Friday, November 19, 2021

89.7 - The most important number in an earthquake

At  5.46 on a cold January morning in 1995, as the first Shinkansen prepared itself for the journey west from Osaka, a 6.9M earthquake struck some twenty kilometers south of the city of Kobe. There was no tsunami however, as the temblors rushed through the city they reflected off the mountains that encircle the prefecture to the north. And caused an interference pattern that flattened the metropolis in under twenty seconds. Over 6,000 lost their lives that day.

Famously, the elevated highway, snaking along the coast, wavered and then collapsed. Cars were crushed and an overnight bus hung, front wheels in free air, becoming the global image of the catastrophe. Fires ripped through the carnage, especially in the old, wooden, quarters of the city. They would continue through the night as rescue was catastrophically delayed. And, in the days before the internet, with the power grid razed, the only information came via battery powered radio. 

Many learnings came from that day one being to stop the government restricting the roll out of the now ubiquitous mobile phone (they were just mobile then, no smarts...) and another was to grant licenses across the country to new, English speaking, radio stations. The new broadcasters contractually bound their bi-lingual teams to live within walking distance of their studio to ensure service could continue if possible. And, if we're ever hit by the big one in Tokyo, one of those can be found at 89.7 in glorious FM stereo.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Welcome to our Shinkansen

Thirty years ago today I landed at Narita, an hour north (wish) of Tokyo, no visa but an assignment for two years in Japan and England had just lost the Rugby World Cup to Australia. I'd wondered what I would think of myself as a young twenty-five year old if I turned down the opportunity and so here I was, lost. In those years I
’ve seen a few changes, little kids don’t run up and touch me, running off laughing that they’d touched a foreigner anymore.

A kind gentleman with a complete absence of English guided me from Tokyo Tower to the Shiba Park Hotel and turned back with a wave. We have mobile phones now and it doesn’t cost $4 a minute to call England any more, if you need to contact someone, the fallback is to call, then it was a message on a cassette on an answer machine they wouldn’t receive until they got home. 

There was no social networking, you met people the old-fashioned way by saying hello, which gladly you can still do today. People were kind to me and that is still true as well. In 1993 I met and married the lady who still sits beside me today. Street signs are in English (!) as are Shinkansen announcements (and not just the recordings, though I did love the lady's voice back then, welcome to our Shinkansen). I could fly Virgin to London and be invited to sit in the cockpit for landing into Heathrow though those days are long gone now. 

I no longer have to sit, typing in code that had been faxed to me, to hook my computer up to the internet to watch Mozilla scroll up in front of me with a modem beeping away in the background (I wonder what happened to Global Village). We’ve had some significant earthquakes although I still find myself explaining the difference between the Japanese and international scales however, bar the once, I haven’t had to shovel mud from someone’s home again. 

I’ve lost many friends, some to distance and some to circumstance. There was a different pandemic back then, but we figured it out, hopefully we’ll do so again. I hadn’t even thought about my son but now I sit in awe listening to his guitar. It’s been a good thirty years. I’ve been lucky. And, just about now, the plane landed.