Patchwork Yokohama
13. Disastrous Yokohama
by Pencil Louis
          Earthquakes are few  in  Australia.  In fact, until the year
          before Vince came to Australia, there had supposedly been no
          recorded earthquake casualties  in  Australia. Then, a quake
          had hit Newcastle  with  its  epicentre  at  Hexham, killing
          several people at  the  Working Men's Club. Vince had passed
          this club every  morning  on  his way to work during his six
          months in the city.

          Vince himself had  never  felt  any  earth  tremors until he
          arrived in Japan.  He had been off the plane less than three
          hours and was  in  bed  having  a  nap  to  recover from the
          eighteen hour trip when he felt his first jolt. He was later
          to discover that  they  felt  a  lot  stronger  if  you were
          horizontal, but he  leapt  off  his  futon and staggered out
          into the kitchen.  No  one  else,  it  appeared,  had felt a
          thing. He read  in the following day's newspaper that it had
          been a very minor earthquake indeed, only 2.2 on the Richter
          Scale at the  Chiba  house  where he was staying. Vince knew
          that earthquakes got  as  high  as  7.9  and that this scale
          increased with a  logarithmic  progression, which meant that
          7.0 was far more intense than twice 3.5.

          He had also  heard  that  a  major  earthquake hit the Kanto
          region, which included  Tokyo,  Yokohama, Chiba and Saitama,
          every seventy years.  Some  believed that you could set your
          clock by it.  As the last great Kanto earthquake had been at
          11:58 a.m. on  1st.  September, 1923, he calculated that the
          next big one would surely be in 1993 or 1994 some time.

          He was soon  to  learn that the next great earthquake to hit
          the Tokyo area already had a name and that seismologists who
          monitored  the earth's  movements  on  a  daily  basis  said
          matter-of-factly that the  next big one was just a matter of
          time. One continental  plate was sliding up under another on
          just the other  side  of the Izu peninsula and thus the next
          big one would  be  called the Great Tokaido Earthquake after
          the old road that linked Kyoto with old Edo.

          One day, Vince's  mother-in-law rang up and screamed, "Don't
          either you or Connie go into Tokyo, tomorrow!"

          She had been  watching  a  television  programme  in which a
          seismological expert, who  had  predicted  the exact date of
          the last San  Francisco  earthquake, had just announced that
          the Great Tokaido  Earthquake  was  due  to  hit  Tokyo, the
          following day.

          The next day  was  a  Sunday  and  Vince  was able to assure
          Connie's  mother  that   neither   Connie  nor  he  had  any
          intentions of going  anywhere  near Tokyo until Monday. What
          he didn't tell  his relieved mother-in-law was that Yokohama
          would be closer to the epicentre than the bigger city to the

          How much closer,  he  didn't  know  until  he  went  to  the
          Yokohama    Disaster   Prevention    Centre,    which    was
          coincidentally less than  a  hundred  metres  from  the  old
          Tokaido Road. There,  he  saw  just how much of Yokohama had
          been  destroyed  by   fire  alone  during  the  Great  Kanto
          Earthquake, how much  had  been  hit  by the resulting tidal
          wave. He also  saw  just  how  much  of  Yokohama was now on
          dangerous reclaimed land. The old Tokaido Road had run along
          the shore front in early times, but now it was impossible to
          see Tokyo Bay  at all from it. You could see the area around
          Yokohama  station, which  would  have  been  under  water  a
          century earlier.

          He went through photo after photo of crumbled buildings from
          the 1923 and  other  more recent earthquakes from all around
          the  world.  There  were  photos  from  the  Phillipines  of
          buildings almost identical  to  the  four  storey  apartment
          block that he  lived in, and one of them was lying face down
          on its side  as if a giant had come along and just pushed it

          If that wasn't  enough,  the upstairs section dealt with the
          dangers of fire  and  Vince thought uneasily how many of the
          casualties of the  1923 earthquake had died in the resulting
          fire. The big  message  seemed  to  be  that it was safer to
          crawl away from  flames  than  to  run  away from the smoke.
          Smoke, it turned  out,  moved faster than Nigel Mansell in a
          Formula One race.

          If Vince thought  he'd  got the message already, some of the
          attendants at the  Disaster Centre had spied him earlier on,
          and had other  ideas.  Almost  bodily they pushed him into a
          movie theatre where he was shown a 20 minute long film about
          the victims of  three  major earth tremors in the first part
          of the 1980's.  They'd  all  been in Japan, but all had done
          most damage in  Northern  Honshu  and Hokkaido, nowhere near
          Tokyo and even further from Yokohama.

