An Earthshaking Welcome Back to Japan

By Donnie | Articles

Glass damage at the Seksui House Building near my apartment.

I just got back to Japan yesterday evening. I lugged my bags into my ride, and napped on the way home. I got my things into my apartment and got a good night’s rest.

This morning, I woke up, unpacked some things and took a nice, hot shower and got dressed. I was a nice day outside, and I figured I’d make a quick run to AEON to take my souvenirs to my former coworkers. I hopped on my bike, and when I got to Tsukuba MOG around 2:40pm (the shopping mall in my area) I parked and walked to the elevator. When I pressed the button, nothing happened. I pressed it again…nothing. I didn’t see the light showing that the elevator was descending. I thought it was weird, but I kept pressing the button anyway.

I felt a very subtle shaking and when I turned around and saw the windows of some of the shops (on the bottom level of the mall) shaking. Tremors happen in Japan, so I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary. The rumbling got stronger, prompting me to slowly move away from the elevator. As the shaking became rumbling & roaring. I moved quickly (i.e.- ran) to the street., where large a large crowd of people was starting to gather. People were leaving the mall in droves. It was a severe earthquake!

Often when there are small tremors, you can’t physically see the buildings moving but you can feel it if you’re inside. This time it was totally different. I could see everything shaking. It was so unreal to me that the street and sidewalk were moving, too. I actually had to work to keep my balance, it was unreal and downright frightening.

I stood on the street with everyone else, in shock. I scanned some of the shops in the mall, and things were just getting tossed around. The earthquake was completely indiscriminate: wine bottles, shelves, tables, books, vases, clothing, you name it…the earthquake was tossing it. The same place that I had my farewell party just weeks ago, Portofino, was trashed.

Like I mentioned in the Earthquake Safety Article, during earthquakes I think everyone has that “What do I do if this earthquake gets out of hand?” moment. When it’s really happening, though, it can be hard to get your bearing. I must say that I am impressed with how quickly the mall staff evacuated the mall and guided people to safety. These guys even had on white hard hats. In my brain I was thinking “Where did you get the white hard hat from?” “Do you just have a random hard hat lying on your desk, just in case?” But in all seriousness, it was well organized and people didn’t panic.

I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night because I counted at least five aftershocks, and had the news running, just in case I needed to hear something important.

I am hearing so many things that it’s hard to make sense of it all. I hear that an earthquake measuring 8.9 struck the Pacific off of the northeast coast of Japan (in the Tohoku region) this resulted in a tsunami with waves as high as 10 meters, which caused some major damage to coastal cities in the area. This was officially the largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history, so seeing the extent of the damage on TV was shocking:

It was really hard to reach people after the earthquake happened. By and large, cell phone service was rendered useless (except for Karl’s iPhone for some reason), there were fires & floods in some areas (luckily not mine), tap water being shut off in some homes, among other things; and the aftershocks continue to happen. I hope everything will be fine now, though.

I am glad I’m okay, but I know there are friends and students who can’t reach family members, people who lost their lives, their homes, and their peace of mind. I think I’m going to don something raggedy and go help with some clean up.

If you’re in Japan, and were hit by the earthquake, please take care. Drinking water is really important. If there are any other big ones, going to a local park, middle school/high school, high school, or community center are good places to seek refuge.

Take care of yourselves out there,

Donald Ash

P.S.-Where were you when the earthquake hit? If you need to vent, to talk, whatever, ask questions, please feel free to use the comments section to vent.

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  • steve says:

    came across your blog man a few weeks ago when i was trying to see how kooza was doin in japan..i live in miami and i took my mom to 2 shows and she loved it! so just wanted to see if you were ok after the earthquakes..glad to see your well! please be safe! (steve)

    • Donald Ash says:

      Kooza was an awesome show. I loved it, too.

      Thank you so much, I’m trying to do what I can, but it was a pretty severe earthquake, the news reports of the people crying and the names of some of the missing is a bit hard to watch. I’ll try to stay safe. Take care.

  • Cheryl Yearell-Vinson says:

    Just wanted to know how you’re doing. Glad that you’re okay.

    Mrs. Vinson
    [email protected]

    • Donald Ash says:

      Sorry for the late response, Mrs. Vinson. I appreciate you coming by to check on me. I’m doing okay. The news is so sad to watch knowing that these towns aren’t all that far from me…at all. But nevertheless, I’m still in good health.

  • Ceci says:

    I just found your blog about a week ago. It’s an awesome slice of life about living in Japan. But I’m mortified at what they’re going through right now. I also hate watching the news because it’s making me cry. I’ve never been to Japan and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to go, but I’ve fallen in love with the Japanese culture, so it really hurts me to see them having to go through so much pain.

    I live in MS, but far enough north that I was not part of the devastation of hurricane Katrina. I didn’t personally have to live through it nor did I lose anyone in it. But the scale of what some people have to endure…as is the universe just rolled some dice…and it came up snake eyes.

    If anyone you know has connections and information as to how people need help, I’d be more than happy to contribute. I know agencies like the Red Cross are already involved, but sometimes, I wonder if local people without the management and bureaucracy of a big organization could help as much or more.

    Anyway, I’m glad you’re safe.

    • Donald Ash says:


      I’m glad you posted. It’s so terrible to see everything that’s going on right now, but I’m happy to have food, running water, and a roof over my head. Just seeing those towns where so many people lost everything and so many lost their lives, had such a big effect on me. You were one of the people I remember who asked about donations, and I just finished a post about how to do it. I don’t know exactly how the money will reach the people, but your heart is in the right place, and I think that means a lot. I am going to donate money, and see if I can find a town to help to do some rebuilding/cleanup.

  • Launda:) says:

    Glad you’re ok…..please please take care of yourself.

  • Jessica says:

    Came across your site after seeing your post on Time. Please take care of yourself, glad to know you are safe!

    You have a fantastic blog, thanks for the time and effort you’ve put into it to explain all the ins and outs to those of us unfamiliar with Japanese culture (but very interested).

    • Donald Ash says:

      Thank you Jessica. I’m trying to keep an eye on this nuclear reactor problem, but my spirits are as high as can be expected, I guess. I’m really glad to hear you find my blog interesting. I try to make it something that people will find both interesting and informative. Thanks for reading.

  • BMamba says:

    Glad to see your alright.

  • Jojo Bizarro says:

    I was at Sugamo Station on a stopped Yamanote Line train. I had to walk the rest of the way home (about 3 km). I’m alright though.

    • Donald Ash says:

      Thanks for the comment, Jojo. I hear that a lot of people had to do some serious walking. It’s good to know that you’re okay, though. Just looking at the news and seeing how many less fortunate people there are makes me so grateful for getting off as lucky as I did. Stay safe.

  • Carl Brown says:

    Called your dad this morning to check to see how you were doing in Japan. He called back after school to let me know that you were well. Glad to visit your web page (very impressive). You know I have not seen you since you were a baby. I’m very proud of you and to see how successful you are. Keep up the good work and I know you will be successful at whatever you do in life. May the Lord continue to protect and keep you.

    Family Friend Always,
    Carl Brown

    • Donald Ash says:

      Mr. Brown!! Wow, it has been a long time. Thank you for stopping by to read my site, and thank you for the words of encouragement too. I hope that I can become successful someday. It’s so good to hear from you. Take care Mr. Brown, and I hope to keep working on things that will make you and my family proud. I’ll talk to you soon.

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