Dispatch from Japan: Professor’s post-quake communiques

Duncan Ryuken Williams, a UC Berkeley associate professor of East Asian languages and cultures and the former chair of UC Berkeley’s Center for Japanese Studies, was traveling in Japan and headed to an  airport when Friday’s massive quake hit.  He recounts some of his experiences in the often chaotic aftermath in e-mails to colleagues, which he agreed to share with the NewsCenter.

Back to Berkeley (Sunday, PDT)

I got back to Berkeley … and slept for the first time in a couple of days.

At the Narita Airport (Saturday, Japan Standard Time)

After another adventure of walking and taking a combination of trains, buses, and taxis to cover the 30 km to the airport, I got to Narita Airport (where I’m writing this) after a 6 hour journey.  I’m leaving in an hour on a flight to SFO.


On the Narita Express (3:32 p.m. Friday, Japan Standard Time)

We just had a big earthquake in Japan and my Narita Express train is halted on the tracks (I’ve got my mobile Docomo wireless so I can e-mail out).  Our train nearly jumped the tracks and derailed (and we just heard that some other trains were derailed) and we just experienced two big aftershocks, so we’re probably halted for a while.  Some people on our train were slightly injured and are being treated now. I think the epicenter is in Miyagi and Iwate, and Fukushima with the quake at 8.8 and it’s a 7.0 where I’m at in Chiba.

I’m guessing that flights out of Narita have also been halted temporarily for safety.  I’m hoping we’ll all be back on track soon, but it’s very likely that my arrival in SFO will be delayed (but not sure for how long).  I’ll give you an update when I can.

— Duncan


Duncan Williams

Long walk to Nagatsuma (8:13 p.m. Friday JST)

I’m back online and in a better environment.  Basically the station we walked to after the train nearly derailed was one of those very small stations.  With all trains in the Kanto area being stopped and with the stationmaster saying that there is almost zero chance of any trains moving tonight, my thought went to ground transport like buses or taxis.  Unfortunately, being a small station after four hours, not a single taxi had come by.

Most people (especially those injured in the train) started settling in, resigned to spend the night at the station, but it was getting increasingly cold and after several more severe aftershocks that dislodged the station roof and clock and with the station covered with glass, I decided that it wasn’t a safe place to be.  So, I found out that the nearest big station — Nagatsuma — was about a 45-minute walk away and that there would be more possibilities of a taxi (or a hotel) there.

So, I took the walk — which ended up taking more like 90 minutes — and arrived in Nagatsuma. It’s certainly a bigger station, but because of the same situation of no trains running, the taxi line was snaked around for hundreds of meters and the best guess people had was that it would be about a four- hour wait in the cold to get a taxi (and then the question would be where to take the taxi to since Narita is closed down and are turning away taxis and limousine buses).  I found the two hotels near the station were also packed and sold out of rooms — so back on the street.

By this point, lugging the two book-heavy suitcases was weighing on me, so I collected essentials, and left the suitcases near the station, hidden from view under some stairs. Then, able to walk around a little bit more freely, I came upon one of those 24-hour manga/Internet cafes. Anyway, I got lucky because they had just reopened after some hours when they had closed down to evacuate everyone during the earthquake.  I managed to get a “10-hour special” room and now I have an electrical plug to charge everything and a structurally stronger and warmer place to spend the night.

I’m hoping everything will be better in the morning and that I can find my suitcases, the airport will reopen, find a way to get to the airport, and get on a flight. Quite an adventure.

Large aftershocks (4:58 a.m Saturday JST)

I’ve been in Japan for the past couple of days making arrangements for the visit to campus by the enka singer Jero, who is to receive the UC Berkeley Center for Japanese Studies’ New Vision Award (the one that went to Clint Eastwood in its inaugural year).

We’re still undergoing fairly large aftershocks.