Guyanese singer Wayne Neil settled in Japan over 13 years ago and so he was accustomed to the jitters of earthquakes.
But nothing could prepare him for the fright of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck the country’s northeastern coast on March 11, triggering a tsunami that washed away large parts of several coastal cities, caused untold damage and left hundreds dead.
Originally from Agricola, East Bank Demerara, Neil left Guyana for Holland in 1989 and from there moved on to Japan with a band called “New Roots” which he had been playing with in Holland.
He married a Japanese woman, Kaori, and together they have three children: Ashanti Jamila Nozoimi, 12; Lateefah Zawadi Yui, 10; and Kashif Jelani Satoru, 8. He now lives in Hachioji, a city located in the capital Tokyo.
Singing Jazz, Blues and R&B wherever work comes along, Neil performs at different locations at any particular time; the earthquake found him on the subway.
He was on his way back from a rehearsal with a bride & groom one week before their wedding. They wanted to sing together. It was unusual for Neil, but he wanted the couple to enjoy their special day.
Neil and his manager went back to the subway; he wanted to go to Ueno station to buy some Saba bananas because he couldn’t seem to be able to get plantains anywhere. The train pulled off. It was 14:45; he knew because he had just sent a text to a friend.
“I felt the train rocking and then it stopped. I didn’t realize what it was at first, but in a few seconds I realized that it was an earthquake.”
Since Japan experiences several earthquakes per week, Neil says you would know when one is occurring, but they usually last for no more than 15 to 20 seconds as far as he could tell.
“So, as I looked outside in the tunnel I noticed the lights were moving so hard that I thought this is heavy stuff.”
But then the quake became more violent.
“At this point in time, we’re in a stationary position but the train was rocking like a boat on a stormy sea.”
Neil could tell this was the big one and he feared the worst. “Ah man, we’re going to be buried down here,” he recalls telling himself. The rocking was going on for too long. As the seconds ticked away, Neil’s fears grew even more.
“All I could think about was that this could be the big one they always expected. I had resigned to the subway being my grave,” Neil related in an online interview with Kaieteur News via Facebook.
People usually react calm during the frequent earthquake occurrences, but this time around, they were “disturbed.”
“No one living today ever experienced this kind of rocking in Japan; they were holding on to each other, but to be honest no one shouted or cried on my carriage.”
When the quake subsided, Neil and the others eventually moved to the other station and got off the train, proceeding to street level.
As Neil was coming out of the station, the first aftershock happened; it was a big one.
“I was dizzy; I couldn’t walk because I was moving from side to side.”
The roads were packed with people. In all his years in Japan, Neil had never seen an evacuation.
“One thing I must say is that Japan is truly built for earthquakes,” Neil said. As far as he could see very few buildings were actually affected.
He never knew how large the earthquake was until the next day because he couldn’t get back home until about 04:30hrs when his wife came to pick him up.
“A trip that usually took her one hour took her five hours to come to get me.”
Having come to grips with the damage and loss of life the earthquake and the tsunami it triggered caused, Neil is happy to be alive and thankful to God.
“I really still feel strange to go back on the subway these days, but yes I must use them.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to go through my experience; it affects the mind.”
Since that massive quake, there were scores of others that have occurred in Japan. Neil has felt at least 30 since then.
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