The Japanese Earthquake

Japanese Tsunami sweeps cars and houses away

We watched the horror unfold live on the television after the quake

On Friday 11 March 2011 just before 3:00 pm the largest earthquake in Japanese recorded history hit with a magnitude of 9.0. I was in Tokyo at the time visiting my wife’s family. As I sat at the kitchen table, happily posting pictures of Japan on Facebook, the room began to shake. The quake started small, but with a sudden jolt. When the shaking didn’t stop I started to worry as the large cabinet rattled at my back and the light above me began to swing violently.

I moved to the middle of the room, away from anything that could fall on me. The preparation drills tell you to get under a table, put a cushion over your head, and open the door to make sure you have a way out if the house collapses. You are also supposed to shut off the gas to prevent a fire. Too many tasks during a singularly frightening and dangerous moment. All I knew was that I didn’t feel safe in the house with its paper thin walls and ceilings. I knew that that my wife and I needed to get out of the house, but first we had to put on our shoes, a frustrating secondary step when you’re trying to flee a house.

We hit the road outside as the earth shifted beneath our feet, rolling in what felt like waves. Cars were stopped in the road and our neighbors came rushing out to join us. Many crouched low to the ground trying to find some sort of stability as the earth rocked like a ship hit by a torpedo. I tried to find the safest place and realized, in the Tokyo suburban sprawl that houses 33 million people, nowhere was truly safe. Above us the sky was blackened, not by smoke but by a cat’s cradle of swinging electrical lines. Inside, outside, it didn’t matter. Nowhere was really safe.

The quake lasted for almost 3 minutes. That is a very long time when the earth is moving under your feet. The country was hit with aftershocks reaching 7.0 that would have been massive if not compared to the original.

Alarm bells rang, the TV beeped and binged as tsunami warnings flooded the airwaves. In a country used to earthquakes this was something different. Lifetime residents of Tokyo remarked how it was the biggest they had ever felt, and we weren’t even at the center of the quake.

The Tsunami

In Northern Japan, in Iwate and Fukushima Prefectures, the devastation was only just beginning. Soon after the first quake hit, while we sat glued to the T.V., our family gathered together, we watched in horror as a 10 meter tsunami destroyed the East Coast. Cars, buses and ships crashed into each other. Entire towns were swept away, houses ablaze as the tsunami waters flooded rivers and jumped dikes. We watch helplessly as Japanese news helicopters showed us live the wall of water advancing, overtaking unsuspecting people as they fled in their cars.

We sat, we watched, and we shook as more aftershocks hit one after the other.

We were fortunate. Our family and friends were safe, if not all with us due to the complete shutdown of Tokyo’s train system which trapped millions of people in the city. I was to fly out and return to Kosovo on Saturday. I felt helpless having to leave when the need was so great. As an aid worker I spend my life jumping from one crisis to the next. Now I was leaving this crisis and my family behind.

I am writing this from an overburdened Narita Airport on a Sunday, feeling sick to my stomach at leaving my wife behind. As another earthquake hits us in the airport the steady shaking sends a women next to me into a panic and she tries to flee into multiple walls of people, each waiting to get to a check-in counter. Her husband is the only one to leave his line, he gently pulls her back, her face swollen from the frightened sobs that rack her body.

Journey Across Tokyo

Crowded Ueno station in Tokyo after the earthquake

No way into the trainstations in Tokyo

My journey across Tokyo was like a post apocalyptic movie. It took me 8 hours to navigate the labyrinth of closed train lines, bloated stations, and swollen streets. Millions of people waited in patient lines, pressing into stations that had no outlet. People littered the hallways of the city’s underground shopping malls, sleeping, hugging and crying.

Throughout it all I was immensely impressed by the calmness of Japanese crowds, the straightness of the lines and the lack of pushing, shoving and anger that might have affected crowds in any other city in the world. The police funneled people to keep waves of people moving where they could.

When I finally got on a train moving towards the airport (3 train lines later) we were packed in like sardines. Picture Tokyo at rush hour, times 3, plus luggage. Except for the occasional outburst everyone bore the pain and inconvenience with remarkable stoicism during the grueling 3 hour ride. I of course missed my flight, but had my wife and family helping me to rebook as I concentrated on getting closer to the airport.

How you Can Help

Despite the trouble, and the fear of the past day, it was nothing compared to what the people of Northern Japan are going through. My heart goes out to the families of those who died in Tokyo (at the time of writing) and the nearly 1,500 dead in the North. Homes and families have been ripped apart and I’m flying away. While I can’t help physically I can help with my words, with my blog and with my network of development professionals and online publishers.

