The biggest earthquake in Japan’s history

11 Mar

Today at about 2:45PM I was outside and I noticed the telephone wires overheard begin to swing wildly. It was a nice sunny day and not windy at all, so I was wondering why the wires would suddenly be moving like that.

And then as soon as it dawned on me that it was probably due to an 地震 (earthquake)…I felt the ground shake. I’ve been in a number of earthquakes here in Japan but this was the strongest I’ve felt the ground move. It gave me a queasy feeling.
It lasted a few minutes…which is quite enough time for an earthquake to do a lot of damage…and it got stronger. The buildings in front of me began to sway.

For the next few hours there were many aftershocks. Some of them quite strong.
It’s now 7:00PM and the most recent aftershock was about thirty minutes ago.
Maybe it’s finally over. I hope so! It was quite scary.

Actually though, we were lucky. A lot of things fell over in our house…but no serious damage—and most importantly, none of us were hurt.

Unfortunately, many people weren’t so lucky. At least nineteen people have been confirmed dead.
This earthquake, which has already been named—「2011年東北地方太平洋沖地震」 (“2011 Tohoku-Region Pacific Earthquake”), registered a 7 on Japan’s 震度 (Shindo) earthquake scale at the epicenter in Sendai, Japan!
“7” is the highest rating on that scale!
In Tokyo, it was rated as “5” in parts of the city and “6” in others.
On the western “Richter” earthquake scale, it was rated at “8.9“.


Tsunami warning map of Japan

A 津波 (“Tsunami” tidal wave) caused by the earthquake hit Sendai and swept up cars and boats and caused casualties and damage.

Boats upturned by the Tsunami. (photo ©Yahoo News)

In the Tokyo area, the earthquake caused a couple large fires.

A building in Odaiba, Tokyo caught fire in the earthquake (photo ©Yahoo News)

An oil refinery in Chiba, Japan near Tokyo caught ablaze in the earthquake (photo ©Yahoo News)

The 「2011年東北地方太平洋沖地震」 (“2011 Tohoku-Region Pacific Earthquake”) is officially the biggest earthquake on record in Japan’s history. And it’s in the top ten of the world’s biggest.
The said on the TV news that today’s earthquake was 180 times more powerful at it’s epicenter in Sendai, Japan than the 「関東大震災」 (Great Kanto Earthquake) that flattened Tokyo in 1923!

110 Responses to “The biggest earthquake in Japan’s history”

  1. Anonymous March 12, 2015 at 9:48 pm #

    So glad you guys were all right. Our friends in Yokosuka were all fine but scared. We lived on Ford Island in Hawaii and had to evacuate but the wave was less than two inches.

    We talked about it yesterday. I was hoping it would be addressed at school, but unfortunately not in the classes my daughters are in.


    • tokyo5 March 13, 2015 at 9:25 am #

      >I was hoping it would be addressed at school, but unfortunately not in the classes my daughters are in.

      Do your daughters attend the American school on the U.S. base?
      They didn’t acknowledge the anniversary of the ‘quake?
      In Japan, the national flag was at half-mast yesterday and most, if not all, people had a most of silence to remember the victims.


  2. tokyo5 March 11, 2015 at 7:44 am #

    Today is the four-year anniversary of this earthquake and tsunami.


  3. tokyo5 December 8, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    Yesterday evening (2012 Dec 7), there was another big earthquake in the same area of Japan as this earthquake of (2011) March 11.

    It was strong and lasted for (what felt like) a long time. It shook buildings even down here in Tokyo.


  4. Disaster Kits March 5, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

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    • tokyo5 March 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

      It’s a good idea to have a disaster kit…especially living in an “earthquake prone” area.

      This is especially timely since next Sunday is the one-year anniversary of the Sendai disaster.


  5. Anonymous October 3, 2011 at 7:46 am #

    this is very helpful and i really like all this information tahnk u for helping me 🙂


    • tokyo5 October 3, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

      You’re welcome…but how, in particular, was this post “very helpful”?


