Gaijin Gunpla

“Where were you when the earthquake struck on 2:47 PM, March 11th, 2011?”

This is the kind of question I expect I will be asked, quite often, for the remainder of my life. To be honest, I haven’t fully come to grips with everything that has happened but I know a lot of people are concerned about Japan and myself and I want to get this into writing while it’s still fresh in my memory, although I don’t think this experience will ever be forgotten.

Where was I? I was in the washroom at work.

I’ve lived in Japan for six years and experienced many quakes. So many that they don’t frighten me. If I’m in bed when one occurs I just stay there. If I’m at my desk I don’t bother to get up. This one was different.

As soon as it started, I knew. This one was big and I needed to be somewhere other than the place I was. I walked out of the washroom and out the side exit of the building and stood right in the middle of the parking lot. I was the first person out of the building and watched the power lines swing back and forth. It didn’t stop. The quake got bigger and I could see the cars in the parking lot rocking back and forth on their suspensions. At that time everyone else was exiting the building at a sprint and the noise coming from inside was tremendous. Metal doors bending and slamming against their runners, things toppling from shelves. I could hear it all from the parking lot as the earth moved up and down. We could see the foundation of the building moving against the asphalt of the parking lot breaking chunks off.

It lasted forever.

In reality it was something like 5 minutes, but you lose all sense of time when something of this magnitude is occurring. Once I was sure the shaking was done I pulled out my cellphone and tried to contact my wife but could not get through. I tried again. Nope. I tried to send a mail but it failed. Not too surprising considering what had just happened. After it remained calm for a minute or so we ventured back into the building and I headed for my desk, but as I rounded the corner and looked in that direction I could not recognize it. The shelves that I have on my desk were completely empty and my monitor had toppled over and the keyboard and mouse were dangling in the air. It was then that the enormity of what had transpired hit me. This was big.

I thought about my house a prefecture away and how it wasn’t the newest building I’ve ever lived in and wondered if it was even still standing. I thought about Gai-Gun Jr. and the daycare she attends which is located on the 5th floor of a recently renovated building. I tried calling again and could not get through.

Once everyone had a chance to take in what had become of the workplace each of us set about picking up the things that had once been part of his/her desk, tried to determine if the computers worked, etc. Then an aftershock hit. Once again we left the building. Coming in that second time the entire staff assembled downstairs for a meeting. We were in the middle of determining a plan of action when the building started shaking again. We left again and again watched the asphalt on the corner of the building turning into a black dust and blowing away.

Everyone had his or her cellphone out and was trying to connect to loved ones but failing each time. Permission was given for everyone to return home to check on their houses and families but, checking the status of things online I read that highways were effectively shut down immediately. Going home was possible, but stop-lights were out along the local roads and reports of traffic accidents were rising.

I should say here that I had no idea the scope of this thing, where it was located, or what damage it had caused. Only that I had experienced something I had thought about several times in the past and now was living through. More failed attempts at calling home. While waiting for something to work or for someone to contact me I set about putting things somewhat back in order on my desk. Every gundam were on the desk or floor and most were in pieces. The ones that hadn’t had something glued on them were easy enough to put back together but parts had snapped off some of those which had been glued. I wasn’t saddened. I was only putting them back in place because it gave me something to physically do while I waited. Amazingly the internet still worked and a mail came up on my PC from the wife saying everyone was fine. I breathed a sigh of relief. It was at this time that a co-worker mentioned the tsunami. Each time there is an earthquake in Japan there is a warning on the TV followed by the tsunami danger assessment and it is usually ‘none’.

Not this time. There was a tsunami on the way and it was big. But I couldn’t give it my full attention because I was needed in the warehouse to pick up the hundreds of fallen items. I spent about 2 hours putting boxes of gunpla back on the shelves and then returned to my desk to hear my co-workers talking about the tsunami. One of them mentioned that a village in Miyagi prefecture was considered not to exist any more. Completely wiped out.

I tried contacting my wife again, out of concern for her parents who live on one of Japan’s many islands. I still couldn’t get through to my wife by phone or text message. So I checked facebook. I left a simple message on her wall.

“I can’t contact you by phone, the highways are closed so I can’t come home. I am needed at work tomorrow.”

