Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Earth Quaked Today

I was sitting with a friend over drinks at Dreamland Bar when the silverware started pinging and the ceiling started thumping. We both thought it a little strange at this time of night. Then my drink started rippling and hopping out of the glass. The table was shaking. I wrote it off to my new upstairs neighbor's kids who are always afoot. That's when things really started shaking, the pictures on the wall, the floor, the people... the bed underneath me and the earth underneath it all.

Unable to ignore the shaking invading my dream any longer, I awoke, and with half conscious senses felt the earth quake. The twenty year old walls of my apartment creaked and moaned as they twisted with the earth's sway. My dishes clapped in the cabinets. Somewhere in another apartment something toppled.

I kept thinking the earth must shake itself still before long. But the shaking grew heavier. The earth became a cosmic roaring lion, and I but a tick on its back.

After another fifteen seconds or so the earth finally rested and my apartment settled. Fifteen seconds is an eternity when the world is shaking. My nerves split, unsure whether the shaking would reside or intensify. That's the scariest qustion: when will it stop?

At 1:45am this morning a 6.7 earthquake centered in the Pacific just offshore of Ibaraki prefecture shook me awake. Ibaraki prefecture borders Saitama prefecture (where yours truly sleeps) to the north east. The quake roared south through my prefecture and into Tokyo which lies 60 miles away.

Though the quake hit Ibaraki at a 6.7 on the Japanese shindo scale, by the time it woke me up it had dropped to a mid-range 3. The shindo scale ranges from 1 to 7 and works differently than the America richtor scale in that it measures the noticable effects of the quake as opposed to the quake's magnitude. On the shindo chart a 6.7 quake breaks gas and water lines and cracks walls. When the quake shook me at a level 3, I experienced a slight fear and heard my dishes rattle.

Though this quake started high on the scale only a few injuries were reported and around 2000 homes lost power. The effects of this latest quake are nothing to cry about given the severity of the carnage a level 6 quake inflicted upon Niigata prefecture last July. The Niigata quake resulted in eleven causalities, 1000 injuries, and a damaged nuclear reactor along with hundreds of other buildings.

I've felt a lot of tremors in my two years in Japan but this was by far the most turbulent. I was scared this time. I didn't know what was about to happen. And the worst part: I just lied in bed like a frightened idiot and hoped it would it end soon.

Here's the Japanese Shindo Earthquake chart:


  1. I'm glad you're okay. I experienced a quake once in Mexico City and damn near peed my pants. It's hard to explain to people who haven't experienced one what it feels like. You do a nice job explaining the sensations. I've always wanted to be outside during a quake - in a big field with no trees - so I could surf one of the bastards. Bring it on big momma, bring it on!

  2. It's definitely an erie feeling when the world, which we normally consider 'ours,' takes control of 'us.' Earthquakes are dangerous bastards but the "shinto" chart I linked on almost makes them sound cute.
    Thanks for your comment man. I'm trying to mix of a dash of personal experience, hard news fact, and surrealism into all my posts. Call it a development in style.

  3. Good to hear that you're still breathing. Must have been hellacious. I have yet to feel one myself. Malaysia is not known to have earthquakes, though the 2004tsunami caused some aftershocks at my hometown of Kuala Lumpur. But I wasn't there to feel it since yours truly was celebrating Christmas in Northern Minnesota.

  4. It's difficult to describe what an earthquake feels like to those who haven't experienced one. It's a strange mix of fear and humiliation. The earth treats you like a pinball.
    When I stopped in Singapore on my way to India I thought about you and how cool it'd be to check out Kuala Lumpur with ya some time. I was so close.

  5. That is so crazy. I can't believe you actually went through an earthquake. This little Texas girl has never felt it!

  6. I'm glad you're okay! I got your postcard from India! I'm so jealous!

  7. Hey Amy, it's great to hear from you. Yeah I'd never felt earthquake before until I came to Japan. Seems like I feel a few little shakes a week but nothing as terrifying as the one I describe here.
    Keep in touch.