  6. Mom April 9, 2011 at 1:45 am #

    of course, we are all so glad that you are all okay. it had to be a very scary experience though, probably had everyone holding their breath for a minute. is it unusual for smaller, other quakes to hit after a big one? or is this an unusual occurrence altogether? either way, I would be having a difficult time sleeping if I lived in a place where quakes were not uncommon-not to say that Japan is surely a very beautiful land and I do appreciate the culture very much. I would be nervous living in Calif., I guess I am just the nervous type-I am sure you remember what I am like, I probably drove you crazy.
    anyway, we are very glad that everyone is okay. what the levels of radiation??? how is it affecting the drinking water? and is use of electricity rationed? I know that all of this must be affecting the daily lives of all the Japanese people no matter where they live. I am so thankful that you and your family are all safe….pls remember that you all have a place here if the need arises-I know that you would not jeopardize the welfare of yourself and your family. pls give our love to everyone.


    • tokyo5 April 9, 2011 at 2:19 am #

      >it had to be a very scary experience

      Yes, earthquakes, especially the strong ones, are frightening.

      >is it unusual for smaller, other quakes to hit after a big one?

      No, aftershocks are, unfortunately, normal and expected after big earthquakes.
      After an earthquake of the magnitude of the 2011 March 11 one, aftershocks may go on for two or three months!
      There have even been cases where an aftershock was stronger than the original ‘quake.

      >I would be having a difficult time sleeping

      Well, if we are awoken by a late-night earthquake, it can be hard to get back to sleep.

      >what the levels of radiation??? how is it affecting the drinking water?

      They said that the level has actually decreased a bit in the Tokyo area. And tap-water is safe for adults. But we drink bottled water and only use tap-water for washing and brushing teeth.

      >is use of electricity rationed?

      We haven’t experienced any blackouts or shortages in service…but everyone in Japan is trying to conserve. Stores, restaurants, trains etc. are using minimal lighting, for example. And many escalators have been turned off…as well as neon signs.


  7. tokyo5 April 7, 2011 at 11:57 pm #

    Sendai just got hit with another very big earthquake…registered a “6” (out of “7”) on the Japanese scale!

    It shook our house down here in Tokyo pretty hard…and for at least a full minute!

    Sendai has a tsunami watch again!


    • RattRocker April 8, 2011 at 5:14 am #

      aw man, I hope everything is good, In my chemistry class because of the earthquake we jumped to nuclear chemistry rather than saving it for the end of the year


      • tokyo5 April 8, 2011 at 11:50 am #

        Do you study nuclear chemistry in high school? I didn’t study such things in my high school when I was a kid.


    • tokyo5 April 11, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

      Another really big aftershock (a “6” /7 in Sendai and “5” /7 here in Tokyo) just shook our house really hard!
      We’re currently on tsunami watch in eastern Japan again.



  8. Mom March 18, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    I just want to say how much we appreciate the integrity of the Japanese people. It is in times of a crisis, such as what Japan now faces, that I believe the “true color” of a nation’s or person’s true character surfaces. From everything I have read and seen I think the Japanese people are to be commended. There are so many examples of heros who put aside thoughts of themselves for a higher cause even at the risk of their own life. I am thinking of the men who are working in the nuclear plants to try and correct the problems that if left unattended would be disasterous for their nation. I am also impressed by those who are willing to do the overwhelming task of searching through the devastation in search of a life or to recover the deceased. I cannot even begin to imagine the depth of the nation’s grief at the time of such great loss. It seems it would be so much easier when in the throngs of such overwhelming grief to retreat into one’s self but what I am seeing is quite the opposite as so many are putting their own self interest aside for their fellow man. I hope and pray that we will be inspired by their strength to do whatever we can to be a true help.


    • Aunt Mary March 18, 2011 at 9:52 am #

      That is so true, and really well written!!! You know our home is open for you and your whole family if you would like to come over. I know you hate NY, but in times like these…. hey spring is right around the corner here, .Tulip Festival and all that jazz, so come!!!!


      • tokyo5 March 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm #


        >You know our home is open for you and your whole family if you would like to come over.

        Thank you.

        >I know you hate NY

        I don’t “hate” NY. But I feel, like the expression goes…”New York is a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.”


    • tokyo5 March 18, 2011 at 11:58 am #

      Yes, I think Japan will be back on it’s feet soon because of these people’s determination and selflessness.