A friend from work offered to let me crash at his place and I gladly took him up on the offer. We got back to his place after 6pm and turned on the TV. It didn’t work. An antenna somewhere was knocked out and no signal was getting through. I was still in the dark about what was happening a few hundred kilometers north of where I was. Using my iphone to check out CNN I watched the tsunami that everyone talked about wipe out a town. That’s when the enormity of what Japan had experienced hit me. Whole cities washed away.

The image of a wave of water sweeping buildings away, many of which are on fire, is one that will be with me forever. But I should tell everyone, that ‘live’ video of the tsunami striking is nothing compared to the videos that are appearing on television here, most of them taken from people who only minutes before fled from one of those buildings.

I thought about my mom. Being a mother, of course she is a bit of a worrier for her children. She has a son who lives in Japan but she doesn’t know exactly where he’s located or what he is close to. I looked at that video again and thought about how my mom must be feeling watching it and, I admit, I choked up. Still unable to call anyone I used the Iphone to get onto facebook and then noticed the string of messages sent to me and a bunch of posts from friends around Japan. ASM felt it in Osaka. A friend who lived in Tokyo had to walk 30 km home when the train stopped. Everyone has a story and we’re lucky ours are boring compared to those who lived in a house in Miyagi who have to relate what happened to their life’s work.

Exhausted, I went to sleep. I was awakened twice in the night by massive aftershocks, but was just too exhausted to bother getting up. They were small compared to the 9.0 I had felt only hours before.

The next day my coworker and I headed to work but stopped somewhere to pick up something to eat first. Well, tried to pick up something. Convenience store shelves were bare as people were stocking up just in case, and even restaurants like McDonald’s were closed. Lines of cars waiting to get gas stopped traffic. Why is everyone needing gas?, I thought.

We spent the day picking up items, checking for damage, and then returning them to the shelves or putting them in a designated pile if they were broken in some way. Aftershocks continued but most people just took them in stride. We have experienced them almost non-stop since 3pm, Friday, March 11th. Work finished for the day but we still weren’t done. We would need to work Sunday to get everything up and ready for monday. The highways were still closed so I tried calling home again but could not get through. I left a message on my wife’s facebook, “The highways are still closed, I still cannot get through to you on the cell network and I have to work again tomorrow. I miss you guys.”

Back to my friend’s place where the television was now working. The images on the television are amazing and horrifying and I am not a good enough writer to convey the emotions these images conjure up. People standing on the top of a mall film the entire parking lot get washed away, cars tumbling over each other and bobbing up and down like toys in the bath. Boats being stranded several kilometers inland from the harbor they were just in. An entire area of rubble surrounds the lone building that survived, a hospital. People on the roof of the hospital are waving makeshift flags to get the attention of the planes and helicopters. People are writing SOS on tops of buildings followed by a number, indicating how many people are trapped in the building. A bus rests on top of a three story building. Another bus is trying to flee the wave. It drives up the hill as as the water comes around the corner and actually pushes the rear of the bus sideways but the bus manages to get away. The death toll the news casts give is relatively low, but then you realize that is because no one has been able to contact most of the people who were in the path of that wall of water. Half the population of an entire village is unaccounted for. 10,000 people and no one knows where they are. On top of all that, there is an explosion at a Nuclear Power Plant a couple of hundred kilometers away and a possible meltdown is occurring. My wife gets through to me her cellphone and I am able to speak with her and my daughter. My daughter is 3 1/2 and can talk your ear off but she only says two short things.

“There was an earthquake. It was scary.”

I stay up until about 1 AM, lying on the floor of my friend’s house, watching the same images over and over again but I can’t turn them off. Mails from my mom start popping up on my iphone. At least that one gets through, most of the time anyways. More aftershocks/quakes during the night but I fall right back asleep.

I was determined to get home today. With the highway still closed it meant I had to take the back roads. The life in this area has returned to normal somewhat, except for gas. There is no gas. I was driving home and each gas station I passed was roped off or had cars in place to block people coming in. Why is there no gas? Upon returning home I sit down next to my daughter who is eating a snack. She seems in good spirits, however, when I turn on the TV and the news comes up again, her eyes become moist as she looks at the TV. She says two things. “There was an earthquake. It was scary.” I turn off the television and we went for a walk. I wanted to buy some water to take to work but there is no water in the stores near my house. Things are starting to get a little too crazy.

With no gas anywhere I will be taking the train to work in the morning making my commute an extra hour each way. But I guess I am lucky. I will be going back to my normal routine while others not so far from here will be picking through rubble looking for anything of theirs that might have survived.