          The message came through loud and clear - be prepared, store
          food and water  beforehand,  turn  off  the gas, fill up the
          bath and the washing machine, turn off the gas, don't panic,
          stay away from brick or stone walls, hide under tables, open
          the front door  for  an  escape  route,  and know where your
          emergency evacuation area  was.  Thoroughly convinced, Vince
          took out a  note  pad  and  pen  and  jotted down these very
          points, determined to act on them as soon as he had left.

          But the Disaster Centre attendants weren't finished with him
          yet. They led  him  into  a strange machine that had a decor
          not unlike the  dining  kitchen  area  of his apartment with
          cupboards, a table  and  two chairs. He was informed that he
          was going to  experience the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
          Vince wasn't too  keen  on the idea. It was Connie after all
          who loved roller coaster rides.

          "Isn't it enough,"  he  pleaded,  "that  I'll experience the
          next big one?"

          But it was  to  no  avail.  One  of  the  men cranked up the
          machine. Vince was  standing  in  the  centre  of  the room,
          wondering if he  should  get  under  the  table  as  all the
          earthquake procedure manuals  suggested  you  should  do. He
          feared that it  would  be too tight a squeeze and so he just
          sank to his knees as if he were ready for prayer.

          At this point,  just as the machine was being cranked up and
          hitting 5 on  the Richter scale, two coach loads of tourists
          piled into the  Disaster Centre and jostled each other for a
          glimpse of Vince  being  buffeted  and  bounced  around. The
          earthquake simulator was  like  a  train wreck in sound. The
          cupboard doors flew  open  and  swung  wildly  and a plastic
          bucket fell out  and bounced off Vince's head. He watched as
          it clattered across  the floor and started to roll backwards
          and forwards around in erratic arcs. The chairs juddered and
          threatened to fall,  but  didn't  until the very last minute
          when one of  them  grazed  Vince's  shin.  He was lying down
          rather than kneeling  by  now  and apart from this, his only
          injury was a wrenched shoulder which had come from trying to
          rest it against the side of the simulator.

          The tremors had  come  in waves of intensity and Vince would
          just think that  the  experience was about to cease when the
          buffeting would start  up  anew. A roller coaster ride would
          have  been  preferable.   Actually,  Vince  had  experienced
          something like the earthquake simulator before. It was while
          he was hitch  hiking on a dusty dirt road between Wollomombi
          and Jeogla in  New  South Wales, Australia. A man had pulled
          to the side of the road and told him:

          "There's no room  in  the  car, but, if you want a lift, you
          can hop in the trailer."

          For the next  60 odd kilometres, he'd been bounced off every
          pot hole and  swung  around  every  bend or deviation in the
          road. It was certainly the roughest ride in his life. He had
          emerged as he  did  now  from  the earthquake simulator with
          every  bone shaken.  Admittedly,  the  two  coach  loads  of
          tourists were applauding,  but  he  did  notice that none of
          them were game  to  experience  their  very  own Great Kanto
          Earthquake. Perhaps, they  thought  that  he was part of the

          Vince feared that  he  might  be  shaking more from mounting
          terror than from  the  rattling  of the earthquake simulator
          itself. He had  felt  the  whole sensation first through his
          knees and then  through each and every bone, joint and sinew
          of his body,  which  was  rattling of its own accord when he
          was finally permitted to leave the Disaster Centre.

          Connie was in  no mood for surprises when Vince arrived home
          that evening. She didn't want any flowers. She wasn't in the
          mood for champagne  or  chocolate. She most certainly wasn't
          in the mood  for  250  tin  cans  of  Yokohama  water with a
          half-life of five  years,  tins  of  fruit  and fish, a fire
          extinguisher, a gas  stove,  a  glow  in the dark transistor
          radio, flares, a first aid kit with gaijin size band aids, a
          rope ladder and two crash helmets.

          Indeed, it took  some  time  for  him to persuade her of the
          significance of being  prepared  for the next disaster, but,
          for a change,  he won out on this one. Within a week, he was
          securing bookcases with  brackets  and putting special seals
          on each of  the  cupboard doors so that things wouldn't fall

          As always seems  to happen, there were no more earth tremors
          for quite some  time,  not even small ones, and Vince became
          quite blas‚ about  the Great Tokaido Earthquake. In fact, he
          turned his attention  to  more  immediate  disasters.  Three
          substantial typhoons hit Yokohama, that year. Vince was well
          aware that there  was a saying in Japan that there were four
          things  to  be  feared  in  the  following  order  -  first,
          earthquakes, second, lightning,  third,  fire,  and  fourth,
          fathers. Not a word about typhoons, he noticed.

