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Superstorm in Tokyo: We Are At Level 5 Right Now

Japan Meteorological Agency declares rainfall emergency, saying people will see levels of rain they have never seen before. (And it rains a lot in Japan).

Update: the building is now swaying. We don’t know if it’s an earthquake or extreme gust of wind.

Update: it was an earthquake! On top of everything else! Wow!

Update: it’s a bright, sunny Sunday morning now. We are O.K. There are reports of widespread flood damage and some deaths. There are also questions about whether anything bad happened at the still-vulnerable nuclear power plant in Fukushima. That area was impacted hard. “Irregular readings” are the words being used to describe the situation at the plant. We have not heard any further reports, and TV is back to regular programming. Tokyo Electric Power is posting what it says are live images of the plant this morning. Because of widespread skepticism of the utility, TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting) has a fixed camera pointed at the plant non-stop. They look similar, with no discernible external damage at least. Though of course, most of what’s of concern you wouldn’t be able to see anyway. We are seeing spectacular videos of people being airlifted from roofs of their homes in areas where levees broke, as well as construction crews already working to patch those levees. Hundreds of thousands of people are without power and/or drinkable water. Trains in Tokyo by-and-large are still not running, and stores are still not open, but we expect that things will be relatively normal in that regard by this afternoon.

Those of you who follow us, know we are in Japan right now. Right in time for Typhoon Hagibis, which looks like it might be a once-in-a-lifetime storm, and has been making a beeline for Tokyo for the last couple of days, and hasn’t changed course. Typhoons and hurricanes are exactly the same thing, just typhoons originate in the Northwest Pacific, hurricanes in the Northwest Atlantic.

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Emergency warning — which is the gravest warning possible — in effect in area immediately surrounding and including Tokyo

We are writing at about 6:00 P.M. Japan time, and the typhoon has not yet made landfall, so the worst is expected to come, perhaps between 7:00–11:00 P.M. tonight. In addition to flooding, there is severe concern about mudslides. There are not too many power outages yet, and few reports of loss of life, (though the JMA says it’s likely disasters have already occurred, just that we haven’t heard of yet). We’d expect both those things to change as the wind picks up, which hasn’t been a factor yet (at least not for us here.) Here’s a link to a continuously updating page from JMA in English, in case you lose touch with us (due to a power outage, or whatever).

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24-hour rain projections

Translating millimeters to inches: the forecast 600 millimeters is equivalent to 24 inches, so somewhat less than fell during Hurricane Harvey two years ago in and around Houston, but in that range. The Mt. Fuji area town of Hakone is nearing 1000 millimeters of rain which would be close to 40 inches.

We are at a mid-priced hotel in the business and entertainment area of Tokyo know as Shinjuku. (City Hall is located here, as is a notorious red-light district). Our hotel does not have meeting or banquet rooms, so we’re being told to stay in our rooms. The Meteorological Agency is telling people to go to high floors. We are on the 11th floor, and there’s really not much else we can do anyway. So we’re trying to stay busy and stay calm.

We did stock up on both perishable and non-perishable food last night, enough to last through the weekend and maybe a day or two more. We were surprised, however, at how calm people seemed to be and how much was available in terms of supplies (of course, we weren’t buying stuff to board up windows or fix objects that could fly away). Stores and restaurants were quiet, but operating normally. We bought 3 giants jugs of water early in the day and carried them around all day. That was the only item widely unavailable at convenience stores by last night.

Our mini-fridge, currently

Even now, we still see a taxi or two plying the streets. We don’t know why…

If Japan survives this typhoon without it turning in to a complete disaster, it’ll be for a couple of reasons:

  1. Earthquake preparation. Because many Japanese buildings are fitted to withstand major earthquakes, that should provide benefits in the circumstance of a record-shattering typhoon as well.
  2. Infrastructure spending. Japan’s government has spent tons of money for years reinforcing river and sea walls, and the like. In part, to create jobs for people in a slowing economy.

At the same time, there are many old houses in Japan, which will not withstand high winds. And water releases from dams, which may have to occur because they’re reaching capacity, could accelerate flooding. Quite possibly resulting in a double-whammy for residents trying to find their way to shelter now that night has fallen.

Local and national news did not go to wall-to-wall coverage until late afternoon today. (Most of the graphics included here are from our former employer, NHK.) Most of the early coverage was in regard to what train lines were shut down. Pretty much all are now, in addition to all area airports, and all big stores.

At this hour, the skyline is kind of interesting. Most buildings in our immediate area are offices or hotels. In most of the offices, not one light is on. Which is unusual for a Saturday afternoon, when many people typically work. However, the hotels are a different story: every single room is lit up, and our hotel at least is fully sold out, and we think it’s fair to speculate those others are too.

View from our hotel room in Shinjuku, Tokyo, current hour

Part of that is because Japan is hosting the Rugby World Cup right now. We were supposed to go to a match tonight between France and England in Yokohama. That’s of course been cancelled. Savings us the dilemma of who to root for, since we don’t like either of them!

The Japan National Tourist Organization is making a big show of providing lots of non-Japanese language information available for the large number of overseas guests here for the World Cup. But really, it’s a joke:

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Much better info. provided directly by NHK, JMA or dumping local news reports into Google Translate.

We’ll check in with you on the other side…

Written by

Peabody award winning journalist. Streaming media pioneer. Played @ CBGB back in the day. Editor-In-Chief "The Chaos Report"

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