To this end I am organizing an ongoing Blog for Japan Event that will raise money for the victims of this devastating tsunami. My wife is looking for a worthy Japanese organization that non-Japanese might not know about and may have difficulty donating to.

In the coming weeks we will identify an organization (or a few) and we will promote a donation link through our blogs and online contacts. If you are interested in getting involved writing a blog post, sharing posts with friends, or just donating please sign up to the e-mail contact form below. This will allow me to send an e-mail to you when preparations are set and let you know how you can participate, donate or help pass the message along. This e-mail list will not be shared with anyone and will only be used during this short time to help raise much needed funds for the recovery of Northern Japan.

All of the money we raise will go directly to helping the victims of the quake and tsunami. We will let you know when we have found the appropriate organization(s) to donate to. We would appreciate you sending this story to others who might be interested in helping as well.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan at the this trying time.


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67 Responses to “My Experience During the Japan Earthquake”

  1. JakeNo Gravatar says:

    It’s amazing to hear these first hand accounts of the earthquake. Having never been through one I can only imagine what its like, especially one of this magnitude.
    Glad to hear you are ok!

  2. I commend your bravery and your initiative to coordinate an effort to help. Our non-profit raises money for charitable projects and we would love to help you. Would be great if we could put this on our site as a guest post. Check out to see if you are interested. We are glad that your family is okay and we’re praying for everyone else who is suffering through this tragedy.

  3. Todd,

    Thank you for giving us an inside view of all that has happened. I have watched in horror and seen the reactions of my coworkers as this horror unfolds. I can’t imagine how I would feel if my family were in this predicament. It also shows how intertwined we all are.
    Sandy @ yesiamcheap´s recent blog ..Don’t Fall for the Call Forwarding 72 ScamMy ComLuv Profile

  4. JaniceNo Gravatar says:

    I wanted to stop by and mention how much I appreciate your telling your story. As soon as I heard about the earthquake / tsunami, we were busily checking in with family still in Japan as well as many friends there. Last night’s #blogchat was devoted to doing good with blogs, Linda Sherman got us kicked off & pointed your blog out to me as well! You may find this summary of interest as some of the blogchat team is looking for ways to lend their voice on this.
    Janice´s recent blog ..Charity Starts at Home with the Farm &amp Local Community OrganizationsMy ComLuv Profile

    • Hi Janice, thanks for the stopping by and showing your support. Thanks also for letting me know about your great initiative. I have just put up the next step in my Blog For Japan event and will stop by to see if any of your readers are interested in supporting it.

  5. Glad to hear you and your family are safe. I watched the news and was gripped by your terrifying account. Can’t imagine how it was there. Amazing how you could write about it, but I’m guessing it also helped you cope? I felt a nice jolt for a few seconds before, 3 minutes must have felt like a lifetime.
    Buck Inspire´s recent blog ..Rock Climbing Finance BloggerMy ComLuv Profile

  6. Glad you are safe and sound Todd. please keep us updated on your blog For Japan event.
    Joshywashington´s recent blog ..The Myth of the “Lucky Traveler” is CrapMy ComLuv Profile

  7. AliciaNo Gravatar says:

    That was scary. I couldn’t even imagine it’s horror and the fact you had to leave.

  8. Wow and you even took the time to post about the experience. Greatful that you, your wife and her family are doing ok. These are trying times for Japan and they really need our help.
    Kirk@Bluegreen´s recent blog ..Protecting Your Lawn as the Weather Heats UpMy ComLuv Profile

  9. Just awful what’s happened in Japan. Glad you and yours are well! Can’t believe you even got it together to write such a thought-provoking post. Just can’t begin to imagine what you’re all going through.
    We’ve only experienced tremors while in this part of Turkey but we all fear the big earthquake. We’re happy to support whatever you come up with.
    Julia n Barry
    turkey’s for life´s recent blog ..Antalya Must-See- Antalya Archaeological MuseumMy ComLuv Profile

  10. Glad to hear that you and your family are safe. The images of destruction and flooding are heartbreaking. Our prayers and wishes are with everyone in Japan and wishing you a speedy recovery.

    Japan Australia
    Japan Australia´s recent blog ..Earthquake in Japan Man RescuedMy ComLuv Profile

  11. I commend you for your bravery under such trying circumstances. My heart goes out to you and your family and all the others who are suffering with the after-effects of this monstrous catastrophe.

    Like other commenters, I’m grateful that you mustered up the energy to share your experience with the rest of us.

    I lived in Japan for many years and it continues to occupy a special place in my heart. When I heard the news of the quake, I sat down and wrote about the feelings and memories it churned up inside me.

