Richter by the experience of 8.9 and still counting the blessings

(Thanks all for the well wishes and thoughts.The scribbling below is my way of saluting the spirit of Japanese, which kept self and family retain our sanity and some of our humor, caught as such in the midst of this mega tragedy)

The earthquake was bad (8.9 that lasted for over 3 minutes; even the aftershocks were many and over 7); but the people, place, processes and technology were prepared to take it on and not buckle under (however unprecedented this particular one is). Amazed to see how almost everyone was calm, going about in an orderly manner while evacuating and taking the whole experience in their stride.

Daughter was in her piano class, her teacher held her tight while she continued playing (ironically – ‘Row row row the boat, gently down the stream’).

Most soothing and reassuring were our owners – who called Neeraja and Hema down for tea and cake, saying ‘its ok, relax, stay indoors, the house is well built and protected’.

All this while I was having a swinging time 30 floors above in Ybesiu Garden Place Tower, with my colleagues – whose smiles i returned for the first 1 minute (used to the experience, knowing that the building was one of the safest in Tokyo); and then was one of the first to dive and duck promptly under my desk – knowing it cdnt be business as usual. From swinging, the building now swayed and shook wildly, I dialed Neeraja to check their whereabouts then switched off to save them from hearing the screams and such in the background.

After what seemed like an eternity and apocalypse – seeing comps strewn, desks swept clean, printers toppled and presentations mixed up; the seasoned heads suggested we march down 30 floors – alternatives for me being waiting to be airlifted or the floor to acquire the properties of an elevator with no stops in between straight to the terr(or)firma.

Keeping a smiling face, stopping politely every two flights down to wait for few people who were climbing up clutching their laptops to complete the remaining stuff to be sent across to clients isn’t an easy task but it was done and all the 30 floor down. No rushing of feet, or stomping of ground, no racing through or overtaking, just good old saunter down as if going down for a quick steaming cup of coffee. Mine, I guess, was the only voice – making wise-cracks about going for earth-cake; or getting Richter by selling my first-hand experience to some gullible publisher..and the likes; more to mask the ffffffffing shhhhh**** scared b(l)eating heart with-in.

Outside everyone was gathered in groups looking up at the still swaying building, posing for pictures (the all recognisable V-sign flashing, signaling the Kawaii (Cute)-ness of the situation and that everything is Genki (Well)). After a 30 minute exchange of notes, and cracks on situation and frustration over not able to reach loved ones over the airwaves, I headed home while some of my inimitable colleagues prepared for the 30 flight climb up, to tie-up loose ends on the JTBD (Jobs to be done)

Phones didn’t work, a small glitch in an otherwise extra-ordinarily efficient disaster management system. Had to work for a while with no taxis stopping, apparently another part of the drill, to keep the streets/roads clear for fire engines, ambulances, police cars and buses (which didn’t charge) to ferry people home. I took one, reached home; slightly assured that the family is safe (net worked (and how), checked neeraja:s message on facebook) and fearing the worst for the precious possessions (TV, Ipod, Tolly/Kolly/Bolly/Holly DVDs (in that order)).

And what a sight, when I reached the building!

Owner (Akaishi-san) opened the door, smiled benevolently in his typical fatherly manner; bowed politely and said, ‘come come come, the tea is hot; and we have got cakes from Holland, which you will like. Hema chan likes them very much’). Inside the only sign of all the drama outside (which was still unfolding as we did not yet hear about Sendai and the second disaster (not) waiting to hit Japan), was the swinging chandelier, and the excited and reassuring voices of wife and daughter chattering first to Mrs. Akaishi-san and then, rushing to me and rattling off their adventures on the day, which will forever be etched in our memories afresh – Both for:

– the zen like demeanor of Japanese amidst such a huge disaster (However the Tsunami was one that no one could prepare for – 10 meters high traveling over 500 miles an hour stretching over 10s of kilometers; and that is a real tragedy of epic proportions – destruction and consequences of which are yet to be realised); and
– the realisation that if at all there is a place on earth that I want to be with my family and friends (current and extended), when (god forbid) such a disaster ever struck again; then it is this country Japan.

