Monday, March 21, 2011

Saved by Donabe...The day of the earthquake

Dear All,

First of all, I am extremely grateful to all the love and support you've given me and people in my country since the monster earthquake hit Tohoku and Kanto regions of Japan on March 11. I can't thank enough each one of you who sent me caring messages and prayers, and the power of which is beyond my words can describe.

It's been very difficult 10 days emotionally for me, although my experience was even smaller than nothing compared to those who lost lives, homes, and lives of loved ones. The situation remains to be enormously challenging to them and in those devastated areas. I'm heartbroken thinking of them and feel so helpless.

If anyone is kindly willing to make a donation for Japan's disaster relief, I would be so grateful if you join me donate through Red Cross. Here's the link.

I was in Tokyo at the time of the earthquake. I ran errands in Ginza, then took a subway to Hiroo, where I was going to visit my best friend, Rie, who gave birth to a baby boy a few days earlier at a hospital.

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Less than 1 hour before the earthquake, I had wonderful soba lunch at Soba Tajima in Hiroo. I had cold Yama-kake soba (grated mountain yam over handmade soba), and Karami-daikon shirasu (naturally hot/ spicy grated daikon with steamed baby white fish).

From the restaurant, I walked to the hospital. I got to Rie's room on the 3rd floor, but she was seeing her doctor upstairs and hadn't been back yet. So, I decided to wait in front of her room in the hallway.

Some moments later, I could feel the building started shaking. The jolt became stronger and stronger, and eventually I couldn't even stay sit in a chair. I found myself on my hands and knees on the floor. The jolt was so massive that I could hear the roar of the whole building as well as the big breaking noises of whatever in each room. Nurses were barely scrambling through by holding the handrail to check patients in each room. 2 minutes felt like 10. At the end, I was praying on the floor.

A few minutes later, Rie came to find me. We hugged and teared. In case there was going to be another big one coming right after, the hospital was then asking all the patients to be prepared to evacuate with their babies. So, I (a visitor) had to leave even without seeing her new baby.

I tried to call my family but all I got was busy signals. These streets outside of the hospital were filled with people (with many in helmets) who evacuated from crammed buildings. I took a taxi and rushed to Ebisu Station. I was going to go straight back to mom's place in Urawa (just outside of Tokyo), but the train was not in service for a moment with the effect of the earthquake.

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There were not so many people waiting at the ticket gate of Ebisu Station in the beginning. But in short time, the waiting crowd multiplied. A momentarily disruption in service became 1 long hour to 2, 3 and more hours. Meanwhile, we felt countless aftershocks. I saw big tsunami on the TV monitor at the station. My worry was becoming bigger and bigger. I tried to call my mom and sister so many times but the mobile telecom was down for the whole time.

Eventually (after 4-5 hours of the earthquake), the station announced that they wwould shut down the service for the day and also close the whole building (with the shutter down). So, I decided to take a taxi to go home and went down to a taxi stop in front of the station to find a half-mile long line for taxi. It was a very chilly night. I ended up waiting for almost 3 hours in the cold air with no luck. I didn't see a single taxi came in the last 1.5 hours of waiting. All the cabs were gone (taken), hotels in the area were completely booked, and there was no guide to any evacuation center. I started wandering on the street with other strangers and we separated in a while.

Then, I realized that Nagatani-en, the producer of the donabe I import in the US, has a retail store in Ebisu. The store is owned by Isako-san, who is the youngest daughter of Nagatani family. It was already late, so I was sure the store was already closed and no one would be there. But, I decided to at least walk by the find there were people inside! There were Isako-san and three other people who work at the store. They were so surprised to see the unexpected guest. My entire body and even voice were shaking so badly from staying out the cold temperature for such a long time. They gave me hot tea and let me relax inside of the store. She said luckily only one donabe broke with the earthquake. Isako-san kindly let me stay at her place (just waking distance from the store) for a night along with her colleagues who also lost transportation to return homes. I also finally got connected with my family by using the store's landline to call. My family was safe.

Isako-san became my savior.

Next day, I could finally reunite with the family. It was another rocky (scary) road, but I omit the story.

Later, I learned my 9-year-old nephew, Wataru, was alone at home at the time of the earthquake. My sister was at his elementary school for a PTA meeting along with other moms. He said he followed the drill...put on the protection hood over his head, turned on the TV, hid under the table, and called my mom (his grandma) who lives just one block away. He said he was so scared and cried "a little bit (according to him)". I was so impressed to hear this little boy took every right action.

Tokyo and its neighbor areas experienced many aftershocks and disruption in infrastructure for the next days and it still continues. We had controlled power outages, shortage of gas, food, and basic commodities such as toilet rolls. Trains were operating in reduced number of service or completely out of service. I delayed my flight and returned to LA on 3/16, but with the unstable transportation, I had to use different services to the airport.

Thank you so much again for all your prayers and support. There won't be a quick easy way, but with our energy combined with all your support, Japanese people become even stronger and our country will recover eventually.



PS: Tomorrow, I decided I will resume my normal blogging. I will start with the remaining Seoul trip postings which I wrote before the earthquake.