In the fall of 2019, I travelled to Tokyo to attend some standards development meetings. At the time I left, there was no indication that the world was about to head into a pandemic.
The coming storm
Just before I was about to leave Canada, I learned that there was a massive typhoon headed out of the Pacific Ocean towards Japan. This was Typhoon Hagibis.
I got on the plane anyway, partly because the ticket was already bought and paid for, and partly because I really could not cancel on the committee. I figured that, if you had to ride out a massive storm like this, Tokyo would be just the place to do that. The Japan Times was warning readers about the expected path of the typhoon.
Arriving in Tokyo
I landed on October the 9th, and I got off the subway near the hotel just in time to witness an Australian colleague heading to the airport before the storm was to arrive.
I was staying at the Comfort Hotel Tokyo Kiyosumi Shirakawa, close to Kiyosumi Gardens, and I used the subway to get from Haneda airport to the hotel when I arrived. It’s about a 40-minute ride for under $10. The same trip by cab is about 15 minutes for $100.
On October 10th, we started our meetings at Kiyosumi Garden. Kiyosumi Garden is a beautiful place with a lot of history. Tokyo citizens took shelter in the park during the American bombing raids that destroyed much of the city during WW II. You can learn more about the park from the Tokyo Parks website. You would never know from this photo that a huge storm was coming in hot.
During the meetings, we watched the typhoon bear down on Japan. The storm kept on growing, and after our first day, we had to meet at the hotel as the Garden was closed.
As the storm bore down on Tokyo, the track predictions started to look like this:
It became clear that we were going to take a direct hit from the storm.
I was booked to leave Tokyo on Sunday, October 13th, the day after the storm passed, but it seemed unlikely that my flight was going to happen. My partner and I started to work on booking new flights to get me home.
From the International Space Station, the typhoon was both beautiful and terrifying.
The storm hits
The storm hit Tokyo. We were hunkered down in the hotel along with quite a few other guests. Restaurants were closed, so we had to make a trip to the local grocery store to find provisions that we could keep without needing a fridge or a microwave since we didn’t know if the power would stay on.
But wait, there’s more!
Around the time that the storm was rolling into Tokyo, we also experienced a small earthquake. It was only a 5.7, but it was more than I’ve experienced before at home.
The room bounced and swayed when the tremor struck, but nothing was damaged, the power stayed on, and even the elevators continued to work unaffected. My colleagues and I continued our conversation, working hard on finding ways home once the storm passed and our meetings were done.
The Japan Times wrote a little about the earthquake. The Japanese are much more accustomed to earthquakes than people in the part of Canada where I live. Toronto is in a seismic zone, and we have experienced some very small tremors, but nothing like what I felt in Tokyo.
The storm raged all night on Saturday, making the building shake and sway. Somehow, the power stayed on. Sunday, we woke to find that the subways were flooded, as was Haneda airport. Even worse was the damage in areas around Tokyo.
While Tokyo took little damage, outside the city hundreds of people’s homes were damaged in the flooding. According to Wikipedia, over 760 mm of rain fell in parts of Japan. Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency stated that at least 98 people have been confirmed dead, seven people are missing, with 346 people were injured by the storm. More than 270,000 customers lost electrical power during the storm. The typhoon is ranked as the second-costliest in history, with damage totalling US$15.2 billion in 2020 dollars. The impact was so great that the name has been retired.
Flying home was “interesting.” Some of our Japanese colleagues helped get us closer to Haneda airport so we could get to our flight more easily on Monday. We were treated to a trip to the onsen spa at the Tokyo Dome, where we had a wonderful experience. We also had a chance to see the Yomiuri Giants play on Sunday afternoon. This was my first experience seeing the famous Tokyo Dome Beer Girls in action.
One of my colleagues flew home with me, and we ended up flying a day later than planned from Haneda to Seoul where we stayed overnight, then onward to Toronto. I ended up getting home three days later than expected.
It was quite an adventure. I would not change my decision to travel to Tokyo and experience a typhoon + earthquake. The Japanese were wonderful hosts throughout. Thank you to Ryuta Otsubo and Tomomasa Maruyama for looking after us!
Little did I know that I had another adventure coming in January 2020 when I flew to Thailand for another work trip.
 BBC, “Typhoon Hagibis: Japan suffers deadly floods and landslides from storm”, [online]. 2021. Available: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-50020108. Accessed: 2021-12-16.