At 4:35 p.m. on Saturday, July 24th the Kanto area was shaken by a strong earthquake - 6.0 on the Richter Scale of magnitude, and an upper five on the Japanese scale of intensity - entered 70-kilometers beneath Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo. (The intensity scale peaks at seven.) It was the strongest earthquake I can remember feeling in Japan and the English-language newspapers reported it was the strongest quake felt in the capital in 13-years.
I was working at the time, on the fifth floor of a nine-storey building on Aoyama Dori in the Omotesando district of Tokyo, near JR Harajuku Station. I was so surprised by the strength of it that for a moment I wondered if this was the long-expected, overdue “Big One,” and if I was about to die. I was with a group of people in Omotesando and it felt good thinking that if I was going to die then at least I was not alone.
Of course it didn’t come to that. Afterwards I made my way through the always-crowded Omotesando Avenue shopping boulevard, stopped to look at the famous Condomania condom shop, and eventually arrived at JR Harajuku Station. I didn’t know it until I arrived, but the commuter trains and subways were stopped because of the quake. I suppose tracks had to be visually inspected after such a shake. What to do? My Japanese is not good enough to understand the verbal announcements made periodically, nor to understand the scrolling computer-generated message board. I knew trains were stopped because of the quake, but when would they re-open? When I arrived at the station they had been stopped for an hour-and-a-half already, and people were still in line in front of the computerized ticket vending machines displaying an “Out of Service” announcement in English and Japanese. The patience of people was amazing. They were standing as if they hadn’t moved an inch since service was frozen: reading novels, sitting and eating snacks like it was a picnic, and talking of course.
I waited around for 40-minutes before deciding to head north on foot towards Shinjuku Station, which, because it is a major commuting hub, is always my platform for going out into the city. Luckily, Harajuku is only two stops south of Shinjuku, and the distance is not great. My big worry was that the direction was not clear. I could not simply follow the train tracks by keeping to the adjacent streets because Tokyo streets are notoriously curvy and meandering, like a Bronze Age village. With a couple stellar exceptions, ancient and modern Japanese city planners were not disciples of geometric arrays. But no worries! I was not alone in deciding to take a hike. I merely followed the hundreds/thousands of similarly-minded people making their way in a long, snaking line.
By the time I reached my goal the subway line that I needed to get home was running, although somewhat slowly. I reached my home station around 7:00 p.m., went to a local MOS Burger fast food restaurant for dinner, and was in my door by 7:20. Pretty good.