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Prepared for the worst, Tokyo residents quick to regain composure

Commuters queue for a train at the Akihabara JR station in downtown Tokyo as only minimal service is maintained, on March 14, 2011. With ports, airports, highways and manufacturing plants shut down after the March 11 monster earthquake, the Japanese government predicted "considerable impact on a wide range of our country's economic activities".

Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images/Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images

The few Tokyo residents who ventured out of their homes over the weekend maintained a calm, collected demeanour that seemed almost at odds with the crisis now facing their country.

If Japan's innovative architecture and early earthquake-warning systems are a testament to the country's legendary preparedness, so too is the resilience of its people, most of whom have been warned all their lives to be ready for a major earthquake - perhaps even on the scale of the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake that devastated Tokyo, causing an estimated 142,000 casualties.

"If you live here the possibility of a quake is always looming over you," said Shaun McKenna, a Canadian who has lived in Tokyo for eight years.

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Given that, it wasn't a surprise that Tokyo's residents weren't panicking after Friday's seismic event shook the city and left lingering concerns that another earthquake could strike, this time closer to the capital. From the hard hats in their desk drawers to emergency kits stowed in backpacks to a popular iPhone app called Yurekuru that notifies users of earthquake warnings, estimated seismic intensity and approximate arrival time, Tokyo's residents have made preparedness a part of daily life.

"Still there is definitely an underlying sense of trauma that has caused people to stay home, stay close to their family and friends," Mr. McKenna said. "People are very quiet, very focused on what is developing."

The city's Shibuya and Shinjuku neighbourhoods, home to scores of clubs and restaurants that normally pulse on a Saturday night, remained all but deserted through the weekend. Many tourist attractions, shops and restaurants were closed down and the city's train and subway cars, which resumed service on Saturday, were largely vacant. Even Shinjuku station, one of the busiest transportation hubs in the world with 3.6 million passengers passing through each day was empty but for a few travellers.

Aiko Tanaka, a film editor, cancelled a birthday party she had planned to hold at a local restaurant on Saturday night. Still she gathered with others at a friend's home in Tokyo's Nerima Ward. The lights turned out to conserve power - a measure urged by government officials anticipating massive blackouts across the country - the group spent the day scanning Twitter for breaking news from the devastated regions north of the city. Later in the evening they donned paper party hats and sat at a table full of candles in an effort to lighten the mood.

"In this situation you don't want to be alone," said Arni Kristjansson, an Iceland native who has lived in Tokyo for three years. "The reason it is like a party here is that we've been watching the news all day and you start to get paranoid and frightened when you do that. We decided to check the news every thirty minutes and share the information with the table. In the meantime we talk about other things."

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