A First Person Account From Japan's Ground Zero

Tyler Durden's picture

Jason Kelly, a financial writer living in Sano, Japan, shares his first person experience of the stunning events from the past several days.

First, from "In the Quake Zone":

The ground here in Sano, Japan is still shaking as I write at noon on Saturday, March 12, 2011, the day after the largest earthquake in the nation’s history. It struck 21.5 hours ago.

I was working at my desk as usual when my shoji — sliding doors of translucent veneer in the case of my office, though covered in white paper in most cases — began rattling on their rails. They’re the best early warning system I’ve found, so I knew an earthquake was arriving but had no idea how big it would be.

The early tremors that shook my shoji were nothing. The roar of the earth that followed is what really tipped me off that this was no ordinary wineglass rattler. Imagine a wind you might have heard high on a mountain sweeping down toward you. That’s scary enough. Now imagine that wind not being made of air overhead, but of earth underfoot, barreling up at you.

I shot from my chair to secure the office. I covered the computer, put my expensive vase on the floor, unplugged equipment, and was just heading for the kitchen when the quake slammed the building. The neighborhood surfed on dirt. The lights swung from the ceiling, then blinked out. For a second I thought they were smart earthquake lights that sensed the tremors and turned themselves off to avoid sparking a fire, but then I noticed that all the power was out.

From inside every cabinet came a delightful tinkling of glass as if a small party had broken out to toast the arrival of spring, then the party turned horrible in a fight between stemware and cookware in the kitchen, books and printer paper in the office, with a great attempt on all fronts to pour forth in a tidal wave of debris across the floor. The quake-resistant, spring-secured kitchen and office cabinet doors held fast, though, and no tidal wave appeared — at least not in my building. Farther north, a tidal wave of the real variety gathered strength to devastate the coastline with such fury that Hollywood special effects departments are going to need to rethink the way they’ve depicted such events. They’re even worse than portrayed.

Once the initial slam subsided, people rushed into the streets. The elderly, who are legion in Japan and prepared for anything, arrived in white hard hats. One of them asked me if that wasn’t an incredible quake, and I tried to lighten the mood by pretending I hadn’t noticed.

“Quake?” I replied. “Nothing happened here,” I said, gesturing to my place.

She looked confused, then turned toward her home. “This house has always given me trouble,” she began, and started to describe how it had shaken the dickens out of her. I felt bad and cut in.

“I was just joking,” I told her. “I felt it, too.” I thought for sure she would have known I was kidding. Pretending not to notice that quake was like pretending not to notice daylight. She looked at me without smiling, then said sternly, “This is no time for telling lies, Mr. Kelly.”

That’s what the Japanese call jokes like the one I’d just attempted, lies, and she was right. It was no time for that. I got caught up in the thrill of danger and my sense of humor is what I use to deal with such moments, but I cast it aside in a hurry and joined in conversations about who needed what, when the next wave of the quake crashed upon us. Then the next. Then the next.

So it went. Wave after wave coursed through the land, sending power lines swinging and roofs crashing and the ocean surging. The trains stopped. The emergency announcement system blared that the power had gone out due to the quake.

As darkness descended and still the power stayed out, people lit candles in their homes. I moved around the city to see how it coped with the situation, even as the tremors continued. Traffic lights didn’t work, so cars edged their way cautiously into big intersections until the police showed up later to direct. Islands of light betrayed where emergency power had kicked in: the hospital standing tall and staying busy, a home for the elderly that was a type of hospital itself, vending machines that apparently contain batteries to keep selling drinks through any crisis.

A few convenience stores had power, but quickly no food except the dried, instant variety, and then even that was gone. People bought magazines, which I thought odd until I saw by the looks on their faces that what they sought was a part of normal life that had seemed so banal half a day earlier. In a snap, anything that symbolized that placid pace through a typical day became valuable, so off the shelves it flew.

Darkness fell, really fell when no man-made glows pushed against it in a million domes of modernity. The stars came out. I noticed them with joy because they were much brighter in the purer darkness. They made me think of soldier stories where men noticed something beautiful in nature as they fought, like a flower on the edge of a foxhole or a red-winged bird singing on a branch shot through with holes. I observed the world through no such dire circumstance, but the post-quake landscape gave me enough of a nudge in that direction to better understand my fellow man under duress.

I climbed a hill at the edge of town to look down on the sea of darkness. It was creepy. Where usually an endless field of lights extends to Tokyo, only a few areas of light appeared. Directly below the hill, eerie pools of headlights moved slowly around, many looking for missing family members who were unable to take the trains home. There were no city lights around the cars, just the headlight pools drifting along invisible grids like ghosts shaken from their graves.

With most people early in bed, the shaking continued. Isolated reports from community leaders holding radios on the streets informed me on the way home that northern Japan lay in ruin. The voices came leaden, delivering facts so directly that their effort to suppress emotion was in a way more emotional than if they’d cried out their sadness at each collapsed school or deluged farmhouse.