Back in our home, one flight up from the blissful state of tea sipping and cake chomping; save a few books that fell off the shelves, and few photos that fell off their perch, things haven’t traded places and life returned to normalcy. We all said our respective prayers – Neeraja went to make coffee, Hema tugging at my sleeve asking me to recount for the 1000th time – some story about an unbearably cute blue train called Thomas; me counting my blessings and reaching out for the remote.


15 Comments Add yours

  1. Hello Arun,

    I am most interested in your response and the well being of you and your family.

    It’s wonderful to read that you and your family are all well amidst this horrendous tragedy.

    Thank you for sharing your experience and I look forward to hearing news from you whenever you are able to communicate.

    With admiration as always, from Manhattan, USA.

    I am sending love, energy and healing to you remotely!


  2. Meenakshi says:

    Good to hear that you are doing fine after the earthquake and Tsunami. Very well written article, a good glimpse of cultural and attitudinal differences! I guess we can appreciate such calm and objective response to a disaster because we also experience the other extreme response, of hype and emergency in every place outside of Japan. The number of videos and stories of loss, death we hear in the US is beyond words. The magnitude of quake and tsunami disaster has shaken everybody across the world, hence accept and look forward to the media coverage/repeat telecast that it is receiving here. May be even I have become a consumer of infotainment… Stay safe.

  3. pODU says:

    Relieved to hear that your hosts – Akaishi-san & family, family, staff & loved ones are well!

    I am given to believe that what one narrates is more important than what another reports!

    There is so much to learn from others that at times we really do not need questions to ask when our eyes and ears do a good job of looking and listening to the answers in front of us.

    Patience is but a hard lesson for some isn’t it?

    Godspeed on a speedy recovery to all in Japan!

    Take care …


  4. ivak99 says:

    @Mrunalini, Prashant, Mridula – Thanks for the comments/kindwords. Pl. do share the link with ur network and let them know about the amazing stoic nature of Japanese in the face of adversity

  5. Good to hear about you and your family’s well-being. Very well articulated, Arun! So much to learn from the Japanese. They are all trained to near-perfection in disaster management.

  6. Prashant says:

    Well said Arun (as usual!). The contrast of the Zen like calm to the chaos and media hysteria in other parts of the world (including India) cant be sharper. Hope more folks do pick up this amazing difference and take away something from it.

  7. mrunalini says:

    Great post. Truly amazing to hear of a completely different reaction to a calamity. Glad you all are safe.

  8. ivak99 says:

    @Shiv Phoenix must have been more Japanese than Greek. Analysts are out predicting economic doom again, what with the debt burden and other such oft flogged horses. None of the models take human resolve and discipline into account, so hopefully the country will rise yet again.

    @Baagya 🙂 Thank you. Wish the world media focuses more on such spirited dimensions and overall system and exhort their respective governments/populace to learn, plan and prepare for better disaster management.

    @Hareesh Thank you Hareesh. Good to hear from you. Will try to show more resolve in putting up regular posts

    @Nari Arigato. And no need to ref Cal, Bits will do – and as long as cough and codec exist, things will be remembered! 😉

  9. Prakash Sreewastav says:

    Very well written Arun. I am sure the environment, government, process, etc give enough confidence to people to stay calm. Amazed to hear that busess etc did not charge people, the media was respectful and calm.

    Can’t imagine the mayhem if something like this happens in India. However, it’s not people fault….

  10. Shiv Muttoo says:

    Good to see that you are doing well. Its not difficult to see why Japan is so well prepared. My admiration for this country stems from their amazing success from the world war devastation to the huge economic success right up to 1980. A resource starved country, in a far corner of the world becoming the world’s industrial center was an amazing feat. Their innovation will always help them succeed in all their endeavors.

  11. baagya says:

    Dear Arun,

    So glad to read this, just been wondering ….a beautiful note, yes we have been hearing of the Zen act of the Japanese at this calamity. Remarkable. God bless you and your family. cheers Baagya

  12. Hareesh says:

    Amazing discipline and calm. This is what it takes to surmount crises. Thanks for the post and happy to know ur fine.

  13. nari says:

    “Everything is Genki”. Loved that.

  14. Indranil Datta says:

    Amazing post and well timed! A true depiction of culture through the eyes of an Indian.

    1. ivak99 says:

      Thanks ID. In fact the Japanese media coverage is another dimension. Not sensationalising, informative, respectful, staying calm….a definitive lesson for our over the top, insensitive loud-mouthed media back home!

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