Day 1: Friday, March 11, 2011
I had the day off from work. It was a beautiful day out. The only thing I had to do today was file my Japanese taxes in Shibuya, so I skated over there in the morning. It was a little tedious, but I got it done. I had the rest of the day ahead of me, so I decided to check out the photo book library at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Ebisu. My friend Naoyuki met me there. The reason why I wanted to go was to find a book that someone recommended to me called Namaiki by Kishin Shinoyama which was banned in Japan for showing sexy photos of underage girls. Namaiki turned out to be a compilation of various shoots that he did with various young idols and models for magazines. The youngest girl looked like she was nine. From a moral standpoint, it looked so wrong, but from a photographic one, it was great- racy, beautiful, and made you feel guilty all at the same time.
After Naoyuki and I got ready to leave, we heard an emergency bell, but had no idea what it was for. The workers around us also seemed confused. All of the sudden, the building began to shake – violently shake – and then shake some more… and more… Naoyuki and I kept looking at each other amazed that it wouldn’t stop. After about two or three minutes, things started to settle, and we were evacuated from the museum building.
Outside there were tons of people looking up. I went over to them, and looked up as well. I couldn’t see what they were looking at first, but then I realized that the tall skyscraper in front of me was swaying back and forth. We decided to walk around and see what was happening. There was no damage anywhere. All these business people were out since we were in the business district, and they seemed to be enjoying an excuse to not be working. It almost seemed like a party. Some of them had helmets on, which made me wonder, “How can you wear a helmet without guilt when everyone else isn’t?” Naoyuki checked Twitter on his iPhone which was the only thing working at the time, which reported that there was a big earthquake in Miyagi.
Later we saw many people in the park, so we went over to check it out. It still seemed like everyone was having fun (except for one woman who was crying), until the earth shook again under our feet. Ten minutes later it shook quite heavily again and people started to freak out a bit. After things settled down again, we decided to split but before leaving Naoyuki went to the bathroom. I was waiting outside and noticed how beautiful the sun was pouring down on everyone, so I raised my point and shoot camera up over my head and started taking photos of people. All of a sudden, a businessman grabbed my arm and said in Japanese angrily said, “What are you taking photos of?”
I was quite surprised, so I looked at everyone one around me who moments before were also taking photos with their iPhones and shitty digital cameras… and now they were looking at me like I was a criminal. He asked me again, “What are you taking photos of?” I knew I couldn’t explain to a businessman, or a normal person for that matter, that the light looked nice… so I mumbled some lame answer even though I was pissed off for being grabbed. I also wanted to raise my skateboard in a threatening manner, which I was holding in my free hand, but it didn’t occur to me until after I had shrugged him off and walked away in a huff. Naoyuki tried to reassure me that people were just panicking, which they were.
We decided to walk to my house, which was about two hours away. A lot of people were out, drifting, huddling around TV screens, or walking about because the trains had stopped. By the highway, there was a river of people walking in one direction. Naoyuki commented that it looked like a crusade. It was all a bit surreal. On the other hand, Shibuya Crossing seemed exactly the same because it is always overcrowded... No damage could be seen anywhere. We tried to stop at some cafes for a break, but they were all full of people killing time because they were stuck.
We finally made it to my neighborhood and decided to cook, but the supermarkets were closed. Texting finally began to work on my cell phone, and reports from friends slowly trickled in saying that they were okay. When I got home, my roommate Ian had already cleaned up all the books, pictures, and broken dishes from the floor. The only structural damage that I had seen that whole day was our neighbor’s old tiled roof. That night we ate leftovers, talked, watched the news, and replied to the tons of emails from concerned friends and especially ex-girlfriends. Everyone in Tokyo was alright. Some of them had to walk eight hours to get home, but that seemed to be the worst of it. The footage we saw on TV as well as the news about the possible meltdown was almost too crazy for us to really understand at that time, so in a way, it didn’t feel real.
To end the night we decided to watch 2012 as a bad joke to lighten things up, but when Los Angeles started to crumble into the ocean with John Cusack driving his stupid limo at full speed through all the mess while, in reality, our own house shook from aftershocks, it felt like deja-vu and was actually quite disturbing. Another thing I found quite fucked up about this shitty family/disaster movie was that they actually showed people in the backgrounds falling off buildings and getting burned alive. Eventually I fell asleep because it was so bad and I was so tired.
