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Travel Updates from Japan

March 16, 2011


Japan’s people continue to struggle with the aftereffect of the recent earthquake and tsunami, including damage to the nation’s transportation infrastructure. For updates, visit this page, produced by the Japan National Tourism Organization.

The following is a firsthand account of the Japanese earthquake from NTA’s friend, Michio Endo, who was in Tokyo during Friday’s quake. Michio represented Malta at the NTA Convention in Pittsburgh and came from Japan to volunteer for the Tourism Cares project in New Orleans. 

NTA has asked member Satoshi Asano of the Japan National Tourism Organization for suggestions about how to help with the relief effort. In the meantime, you can visit the InterAction Web site for a list of agencies responding to the crisis.

Thank you very much for your concern about us. Indeed it was a gigantic and widespread earthquake. It was the greatest earthquake on Japanese record. Japan Meteorological Agency reported that it was magnitude 8.8, but later they corrected it to magnitude 9.0.

Uncountable number of cities, towns and villages on the North Eastern Pacific coast were destroyed by three 20-meter high Tsunami. All TV channels keep reporting disaster situation all day long without any commercial. They report the death toll every ten minutes. It keeps going up and up. In one city of 17,000 residents, only 7,000 people could escape from Tsunami. The rest of 10,000 were still missing, since entire city was swept away by Tsunami. Regrettably, I assume the death toll will easily exceed over 10,000.

Newspapers are reporting now only earthquake, no other news. The people in disaster site are suffering from no water, no food, no electricity and no gas. The weather is much colder than our Tokyo area. The highways and local roads are badly cracked or sunk in all over the Northeastern Japan area. Even Sendai airport was closed with water by Tsunami. Only helicopters and shovels can rescue disaster victims from disaster site. The heavy machineries are not able to get into the disaster site. This has made the delivery of relief and medical supplies to the victims extremely difficult.

Japan is regarded as well advanced country in the field of earthquake-resistant construction. If it was only earthquake, it would not become this sort of worst tragedy. The government announced today it will send 100,000 Self-Defense Force to the disaster site.

At the time of earthquake, we were all in the office. Just before 3 o’clock, we were hit by VERY strong shake. We are quite used to the frequent earthquake. It is not exaggeration that we feel earthquake almost every day.  Normally, it lasts for 10-20 seconds and magnitude 1-3. This time it lasted almost one minute.  All books, files, DVD, and many others promotion materials fell down on the floor from shelves.  I got out from the room and stayed in the hallway. Many people on the same floor were in the hallway. They were reeling dangerously. They could not keep standing. I was the same as they were.

Before we put things back to the shelves, we were hit by afterquake. I rushed to Shingo and Miki: "Get out the office and go outside of the building." Elevators were all out of service.  We walked down steps from 8th floor. The building we are in is the oldest building in Tokyo, which was built in 1964. In those days, seismic technology was not as well established as now. Therefore, building itself was built very solid with thick wall. It was my first experience in my 74 years life to hear the terrible creaking sound of wall. The building was rocking like [Luzu] boat in rough Mediterranean Sea.

Our building is located only 50 meter in front of Shimbashi rail road station, where I saw a crowd of terrified people. From my desk, I saw no trains in operation. While hoping many lines of trains and subways would start operation again, I decided to close office.  It was around 5 pm.  Shingo and Miki live in Tokyo area.  Shingo left for home on foot.  I asked station staff around what time train and subways will start operation again. He said he has no idea, maybe no train service tonight. I made up my mind that first, I take Miki to her home by taxi, then to my home in Yokohama, 40 km away. We stood in taxi waiting line. I counted 80 people ahead of us. We waited one hour in the cold, but I saw only one taxi came to our taxi stand. Miki decided to go home on foot around 6 o’clock. I went back to the office and phoned my wife, but telephone and mobile both phones were completely useless. I worried my wife how she is and how my shabby shed is.

I went to Dai-ichi Hotel to see if there is limousine bus available to Haneda Airport. If available, I could take limousine bus to Haneda and from there I could take bus or taxi to my home. But bell boy said that all buses were out of service tonight and Haneda Airport was already closed.  No one allowed to go airport. I went to back to the office again. All hotels were fully booked and there is no way to stay in hotel. I thought I better stay overnight in the office. Persistently I called my wife, but always recorded answering service said, "Sorry, lines are so busy. Call back later," or "Sorry, you cannot call to the disaster area".

Around 9 o’clock, I looked down the station and saw Shinkansen (bullet train) is running. So I walked to Tokyo station and luckily I could get on the bullet train around 9:40 pm. Tokyo to Yokohama by bullet train takes only 20 minutes. The Yokohama station was packed by the huge crowd of people, and subway was out of service. There is no bus service to my home direction. Usually, hundreds of empty taxis are waiting for the people, but I could not see even one taxi there. If I kept waiting for taxi, I must wait 4 or 5 hours. I decided to walk to my home.

I started walking 10:30 pm, alongside of highway. Last month, I could not take part in Malta marathon. I thought God gave me a chance to walk in my home town, Yokohama.  In the dark, I kept walking with business shoes and clothes, without eating or drinking after lunch. Quite many people were also walking the same road. On the way, I saw a young businessman who sat down and took off socks. He was rubbing his feet. A young girl gave up walking and kept calling mobile, maybe asking parents for pick up. I called my wife by mobile, but it was out of service. 

I recalled when I was a student in America in early 1960, I always hitchhiked to go school. On the highway, a number of cars are running smoothly. Knowing that Japanese are not familiar with hitchhike, I was about to attempt hitchhike. But I kept walking, walking and walking in the dark. When we have time, I walk 10 km with my wife on the sidewalk of same highway. At the 5 km point, we make return to home.

When I reached the 5 km point, I was so relieved. Finally, I arrived home 01:36, which means I walked 03 hours, 6 minutes. Last year, I took part in 21.9km in Malta marathon; my time was 03:00:53. Tonight I think I walked 15 km.

As for my wife, she was shopping at Yokohama Takashimaya Department. She was on the 8th floor. The announcement kept asking the guests, "Sit down, please. Do not move."  When shoppers were allowed to get out the department store, she rushed to the taxi stand. She also saw hundreds of people waiting for taxi, and she decided to walk to home around 6 o’clock. She kept walking with high heels with two shopping bags. On the way to home, she encountered blackout. The city and street were completely dark. She arrived after 9 o’clock, which means she walked over 3 hours. 

So we laughed that since we could not walk in Malta, the god gave us a chance to walk in our home town, Yokohama. We watched TV until 5 am. We were so shocked and felt so sorry for the disaster victims in the North Eastern Japan area.

Today, Monday the 14th, transportation systems are not completely restored yet. Tokyo Electric Power company announced that there might be electric shortage because of explosion of nuclear power station in Fukushima. The blackout will take place in Tokyo and neighboring prefectures. Also, waterworks department announced similar plan to stop water supply in certain hours. My wife went to shopping for food, especially my food, such as vegetables, fruits, and soybeans products. She went to two shops, but both were closed. She came back home with empty hands. To buy gas, we have to line up 500 meters.

We are now in serious panic all over the Japan. We are powerless. The thing only we can do now is just pray for speedy rescue disaster victims and search for the missing person. Today, I felt earthquake 5 times. It would be magnitude 2 or 3. 

Well, ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry for long e-mail, but please understand our serious situation in Japan. Again, thank you very much for your sympathy for the greatest disaster caused by earthquake and Tsunami.

Michio Endo

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