first full day of our vacation. We spent the morning getting lost in the train station trying to get our JR Pass activated, finding a ramen shop for breakfast, and then headed to Shabuya. I found a couple of the stores that Cyrus told me to check out: Kiddyland (a toy lover’s paradise….I was in heaven!) and Oriental Bazaar where we were able to get a few souvenirs. We got some Takoyaki (fried octopus) to snack on and then went into a French bakery to eat a cream puff and drink some tea. I thought maybe we should head to the Omate Sando shopping center across the street but Dave really wanted to check out the Meiji Shrine and it was supposed to close in a couple hours.

(We had just gone up the stairs and were on the right side of the shrine)

(The courtyard of the shrine)

(This is exactly like the wedding procession we saw right before the quake)

We walked through the wide gravel path surrounded by beautiful trees and I checked out the souvenirs by the entrance of the shrine. We washed our hands before entering the shrine as is custom. There was a traditional Japanese wedding going on and we took pictures as they passed by us in the courtyard and headed into the shrine. We then moved into the shrine to see if we could see the wedding when we heard a large creaking noise. “Is there a second floor or something? Maybe the wedding party is walking above us?” I asked. And then panic. The structure started swaying and we ran out from under the shrine’s structure and into the courtyard since it was outdoors. Everyone got to their knees and crouched down and felt the ground move in waves as we watched this huge shrine sway from side to side. A tourist started crying and I was on the verge of crying myself. After what seamed like eternity (well over a minute), it ended and we sat there for a good 10 minutes in shock and then headed out. Turns out I almost pee myself when I am frightened like that so I ran to the bathroom and went VERY quickly since I was scared of more shaking. I bought three charms at the souvenir stand: a safe travel charm (I kept in my wallet for the remainder of the trip), a good luck and prosperity charm for my mom, and a recovery of illness/good health charm for my dad.

(Entrance and Exit)

We then headed to another outdoor area on the shrine’s grounds that had a glass structure which housed a souvenir shop and a two-story building that was having some sort of awards ceremony. We sat there when the first aftershock hit which was very big and very scary. The entire glass building was shaking and rattling and people started quickly walking out of the building and congregating outside. Everyone was on their cell phones. We were the only Americans there so we did not understand the magnitude of the quake and what had happened. The Japanese people are indeed calm people which calmed me down (barely). However when we left the shrine grounds an hour later, we realized the train stations were shut down and that there was a huge group of people sitting down on the ground outside the shrine area and glued to their cell phones. I found some English-speaking business people and asked him what the size of the quake was and told them I was very scared and that earthquakes are a huge fear of mine.  The British man told me “Well you have bad luck. I’ve been here for 15 years and that was the biggest quake I’ve ever felt” and sort of laughed and sauntered off. His female friend laughed as well saying their car was shaking and that the road was starting to crack and that it was “kind of cool.” Kind of cool? You’re a fucking idiot (pardon my french). I know there are people who are excited to feel their first earthquake. They clearly have not been in a big one before. There is nothing “fucking cool” about an earthquake….ever.

Shaken up and scared by the mass amount of people on the streets, I refused to go by the high buildings (nearly impossible in Tokyo) so we wandered towards a more quiet area where we came across a cafe. It was all full but we must have looked very scared and sad because a Japanese couple (Roy and Yoshiko) waved us over and said we could sit with them. They translated the news for us at times especially when the Prime Minister was talking. After a little while, they gave us their business cards and then invited us to go to a cafe in Harajuku with them since they know the owners. They insisted Dave buy a plastic wind breaker since it was freezing and he had left the hotel without a jacket. He managed to get the last one at the ampm and Roy gave him an extra pair of gloves he had. We went to Tom Cafe and had some sandwiches and tea.  We had asked if they served beer at the cafe but they didn’t. Roy stepped out and ended up buying us a couple mini bottles of wine and snacks. We were stunned by how nice these people were to us considering we were complete strangers. They then told us about a great place in Harajuku to go for dinner and invited us to join. We ate Okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza) and had fried oysters and beer. It was very tasty but I started to feel sick….probably jet leg and emotional distress. Weather had turned to freezing and no taxis were to be found. They walked us to the taxi line and we said goodbye. The taxi line was making no movement after 20 minutes and we were 50 people deep. All hotels were filled and all taxis were filled and we were freezing. We got back to the cafe and were happily relieved to see that Roy and Yoshiko were back there. Yoshiko offered to let us stay at their work place and told us it was like an apartment. While hesitant at first, we realized this was our best/only option since our hotel would be over a 2 hour walk and we had no clue on how to get there by foot.