I want to say thanks to everyone who contacted me through facebook or this site and offered words of encouragement. It’s nice to know people are thinking about you. I will be thinking a lot about thousands of people who aren’t as lucky as I am.

There was an earthquake. It was scary.

40 Responses so far.

  1. Sunny says:

    I’m glad to hear you and the your family are OK. I hope all things get back to normal soon over there and that the final casualty count will stay low. Wish you the best.

  2. Juno Uno says:

    That was a very touching story and was enough to express the hardship that everyone is facing right now. All my prayers go out to each and everyone of you at HLJ and the rest of the people in Japan. :[

  3. Nick says:

    I was just about to email you to ask if you were okay. D:

  4. lupes says:

    Glad to hear you and yours are safe Syd.

  5. QantaRaiser says:

    good to hear everyones ok, like Sunny said i hope the casualty count stays low.

  6. Krelik says:

    glad you and your family are ok. I hope japan recovers soon..

  7. Joe says:

    You say you’re not a good enough writer to conjure the emotions you felt by the images of the devastation; but your story has rocked me to the core. Half of a village’s population missing. What can be said about that? A travesty? A tragedy? A disaster? There are no words for that kind of horror. Syd, I truly grateful to hear that you, your wife, and your daughter are safe; and that the crew of HobbyLink Japan are safe. The sad truth is, though there are still thousands of lives at stake, missing people, a nuclear plant, and raging fires to worry about.
    I hear Sonar is taking up collections for aid in Japan. I will be donating what I can. My emotions toward this event have nothing to do with Gundam or Gunpla, but everything to do with human life. But it is not all doom and gloom, we must keep hope. Japan will recover. Syd, you say you are already seeing routine eeking back into your everyday life. In time, things will be back to normal. I just hope the people of Miyagi are not in as bad a shape as it appears.

  8. Yuri Barbosa Ordeste says:

    Glad you folks are okay, this is such a disaster. Hope everything is going to turn out well

  9. Shaomu/Nyanerius says:

    Jeebas, you bloggers out there are the only people in Japan I know, and hearing you’re all safe is just wonderful… Having little to no contact with your family after something like that is definately something nobody wants to experience; what scares me though is I’m sure every person in Japan went through that same experience then. It really is good to hear you and your family is still going strong. Good luck on the recovery; I really wish I could help with the S&R there! I hope the NEETs are helping, since whatever job they may have wanted may very well have been wiped away, and it’s a good thing to do.

    About the gas; I think there was a massive explosion at a gas refinery somewhere in the Honshu region. If that isn’t what the problem is, it’s most likely that the gas stations are participating in the aptly-named Operation Yashima.

  10. Dennis says:

    It is such a relief to hear that you’re OK. I’ve been concerned for you and your family since I first saw it on TV. Not only you but for all of Japan and amyone who was effected either directly or indirectly. I’ve been watching the images on TV here in the U.S. and felt so powerless. It’s heartwrenching to see those images and to know others are/were suffering. I’m still concerned of course, but hearing that you’re OK lifts my spirits.

  11. Busterbeam says:

    great story. im glad you took the time to write it and share. my heart goes out to you and your family. i hope things will get back to normal for you all soon.

  12. Asian1skill says:

    thx for taking ur time to get back to us and im glad u and ur family are alrite. pray for japan to pull through this one

  13. sonar says:

    That was touching. I’m sorry for your daughter having to experience that. I’m sure she will come to understand it with time.

    A terrifying account to be sure.

    GAF are taking up a collection to help Japan and any exposure you can to it give would be humbly appreciated. We have so far raised over $270 in 24 hours.

  14. Tom says:

    Thank god you’re alright. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be. Best of luck to all you guys in Japan.

  15. Zeta Newtype says:

    Really took us there with that story, Syd. I am so glad you and your family are safe. Take care.

  16. Evan says:

    Great to hear that you and your family are safe Syd, as well as everyone at HLJ.

  17. CKai Cydek says:

    Well-wishes and prayers are going out to you guys at HLJ. I imagine that couldn’t have been easy to write about. Personally, I’ve felt slight tremors before that couldn’t possibly compare to what all of you guys in Japan went through. It chills me to the bone trying to picture the experience, especially after seeing the images on the news and other Gunpla forums in the last few days.

    The best I did at this point is pray and offer a meager donation to the International Red Cross. Be well.

