Trip to Asia – Part 1 – Earthquake in Japan

Posted on March 21, 2011

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You do not always need to go looking for trouble, sometimes it comes to find you. Life can take a left turn at the most unexpected times. I cannot explain how I came to be caught up in the worst disaster to hit Japan in modern times. Perhaps it was bad timing. Perhaps it was simply that if you travel enough you tend to get caught up in the problems of you adopted countries, both large and small.

I was on a flight from Detroit to Tokyo for my first trip to Asia. Work had me going to Japan and China to meet some people, take a few plant tours, and conduct some planning for the upcoming year. It promised to be an interesting trip and I was looking forward to it.
The flight from Detroit to Tokyo is a long one, lasting almost thirteen hours in total. As we were nearing the end of the flight and going through preparations for landing, suddenly the captain made the announcement that there had been an event on the ground and that the airport in Tokyo was closed. A few minutes later he came on and said that there had been an earthquake, that it seemed to be a big one, and that we were being diverted to a small airport in the north of Japan in Hokkaido. Of course everyone on the plane was alarmed and had a million questions, but being in a plane, we had no access to any information. It was only once we landed in Hokkaido that I was able to turn on my cell phone and get some information. At that time there was just a short article on CNN saying that there had been a large earthquake.
Our plane was directed to park on the runway and there we sat for twelve hours while air control tried to figure out what to do with us. I counted at least ten other large planes also on the runway that had likewise been diverted. The situation was confused and we were low on the priority list as at that time Japan was dealing with many much more serious issues. I watched the sun set for a second time outside my window and settled in for the wait. No food was served and I spent most of the time sleeping and watching movies.
Finally they decided to allow us into the airport, at around 4am. We sleepily went through customs and immigration and were handed blankets. The airport was full of people sleeping on the floor. A large group clustered around the only TV, watching to see what the latest news was of the quake. At that time there were still only a few sketchy details on the tsunami and the ultimate death toll. Despite searching high and low I could not find an ATM that worked or any food, so I resolved to make the best of it. All the hotels in the area were full. I tried to sleep, but it was difficult with the many people walking around and the bright lights.
At around 8am the domestic side of the airport opened up and I was able to find a working ATM and a few food shops opened. I discovered that the Japanese do not eat a breakfast anything like a western breakfast. They eat noodles, rice, fish, that sort of thing. I was so hungry at that point, that anything sounded good. I ended up purchasing some sushi and an iced tea and I happily wolfed it down.
The hours passed by and I waited for news on my flight. At that point it was unknown how long we would be stuck in Hokkaido, but it was very likely that it would be a while. I found a lounge with free internet and soft drinks for $10 and I gladly parked myself there for much of the day. The Japanese lived up to their reputation for being orderly and clean. Despite an overflowing airport, the facilities stayed in very good condition throughout the day and there was no loss of patience.
That night Delta passed out meal vouchers and I had my first meal at a noodle shop. I selected a mushroom soup with fried tofu, which was very tasty. At this point it had been several days since I showered, changed clothes, or had a good sleep, so I was starting to get worn down. At 11pm, my flight finally departed to Tokyo and I slept the entire flight.
Arriving in Tokyo, I found that it was so late that all trains and busses had stopped running. My only choice was a $400 cab ride to my hotel. It was worth it though, as I was not about to spend another night wandering the cold hard floors of an airport. All in all, my situation could have been much, much worse. I was not on the ground when the earthquake struck. Many people lost their lives and property.
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Posted in: Japan, Travel