      (BTW, I think you should’ve put this comment in this post. 😉 )


      • Mom March 18, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

        yes, I agree. problem was is that I didn’t even realize that post was there! believe it or not, I guess I am not real familiar with how blogs work. Yours is really the only one I visit. anyway, I did read your latest post and my comment would have been more appropriate there.


      • tokyo5 March 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

        Actually, I don’t mind which post you put a comment under. I enjoy getting the comments on my blog…so please continue.


  9. mike March 17, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    I saw a lot of scenes of Japan on a Japanese TV channel we were getting here for free. I hope everyone recovers there. I donated money to help.


    • tokyo5 March 17, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

      >I hope everyone recovers there. I donated money to help.

      Thanks. Very generous of you.

      I looked at your website…you live in NYC and you like classical music, don’t you?
      Are you going to visit the JapanNYC festival at Carnegie Hall?


      • joe March 18, 2011 at 3:46 am #

        There are many countries evacuating their citizens from Japan… I would look into it for you and your family… You do have duel citizenship???


      • tokyo5 March 18, 2011 at 11:55 am #

        >There are many countries evacuating their citizens from Japan…

        I know. Many foreigners have left Japan.

        >You do have duel citizenship???

        No. My kids do. But I have only American citizenship…and a Japanese permanent residency visa (almost the same as citizenship).


  10. Mom March 15, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    I cannot imagine the grief many Japanese must be feeling now. My heart is with them and I am so glad that the international community has reached out and so many are there to help. It is completely overwhelming to see the complete devastation online and on the news, I cannot even imagine how bad it is in real life.
    I thank God that you and your family are all safe. How are your inlaws? It must be very upsetting for them. Please let them know that we are asking for them. We wish there was more we could do to help.


    • tokyo5 March 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

      >I cannot imagine the grief many Japanese must be feeling now.

      Yes, it’s a big nightmare!

      >I cannot even imagine how bad it is in real life.

      Neither can I. The real disaster is so close, yet so far from Tokyo.
      Tokyo has experienced earthquake after-shocks, a few fires and damaged buildings, and delayed trains and unstocked store shelfs (due to delivery truck delays), and interrupted cell-phone service.
      Now, probably Tokyo’s biggest concern is potential radiation from the nuclear plant disaster and big after-shocks which are still occurring intermittently.

      >How are your inlaws?

      They’re fine too. Thanks.


      • Mom March 18, 2011 at 2:43 am #

        the news here is really focsing on the nuclear plant and the real danger it is presenting. the US is urging Americans to come home-of course they mean those who have not made Japan their home. but we are so worried about all of you being there esp if the radiation levels are higher than what is being reported. that is a real possiblity. I went to wiki-leaks and read up on nuclear radiation explosions and most of what I read is really scarey stuff. it doesn’t take much to do major damage and/or death. we would love it if you would seriously consider coming back to the States until you really know it is safe there. I know that it would be extremely difficult for all of you to make the trip but your health and safety are a top priority. we would help you the best way we possibly could with the expense. I know you probably don’t even like the idea and I certainly understand but read up about the danger of living near different levels of radiation exposure. we want to be sure of your family’s safety and you could just stay for awhile, however long it takes until you know that you are really in the clear. pls consider for your Mother otherwise she worries.


      • tokyo5 March 18, 2011 at 11:52 am #

        I understand your concern. And I would never gamble with my family’s health. But maybe other countries’ media is over-dramatizing the situation a bit.

        Even the Prime Minister and the Royal Family are still in Tokyo.


  11. sister II March 14, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

    Hi B., just like Dad said, we are so relieved that you all were safe. It’s so sad to hear about the casualties and also the damage done. It sounds like you had a scary experience!


    • tokyo5 March 15, 2011 at 2:59 am #

      >It sounds like you had a scary experience!

      Yeah, I hate earthquakes…and this was the worst one I’ve ever experienced. Worst in Japan’s recorded history!
      I hope I never have to go through what the people in the Sendai area have experienced!


