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The catfish under Japan

Saturday afternoon, and Namazu the catfish is finally calming down. We're still getting aftershocks, but not as often or as intense as earlier.

A sober calm continues to reign. I've read so many newspaper articles and blog posts, and all refer to the quiet self-control of the people of Japan. I get the impression that many, if not most, are staying home today unless they are directly involved in emergency services or rescue operations. I've been outside only twice: once to turn on my gas supply, which cuts off automatically when a quake hits, and again to buy food. My nearest konbini had only empty shelves, but I bought fruit, veggies and canned "sea chicken" (tuna) at a small mom-and-pop vegetable store on the corner across from my apartment building.

Both store owners know me well by now, but the warmth of the shitamachi people still catches me by surprise. When the konbini obachan ("tannie") saw me, she rushed at me and patted me on my arm. "Kowai desu ne! Daijoubu desu ka? That was so scary! Are you OK?" Then she apologized that she had no supplies left, but reminded me to stock up on bottled water. So I did.

The veggie obachan also chatted to me as she rang up my purchases on her soroban (Japanese abacus). "Are you OK? That's good. Was this your hajimete jishin, first earthquake? It was many Japanese people's first big earthquake too. Ichiban ookii ne, biggest ever, wasn't it? Do you have enough food? How about more sea chicken? How about more sweet potatoes – good energy food and it lasts a long time."

I had visions of myself sitting underneath thirteen floors of rubble, munching on raw sweet potatoes, but I let her add another two to my collection, and then I supplemented all that healthy stuff with some chocolate chip cookies. Do what you can to cope with disaster, says I.


Now I'm huddling at home in front of my computer, still feeling dazed, but cautiously grateful that the worst jitters have stopped, if only temporarily. I finally figured out where my gas control panel was – outside in the hall, as I suspected, but I had looked for it in the wrong place – and I could reconnect my gas supply and take a hot shower. A very quick shower. I had no intention whatsoever of playing Lady Godiva when the next one hit.

Yesterday was a lonely day. I was at an office where I knew nobody, since it was the first day of a new short-term editing project, in an area that I don't know well. I had to walk home alone without talking to anybody about what had happened. I couldn't get in touch with all my colleagues immediately – still haven't – and although they're probably fine, I'm still worried.

I remain on edge, and although it's far too late for precautions, I'm keeping a small rucksack with ID, money and water close to my front door so that I can grab it if I have to run out.

I'm grateful that I'm in a new building with good anti-earthquake foundations. Now that I've compared experiences with friends, I've realized that I had remarkably little damage in my apartment. I still have water, gas, electricity and internet. The only thing that's not functioning is the elevator, but let's just say it's good exercise to walk up eleven floors.

If you want more hard facts, continue reading.

Wikipedia calls it a megathrust earthquake. I've never heard that term before.

The 2011 Sendai earthquake and tsunami (東北地方太平洋沖地震 Tōhoku Chihō Taiheiyō-oki Jishin, literally "Tōhoku region Pacific Ocean offshore earthquake") was an 8.9 to 9.1 MW megathrust earthquake that created tsunami waves of up to 10 meters. It was measured at 7 on the Japan Meteorological Agency seismic intensity scale in the northern Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. The earthquake focus was reported to be 130 kilometres off the Oshika Peninsula, the east coast of Tōhoku, on 11 March 2011, at 14:46 local time, at a depth of 24,4 kilometers. News reports by Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) indicate that at least 1000 people have died and another 700+ are missing in six different prefectures. Estimates of magnitude range from 8.9 to 9.1 MW,  making it the largest earthquake to hit Japan and one of the five largest earthquakes in the world since seismological record-keeping began. The Associated Press reported that it was the largest earthquake to have struck Japan in the last 1 200 years.

Seven is the highest possible rating on Japan's seismic intensity scale (震度 shindo).

According to Japanese television news, the Sendai earthquake rated 5 on the Japanese scale in certain parts of Tokyo and 6 in others. It was apparently 180 times more powerful than the Kanto earthquake of 1923.

Talking about television, I think Al Jazeera is an excellent English news source; and The Daily Mail, which I usually regard as schlock, has surprised me with a few good stories. You can see visuals here.

I end with some trivial information: AP News has reported that this earthquake has caused the day to get a bit shorter. NASA calculated that the Earth's rotation sped up by 1,6 microseconds due to the shift in its mass caused by the quake.

That may be true, but the day is still far too long for the people of Tōhoku. Keep your fingers crossed - pray, burn incense, mutter scientific formulae, whatever you prefer - that Japan will recover quickly, and that Kashima will conquer Namazu.

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