The chain of facts overwhelmed me. There was no break, no “In other news” transition to a different grim event, much less a weekend human interest sideshow. One statistic after another emanated from the radios in a legato of misfortune.

Eventually I reached a saturation point. There’s a limit to how much disaster I’m capable of processing. The adjectives peter out somewhere beyond tragic and catastrophic and devastating, and then those once horrible emotionless facts become welcome as a way to make sense of the event and form a plan for moving ahead. Let’s reduce that number of missing people. Let’s get the lights back on. Let’s make toilets flush again. How about some real food on shelves? The disaster list turns into a checklist. That’s the human spirit, alright. Let’s crawl up out of this hole!

Through the night we huddled in our capsules atop the rumbling island. When the first photon of sunlight touched the Land of the Rising Sun, we became the land of the rising determined and got straight to work on our checklists. One day, they’ll be complete and life will become a boring string of daily predictability again, within which some kid is bound to complain, “Nothing interesting ever happens to me.”

To be so lucky, young one.

And a follow up showing the empty shelves in local stores:

The power interruptions and damage to infrastructure are leaving
stores in Japan’s earthquake area sold out. Gas stations are rationing,
but closing one by one as they go dry. Between a third and half of the
shops in my town, Sano, are closed for various reasons, not least of
which is to let society catch its breath. The following pictures were
taken by mobile phone at stores in Sano:

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Cdad's picture

Retail sales rocket in Japan!  Bullish!  Things just keep coming up fucking bullish, baby!

HedgeFundLIVE's picture

A few things every investor should know about Japan: blog post http://bit.ly/dOWfho

Id fight Gandhi's picture

They must have sold out of iPad 2s. Everyone must be using Netflix today on them.

Print mo money!!!!!!

Sudden Debt's picture


Tybalt's picture

I couldn't help but laugh at this post. Am I allowed to laugh?

jus_lite_reading's picture

Don't worry! THE PROBLEM IS SOLVED! BEnron will pump $40 Trillion directly into to nuclear reactor's core and plug the issue. Everyone go home and relax! The Telepromter In Chief has got your back!

JW n FL's picture

Christmas Shopping on Steriods!

Cdad's picture

Everyone!  Follow the criminal syndicate known as Wall Street...for they will lead you to prosperity!

Jim in MN's picture

Wind finder Japan:


For windsurfers....maybe has some other use...dunno

Seems like onshore in the day and offshore at night near the incident/Tokyo

Spitzer's picture

The radiation scare is overblown.

Look at all the nuclear bomb tests that the US and Russia did within their borders in the 60s.

Hype hype hype

alien-IQ's picture

why don't you go over there, take off your shirt and lay out and catch some rays...let us know how it goes...just so you can prove your point.

Spitzer's picture

I would, I really would.

I could show that it is hype. If I owned enough shares of STM, I would go down there and do just that.

If all of these reactors had a meltdown combined, it  would not come close to all the nuclear arms testing that happened in the US.

Confused's picture

I guess that explains part of the cancer rate then. ;-P 

geminiRX's picture

Right, because cancer rates have absolutely nothing to do with North Americans who don't exercise, and consume nothing but fries, coke, and twinkies on a daily basis.

Spalding_Smailes's picture

So why was everyone worried about three mile island or chernobyl ...We did not even have a total meltdown yet. Wait another 36 hour until we see if this is hype ...

Why would the international community stop sending planes ect .....

Spitzer's picture


Rodent Freikorps's picture

Well, I for one, am encouraged knowing the Soviets...er...Russians have Iran's back as they move on with their peaceful nuclear pursuits.

JW n FL's picture
by Rodent Freikorps
on Tue, 03/15/2011 - 12:10


Well, I for one, am encouraged knowing the Soviets...er...Russians have Iran's back as they move on with their peaceful nuclear pursuits.


1. the largest oil producing area in the world is the mid-east.

2. the second largest oil producing area in the world is russia.

3. who would benefit from de-stabilizing the mid-east?

4. wouldnt it be great if russia could get the U.S. to destabilize the mid-east and then supply the U.S. with oil?

this shit is simple... ketchup, tomato...

Spitzer's picture
The Yablokov report states that the Soviet Union dumped an
estimated 2.5 million curies of radioactive wastes in the Arctic
Sea , including 16 nuclear reactors. . About seven of the reactors still
contained spent fuel, as it was impossible to remove them due to
accidents etc. Waste water from naval and civilian reactors was
also dumped by special ships, which diluted radioactive liquid with
seawater. In addition, thousands of containers (estimated at
11,090 containers by Bellona ) of solid wastes from the Northern
Fleet and icebreakers were dumped. (Mr. Zolotkov has estimated the
it at almost 7,000 tons of solid wastes, and 1,600 cubic meters of
liquid wastes.)
pale writer's picture

All you state above may be true, and if so, a horrible reality; regardless, they should not be used as a rationalization to minimize what may be a rapidly worsening multiple-reactor meltdown scenario in progress, all less than a gas tank away from Tokyo.



