At first, I thought it was just the usual rattle we constant get. Japanese people are accustomed to earthquakes as faults run beneath the archipelago. It’s not unusual for us to wake up in the middle of the night because of such shakes. I remember we constantly had evacuation drills at school. Sometimes, as a child, I would get excited when classes were canceled because of an earthquake.
But this time, it was different.
I was at Wall Street Journal’s 19th floor in central Tokyo when the reportedly magnitude 8.9 earthquake hit March 11. Try to imagine that you are walking inside an airplane while it is hitting bad turbulence. It usually shakes horizontally, but it shook vertically this time. It felt as if the rattle had lasted for an hour when it was probably only for 30 seconds. I saw the tall building next to ours moving from left to right.
The massive quake crippled the infrastructure in Tokyo. Some trains stopped for almost 10 hours that day, stranding thousands of people. Afraid that another big quake might hit us, I remained at the office all night to upload our news Website with pictures sent from the epicenter.
Days after the quake, we continue to live under the state of emergency. As I write this, we are hit by a big jolt that makes me wonder if we are expecting another massive quake, which would completely paralyze Tokyo this time. We are having blackouts for the first time in years because the earthquake had damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy plant. So far, four reactors have had explosions, the level of radiation has risen substantially, and Japan has ordered residents in a wider area around the plant to stay inside with their windows sealed to avoid exposure. As Japan’s nuclear-power crisis escalates and the danger of radiation release unfolds, the market has reacted to the possible nuclear disaster and Nikkei average on March 15 plunged 14 percent to two-year low.
I cannot remember the last time Tokyo was affected by natural disasters to this extent. This is probably the first time since World War II for Tokyo residents to endure such an emergency.
Ayako Mie is a Tokyo-based bicultural multimedia journalist. She is a Web editor at the Japanese Edition of The Wall Street Journal, and writes for WSJ and Nikkei Business.