1989 Oakland Earthquake | Anne Shakes In San Francisco, Tokyo & Hong Kong

via LotushausI have two vivid memories of Tokyo; one involves earthquakes.

Presentation Perfect

1.  Standing in line at Mitsukoshi, waiting patiently as the shop assistant artfully exquisitely wrapped each purchase.

I was mesmerized by the process, but feeling as if the waiting would never end. I had many stores to visit and didn’t need my packages presented with such perfection. Finally, my American “just do it” attitude carried the day, and I asked the young woman to please just let me go.

Apologizing profusely for being a bad American with horrible manners, I finished packing the bag myself, so that I could be on my way.

The shop staff was properly horrified over my attitude, and goodness knows what they said about me, as I fled the scene.

Awakened in the Earthquake

2. On Oct. 13, 1989, I was in sleeping in a hotel room near San Francisco when I awoke with a strange shaking in the bed, and then a picture fell off the wall, the glass crashing to bits. The tremor subsided; my business colleague reminded me they are used to the shakes in California; but this one was a bit too intense for comfort.

I flew from San Francisco to Tokyo, checking into Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel, upgraded into a very high floor room.  A male colleague from Victoria’s Secret arrived in Tokyo Sat. night, but I hadn’t seen him. He called me very late — in my sleep actually - but thankfully, I knew we were on the same floor.

In the middle of the night, I awoke again, and this time, I was terrified.

Lying in bed, I could feel the entire building swaying beneath me and the sirens blaring in the hotel. I was overcome with disbelief, lying there for a few seconds with furniture shaking all over my hotel room, wondering what I would do in a hospital in Tokyo, when I couldn’t speak English.

It didn’t occur to me that I would die when the building collapsed. My concern was that I didn’t speak Japanese, and how would I deal with doctors who didn’t speak English. I do remember thinking it would be a real mess when the building collapsed. But I believed that I would survive.

With alarms blaring,  I got out of bed, grabbed my robe, held onto to shaking furniture and made my way to the hallway, where I saw Michael Santoro and a sea of strange faces —  everyone as fearful as I was.

We spoke many languages, huddling together, understanding that we could plunge to the street any minute.  Michael Santoro put his arm around me, and we stood paraluzed in an earthbound structure, now undulating in its own dance of doom.

The swaying of the building was terrifying, but of course, it was the architecture that saved us. As quickly as the terrifying, earth convulstions came, the trembling stopped —as if the fire-breathing death dragon had gone to sleep.

Original Frank Lloyd Wright Imperial Hotel

Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo between 1913–22. The hotel was later demolished. This exterior view was part of a 2009 exhibition at the Guggenheim. Photograph © Hulton Archive/Stringer/Getty Images

Earth Napping

The next Sunday Michael and I were out and about the streets of Tokyo. Listening to the reports of how the people of Japan have been totally orderly in yesterday’s earthquake — pedestrians stopping at red lights, when the traffic was in total gridlock and no cars were moving — reminded me of another faux pas I made in Tokyo, one similar to my gaffe at Mitsukoshi.

Going to a museum Sunday afternoon before flying to Hong Kong that evening, we stood at a red light in a quiet neighborhood, waiting, waiting, waiting for the light to change. There was not a car in sight but everyone stood still, waiting patiently.

“I can’t stand it, Michael,” I said finally. “This is totally stupid. No matter how it looks to the Japanese, we’re crossing the street against the light.”

Nature’s Earthquake Finale

Michael and I flew to Hong Kong Sunday evening, sitting in a meeting Monday afternoon, when the news came.

On Oct. 17, 1989, A magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck the Bay Area just before the third game of the World Series at Candlestick Park, the worst earthquake since 1906.

My global travels placed me on the course of an earthquake, but spit me out in Hong Kong and not California.

Spring Flowers in Japan

We don’t know if Japan’s earthquake will damage the spring cherry blossoms. It is my favorite time of year.

This video shares beautiful spring flowers in Japan. It has nothing to do with earthquakes but honors the spirit of people who create beauty and artistry out of life simplest events — like shopping and trees in bloom.

Perhaps this terrifying night in Tokyo was another moment when I realized that we are all so connected. This is why I am a globalist, knowing that we must look out for each other.

We pray now for the people of Japan — especially that the nuclear reactors don’t expose them and everyone around the world — to the terror of a nuclear reactor gone ballistic.

I may have bad habits as an America who breaks the rules in foreign lands, but my heart is with the people of Japan today. Looking at comments on this video, I see that I am not alone in using it for inspiration. Anne

Spring Flowers in Japan