Monday 14th March, three days after the mega-quake
Things are looking real bad. The nukes now dominate the news, the Tsunami and the huge rescue (the Yanks doing Japan proud, with two of their mighty carrier fleets involved) is incredibly a footnote in the headlines. That is genuinely scary given the death toll is growing toward 10,000.
However, Monday for us starts totally normal. It's tax day, I drive up to Tokyo, with Eiko, who has to file near my office. Roads are a bit emptier than usual and it’s the little things that start to unsettle one. Still no bloody pot noodles or bananas to be had for love nor money. Then there are also an awful lot of removal vans about and everyone is wearing comfortable walking shoes after many had spent hours walking home on Friday night and want to protect their feet if they need to repeat the exercise.
I wave the missus goodbye and walk into the office. And nearly come a cropper! The down escalators have all been switched off to save power. Unfortunately one is so conditioned to gliding onto a moving one, I end up doing a bit of Wile E. Coyote, with a lot of flaying arms but avoid falling down the bloody thing. Others were clearly not so lucky as by the end of the day all the down escalator entrances are fully taped up. The office is in full disaster recovery mode. It's just been announced that various international schools have shut, so working parents’ start facing serious dilemmas; also the power situation remains very uncertain. The company starts arranging to spread people out to regional branches and offers to move families with them for the duration. It’s suggested that I might like to relocate but I must be suffering from banana withdrawal symptoms; the only thing that crosses my mind is how upset Eiko would be if we abandoned the dog, and so decline.
Otherwise the day is sort of normal, the news from the nukes is bad but the markets are still only reacting to the damage and disruption caused by the Earthquake and Tsunami. I leave the office early as concerns about power cuts are totally screwing up the trains and I don’t want to get caught in a gridlock situation again and end up stuck in Tokyo.
I return to a Yokohama that has totally shutdown under order of the Government and in an attempt to create enough power to keep the trains and Tokyo running. I am starting to get seriously worried now! All the restaurants are shut. However, now the local Tesco is bursting at the seams with food, including vegetables. Still no bloody pot noodles or bananas I notice, but in the darkened streets, it was very nice to see a bit of Blighty on display and open for business.
Black Tuesday 15th March, four days after the mega-quake
We do not sleep well – not helped by two very large aftershocks during the night. On waking up at 5.00am, the News is talking about radiation levels rising in Tokyo. I have known my wife for decades and for the first time ever, Eiko looks scared. That starts me flapping big time. We have a family sit-down and discuss the options.
We can bail Japan: Bollocks to that.
We can bail to Eiko's family in Kyoto: Both quite like that idea.
We can do the blitz spirit: Hmm, we both think that is really a stupid thing to do but I have obligations at work, and let us not forget, we are employed as expats out here to do work in bad times, as well as good.
I let Eiko make the call. She smiles, and nods, she knows I want to do the stupid thing, but quietly suggests that we need the motorcycle. If the situation goes totally pear-shaped the roads will be jammed, the trains and airport a mad house and she does not want me stuck 25 miles away in Tokyo. A mate on Friday took three hours to drive the two miles from Roppongi to Shibuya and there was no panic then – just ten million people trying to go home. We need two wheels. Unfortunately, the bike is stored 20 miles away as I do not use it that much in winter. I have to take a train to get it. It is then I see first hand the hell my Japanese colleagues are going through. The trains are bad enough at the best of times but today there is only 50% service and no expresses. Even though I left Yokohama at 6.00am, it takes me 1½ hours to do the usually 25 minute journey. I finally get into the office and the markets are starting to go into full panic mode. The day is a wild ride of circuit breakers, as the stock market collapses, increasingly bleak headlines about the Nukes and trying to keep colleagues and family spirits up. At one point the Nikkei is down an incredible 25% from the level just before the 14.46JST earthquake, a mere four days ago. The markets finally shut, but well off their lows. I am a great believer in the power of money being as good a sentiment guide as anything, also friends, the embassy, and the scientists are starting to put out very helpful writings on what are the real dangers from Fukushima. They report that we are getting less radiation exposure than if you were on a normal flight to Hong Kong.
The real turning point was arriving back in Yokohama that Tuesday night, the sun was shining and for the first time since the mega-quake struck, there were children playing in the park. Clearly the news is getting better, but what really confirmed it was that my local bar had re-opened and it was packed with Japanese. If there was ever a sign that the tension as easing off that was it!
Eiko is looking a lot happier, it seems the chance of a meltdown is reduced. We discuss the war plan. I ask her to go to Kyoto. I am going to be staying in Tokyo at a hotel next to the office, along with most of my colleagues. The company is offering to send the families away, and get the staff into hotels by the office, to try reduce these increasingly awful commute times, on top of the 14-hour days to cope with the volumes caused by exploding volatility.
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