Tokyo kept shaking throughout the night.
Day 2: Saturday, March 12, 2011
I woke up to the unfortunate news that John Cusack and his family had survived. On top of that, our power was possibly going to be shut off later that day in order to save energy while the state of the nuclear reactors in Fukushima were still getting worse. The good news was that the trains were finally working, so my roommates and I walked Naoyuki, our stranded houseguest, to the station. Afterwards, we went to the grocery store to stock up on supplies.
At the supermarket, all the bread was gone, as well as most of the meat. While waiting for my roommates to pay, I noticed a man standing outside carrying his three year-old son in his arms. Their baby carriage suddenly crashed to the floor because it was overloaded with groceries... a bag of soba, onions, and other goods came rolling out. I went outside and helped him for two reasons because:
A. We are all dealing with a natural disaster
B. His hands seemed full with his kid
After I put the carriage upright and the groceries back in place, I felt like a good neighbor. He said thanks, but the weird thing was, he wasn't looking at me when he said it... He was looking a little to the left of my head, so I too looked over to the left of my head but didn't see anything unusual there. I was a bit concerned about him so I asked if he was okay, which he said he was... I began to walk away, but still not convinced, looked back. He was still staring into space with his boy wiggling in his arms. I asked if he was okay again, and like a robot, he repeated the same words like he was programmed to... Seeing him like that left me with chills.
Yuki, Ian’s girlfriend/my roommate, was glued to the TV all day while Ian continued his usual routine of working on his computer. I felt terribly irritated all day. I tried to do some work, but couldn’t. I tried to read a comic, but failed as well. Everything just bugged the shit out of me, even my roommates whom I love. I realized that we were all going through a slight case of post-traumatic stress.
The power outage forewarned by the media didn’t come, but the aftershocks did – one after another. Later we had three more houseguests come and stay over because they were scared to be alone. We huddled around the computer and watched the video of the nuclear plant in Fukushima exploding.
Yuki looked like a wreck by the end of the night.
Day 3: Sunday, March 13, 2011
I woke up by another aftershock. Lying there, I tried to think of what I had to do that day, but I couldn’t think of anything, which left me feeling useless and lost.
In the afternoon, I met my ex-girlfriend for lunch at a restaurant. We immediately talked about how good it was to get out of the house and away from the TV. A few minutes later, another couple was seated next to us and had the exact same conversation. This is one of the rare times when 39 million people are all thinking about the same thing.
While we ate, I also kept thinking about how useless art is at times like these. I asked my ex- if she could think of something, and she weakly replied, “I don’t know… for therapy?” That sounded nice, but I didn’t really believe it.
At home, another friend came over and told me that besides meat and bread, all the staple foods were now sold out at the supermarkets. He then ranted about how people were hoarding everything, which was selfish to others. Later we heard that in the next three days another big quake was supposed to hit. I seriously began to worry for the first time.
Two friends are leaving for Australia tomorrow, one friend is going to Hong Kong, and another is going to Korea to get away… I understand why my foreigner friends are doing this, but it leaves me feeling pissed off that they can take off so easily and abandon everyone in Tokyo. It’s like the privileged business people with hard hats all over again.
I called my mom in the evening to let her know that I was okay and because I was secretly feeling sad. She said she was glad that I was fine, but couldn’t talk because she had to catch a flight to Palm Springs to watch a tennis match.
Day 4: Monday, March 14, 2011
Woke up at 6:00, not because of the quake, but because I still had to go to work. The trains were half empty during rush hour on a Monday, which was eerie, but I appreciated the rare chance to sit down. I was late to work because the train kept stopping, but I found out after I had arrived that the majority of the other teachers at my junior high school hadn’t shown up yet either. The teachers were stressed out and in disarray, while the students were more chipper and excited than chipmunks especially when the aftershocks hit. In the office during our break, I overheard the Jap. Lit. teacher saying that teaching the book Black Rain (which was about Hiroshima after the A-Bomb) would be inappropriate now.
