Saturday, September 08, 2007


Back when I worked at my company's office in Kudanshita, there was a relatively hefty earthquake at one point. It wasn't the sort of earthquake that does a lot of damage but it was just strong and long enough to set off all the automatic alarms which shut down various services across the city. I had left my office and was standing on the platform waiting for my (subway) train when I felt the platform shudder in an odd way. When you're underground or on the street, you feel earthquakes far less than when you are in a building, particularly a tall one.

The next train pulled in and I got on but the doors remained open and the train sat there. After a prolonged wait, I figured something had gone wrong. When a certain magnitude of earthquake comes along, the trains automatically shut down in case there is track damage and it takes hours for the tracks to be inspected to make sure it's safe for them to start rolling again. I decided I'd be more comfortable waiting back at my office so I left the station only to find that the elevators had shut down and I was locked out of the stairway access. My company, in its infinite wisdom, dead-bolted the door from the inside with locks that cannot be accessed from outside with keys. I was lucky, however, as some people were trapped in elevators when they shut down. I was probably five minutes ahead of that particular fate given the timing of the quake and my departure from the office.

At this point, I was pretty well stranded though I did attempt to find a way out via JR (Japan Railway - the above ground option) but it was all shut down as well. When this sort of thing happens, all of the cabs are taken and traffic gets pretty gummed up anyway. Kudanshita is too far from our place to walk home and I didn't know the way anyway so I had to hang around waiting for 3 hours there then another half hour at my transfer point in Nakano.

Yesterday, there was a typhoon in Tokyo and a less severe but similar situation occurred. My husband left work and the subway was shut down. He works in Shinjuku though (where I also worked before my company moved its office to a cheaper section of Tokyo) and said he'd walk home if the subway wasn't going to run any time soon. One of the great benefits of where we live now is that the commute for him is not only very short but also it is short enough that one can reasonably walk home if there is a natural disaster of some kind that knocks out public transportation. It's also along a very easy to follow route along a major street which we both know well.

On more than one occasion, people have encouraged us to move to another location. One of the reasons they encourage this is that our place is old and crumbly in places. Another is that it is about as far from the local stations as possible as stations are nearly equidistant from us on either side. Our rent is also a tad pricey and we could very likely get a bigger, nicer place for the same (or lower) rent if we were willing to move further out from the center.

Generally speaking, we have resisted moving because our time together is important and wasting any more of it than necessary on commuting for less important gains in apartment size or beauty doesn't appeal to us. We also don't see it as worth the not inconsiderable expense of moving. When my husband said he'd walk home yesterday, it occurred to me that there are other benefits to this location that those advising us to move may not immediately recognize. One that has been obvious to me since I started teaching from home is that being near the center has gotten me far more business from private students than if I were out on some train line leading to the Japanese equivalent of Podunk which allowed us a lavishly large place (well, by Japanese standards) for the price we pay now. Another has been that the domestic and mundane shopping here is cheaper and more plentiful than most areas (something which my students often remark on when they come for lessons).

Mainly though, my husband and I aren't the sorts to seek out more than we have when what we have is satisfactory. It's a personality trait of his that my father-in-law remarked on recently in a conversation we had. He mentioned that my husband had never tended to seek change when he's content with the way things are and it's a trait he has exhibited since childhood. This is actually a core personality trait that he and I have in common which neither of us knew or thought about much before having lived together in Japan but I do believe it's the sort of thing that can have a serious influence on marital harmony. It also explains pretty well why we have stayed put for so long in the same location.


Luis said...

Talking of subways and disasters reminded me of the story about you guys and the Aum Shinrikyo gas attacks on the subways. It occurs to me that might be a really good post for you to do.

Shari said...

It occurred to me last night that I should get around to that post as well but this has been an incredibly busy week for me. One of these days (hopefully soon), I'll get to it.

Miko said...

That dreadful gas attack ... sucked all the attention away from poor Kobe! I do hope you post about it, it'll be an interesting read, and maybe I should do one about the Big One but I really try not to think about it anymore (although if the truth be told, I think of it every single day of my life, I can't help it).

How many times have you moved house in Japan, Shari? I think I've done it about 9 times in 18 years. I'm very happy with my current place, but I don't think it will be my final move.

Shari said...

Miko: I've moved well, never. We've been in the same place for 18 years!

I can understand why you think of the earthquake ever day of your life. Traumas like that don't go away.