At 2:46pm on Friday, March 11th, 2011, a massive 8.9 earthquake shook the island of Honshu, 230 miles north of Tokyo, 45 miles offshore where the Pacific tectonic plate thrusts underneath the North American plate. Colossal 30 foot waves washed over seawalls, bringing boats inland and leveling everything in its wake. The wave traveled as far as our East Bay home, over 5000 miles away. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the three weeks since have been filled with the growing tension surrounding the increasing levels of radiation coming from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. With relatives in and friends visiting Japan, and the tsunami wave and diluted radioactive cloud reaching the Bay Area, the catastrophe hit home. I had also seen the devastation in Haiti only a year ago. Thankfully, the Japanese have building codes, and loss of life has been thankfully minimal. Every day, the news of the struggle to contain the nuclear emergency overshadows all other after-effects of the catastrophe. The world waits as brave Tokyo Electric workers pump seawater into damaged reactors and try to restore power to the facility.
With all of this press that focuses on the tragedy, I would like to take a moment to step back and remember what makes Japan beautiful. I was lucky enough to travel to the land of the Rising Sun just over 10 years ago, when I was working for UUNET. We had been acquired by Worldcom, and were expanding into the Asia-Pacific region, and I was responsible for training the local teams how to connect businesses up to our global infrastructure. Here are a few of my favorite memories.
The offices were based in Tokyo, but I had taken a long weekend and gone down to Kyoto via Shinkansen. It was cherry blossom season, this year’s being not long from now, and they were in bloom and beautiful. One of the most magical moments was walking around the Imperial Palace when there was a light rain and the conditions were just right such that when the sun went behind the clouds, the temperature dropped just enough that the rain turned to snow, falling through blooming cherry trees.
Also in Kyoto, I stopped along a side street to act as a dark counterpoint for two beautiful white-faced Geisha.
Having already seen the recreation at the Japanese Pavilion at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in Orlando, I sought out the Torii gate submerged in Lake Ashinoko, near Hakone. That was a wonderful weekend, having taken the Shinkansen down to Odawara, and then ridden trains, gondolas, and pirate ships around the region.
However, my favorite memory of all was as I left Tokyo the first time, bound for Hong Kong. Only a couple of years before 9/11, air travel was a bit more lax. On this particular occasion, I was in business class, and the stewardess excitedly came into the cabin and invited the handful of us into the cockpit to see a view that few see. There are thousands, perhaps even millions of pictures and paintings of Mt. Fuji from the ground, but we were able to look down on it from above.