  18. Cass says:

    Thanks for writing this, Syd ….
    I’ve been thinking of you often yesterday and today … not in the sense of being afraid for you, but just thinking of you. How you are and what you are experiencing.

    So, so glad you could get in touch with your Mom right away, and your wife and girlie. Continue to stay safe.

  19. Dingo says:

    I’m not good at words, but I wish your family all the best in these dark hours. Same goes for all the Japanese who are struggling right now.

  20. Jason says:

    Hey Syd glad to hear you, your family and co-workers are ok. Hopefully in the coming days everything will be repaired in japan.

  21. dexter8 says:

    Glad you and your family is alright. Each corner of the world is now concerned about the situation in japan. Just keeps your hopes high and keep on surviving for your family’s bro. Times like this needs an incredible amount of patience.

  22. Zeon_Two_Six says:

    Glad to hear that you guys are safe there. Quite saddened by the events, yet still annoyed by the actions being taken by some of the authorities in PHP. (Classes in the Law School I’m attending to got suspended due to ‘Acid rain’ threats, as of this post…)

    Will be praying for you, your family, and all the other Gunpla enthusiasts affected by the said incident. Godspeed…

  23. Ken says:

    Wow, watching Good Morning America right now. I’m so happy to hear you and your family are safe

  24. the13thprince says:

    hi syd. glad to hear that you and your family are ok.

  25. Priza says:

    Glad to hear you and your family are ok.Hope everyone else in Japan is safe.

  26. syd says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments and kind words. They mean more to me than I can express.

    Ironically, now that I am home, I can’t go anywhere. There is no fuel at any of the gas stations, the trains aren’t running due to rolling blackouts. There is no bottles water in any stores, nor batteries, nor flashlights. Things are getting a little too crazy. But it’s good to be home.

  27. syful says:

    glad you are safe, when your daughter said those words… I felt myself moving into tears.. Stay safe man.

  28. Albert says:

    i’m glad you’re ok Syd! that was a very horrible event you got there, i’m Indonesian and i kinda know what it felt when the 9.2 quake hits Aceh even though i’m far away from Aceh but i got colleagues in there so it’s very worrying. communication shut down, roads broken, total black out and a creepy silent surrounds the province. anyway, i hope you and everyone at HLJ can recover fast and back to your daily routine. i’m kinda miss your Youtube video 🙂

  29. neosonic says:

    Syd, I heard that the second earthquake might be coming in two or three days and will strike similar location. Is it true? I heard it in the news. Be careful man, if I were you, I would get out from Japan at this moment, I won’t care too much about my work nor my property, at least all of my families are safe.

  30. CMO says:

    Syd – It’s great to hear that you and your family are unharmed and healthy. If there is anything that you, your friends, coworkers need, please let me know and I would be more than happy to assist in anyway that I can. Take care.

  31. mangyver5223 says:

    I’m glad that you and your family are fine. Although the food and gas supply at your place are depleting, you should able to survive until the help arrives. Be like Macgyver who can survive at any dangerous situation 🙂 .

  32. Good to hear you and your family are safe Syd. ^^

  33. Vic says:

    Glad you are safe mate.

    Be careful and stay strong! Fighting! Take care.

  34. neosonic says:

    syd, have you read this news?

    Japan Earthquake Forecast

    Highest Risk Cities in Japan; Tottori, Tsu, Wakayama, Sendai, Yamagata, Nagoya, Niigata, Okayama, Takamatsu, Osaka, Fukushima.

    6.0 to 7.0 earthquake likely within 80 miles of Osaka and/or Sendai – March 17-18

  35. saotome says:

    hang in there syd!! japan will get over this 😀 the whole world is with japan and everyone!! 😀

  36. Burn says:

    Hang in there Syd. I hope you, your family and everyone in Japan will recover. Pray nuclear meltdown can be evaded

  37. Luiscatlipoca says:

    Wow… man I’m really glad you an your family are ok, I knew it was a huge thing what happened, but hearing some of your thoughts when all this was taking place is… I don’t know man, I’m just glad you and your loved ones are safe.

  38. marcus says:

    I just read this article today, glad to hear you and your family are safe.

  39. Dennis says:

    Now I know how you felt that day… we just had a 5.9 Earthquake here in Eastern U.S. Knocked my stuff off the shelves. No where near what Japan went through but scary none the less.

    • r4inb0w says:

      the thing is when i was in calif, we had little earthquakes all the time. And buildings are designed with that in mind. but old brick houses in virginia…….

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