At 1:00 o’clock, I was let out early because there was nothing left for me to do. Right before I got to the train station, I noticed an unusually large amount of crows cawing and flying around in the sky. I kept waiting for one of them to land somewhere like they usually do, but they kept flying around in a stir. I wasn’t sure if I was just being paranoid...
At the station, I found out that my train would be shut down till 5:00 P.M. in order to conserve energy, which left me annoyed, but, at the same time, the fact that I was annoyed made me feel guilty because this was just a little inconvenience compared to others who had lost their homes and loved ones.
And of course, there was another explosion at the Fukushima plant, but it didn’t bother me this time. Unless it was a nuclear meltdown, it was all the same to me.
In the evening, my roommates and emergency houseguests were in a good mood so we decided to watch a stupid movie. For some reason, we chose the film Powder about a gifted albino boy. Ian Wikipedia-ed the movie, and we found out that the director Victor Salva was convicted of child molestation in 1988 because he had given his 12 year old actor a b.j. during the production of his first feature film, which explained why Powder was filled with blatant homoerotic scenes involving minors. There was a creepy scene where Jeff Goldblum rubbed Powder’s face with his fingers sensually for an unusually long time and another where Powder, like a perv, watched a jock twist his water soaked shirt over his face and sweaty bare chest in slow motion for no reason whatsoever.
Afterwards, I read an email from my agency saying that I wouldn’t have to go to work for the rest of the week.
Day 5: Tuesday, March 15, 2011
At this point, I stopped keeping track of the explosions. There were fewer aftershocks today, but they were getting much bigger. Also there was news that low levels of radiation had already reached Tokyo.
Because I had the day off, I finally decided to begin my seven-day diary that I had been planning on for the past few days.
In the afternoon, we went to the grocery store. Even though there was no bread, rice, tofu, etc., there were still other kinds of food available like fruits, vegetables, cookies, etc. Everyone was still polite.
Afterwards, we stopped by the drugstore to see if they had any iodine tablets to protect us from radiation. Apparently Japan never carried them before because the Japanese diet was already high in iodine from wakame (seaweed), so the pharmacist offered us something similar to snake oil instead (which was about 120 US dollars for the bottle. Fuck that.) My roommates and I decided to just eat lots of wakame instead. (Later, I emailed my sister in America to mail us some iodine tablets, but she said that all the pharmacies were out because they had already shipped them to Japan.)
Walking home from the store, Yuki was the first one to notice a lot of pigeons flying around. I then mentioned to everyone about the crows that I had seen the day before. We talked about if it was just paranoia or not, when all of a sudden a group of crows and then some ducks flew overhead. They were all cawing madly, which left us worried, as if they knew something we didn’t.
Fifteen minutes later, Ian called for a house meeting because the French Embassy declared that radiation might reach Tokyo in ten hours. TEN HOURS. The situation had finally become real and I began to panic for the first time. Foreign news, Japanese news, gossip, rumors… they were all saying different things, so we still had no idea what to believe. We began to discuss the possibility of evacuating and if so, how to do it…. I really wanted to leave then, but in the end, Yuki’s company was still being stubborn, pretending that nothing was wrong, so she couldn’t take time off work yet. There was no choice, but to stay. I tried hard to keep breathing normally to avoid a panic attack. To keep busy and focused, I continued writing my diary, which helped me calm down. I began believing what my friend said about art being therapeutic.
In the evening, we spent an hour looking for a place that still sells toilet paper and afterwards I spent another hour on the phone fighting with my ex-.
Later our friend Tim came over to say goodbye since he was leaving for America in the morning. To fight off radiation, we had wakame nabe (seaweed hot pot) together for dinner.
Before going to bed, I packed my My Little Dead Dick negatives in a box. I planned on shipping them to my sister the next day for safekeeping in case something happened.
Day 6: Wednesday, March 16, 2011
The big jolt we felt the night before was confirmed to be based in Shizuoka. It appeared that the earthquakes were steadily moving southward.
In the morning, Ian got a Skype call from his parents because they heard on the news that if one nuclear reactor melts down, the other five will too. After the call, Ian looked more stressed out than normal.
