The first hour after the earthquake.

Today marks 4 years since the Tohoko Earthquake.

I was in Tokyo at the time just about to start my last year at university. Having nothing better to do on a weekday afternoon, I wandered over to a relatively large coffee shop near my house in the middle of Shibuya. It was a nice day out with a number of people out and about. The city was busy as usual.

The earthquake started shaking at around 2:45pm. The shaking didn’t let up, and the conversations in the cafe trailed off. As the earthquake became increasingly violent, the room filled with dead silence. Some froze in place, while others ran outside. Things flew off the shelf near the register, and people were on the brink of panicking. There was a large crash outside.

After several minutes, the shaking lessened and the building settled.

This was the building next to where I was, and the crashing was from the windows breaking and falling to the street below:

Seriously, don't run outside until things stop shaking because glass will fall on your head.

Seriously, don’t run outside until things stop shaking because glass will fall on your head.

At this point people poured into streets. Everyone was in such a state of shock and confusion- you knew something serious just happened, there was no way to process it. It was like everyone was put on pause. A few minutes passed, and people frantically began to use their phones to call and check on their families and friends. Streets and streets full of people in Shibuya on their phones. The phone system became overloaded, and it was more or less impossible to get in touch with anyone.

I was lucky that I was only a few minutes from my apartment, so I hurried home and turned on the TV.

It was chaos. Reports flooded in trying to explain where and when and what just happened. A fire broke out in Tokyo, and black smoke was filling the sky. However after a few minutes live footage came in showing the impending tsunami making its way towards Sendai. I don’t remember where I was watching exactly, but a stationary weather camera on a high building was showing live as a town was basically wiped away from existence, and in that moment you just knew in those floating cars and flooded buildings were actual people who probably weren’t going to make it.

All I can say from those first minutes is that people in Japan don’t have a panic button: An eerie calm from the thousands and thousands of people standing silent in the street.

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