    If you have time to visit my post and provide a comment from your firsthand perspective, with a link to your post, I’d appreciate. (If not, that’s fine, too.)

    Please take care in the coming weeks and months. Sadly, this isn’t the kind of thing that’s going to end soon…
    ML Awanohara´s recent blog ..Before- During and After Shocks- A Former Expat Reacts to Japans SuperquakeMy ComLuv Profile

  12. I just published an article about social media and the crisis in Japan – I thought you would find it of interest. I lived in Japan for over 20 years and like many of us abroad who are strongly connected to Japan, we have all been pretty stressed out – of course, not compared to you being there right now.

    I’m glad I found you. Happily another travel twitterer @artofbackpackin who just followed me on @KauaiTalk today, tweeted your link, so I could find you and this post. It is my pleasure to connect with you and add you to my #travel twitter list.
    Linda Sherman´s recent blog ..Social Media in Times of Crisis – Japan Earthquake TsunamiMy ComLuv Profile

  13. JennyNo Gravatar says:

    This time is very worst for Japan and I am glad you and your family are safe.
    Jenny´s recent blog ..Monteverde Cloud Forest ReserveMy ComLuv Profile

  14. SatuNo Gravatar says:

    What an awful and scary experience. I’m glad your family is safe.
    Satu´s recent blog ..Festivals of India- HoliMy ComLuv Profile

  15. Wow Todd I’m so happy to hear that everything is okay with your family but it must have been awful to o through.
    Ayngelina Brogan´s recent blog ..Not cut out for Colca CanyonMy ComLuv Profile

  16. Hey Todd. So glad to hear you’re okay. I love the idea you have got going. I’d be more than happy to help out in anyway.

  17. SabinaNo Gravatar says:

    This is just such a vivid and moving depiction of living through an earthquake. I’ve never read an account that puts me right in the moment like this one. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  18. NorbertNo Gravatar says:

    It’s good to hear you and your family are ok. It’s devastating to see all that has happened over there and the destruction left behind. My thought are with all of you and the people in Japan. It’s great you had the courage to take your time and share your voice and perspective about this disaster.

  19. I was SO relieved to get your news that you and Kay and her family were safe. Your information almost made my cry. I thank God you are alright and able to let us all know what it was like to live through this horrible ordeal. The pictures on tv are almost to painful to watch…how these people are coping with the disaster is amazing. Please give our love to Kay and her family and we will stay tuned for more information from you to help….Love, Aunt Margie

  20. We’ll be donating. From New Zealand we know too well the shock and devastation people face after such an event.
    It is gratifying to see travelbloggers coming together to use their combined resources for a common social cause.
    Amazing what we could all achieve in the future.
    Jim McIntosh´s recent blog ..My Land- Get out fishing New Zealands coastal watersMy ComLuv Profile

  21. GlenNo Gravatar says:

    Amazing account. So glad you and your family are OK.
    Glen´s recent blog ..Big Daddy Rat — Rat’s Hole Chopper ShowMy ComLuv Profile

  22. We are so glad that you and your family are okay Todd. It has just been horrific, and we feel for the people of Japan right now. If there is anything we can do please let us know.
    Caz Makepeace´s recent blog ..St Patricks Day in SydneyMy ComLuv Profile

  23. The quake and ensuing tsunami was terrible to watch on TV. I can’t imagine watching it as it unfold. I’m glad you and family are safe, but there are so many unfortunate people. It must be so difficult to leave when you know you can help.
    retirebyforty´s recent blog ..Krabi ThailandMy ComLuv Profile

    • Hey Joe,

      Yes, it is tough, but there are also people in need here in Northern Kosovo. Hopefully the Blog For Japan event will help where many of us can’t help with our own sweat.

  24. I am so glad to hear that you and your family are well. I don’t even want to try to imagine the feeling of leaving my partner behind after such a terrifying experience.
    The NVR Guys´s recent blog ..Travelogue – Washington DCMy ComLuv Profile

    • Thanks guys. Yeah, not a nice feeling. But I guess it goes with the life we both lead. There is a very good reason she is staying in Japan…to be revealed in a few months :)

  25. Todd thanks god that you Kay and Kay’s family are safe. We were so worried .
    I am very sad I could not believe what I have seeing. Looking forward to see you in Prishtina

  26. There simply are no words that would ever be able to express my sympathy towards all those effected by this tragic natural disaster. Thank goodness you’re okay.
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures´s recent blog ..FAQ’s About My Upcoming Wedding Part 3My ComLuv Profile

