Northeastern Japan was hit by M8.8 earthquake, the biggest in Japan’s recorded history, at 14:46 local time today. Tsunami warnings along broad areas of the Pacific coast were immediately announced, but it took only an hour or so before the world watched in horror as massive tsunamis swallowed the coastal farming towns of Sendai, and oil refineries in Chiba and Miyagi burst into flames. Frustrated at the limited Australian coverage, I turned to my sister in Bangkok, and asked her to broadcast NHK World from their TV through Skype. As I write, NHK World is reporting on damage in many areas of Miyagi, Ibaragi and Fukushima prefectures; the tsunami warnings; the problems with telecommunications and public transport systems; the official declaration of a nuclear emergency; and more. The death toll of tsunami victims is on the rise, and tens of fishing boats are yet to be accounted for. Transport is on a halt: fourteen Bullet trains are stranded between stations, and the decision has just come through that JR trains in the affected areas will not resume tonight. The mobile phone systems have been clogged up, and text messaging works only infrequently. Hundreds of thousands of people, including myself, have not been able to establish the whereabouts and safety of their family members, and they will not be able to go home if their work or school is far away. Home is not necessarily safe, either, and many no doubt wonder if their houses are standing intact tonight.

All this information is coming in not only from NHK World via my sister’s Bangkok home, but also from my friends who are actually sitting at their desks at work right now, talking to me on Skype and Facebook, or emailing me from time to time. Where telephone systems have failed, the Internet has enabled me to get in touch with my dear friends. It’s started to tremble again, it’s so scary, one friend tells me from time to time, and we have been discussing the pros and cons of her walking home from her company. Her husband is away on a business trip to Hiroshima, and there is no way of contacting him, or of having him home tonight.

In fact, access to Skype and Facebook is a privilege right now. NHK World reports that hundreds of thousands of houses in Sendai and many other areas are without electricity, with no prospect of having it back for many days, if not weeks, to come. Hundreds of thousands of those who will have to move into emergency shelters tonight won’t have access to the Internet. This of course includes those who do have electricity in Tokyo or Yokohama, but no IT literacy, like my mother, who we – my sister in Bangkok and myself in Sydney, have been unable to contact. I curse at myself for not talking to her for so long. In the age of hyper-communication, images of and information about disasters like this are at your fingertips even if you are located overseas. Yet, the more you know and see, the less assured you are.

Just like the horrific earthquakes that hit Kobe and Niigata in the past, the true magnitude of the damage caused by today’s quakes will not be known for many months to come. For now, I pray for the safety of all the people affected, and my thoughts are with everyone who has not being able to contact their loved ones. I hope you will join me in my prayers.

Author Kimie Takahashi 高橋君江

高橋 君江 is Visiting Associate Professor at International Christian University, Tokyo. Before joining ICU in 2014, she was Lecturer at the Graduate School of English at Assumption University of Thailand (2011 - 2014) and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Macquarie University, Australia (2007 and 2011). Kimie is an Honorary Associate in the Department of Linguistics, and continues to co-supervise several PhD students with Ingrid Piller at Macquarie University.

More posts by Kimie Takahashi 高橋君江
  • Masaki Oda

    What was scary about this earthquake was aftershocks were as strong as the first one, and lasted quite long. We appreciated the architect who had designed our 30 year-old wooden house in a suburb of Tokyo and luckily there was no visible damage around us. However, 170,000 households in neighbouring Sagamihara is still out of power, cell phones are not working, and more many people are stranded in central Tokyo as trains are not running. One problem of media coverage is that they tend to concentrate what is happening in Tokyo. However, the situation is the north is devastating.

  • Golnaz

    God bless them .

  • There’s an interesting article about disasters and dis/information through the internet/social networking media on Global Voices: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2011/03/13/japan-toxic-rain-earthquake-weapons-and-other-false-rumors/

  • Jenny Zhang

    I pray for the Japanese people in the disaster-stricken areas and admire the spirit the Japanese people demonstrate in face of disaster. Humanitarian has no boundary. With the catastrophe that is affecting all Asian coutries, I would seriously urge my compatriots and all the people from other coutries to show your humanitarian spirit and extend a helping hand. We live under the same sky and will have the same future.

  • Jean Cho

    I hope that all your loved ones are fine, Kimie – It’s just heart-breaking watching news every night….

  • Khan

    Dear Kimie

    First of all I would apologise for not being able to write to you about the safety and good health of your family, friends and countrymen due to my sickness. The news of this deadly tsunami became the headline at all print and electronic media in Pakistan. It was the talk of the town and people really had very sympathtic feelings for people of japan. I really believe that common ordinary people really love and respect others.

    sorry once again for this delay. I hope friends and family are safe.

    Khan

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