3-11 Earthquake Japan

Thank you so much to everyone who donated to the Hello Sandwich Help Japan Relief Support. Together we have raised over $2000 for the victims of the earthquake. Unfortunately I have had to shut down the fundraising now as PayPal have shut down my account :(

(This is also the reason my zines are no longer available online. I am so sorry about this and for everyone who has emailed me, I promise I am trying to get this up and running again as soon as possible.)


My apartment after the quake.

2:46. I was in my Shimokitazawa apartment on Friday March 11 when the magnitude 9.0 quake stuck. At first I thought it was just like any other small quake we often have in Tokyo and I tweeted ‘wa – scary!’ Then my TV started to shake indicating this was not like other quakes. My glassware began to shake loudly so I ran to my kitchen and began to place glasses in a safer location. The floor was shaking. My entire apartment was shaking. I grabbed my iphone and raced down the three flights of stairs and outside.

A man in a van had pulled up as his car was shaking too much to drive. A stranger. I grabbed onto this strangers hands screaming ‘ kowaii! Kowaii!’ (scary! Scary!). He kept saying ‘Daijoubu. Daijoubu.’ (It’s okay. It’s okay.) There are no better words to describe the way that the ground was moving other than a wave. It was terrifying. The land that you know and rely on was moving up and down. A driveway that was recently layed next to my apartment was cracking. Puffs of ground were coming up. A parked car was rolling. Everyone was rushing out from his or her apartments.

A few minutes later the earth stopped moving. My legs and hands were shaking so much I could hardly dial the numbers on my phone. My neighbours and I ran into my landladies shop to check the earthquake size on TV. At this stage it was a magnitude 5 in Tokyo. And shockingly 7 in Sendai. This was later revised to be a magnitude 9 quake. The largest earthquake in Japanese recorded history, and the fourth largest earthquake in the world. Not long after this the first of many after shakes came. The telegraph poles, buildings and cars shook. The ground shook. Everyone was terrified.

My landlady kept speaking to me in Japanese, pointing at the park and repeating the word ‘anzen’. A word I didn’t at the time understand but now understand it to mean ‘safe’. I waited in the park alone with Japanese families. I listened to them speaking Japanese. Shaking. Shivering. We didn’t know when the next earthquake would come. I couldn’t understand much of what they were saying. Eventually the families in the park decided it was time to return to our apartments. I didn’t want to. I didn't want to be alone. A girl in her pajamas and I made plans to reunite in the park if another quake came.

I returned reluctantly to my apartment. Broken stuff everywhere. Glasses, mirror, TV, espresso machine, everything had fallen to the floor. I wore my shoes inside my apartment for the first time and instantly packed my go-bag. I tried to look at information online but was in an absolute panic. I had no idea what to do. With each aftershock I kept looking out of my window to see if my pajama girl friend was back in the park. She wasn’t.

Twitter and email were my savior as all of the phone lines went down after the quake. Messages incoming and outgoing between friends and family to make sure everyone was okay. One message was to my amazing Japanese friend who ended up offering to collect me with her husband’s family car. As we drove along the 246 our car shook with more after shakes. We stayed together and drank beer and ate dinner. We watched the disaster of Sendai unfold on TV. We cried.

You know something is wrong in Tokyo when the trains are late. You know something is terribly wrong when the trains stop completely. I walked from Komazawa koen to Shimokitazawa with thousands of other Tokyo residents. It is one of the strangest memories I have. Streets packed with pedestrians. Roads packed with cars. Everyone on their mobiles. But hardly anyone able to get mobile service. My best friend met me halfway at Sangenjaya station. We hugged on the corner at the lights. She told me the story of when the quake hit her workplace and how evacuated with a man in a wheelchair. She is a hero. We went to the local Lawson and bought wine and tried to sleep. Throughout the night the emergency quake phone alarm kept going off. A haunting sound that we began to get used to. We weren’t sure if we should run or stay.

Constant aftershocks were pretty much the case for anyone in Tokyo the following few days. I was too scared to have showers in case another shock came. I developed a routine of leaving my clothes in an evacuation layout in the bathroom whilst I had 30-second showers. I washed my hair separately in the bathtub in case. I heard friends had slept with their clothes on. These days were spent cleaning up from the quake, buying supplies ‘in case’ and finding what news you could online. I also went through stages of ‘its fine, it’s over, we survived’.

One afternoon my friends and I met at Yoyogi park to try to relax a little from the constant shocks. Soon the Fukushima nuclear plant began to worry us and my friends started leaving Tokyo, either for southern Japanese cities such as Osaka or Kyoto or overseas. Japanese friends started returning to their hometowns. Most people were in the mind frame of ‘should I stay or should I go?’ I ended up edging on the side of caution. By the time I had left more than 20 of my friends had left Tokyo.


Photo Alexis Wuillaume



Photos Mark Drew

Like most of my friends I was dizzy and almost sea sick from all of the aftershocks. Because of this it became hard to tell what was a shock and what was imagination. The pegs on my washing hangers became my marker to see if the ground was shaking. Half of the times I checked it was actually shaking. The quakes came frequently.


Photo Mark Drew

Shelves in convenience stores were emptying out with panic buying. And although the shops were open, the streets had an eerie feeling. Controlled blackouts were expected throughout the week but not a torch or battery was in stock. I rummaged through the mess pile from the quake in my apartment to find my bike light.

I stayed at a friend’s house on the night before my flight out of Tokyo. A level headed friend who was planning on staying in Tokyo. We drank chuhai and painted our nails to try to relax. The morning I was due to leave however, she received a phone call from a friend of hers who was a reporter in Tokyo who suggested she should pack a bag fast and leave Tokyo.

With power cuts and train lines down no one really knew how crowded it was trying to leave Tokyo. The airport bus website was down. I threw things into my suitcase in a panic, didn’t shower, and headed to Shinjuku to take the bus to Narita airport. I was wearing pajamas under my coat. Leggings as pants. And by this time I had the same odango for three days.

On the way to the airport, and as the Odakyu train line was arriving at Shinjuku, hundreds of earthquake phone alarms sounded. Another aftershock. Underground at one of the worlds busiest train stations was not where I wanted to be for a magnitude 6 quake. To my surprise not one Japanese panicked or made a noise. The train doors opened and everyone filed out in a calm and orderly manner. It struck me more than ever how amazing the Japanese are. I began to have mixed feelings about leaving. More than ever I wanted to stay and help in some way. I felt it was my new home and I was abandoning it when things got tough. Taking the good but not the bad. But I continued to leave.

As my friend and I waited for our flights out of Tokyo the entire Narita airport building shook with two more aftershocks. When my flight took off some passengers clapped. Some cried. Heading out of Tokyo we were safe for the time being. Although nothing compared to the horror of Sendai and north Japan, this was an experience that shaped our lives forever.

Some Tokyo people I know have written about their experiences on the quake. You can find their stories below.

Cameron McKean
Patrick Tsai
Aleister Kelman

Update: Thank you everyone for your comments, twitter messages and emails. They mean the world to me. I am currently in Sydney with my family and friends having a bit of a relax and some down time while hopefully the aftershocks and radiation settles down. I should have mentioned too, that I am absolutely going back to Tokyo! Most likely in mid-April. I hope I can see my first ever hanami!

Love Sandwich