  27. CailinNo Gravatar says:

    Glad to hear that you and your wife are safe Todd!
    Cailin´s recent blog ..Favorite Film Friday 007My ComLuv Profile

  28. RoxanneNo Gravatar says:

    I am so happy to hear you are safe, Todd. I grew up on a fault line in Greece and, though I experienced my fair share of earthquakes, I have never been part of something this tragic. I love the idea of your fundraiser – check out Crowdrise too, in case it can be helpful. Thank you for telling this story and I hope you and your family continue to stay safe.
    Roxanne´s recent blog ..Storytelling and Silence- Narratives of a conflict zoneMy ComLuv Profile

    • Thanks for the tip on Crowdrise, I’ll take a look at it. I am certainly open to any suggestions on how to gather funds from various places. I’d also like to be able to track the amounts so that we have accountability but also so that people can see what they are a part of.

  29. LaurelNo Gravatar says:

    So glad that you are OK. I’ve never been to Japan but my heart goes out to the country. I’m happy to help in anyway that I can.
    Laurel´s recent blog ..What I Learned from Choosing the Wrong Foreign Language SchoolMy ComLuv Profile

  30. GraceNo Gravatar says:

    Todd, I just want to say great job on organizing the upcoming fund raising event. Glad to know your friends and family are ok. It’s a very unfortunate event and I would be more than happy to pitch in!
    Grace´s recent blog ..Travel Hero Series- Meet Lilliane of Wanderlass TravelsMy ComLuv Profile

  31. Three minutes sounds like an eternity under those conditions. Great idea to setup a fundraiser!
    Scott – Quirky Travel Guy´s recent blog ..The Death Valley ghost town- My visit to Rhyolite- NevadaMy ComLuv Profile

  32. JeremyNo Gravatar says:

    I loved my visit to Japan, and thought the people there were some of the nicest I have met in my entire travels. Why does such a tragedy have to happen to such good people?
    Jeremy´s recent blog ..Traveler Spotlight – Mid-Trip Discussion with Skinny BackpackerMy ComLuv Profile

  33. ArtiNo Gravatar says:

    My heart goes out to the people, the scenes shown on TV are so gross…
    But must be even more horrific to be there and experience it…
    When the earthquake came here in India in 2001 and the tsunami that followed, similar scenes had unfolded.
    Glad to know that you and your family are alright.
    Arti´s recent blog ..ISKCON Temple- DelhiMy ComLuv Profile

  34. Sarah WuNo Gravatar says:

    I’m glad you and your family are safe. My thoughts & Prayer to you and everyone in Japan. It’s a very sad disaster. And I pray to God to give the people of Japan more strength. I’ll retweet this for sure.

  35. i’m so glad that you and your family are safe todd! living in california, i’ve been through quakes and 3 minutes is such a long time. i’m with inka- it’s so admirable of you to do this with how rattled you must still be. i’m happy to help spread the word any way i can.
    Lorna – the roamantics´s recent blog ..Eureka! An Off-Beat Dream Leads to a Road Trip ThereMy ComLuv Profile

  36. My thoughts are with your family and the people of Japan during this incredibly difficult time. Thank you for sharing your incredible experience and for working to find a way that we can help. Safe travels!

  37. ConnieNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Todd, I’m happy to whatever I can to help! Just let me know what you need (except money unfortunately as I’m quite broke at the moment)! If you need volunteer administrators to help organize, I’d be more than willing!

  38. Jeremy BNo Gravatar says:

    What a devastating time for Japan! In the last few months, the Pacific has been hit hard with Australia, New Zealand, and now Japan. At church today, we had a specific donation just for the relief efforts in Japan. I watched a lot of the footage on Friday and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I hope people are moved to help because Japan could use a lot of it right now.

    Todd, thanks for raising awareness and sharing your personal account of the tragedy and need in Japan.
    Jeremy B´s recent blog ..Save money with budget travel transportation options to VancouverMy ComLuv Profile

  39. Blue ShoeNo Gravatar says:

    Great idea, Todd! I’m with you if I can help!

  40. Todd, be sure to post more about the blog event on the Yakezie forums. I’m sure a lot of us will want to participate.

    I’m so glad to hear you and your family are okay. I have a 5 year old granddaughter that lives in Yokohama and although we haven’t heard, assume she is fine.
    Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer´s recent blog ..Weekend Scoop- Earthquake and Around the WebMy ComLuv Profile

    • Hi Kay, that is such a great idea! Yankezie has been far from my mind these days even though I still have to write my Member post! Maybe I will use the opportunity to introduce myself as a vehicle for something more useful.