  12. bobh12 March 14, 2011 at 3:06 am #

    So glad you all are safe! We were so worried. We tried to call that day but not surprisingly we could not get through. We were glad when we got your email. Today online we saw that they are estimating 10,000 casualties in one area, so sad. It looks like the landscape is actually changed in some areas hit hard by the tsunami, I can’t imagine how they will rebuild in those areas.


    • tokyo5 March 14, 2011 at 3:33 am #

      Yes, it’s a massive disaster. They will rebuild it, I’m quite sure.


  13. Kytriya March 14, 2011 at 12:32 am #

    tokyo5 :
    You know about it well.
    Newly built buildings in Japan are built “earthquake resistant”…it was the tsunami that flattened the Miyagi Prefecture and Iwate Prefecture areas.
    Would that dome design withstand a tsunami?

    yes it would because the wall is rounder and curved. The water would have less wall that it can hit directly. Here is a link to a good topic on it.

    The 2nd link shows a picture of a dome made of concrete.
    The garage won’t handle a direct hit because its wall is flat and not round, but the house itself will handle a direct hit. To improve on this, I’d detach the garage as its the weakest link. Also, I’d build a new garage that was also a round concrete shape. Silos, if build out of concrete and steel, keeping their curved walls should also better withstand a tsunami but only if made out of thick concrete and steel. The thin steel walls won’t cut it. However, the other factor is foundation. The foundation rods has to be planted deeply into the ground by quite a few feet to accomodate huge earthquakes coupled with deep waters and land loss. The foundations we build here, won’t cut it as they are historically too shallow.


    • tokyo5 March 14, 2011 at 1:44 am #

      I’ve never seen a house that looked like that before. I can’t imagine being used in Japan…they don’t look at all like a “Japanese house”. But maybe if they really are “disaster proof”.


  14. Mark March 13, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

    Hello! It’s Mark, the guy who writes the blog in Gunma. I’m pleased that you’re ok. Everything’s fine here except for shaken nerves. It looks horrendous further north. Aftershocks seem to have calmed to today no? Stay safe if there are any more big ones!


    • tokyo5 March 13, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

      Thanks for the comment. And I read your post about your experience with the earthquake…nicely written.

      >Stay safe if there are any more big ones!

      Actually I saw on TV that there’s a good chance of another big quake hitting within the next 72 hours. I hope they’re wrong!


      • Mark March 14, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

        Thanks for your advice on my blog…I do live in a very rural area so I could get to open space, but I have still been advised to stay under a table instead, so that is what I shall do if anything happens. Hope you’ll be ok in the power cuts tomorrow!


      • tokyo5 March 15, 2011 at 2:57 am #

        >Thanks for your advice on my blog

        You mean the comment I wrote here.

        >I do live in a very rural area so I could get to open space

        Well, as I wrote in the comment, staying indoors is the best idea…but if you’re outdoors during an earthquake, an open area is better than near glass, concrete, etc that may fall..

        >but I have still been advised to stay under a table instead, so that is what I shall do if anything happens.

        Under a sturdy table or in the shower area. Either are good.

        >Hope you’ll be ok in the power cuts tomorrow!

        Thanks. Tokyo won’t be as affected as other areas, I think.


  15. tokyo5 March 13, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    If you want to help the victims of this tragedy (money for food, blankets, clothes and other necessities is needed), you can make a donation to the Red Cross.

    The American Red Cross and the 「日本赤十字社」 (Japan Red Cross) are accepting donations (and the Red Cross in other countries too, I’m sure).


  16. Dawa Tsering March 13, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    Hello i am a Tibetan I see that there are still pretty big aftershocks, I hope you guys are well.
    I’m sure that Japan can rebuild over the water to reclaim some land from the sea. I’m hoping that the nuclear reactors didn’t cause too much nuclear damage. I’m sure that Japan will be able to reclaim land from the sea again,
    and now i am praying for all death people in Japan.


    • tokyo5 March 13, 2011 at 3:34 pm #


      Japan will surely recover and rebuild. But the people who lost so much…especially loved-ones will never be the same, I’m sure.


  17. Travis Wiseman March 13, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    Glad you are all OK!!


    • tokyo5 March 13, 2011 at 2:49 pm #


      I got your email too…and I replied.

      Please email and comment often!

      I think you use “Facebook”…but I don’t like Facebook.


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