Sunday, March 14, 2010

Quake me up before I drop out on you

Or, "Boom! Shake-shake-shake the room"

Happy White Day! Don't worry, I'm not celebrating Aryan supremacy. As well as being Pi Day, today is exactly one month after Valentine's Day (or VD, as I like to abbreviate it). In Japan, VD is a strictly one-way affair, where women are expected to give gifts to men. The gifts invariably feature chocolate. However, gift-giving is not limited to those with whom one has romantic ambitions; tradition dictates that any male friends or colleagues should get some chocolate. Thus, upon receiving a gift, a gentleman must assess whether it is honmei choco ("true feeling chocolate") or merely giri choco ("obligation chocolate" - mmm, obligation).

My sole VD gift was a tasty chocolate cake from Marie. Since she is a married woman of slightly more advanced years than myself, it's fairly clear which category this belonged to. So, flash forward a month, and it is my turn to reciprocate. The return present should be white, and can be a non-edible item such as jewellery or lingerie. As evolutionary psychology predicts, it should be more valuable than the initial gift - three times more so, in fact. I went to my local cake shop, which was doing a brisk trade, and got an 'angel white cube cake'. I was particularly pleased that I managed to read the kanji for 'angel' ('heaven' + 'use' = 'angel'). Although I suspect I didn't uphold the threefold rule, my gift seemed to go down well.

I was invited in for coffee and angel cake, and the main topic of conversation was the previous night's earthquake. On saturday evening I was chatting to my brother on Skype, and strangely enough he was asking me about my experience of earthquakes in Japan, which thus far had extended to three minor tremors that had failed to even rattle teacups. The conversation moved on, but about 20 minutes later I felt my house start to shake. After a few seconds of run-of-the-mill quaking, a sudden jolt shook my window panes, set my lights swinging, and dislodged a couple of precariously placed items from the top of my bookshelf. Over the webcam, Blair could see me swaying like I was on a bus that had just hit a pothole. For the first time, I was actually scared by the quake, and as my fight-or-flight reflex kicked in I seriously thought about darting under my desk.

The Japan Meteorological Agency puts earthquake data online within minutes, allowing you to play the fun game of guess the epicentre. Was it a minor tremor a few tens of kilometers away, or is Osaka now a smoldering pile of rubble? It turns out this was a 5.7 just off the east coast of Japan, about 130km from me. 5.7 is nothing to be sneezed at; on the map all of the monitoring stations in northern Honshu were lit up like a Christmas tree. Within minutes, texts were coming in asking if I was ok.

So, having exchanged earthquake stories with Marie this afternoon, I returned home, and was in the midst of shaving when I felt the now familiar sensation of my house moving. Being a little more cocky this time, I rushed to the window (probably just about the worst thing to do), reasoning that if cracks were about to start opening up in the street, that was definitely something I wanted to see. That didn't happen, but I was pleased to note my car rocking noticeably on its suspension. The shaking hadn't quite stopped when I felt a more localised tremor in my pocket. It was Marie on the phone, breathlessly exclaiming "Wow, another one" (in Japanese). No shit, Sherlock-san.

Though I don't think it felt as strong as yesterday's one, this turned out to be a 6.6 originating from roughly the same place, thus retroactively demoting that quake to a foreshock. Maybe I'm just getting desensitized to seismic events. This one was felt in Tokyo, so it was the lead story on the evening news here. They have a early-warning system here, but it can only predict quakes seconds before they hit. Thus, NHK apparently interrupted live sumo coverage to warn people to take cover, which I really wish I'd seen.

Catch you later, assuming this isn't the start of some 2012-style apocalypse.


  1. You've been very quiet lately Finlay - has there been an apocalypse?

  2. I've been on holiday, I just got back. Blogging will resume soon.

  3. Just had an enjoyable coffee break going through all your holiday pics. Seems like quite an impressive break.