  41. Thanks everyone! I too am taking part in the Blog4NZ next week. I know a lot of people are donating to Western NGOs but I’m hoping for this event to get some money flowing to deserving Japanese groups as I know it can be very difficult to know where to give.

  42. AmandaNo Gravatar says:

    I’ll be happy to help out however I can! I, too, am participating in Blog4NZ next week, and I’m definitely planning to add a paragraph at the end of all my posts about how you can donate to victims of both the Christchurch quake, as well as the Japan disaster.

    I’m so glad to hear that you and all your loved ones are safe. I work at a newspaper, and I’m in charge of putting together the front page for tomorrow’s edition. Looking at all the photos of the damage and reading the horrifying stories from over the weekend is really tough. I can’t imagine actually having lived through it.
    Amanda´s recent blog ..Blog4NZ – Travel Bloggers Uniting to Support New ZealandMy ComLuv Profile

    • ToddNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Amanda. I’m doing the Blog4NZ as well but imagine that this Blog for Japan event will take place afterward as there are logistical arrangements that need to be made. We are already looking into organizations in Japan but to be honest we are not sure of their capacities just yet to handle this money and spread it effectively (we are crisis workers so we have a lot of thoughts on this). I’m looking into trying to help a specific town so that our efforts can be concentrated. We will see.

  43. Terrible! We in Christchurch thought it was a joke when we heard about the Japanese earthquake – sadly not! To be away from your family will be very difficult. I have learnt that in the worst of times you see the best in people.
    John in France´s recent blog ..New Zealand – Sharing the LoveMy ComLuv Profile

    • ToddNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks John. yes, it is very tough to have to leave family at times like this. The crazy thing is that we brought my wife back to Japan from Kosovo for safety reasons. You just never know.

  44. Todd, thanks for such a great post. I was one of the ones that had talked to you within seconds of the quake happening and our brief Twitter exchange allowed me to follow this horrific series of events as they happened. It was a dreadful feeling as news reports just poured in from everywhere and it went from containment in Japan to know finding ourselves as the next target for the tsunami in Taiwan. My husband was at the beach that afternoon with his co-workers on a team building event. Had he not “ditched” the group with a few others to head back home, everyone would’ve been at the beach when the tsunami was supposed to hit us. He was at the train station when we got the warning & I started sending text messages so he was able to alert the rest of his team to head for higher ground. Obviously, at that time we didn’t know Taiwan would be spared, but there was an utter feeling of helplessness and dread after watching the tsunamis engulf parts of Japan.

    I love Japan and visit multiple times a year, primarily to cover seasonal events at Tokyo Disney, and have a personal fondness and deep love for Japan. My heart truly goes out to everyone there. I cannot imagine how devastating this has to be for you, your wife and her family directly affected by this tragedy.

    I am thrilled to see you are looking to start a blog event for this! We are taking part in the NZ one, both on our own blogs as well as a large travel site I blog for. The site owners are going to help promote and take part in the NZ event so I am confident they will do the same for Japan. I’ve added my email to your list and between our own blogs on culinary travel and Disney Theme Parks and the various sites I write for, we will do our best to help raise as much as possible!
    Erin @poohstraveler´s recent blog ..San Juan- Puerto Rico Restaurants- Ropa Vieja in Condado Serves Cuban and Puerto Rican CuisineMy ComLuv Profile

    • ToddNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Erin, thanks so much for your support and it is great to hear that Taiwan was spared the tsunami. It would be great to have the support of your blogsas well as for the large travel site you blog for. I’m still trying to figure out the detail but I’ve had an initial suggestion from Jim about hooking into the Blog 4 NZ network that as been created to also support the Japan fund raising. More info to follow soon.

  45. AbiNo Gravatar says:

    Thank goodness you and your family are safe. I thought of you on Friday as I saw the news. As you know, I was in Japan recently, but you may not know that I was in Sendai, interviewing and photographing local people. I’m still stunned, watching it all, and obviously want to help.

  46. inkaNo Gravatar says:

    Todd,that you even had the strength to write this after what you have been through deserves respect and admiration.
    inka´s recent blog ..The flight of the angel- a Venice carnival highlightMy ComLuv Profile

    • ToddNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Inka, well I can’t take too much credit here. I just feel helpless especially given the fact that I work for the UN in crisis recovery! I also know what a logistical nightmare having foreign funding and staff will be as there will be many issues of communication and language. This is just my small attempt to do what I can. Thank you so much for your support on this!

  47. DavidNo Gravatar says:

    I’m glad everyone is safe in your Japanese family.

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