(Okonomiyaki)

We got to their work place and Yoshiko’s boss’s niece (also named Yoshiko) spoke perfect English. She had lived in London for 4 years and in Atlanta for a couple. She made us tea and translated the news for us. They let us sleep in the guest room where their boss sleeps when she comes back home to Japan. Roy and Yoshiko slept on the couch and stayed glued to the news. I barely slept due to aftershocks and feeling like I had vertigo. We woke up the next morning and said goodbye to Roy and Yoshiko who I called “my angels.” I can’t help but believe that a higher power was watching out for us considering our good luck on where we were in Japan when the earthquake hit and who we met later that day. It was amazing. Yoshiko (the niece) walked us to Senegawa station Saturday morning and we rode an extremely packed metro bus to our hotel.

(Niwa Hotel lobby)

(What our room looked like)

It was there while watching the news that we realized how extremely devastating and serious this earthquake had been. We would look at a glass of water on our side table to see if it was shaking to determine whether it was a real aftershock or our imaginations. We met up with our friend Ryuichi and his wife who took us to a sushi dinner nearby our hotel in Chiyoda. The city was a complete ghost town and we were the only ones at the sushi spot aside from an older gentleman at the bar. The food was delicious and we were happy to have some company.

On Sunday we were able to do some sight-seeing in Shinjuku and Shabuya. We felt that when we were out walking we couldn’t feel the aftershocks as much so we thought it was better than staying in our room on the 8th floor of our hotel. We luckily found Shomben Yokocho (“Piss Alley”) where we had some meat on a stick and then headed to a dinner where we ate lots of sushi.

(“Piss Alley”)

Monday morning we prepared for check out and had a breakfast buffet at the hotel. We were the only people in the restaurant. We planned to head to the Mandarin Tokyo hotel for our last night (we had booked a flight for tuesday) and as we sat in our hotel room a big and long aftershock hit. I decided it was time to go as soon as possible especially with some of the trains stopping and the scheduled power outages. Fortunately JAL was able to change our flight and we headed to the Haneda aiport by taxi where we waited for 12 hours until our flight. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer airport. There were so many restaurants and shops and we made friends with a 22 year old Japanese guy who translated the airport’s intercom earthquake warning for us. He told us he likes the movies “What Women Want” and “Devil Wears Prada” and asked for some movie recommendations. We also met a guy next to us who was there with his girlfriend who was from Korea. Turns out he used to live a block away from me on Divisadero and Hayes in SF. He and his girlfriend were heading to Seoul.

(Haneda airport)

Our flight was extremely turbulent and scary but we made it back to SFO safe and alive. I think I played Tetris at least 8 hours total during both flights to and from Japan. I then got on a flight to LA and Dave headed to San Diego.

It feels strange to be back here in sunny California and so far away from a country that is in such turmoil. While we were there for a very short amount of time, we both agreed that the Japanese people are the kindest and most polite people we have ever met. My thoughts and heart are with the people of Japan especially those who lost their homes and lives or family members. I will never forget this experience and I will always remember Yoshiko, Roy and Yoshiko and what they did for us.

I hope that the worst is behind them and I think if anyone can recover from such a tragedy as this, it would be the Japanese community.

I will be back there again one day ❤

Thank you to everyone who emailed, wrote me on facebook or called my parents to check on me. It was very comforting to know people were thinking and praying for me at a time when I was so scared and so far from home.

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4 Responses to “Japan and The Unknown”

  1. celie March 16, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

    WOW Jackie! Thanks for updating. I can’t believe that you were there for this, I’m so glad that you guys are safe and found some wonderful people to help you. What stress and uncertainty you must have been feeling, hope you’re able to do some major relaxing now. Big hug!

  2. Rita March 16, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    Wow Jackie I can’t believe you and Dave were there for this. So frightening for you and your families! This blog post was great and I’m so happy to hear you and Dave are safe and sound!! ❤

  3. Rita March 16, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    I just realized my first few sentences were pretty much the same as Celie’s… Hahaha!

  4. Vintage Barbie March 17, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    So glad to have you back. Those days were like long unhappy years for us. I too, will always we grateful to Roy and the two ladies named Yoshiko and for God’s mercy in putting them them in your path.

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