Dean Owen

4 years ago · 3 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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Shaken, Not Quite Stirred

Shaken, Not Quite Stirred

Oyama lay sleeping on the neighboring island. She had a history of insomnia, but when she did sleep, she was prone to waking up without notice. But it had been 17 years since last she awoke.

We had arrived on the overnight ferry from Tokyo. We had not booked cabins and were happy to spend the 8-hour ride on our $10 tatami mat on deck. There were girls everywhere. Surfer girls, girls in yukatas, girls in bikini tops and micro shorts. I turned the music up. I’d brought two CD’s for the trip, Bob Marley and Japan’s favourite beach tunes courtesy of the Southern All Stars. I’d done the trip many times with the Marshall’s crew of misfits. This was Koko’s first time. We stayed up all night, partying on deck with the Tokyo youth crowd. We learned that DJ’s from all over the world were converging on the little island of Niijima this weekend for the biggest beach trance parties ever organized. Bad timing I guess.

Niijima also had a bad rap as a place where girls lose their virginity. They called it “Nampa-jima” (Girl hunting island), a place where it was said to be easy to pick up girls on the beach. I’d met Yoko there years earlier during my slutty period.

Docking as the sun rose, we rolled our mat, packed our gear, and scampered onto the island in a queue of longboard wielding beachboys. First stop, the rent a bike station, and within minutes we were cycling the long road to the Surf Lodge at the far end of the island. Keen to hit the beach asap, we checked in, passed on breakfast, and hopped back on our bicycles. A few minutes later we gasped in awe of the greyish white sandy beach and the vast blue expanse of the Philippine Sea. We shared the beach with Bob on my “rajikase” (radio cassette recorder) and literally nobody else. Hard to believe that, technically, we were still in Tokyo.

Shaken, Not Quite Stirred

In stark contrast, my last beach trip was to nearby Enoshima beach to watch the first sunrise of the new millennium. We gathered around the huge bonfires in the freezing cold of winter waiting for the World to end with Y2K. ‘Twas a spectacular sunrise.

That afternoon we headed back to the Surf Lodge for some grub and a nap. As if by fate, we woke up bang on 4:00pm. I rose out of the desperately thin wooden bedframe and went to pick up my camera. At 4:02 I found myself knocked down, grabbing on to the floor tiles for fear of slipping off and into oblivion. It was as if Godzilla had shaken a ragdoll. For a brief ten seconds, the world seemed to be collapsing. Koko jumped out of bed, opened the door, and stood under the frame. I’d seen lots of Earthquake preparedness videos, but for some reason I thought my best action was to play dead. I guessed I’d still be standing if I actually knew some surfing techniques.

We waited nervously for the aftershocks. My Canon lay in pieces on the floor. But that was it….for now.

The power to the lodge was out. Our hosts graciously prepared some fish and rice over a small fire and the few guests spent the night under torch and candlelight.

The next day we were informed that the island was being evacuated and the trance parties cancelled. The other guests promptly checked out but Koko and I decided to stay until someone came and forced us out. We cycled to town to see the damage. Landslides partially blocked out way. All shops were closed and there was some minor building damage. On the way back we passed a family farming crops in a field. They offered us freshly mined Japanese cucumbers which we passed on to our hosts to pickle for the coming days.

Whispers from other stubborn islandgoers told us that despite the arrival of the Self Defense Force on the island, they would hold one trance party at a secret location for the few that remained. I had no clue what trance was, but we went anyway. Wasn’t much else to do that night.

Living in Tokyo for many years, I’d experienced numerous earthquakes. We become immune, often notified of an earthquake by the gentle swaying too and fro of a ceiling lamp. They would often last a minute or two. It was even kind of therapeutic. Those ten seconds on the island of Niijima were violently different. Granted there were no gaping cracks in the ground like in the movies, but it was a notable reminder of nature’s mighty hand. It also heralded the start of a major earthquake swarm and volcanic activity that would plague the Izu Island chain in the coming weeks. A month later Mt Oyama on neighboring Miyakejima awoke with such a ferocity that a plume of ash spewed 14km high. The island was evacuated and it was only 5 years later that residents were allowed to return. Our little ten seconder measured a whopping 6.4 on the Japanese intensity scale of 7, or 8.1 on the more familiar Richter scale. Fortunately there were no fatalities that day, with ten people severely injured. The epicenter was about 6km below the seabed and about 95 miles from central Tokyo. In a way I am thankful for the wake-up call as eventually we did get off the island a couple of days later. I would not have wanted to be around for the subsequent earthquakes, and to see the fire-breathing girl in action. Would have been quite a different result had she woken up first.

Shaken, Not Quite Stirred

Further reading:

The Town Where Everyone Wears A Gas Mask – Savannah Cox, February 2, 2016

Chasing Waves South of Tokyo – New York Times, June 19, 2013

Niijima Island and Me – Kazuya Yamaguchi, May 13, 2015

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Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #22

Another fav of mine.. worth a share again! Great read and comments by Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #21

Certainly not heroic. Just immune. Everynight on NHK we see earthquake reports in the monotone NHK announcer voice (if you ever watched NHK you'd understand). It is background noise. Actually Japan could do with a lively news channel like FOX or CNN....

Dean Owen

4 years ago #20

Certainly not heroic. Just immune. Overnight on NHK we see earthquake reports in the monotone NHK announcer voice (if you ever watched NHK you'd understand). It is background noise. Actually Japan could do with a lively news channel like FOX or CNN....

Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #19

You can just pretend for the fun of it Dean Owen. Dean, surfing in his living room ;-) There is only one word I truly detest and I never use it. I have heard a few women who use the word and I lose respect. I'm not a sailor with my mouth but I will use certain swear words if they apply. I knew what you were getting at by using it to call yourself one, you slut, you! LOL. See, not so bad when it's used in fun. Hey, I was super thin my entire life and wal~la , one day I woke up and I wasn't the thin gal I was used to being! I eat less now and still can't lose it, go figure? Have to love the aging process. Actually, to be honest, I'm not dealing well with it. I could write an entire blog about it but I'd sound like a perpetual whiner. Next week I'm heading back to the gym, which is something I never had to do before either. Oh well, life isn't fair... need to buck up haha

Dean Owen

4 years ago #18

Nope. Tokyoites are pretty blasé about life. Funnily enough when the Tsunami hit and there was all this talk of radiation leaks, many of the foreigners panicked and left, but the Tokyoites, including my family, just went on with life. We all know that Mount Fuji eruption is a decade or two overdue. We experience earthquakes every month. But Tokyo buildings are pretty much earthquake proof. I hear that during the Great Kanto earthquake, many people died trying to escape the fires by jumping into the moat around the Imperial Palace and subsequently boiling to death!

Dean Owen

4 years ago #17

i guess taking earthquake videos is a bit like trying to take lightning strikes. And on sluts, I hate the word, but if people use them to describe loose women, no reason why it shouldn't be applied to men right? Equal rights! And I guess I always looked young until one day I woke up old and potbellied. 'Twas a surprise!

Dean Owen

4 years ago #16

Yes you must be no stranger to seismic magic. Indo is volcano central. I was looking around for some negatives I had from years back on some tremendous lava flow pics I took in Hawaii but looks like they got lost in my multiple moves. I'll be back in Japan early next year so hopefully I can catch a live video of some movement..... we had a few earthquakes here in China whilst I have been here, but they were thousands of miles away.

Dean Owen

4 years ago #15

Glad I am helping increase your vocab with useless Japanese words like Nanpa (girl hunting)! Spend a month in Tokyo and you are bound to experience an earthquake. Especially noticeable at the top of skyscrapers which are designed to sway.

Dean Owen

4 years ago #14

Thanks Deb. It's kinda my signature style mixing up a travel blog with anything I write.

Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #13

Dean Owen a man slut, nooooooooo, haha! When you are able to live video, I want to see your version of standing and surfing. ;-) All kidding aside, wow- what a story. Memories from the 'good old days,' and a reminder of how violent earthquakes can be. How old were you in the photo? You look like a young boy! Well not a boy but very young. Ok, I better stop here, it sounds as though I'm saying you don't look young now but you do!

Ken Boddie

4 years ago #12

Forgot to add this is another buzz I almost missed. Can't wait for the long promised 'sting' to arrive.

Ken Boddie

4 years ago #11

Like you, Dean-San, I used to get quite blasé about earthquakes while lining in Indonesia. Also got used to seeing the odd gunung api (volcano) erupting and seeing roofs covered in thick grey ash and darkened skies. Having also seen the destructive effects of lava flows I am constantly reminded about the resilience of mankind and how quick we are to forget after the event.

Dean Owen

4 years ago #10

Thinking as an entrepreneur there might be an opportunity in reinforced umbrellas ! Nothing worse than endless drizzle. I'd prefer the thunderstorms. Just did a quick check and surprised to see a place in India, Mawsynram, is the wettest place on earth with 450 inches a year of rain.

Gert Scholtz

4 years ago #9

Dean Owen We have immense thunderstorms - in fact one is raging as I write this. A trivia fact: Johannesburg has higher annual rainfall than London - here is comes down in buckets; in London it drizzles without end. But bug natural disasters - luckily SA is spared.

Dean Owen

4 years ago #8

Earthquake are exciting for a while, but living in Tokyo for 9 years, I have felt hundreds of them, almost every week. Mount Fuji which casts a shadow over Tokyo is due for a big eruption very soon. But nobody is scared. Life goes on. Thanks for stopping by debasish majumder

Dean Owen

4 years ago #7

I think most people would be surprised to see a surf culture in Japan but it is an island nation. Not quite California, but cool in a uniquely Japanese way. Yes like your San Andreas fault, these islands fall on the so called Ring of Fire, constantly active. In fact a baby island just recently appeared out of the sea.

Dean Owen

4 years ago #6

Trying to think what sort of natural disasters come your way Gert, but nothing comes to mind. You have earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados or typhoons?

Dean Owen

4 years ago #5

You are not missing much. The novelty wears away quickly.

Dean Owen

4 years ago #4

Way too old for trance, but I wasn't back then. Just never got into it. Starved of concerts to go to, I did end up going to Avril Lavigne concerts many times as she always made it a point of touring Asia. I must say that made me feel really old! Interest point on New Zealand. Very similar countries in a way, similar landscapes (albeit in a smaller scale in Japan). Must be why kiwis love Japan so much. It's like New Zealand, but interesting :)

Gert Scholtz

4 years ago #3

Dean Owen Nice post Dean - must have been some experience. I like how you contrast the tranquillity of the island the power of the quakes.

Pascal Derrien

4 years ago #2

What an experience it was Dean Owen !! I have never been trough one so cannot compare it to anything but it sounds impressive :-)

Paul Walters

4 years ago #1

Dean Owen Cool piece again Dean. Gosh the pic with the store ( Habushi) looks so unlike Japan , could be a street in rural New Zealand . Having been through a few earthquakes I do understand the feeling . We have them here; they call them 'gumpas' and I so detest them . Thanks again for a good story. Trance parties? Aint you a bit past that sort of pastime?

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