Ahmeexnal's picture

You need your containment apparatus pal.

Your euro has been dumped by Spain:


Depends are on sale at K-mart.  Run Forrest, RUN!

Spitzer's picture

. It shows that the meduim of exchange funtion and the store of value function in money can indeed be split by market forces.

steve from virginia's picture

The spent fuel ponds @ every nuke plant in Japan have no containment, either.

Only pumps, valves, some loops of pipe and hopium.


steve from virginia's picture

The spent fuel ponds @ most reactors have no containment apparatus.

Some pumps, pipes, valves and hopium ..

Most have tons of intensely radioactive spent fuel.

whatsinaname's picture

Maybe you shoulda spent the day in Pripyat on April 26, 1986 you idiot.


Spitzer's picture

I cant believe that people don`t think that the Japanese in 2011 have the same issues as the commies in 1986.

Cars still had carburators in 1986 you fool.

Vergeltung's picture

these Japanese reactors were built in the 70s, FOOL.-

Spitzer's picture

Upgraded and updated many times IDIOT

Sudden Debt's picture

A good old paint job does wonders to a nuclear plant...


glenlloyd's picture

I think that's what they call white wash.

aerojet's picture

Those Jap reactors date from the 1970s, though.

Overpowered By Funk's picture

I hope you're right, but then again there weren't many residential neighborhoods near White Sands either - location, location location.

Spitzer's picture

Yeah but allot of people are worried about the wind.

Vampyroteuthis infernalis's picture

I visited the Trinity site in White Sands when attending college in the area. Pieces of Trinitite (green glass formed during the blast) still glow in the dark. Grass still does not grow at Trinity's ground zero and that was in the late '90s.

jus_lite_reading's picture

It's too early to panic in the US, but in Japan it's another story. I'd get the hell out so fast they'd think I was a tornado.

DosZap's picture

Yep,and a hell of a lot of dead folks beacause of it, and more to die, and many dying now from cancer, with no reason why.

Never smoked, drank, abused themselves one day of their lives.

Such a shame Japan got hit with this shit,instead of the more worthy I can think of.

The airborne radiation is likley to settle in HUGE areas on the globe.

More dead people who were never there.

Wonder why they went the cheap route and did not built to similar US Specs?.

Calmyourself's picture

They are GE designed reactors state of the art in their time...

DosZap's picture

Yep,and a hell of a lot of dead folks beacause of it, and more to die, and many dying now from cancer, with no reason why.

Never smoked, drank, abused themselves one day of their lives.

Such a shame Japan got hit with this shit,instead of the more worthy I can think of.

The airborne radiation is likley to settle in HUGE areas on the globe.

More dead people who were never there.

Wonder why they went the cheap route and did not built to similar US Specs?.

Jeremy Roenick's picture

I'm finally getting the point of this.  God is sending his "see what's happening" message to the people of the USA.  If you don't understand what can and will happen in the future and that you should now be making preparations for such events here, then you're missing the point.


This is like a very elaborate wake up call for America.


Oh yeah, BTW, BTFD!

centerline's picture

People ought to pay attention.  When the SHTF here, the stores will be wiped out in the blink of eye.


Ray1968's picture

A few of my neighbors thought I was crazy because I keep several boxes of MREs and calcium hypochlorite tablets (for water).

They're seriously re-thinking their own strategy now.

Kobe Beef's picture

I can vouch for the katadyn. Works on Japanese river water, Thailand tap water, & Indian tap water too.

DosZap's picture


Yep, and we're a MELTING POT,the violence would be unstoppable.

This is one reason the Japanese have not alllowed mass imigration, they KNEW it would screw their culture and traditions, just like it has here.

Agent P's picture

Let me get this straight...you're saying God is punishing the people of Japan in order to send a message to the people of the USA?

I guess the Lord really does work in mysterious ways.

BigJim's picture

Didn't you know? God loves US citizens much much more than he loves Japanese ones. That's why he chose to incarnate as a blond white man. Look at any Renaissance painting for confirmation of this fact.

DosZap's picture

So, Americans are all Ayrians huh?, last I lklooked we were the most diverse ehtnically nation on this planet.

What once was a blessing is now a curse.

 Renaissance painters , typically always paint people of their race,just as some blacks think He's Black,but since he has no ethnicty, it is a moot point.

God is Spirit.

Devout Republican's picture

No that was Glen Beck. Seriously.

DosZap's picture

Somone is pulling your leg.

Japan is /has always been on the Pacific RIM OF FIRE.

This is just ONE more, that happened, except with Nuke Reactors built to shitty specs,so they eat it.

Hell of a mess, and my heart bleeds for the Japanese people.

whatsinaname's picture

Not too worry. We had the BP mess and nada has changed. In fact we just awarded them new licenses to drill baby drill.