After a day of fear and disorder, the city's residents get ready for work on Monday
TOKYO, Japan -- Your first Japanese earthquake is your most memorable. Or so I thought until, along with about 50 million other residents of northern and eastern Japan, I was transfixed by Friday's whopper.
It was all such a contrast with my first, which I experienced 25 years ago as the newly arrived Tokyo bureau chief for a British financial magazine. On that occasion I was having lunch with a Japanese financial executive. The tremor hardly rattled the ice in the water jug but it was a new experience and my face evidently betrayed some reaction (we were in the basement of a fairly old and seismologically questionable building, so I had some excuse). My host inquired what was the matter. At the time, his sangfroid seemed like affectation. I later realized that, for him , that tremor in 1985 was so minor -- probably not much more than a 1 on the Richter scale -- that it wasn't even worth remarking on. Soon enough I became sufficiently localized to take a similarly imperturbable view of Japanese seismology.
Friday was different. The shaking was by far the worst not only in my experience but that of everyone I know. But we in Tokyo, about 200 miles from the epicenter, were lucky. God knows what it was like closer in, but the deaths are clearly going to be in the thousands. And the economic damage may prove the worst since World War II.
I was in our office on the 11th floor of a building in the Shiba district of central Tokyo. Things started gently enough but, within a few seconds, the building was swaying violently. The first and most frightening episode probably lasted no more than three minutes but felt much longer. The motion was like a drunk's staggering gait -- somehow both rhythmic and erratic at the same time. Normally, earthquakes in Japan are felt mainly as a quick jab that subsides before you can think. On this occasion I had more than enough time to wonder whether things might get much worse. I looked around and wondered which bit of furniture, not least my wall-to-ceiling bookshelves, might go flying. An additional question, as our office is a glassy affair in a corner of the building, was whether we might be propelled through a window -- unlikely, no doubt, but rational thinking did not come easily at the time.
Then there was our dog Kuro, a wild-looking fellow with a lot border collie in him. Like the bad girls of Mae West's remark, Kuro goes everywhere. My wife Yasuko, who shares the space with me and runs her own small company, takes him to the office everyday and drives with him to many outside appointments as well. On this occasion she was visiting the Ministry of Economy, evidently a no-dogs zone, so Kuro was confined to base and it was up to me to calm him and keep him away from heavy furniture. Dogs, I have noticed, seem particularly spooked by earthquakes and even minor ones send Kuro into meltdown.