I almost didn't go. I sat waiting for the flight to leave and thought to myself what would happen if I didn't go. I could just get up and leave LAX and not go. It was odd at the time because I like being in Japan and of all the trips I have been on, flying Singapore Airlines is the easiest for me.
If I had it would have been very strange considering what happened several hours later. We had reached land, either over Hokkaido or just the north of Honshu when the pilot came on the intercom to announce that Japan had an earthquake and they didn't know if Narita Airport would be open and that he was requesting to land at Haneda Airport if that was the case.
We traveled on, not knowing what had happened just before we had crossed over that land. Everyone was asking each other where they were going to, hoping that it wasn't too bad. In my mind I was remembering the last few large quakes that the north had suffered, land slides, broken roads and bridges. We peered out the windows at the dark land below us. It was late afternoon but still we searched for lights, any lights. The pilot came on a few more times finally to tell us that landing permission was granted for Haneda.
We continued down the coast and as we crossed over Tokyo Bay I could see the thick black smoke and red flames as the Chiba Oil Refinery fire burned. We were all scared. What would we find when we landed in Japan?
It was almost surreal landing at Haneda. Part of me was okay with this because it was much closer to where I was staying so less train travel. Given that many of the trains were not running even the next day, it was fortunate in that regard. Still, I'd rather not have had the quake and been able to land at Narita. A little longer train ride is nothing.
It was also surreal because I figured with an earthquake strong enough to close Narita one would expect something to not be okay in Tokyo. But looking out across the tarmac we could see so many lights. It looked so normal.
You can tell how cold it was out, there was ice on the plane windows. The plane stopped on the tarmac. We were one of the last planes allowed to land. Everyone waited patiently for the buses that would take us to the terminal.
Once in most of us quickly but orderly walked to customs. Except for the loud American in the cowboy hat who ran ahead of everyone and cut people off. Being American I was embarrassed. He had been loud at LAX and I had hoped not to run into him again. Everyone else was anxious but we knew we were all in the same boat, not knowing how transportation would be, not knowing how things were outside of the airport.
Given that no one was allowed to leave the airport there was never any reason to hurry. Even with no trains running they were not allowing taxis or buses either. We were all stuck. I tried to keep my head together but it was impossible not to feel some panic in that situation. I was alone in a country where I did not speak or understand much of the language. I had no one there to contact for help. I asked someone at the Information counter if they could call my hotel for me but she refused. So I got a crash course in how to deal with a major disaster at a foreign airport.
My first thought was I will need cash so I exchanged my dollars for yen. Luckily the office was still open. I then attempted to get on-line with wireless but the service there was not available unless you have a Japanese credit card or bank card or already have Japanese internet service. I knew I needed to contact my hotel to tell them I was in the country so to keep my reservation. The pay phones are right by an information area with a large television screen. Before I waited on line I saw the news broadcast of fire, water and magnitude 8.8. It was hard to believe. My thoughts were that there are people who are really suffering right now. That they have it so much worse than we do.
Throughout the night that is what I kept saying to myself every time I started to feel bad about things. I could not find anything to eat, most places were closed by the time I got to them, so many people everywhere. Shops were sold out of food. I found a vending machine with a few bottled drinks in it. I didn't know they were handing out blankets and mats till it was too late.
About the only announcement in English was that the trains were not running and that they would not allow anyone to leave the airport. That, the lack of accessible wireless internet and not enough food available showed that Haneda Airport is not prepared to help international travelers when there is a major disaster. Thankfully when I really needed information I was able to find nice people who were also stuck there that could speak a little English. Each time one of them was able to answer my questions I was so grateful. Total strangers helping me out.
I walked all over looking for a place to sleep. I finally put my stuff down outside of Maker's Shirts. People were wandering around all night long. Because I had no blanket or mat I had no choice but to take my clothes out of my suitcase and lay them on the ground for something to sleep on. I put extra clothing on because it was pretty cold.
I was concerned about all the windows overhead but told myself if they held up through an 8.8 earthquake they should be okay. I finally fell asleep for a few hours even though we kept feeling aftershocks. Being from California I am a little use to earthquakes so I guess that helped. Even so, there was one large enough around 4:30 am that woke everyone up.
From my little sleeping area looking out at Edo-koji. I would like to return someday to see what it looks like when everything is okay. I really think I need to do that.