Travel Tales

Beating the odds in Tokyo

We arrived in Tokyo and made it to our hotel, the Oak Hotel, late on a Sunday night. Because we chose to fly westward around the world, jet lag had us up and ready to go at 7am, a time of day the husband and I usually only see when we have to go to work. We took advantage of our early start to stock up on some delicious pastries for breakfast before heading out on our perfectly planned Day 1 of sightseeing.


Tim had used Lonely Planet’s Pocket Tokyo to carefully craft itineraries for each day in Tokyo to maximize our time. Day 1 had Ueno Park and it’s fine museums in store. Arriving in Ueno Park, I realized that the best way to get to the Tokyo Museum was through the zoo. As a zoo junkie, this revelation thrilled me! (I know a lot of people are against zoos, and probably surprised that I like them. And a lot of people would wonder why I visit zoos in foreign countries when the point of a zoo is that they bring all the animals to you. But I find it interesting to see how other cultures interact with animals. Are their zoos humane and spacious with conservation and education efforts, or do people throw junk food into cages and laugh at the animals? For me, a zoo is as much about people watching as animal watching these days. )

But then we realized it was a Monday. The zoo AND museums are closed on Mondays. Travel fail 😦 We tried to see if we could just swap for another day’s itinerary, but the other days we were staying in different hotels near the sights for those days and we hadn’t braved the metro system yet. So we reluctantly decided to just do a scenic walking tour that had been planned for the afternoon.

Walking towards our new destination, we passed the gate to the zoo. It was open! Was it not a Monday? Were we already that messed up on days of the week? Nope, it was a national holiday! If a holiday falls on a Monday the attractions close on the following Tuesday. We happily paid our 600 yen and headed through the zoo to see a few highlights on our way to the Tokyo Museum.

When we get to the Tokyo Museum, an employee stops us from going to the ticket booth. Because it is National Respect-for-the-Aged Day, the museum is FREE! We managed to show up on one of only two days per year that the museum is free. Travel win!!

Clearly I should’ve bought some lottery tickets that day 😉

Day 2 found us equally defying the odds, but not in such a good way. We decided to head up to the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices building, one of the only free observation decks in the city. Within a minute or two of arriving on the 45th floor I noticed a shaking. I looked around to see if maybe it was just what happened when someone walked past you, but I noticed everyone else suddenly looking around too. Then I saw the items on the hooks at the toy kiosk swaying back and forth. This was definitely an EARTHQUAKE!

I’ve lived and worked on a fault line in Southern California for 8 years. I’ve experienced earthquakes while visiting family in Chile. I supervise earthquake drills for my students every year. I know what to do in an earthquake, just not in a high rise. I avoid high rises in Los Angeles for that exact reason.

The worst part about an earthquake, aside from the realization that you’re trapped on the 45th floor of a building, is that you never know how strong it will get or how long it will last. If you told me ahead of time that I would be fine and the building wouldn’t collapse, I might actually enjoy the sensation. But instead, I experienced a brief moment of sheer and utter terror.

Thankfully, the Japanese know about the earthquakes and have designed even high rises to withstand the shock. I later found out it had been a 5.6 magnitude quake, but it felt more like one in the 4 range thanks to excellent engineering.

So I guess I lucked out again by getting the chance to experience something in life that few people ever will, an earthquake in a high rise, and
safely living to tell the tale.

I’d like to thank my grandparents (without whom I would never have been born), and the aged people of Japan, for having a holiday while I was there. And also the engineers in Japan for designing buildings that didn’t kill me!

Three cheers for Japan and onwards to the Philippines!


2 thoughts on “Beating the odds in Tokyo

  1. Great pictures, great story! So glad you two are fine, along with all the Japanese people who suffer far more quakes than we Californians have. The one in Northridge that blew my life into smithereens on Jan. 17, 1994 with a 6.7 was “commemorated” a year later to the day by a massive 7.+ killer in Japan. Glad you missed both of those! 😀


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