After mailing my negatives, I rode to the electronics store to develop film that I had shot over the past week. On my way there, I noticed that Tokyo was dirtier than normal. I wasn’t sure if people stopped caring about keeping the city clean or if it was just the wind. Because the wind was so strong that day, it had left all the bikes parked along the street strewn on the ground. Ironically, it looked like there had been an earthquake earlier.
In the afternoon, I finished writing my journal about the day before. Because I felt much better about life and staying in Tokyo, I met my friend and invited her over to my place for tea. When we arrived home, Ian was outside in a huff and told us in one breath that he was off to the pet store to buy our cat a carrying cage, Yuki was getting off work early and would be home any minute, and that we would be leaving for Fukuoka tonight. Before I could ask him a question, he was gone. (I didn’t find out until later, but while he was on Skype with his mother, she cried and told to him that she didn’t want to lose another son. I think that’s when Ian finally lost it.) While trying to comprehend the recent sudden developments, I still had to make tea and be a polite host for my friend; I also got a phone call from my ex- who seemed to be having a breakdown; and our houseguest from England arrived at home, followed by Yuki and then Ian who were both super-freaked out. Fortunately, I’d already had my panic attack the day before, so I was able to stay calm throughout all of this. Ian and Yuki wanted to catch the last shinkansen to Kyushu, which was leaving in an hour and a half, giving us only twenty minutes to pack. Finally I was able to convince Ian and Yuki that leaving the next morning was the smart thing to do, and then everyone relaxed a bit. We split our food, toilet paper, and bikes between our houseguest (who decided to stay longer because his girlfriend refuses to leave) and my friend (who had originally come over for tea).
For dinner we went out for Thai. I began to feel guilty about leaving Tokyo, and actually considered staying behind until we saw the Japanese news post a diagram of the radiation levels in Tokyo. The TV at the restaurant was muted, so we didn’t hear what was being said, but the fact that the Japanese news was finally posting stuff about radiation in Tokyo was a big deal. Ian looked at us and said that if radiation continued to increase, there was a possibility that we might not be able to come back ever. We began to consider what we could leave behind and what we couldn’t live without. The whole idea sounded very romantic to me, especially after Ian mentioned that we would have to bring our skateboards as well because there was a skatepark near Yuki’s parent’s house. My mood picked up and I got excited to pack.
By the time we got home, Ian was already drunk and also in a good mood. We looked at our library of books and considered what we could fit in our bags. Ian said that besides his passport, his computer, and his hard drive, he didn’t really need anything, which was true. Compared to Ian, I felt like a materialist, but by 12:00 AM, I finally figured it all out. I laid out everything on the table in front of me and with my roommate’s digital camera documented all that my life has amounted to at the age of twenty-nine.
Day 7: Thursday, March 17, 2011
Since our train was departing at 6:00 A.M., we stayed up all night packing, drinking port wine, writing last minute emails, and talking to our guest who would be taking care of our house until he could finally convince his girlfriend to leave Tokyo as well.
Not knowing if there would be a mass exodus of people at the train station, we decided to leave two hours early, so at 4:00 A.M., we put Willy, our cat, in a cage for the first time ever and said goodbye to our English houseguest.
By the time we arrived at Shinagawa station, we realized that we would be alright since there was hardly anyone there. The people who were there were all wearing face masks. Someone was even wearing a clear raincoat and goggles. Even though it was freezing cold and we still had an hour and a half before our train would arrive, we were finally able to relax.
When we got on the train, Ian stuffed Willy in his jacket and we all watched Tokyo pass away with the sunrise. For the rest of the five-hour journey, we had to keep Willy calm and cool instead of ourselves, which was nice for a change.
Yuki’s father met us at the station and drove us back to their house in the countryside. While watching Fukuoka pass bye, it was hard to imagine Tokyo being under such duress. We drank tea, watched the news, and then Ian took a nap because he had been drinking all night and morning.
After dinner, I couldn’t hold out any longer. I went to bed at eight, and didn’t wake up until 11:00 the next morning.
Special Thanks to Ian Lynam and Jenn Tsai for proofreading this mess!