Southern Cross University associate professor Baden Offord, currently working at Tokyo University.
Southern Cross University associate professor Baden Offord, currently working at Tokyo University. Jay Cronan, Northern Star

'Surreal' experience in Tokyo

A LISMORE professor visiting Tokyo has described how buildings started swinging backwards and forwards during the devastating earthquake that struck Japan on Friday.

Professor Baden Offord of Southern Cross University, who is currently working at Tokyo University, described the 8.9-magnitude earthquake as a “surreal” experience.

Prof Offord was about to have lunch in a cafe just outside the Komaba campus of Tokyo University when the quake happened, forcing him and his Tokyo University friend, Professor Toshiko Ellis, to cling to each other as the earth shook around them.

“We left the restaurant when it started to shake violently and everything was falling. Most of the people went under tables,” Prof Offord said.

“We held on to each other as the poles and buildings swung back and forth, not sure of where we should go for safety.

“It lasted for several minutes, which is the thing that I will remember for the rest of my life.

“It seemed ages before the ground stopped moving.

“The street scene was absolutely surreal.

“It was like being on a ship that was rolling all over the place.”

Prof Offord has been living in Tokyo since September last year as part of a 10-month appointment as Chair (visiting professor) of Australian Studies at the University of Tokyo.

He said he had already experienced many tremors in Japan, but nothing close to matching this quake.

He said his lunch companion described Friday's quake as “the big one”.

“You really felt the awesome power of the shifting earth,” Prof Baden said.

After the quake hit on Friday, Prof Baden said he walked back to the University lodge where he lives only to find his partner, Christopher MacFarlane, missing and mobile phones not working.

“He didn't turn up for hours, as he was in a different part of the city when the quake hit,” Prof Offord said.

“He was on the seventh floor of a building in Ginza and clung to a metal staircase while it happened.

“The restaurant he was in was damaged quite a bit and they escaped down the stairs.”

Prof Offord has described the atmosphere in Tokyo following the earthquake as “eerie”.

“The streets on the evening of the quake were surreal, as everyone was quiet,” he said.

“Thousands and thousands of people in Shibuya (a huge station) for example, all very sober and quiet, orderly and stoic.

"Huge lines for public phones.

“There's a run on food in the shops.

"We got some of the last milk and bread available in a local store.

“The infrastructure in Tokyo is very well prepared in most ways for such an event.

“Most shops have been closed today, but some trains have started to run again.

“People are incredibly well-mannered, polite and helpful, even in the pressure of something like this.”

Prof Offord said he and Christopher were now “prepped” to leave their apartment on the fourth floor if aftershocks get too serious.

“There have been aftershocks every hour, and some of them are quite strong,” he said.

“We have no gas, but at least electricity at present, though there is talk of blackouts.

“The temperature is about five degrees, but otherwise blue skies outside.

“These moments show you how fragile life is.”

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