          Two  of  the  most  ferocious  typhoons  weren't  officially
          typhoons. The typhoon season was at the end of summer - late
          August through to early October. One of the biggest typhoons
          had appeared in  June  when  all rain was considered part of
          the tsuyu monsoon  season  and  the  other  had  arrived  in
          November. Television weather  forecasters  across the nation
          had politely informed their audiences, that while these were
          very  similar  to   typhoons   and   had   almost  identical
          properties,  they  were   in   fact   not  typhoons.  Unlike
          earthquakes which could  arrive  at  any  time, if a typhoon
          were to do something as untyphoonly as arrive out of season,
          it jolly well  didn't  deserve to be called a typhoon in the
          first place. The tsuyu monsoon brought similar problems. One
          year, the steamy  rain that hung like a mist that soaked you
          from all directions  had  arrived  too early for the weather
          forecast to predict  and  therefore  they decided that there
          must have been no monsoon season that particular year.

          The most ferocious  storm  Vince  did  encounter  in  Japan,
          thankfully arrived in the typhoon season. It was Typhoon No.
          20, nicknamed Typhoon  Keiho,  which  unleashed  its fury on
          Yokohama on 19th. September, 1991. Vince had seen at least a
          dozen so-called typhoons  by  this  time and all of them had
          either rained a little or blown a little, but never had done
          both at the same time.

          Vince's daytime job  was cancelled for the afternoon and his
          students were told  to  go  home  early. He made his own way
          home just in  time,  not  to  get wet, but before the trains
          stopped moving altogether.  He  caught the last train to run
          between Nagatsuta and Kamoi. It crawled along at a pace that
          was hardly faster than walking.

          When  he reached  Kamoi  station  and  crossed  the  railway
          bridge, he had had to wade through 18 inches of water on the
          other side.The Tsurumi was in flood. Vince was quite used to
          the  rapid rise  and  fall  of  the  Tsurumigawa  and  other
          Japanese rivers, but  he  had  always thought that the high,
          built up embankments were a little excessive. When he passed
          it, the river was within five feet of the top embankment and
          with wind and rain still driving into his face, he could see
          the  water  cascading   over   the   top  and  flooding  the
          surrounding district.

          Vince glimpsed the  dairy  milk  chocolate brown waters with
          soccer balls, tree  trunks,  polystyrene vegetable boxes and
          the like bubbling  and  bouncing along in the swift current.
          If he thought  that the rush would cleanse the river, he was
          wrong. Soccer fields,  riverside farms, newly laid gate ball
          courts were all under a foot of silt, the following day when
          the waters had  abated. It would take months to clean it up.
          Vince was amazed  at  how quickly the river had dropped back
          to its original  level.  Eighteen  hours later, it was as if
          the frothing brown tumult had all been in his mind.

          If anything, you  could do less when faced by a typhoon than
          by an earthquake.  You couldn't use a fire extinguisher. You
          couldn't escape it.  You  couldn't hide under the table. All
          you could do  was stay indoors and pray that the roof didn't
          blow off.

          Winter in Yokohama is the most pleasant of the four seasons.
          It is cold, but, on most days, the skies are a greyish blue.
          There  is the  odd  snow  storm,  but  these  are  rare  and
          blizzards are non-existent. It was on a day in the middle of
          Japan's coldest month,  February,  that  Vince's  earthquake
          finally hit. It  was  4.8 on the Richter scale or so Vince's
          once jarred bones told him.

          It had been  so  long  since he had seriously considered the
          possibility of the  Tokaido  Earthquake  that  he  seemed at
          first to have  forgotten  the  procedure  he'd  outlined for
          himself. Or perhaps,  this was simply because it was shortly
          after 3 o'clock  in the morning. Such was the immediate jolt
          that he was  out  of  his  bed  in  an instant and muttering
          between breaths each instruction as he performed it.

          "Open the front  door  ...  don't panic ... fill up the bath
          ... don't panic  ...  turn  off  the gas ... don't panic ...
          fill up the  bath  ....  don't  panic  ...  no,  fill up the
          washing machine ... hide under the table ... don't panic ...
          fill up the  bath  ...  no,  crawl under the table ... don't
          panic ... don't panic ... don't panic ..."

          After Vince had  crawled under the kitchen table, he noticed
          Connie's legs standing  not two feet away from him, one foot
          tapping vigorously. He  could  feel  the draft from the open
          door, could hear  the  bath  and washing machine filling up.
          What else?

          "I'm not panicking," he explained from beneath the table.

          "Vince," Connie bent  down  and looked straight at him. "the
          floor stopped shaking ten minutes ago."


          "I think you can come out now, dear. It's over."

          Vince reluctantly crawled  out  from under the table, turned
          off the taps  and  returned to his futon. He didn't sleep at
          all for the  rest of the morning and was up early to inspect
          the damage. The  brackets had stayed in place, the cupboards
          had stayed closed  and  he  still  had 250 undamaged cans of
          Yokohama water.

          But Vince had  proof.  He  noticed  a long crack in the wall
          from ceiling to  floor.  It  was  proof  that  his apartment
          wouldn't fall flat  on its face during an earthquake. No, it
          would break in half down the middle.